The worldwide Augustana College experience

Lessons from my sabbatical

Aug. 16

We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.
— Henry David Thoreau


Jane and I returned to Rock Island on Tuesday night, just in time to greet our new first- year students. What a sabbatical it has been!

We’ve traveled 20,339 miles, including 2,260 miles driven on gravel or dirt roads, 2,120 by train, 410 by ocean-going car ferry, 400 miles by bush plane, 270 miles by raft or Zodiac and 205 miles hiking! We dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. We saw areas so remote that they are rarely visited even by Canadians.
Driving the 2,550 miles home from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned on the trip. There are many things, but three in particular come to mind.

• I have rediscovered the joy of being a student! Because we chose to visit many of the most remote places in Canada, we spent most of the time where First Nations people settled. We had the privilege of sharing time with First Nations elders in a variety of settings — around a campfire in Churchill, Manitoba, with a Metis man, his wife and their Cree friends; sharing a traditional dinner with an Inuvailiut couple along the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyatuk, Northwest Territories; hiking with a Dene ranger in Nahanni National Park to Virginia Falls (properly known as Nailicho); and visiting historic sites with Haida Watchmen in Haida Gwaii. Learning about various First Nations’ cultures, in their settings, was like going back to school. Our time learning was, at once, invigorating, humbling and deeply meaningful. What a special privilege it is for our students to have similar experiences, albeit in different settings!

• I am so very grateful for my wife, Jane. Not every marriage would prosper spending three solid months together, 24 hours a day, particularly in a small car traveling across the country, never staying in one place more than three days. But our marriage of 35 years prospered. How lucky we were! We were careful, however, to make additional friends along the way. Whether they are fellow adventurers or locals, we enjoyed getting to know people we would never meet in Rock Island. It’s good for a marriage to draw others into the circle of conversation.

• My heart is still at Augustana and in the Midwest. As much as we enjoyed this sabbatical, it is clear that Augustana is still where our hearts are. Though we walked the ancient cedar forests of Haida Gwaii, there is nothing better than walking through the Augustana campus under autumn trees in their glory. Though we dined on fresh halibut and salmon, there is little better than fresh Iowa sweet corn (not to mention Whitey’s ice cream and Jim’s Ribs). The people we met were fascinating and conversations were stimulating, but there is nothing like participating in discussions with Augustana faculty, staff and students. And there is nothing like good Midwestern values.

Thanks to all who made this sabbatical possible. Time to get back to work!

(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog).

Leave a Reply