I must admit at the outset that I have never looked back upon my brief career at GDA as one of the happier episodes of my life. Being a rather immature and shy kid transferring as a junior from a rural Vermont public high school, I never forged strong bonds with classmates having different backgrounds, interests and pre-existing cliques. Thankfully, my subsequent Swarthmore experience was much more positive, stimulating my dormant social development and leading to numerous life-long friendships. Thus, I was not unhappy to slip beneath GDA's fund-raising radar and felt content to consign my prep school memories to the ash can of history. When I was first contacted by the Tarbell-Tobey-Tay troika I was less than enthusiastic about their rah-rah-lets-reconnect juggernaut. But now after reading a number of your biographies, I must admit it has been an eye opening experience to realize we are maybe not so very different after all.
At Swarthmore I: (1) Majored in Cave Exploring and Rock Climbing, (2) Discovered girls, most notably my wife of 32 years, Ginny - although there were a few other poignant steps along the way, (3) Took a lot of boring engineering courses, and (4) Was grudgingly awarded a degree "summa sine laude".
Then it was 1966 with an unpopular war on, and I was fresh out of a left-wing college. A newly discovered commitment to public service prompted me to apply to the Peace Corps. They first offered me a position in Iran. No thanks - too dusty, no caves, and the women all wear burkhas. How about Nepal? That's more what I had in mind. I was able to serve my country for two years by trekking around the Himalayas doing a little light surveying and bridge building, but mostly falling in love with the land and its incredible people while gradually picking up a smattering of fluency in the Nepali language.
Too soon it was 1968 and I was out of the Peace Corps, but alas the war was still on. What to do? The Boston Naval Shipyard advertised that it was looking for a few good naval architects. They said they would send engineers like me to MIT for additional training. I have always appreciated navels and the thought of actually designing them sounded pretty appealing, so I signed on. When employed by DOD I assuaged my left-wing guilt by rationalizing that every dollar spent on employees at the Boston Naval Shipyard was a dollar totally wasted, and therefore not contributing to killing peasants in Vietnam.
Freed at last from the draft by my 26th birthday and with combined savings of $4000 burning in our pockets, my newly acquired wife, Ginny, and I quit our jobs and spent the next 14 months roaming around the world. By traveling 3rd class we even had enough money left over when we got back to buy a nice stereo set. We mountain climbed our way around Europe for the summer and then took an overland bus from Turkey through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Nepal. We really fell in love with the peaceable kingdom of Afghanistan where the people seemed so proud and friendly. Little could we imagine what horrific trauma superpower meddling combined with latent ethnic hostilities, Stinger missiles, the Taliban and Bin Laden could inflict on that seeming Shangri La. We then spent 6 months trekking in the Himalayas before heading homewards with stops in Thailand, Laos and Japan.
Our trans-Pacific flight allowed us a stopover in Alaska and we were immediately captivated by its stunning natural beauty, pioneering spirit, midnight sun and wide-open spaces. So we flew east, bought a V dub, crammed all our worldly possession into and onto it and headed up the Alaska Highway with nary a backward glance. Thus we found ourselves back in Anchorage just before the onset of winter with little money, no jobs, and no place to live, but full of the boundless energy of youth. I soon lined up a job designing airports and we rented an A-frame cabin in the mountains and adopted a husky-wolf dog. Our son, Ian, was born that next April and Heather came along a couple of years later to complete our quota. At the time we rationalized that we would live in Alaska while we were young, then move to Colorado for middle age and finally back to Vermont when we got to be really old, like 50 or something! The fact that we are still here 31 years later probably is not sufficient to prove we are still "young", but at least Colorado has been stricken from the agenda. We purchased 10 acres of land bordering a 400,000-acre state park on the hillside above Anchorage and over the years have built first one octagon, then another connected to it and finally a garage with a home office above it. Little by little we have sunk roots into this rocky Alaskan soil, so that by now we feel pretty well anchored down here.
Fantastic hiking and climbing and cross-country skiing opportunities for daylong or weekend adventures beckon just outside our door. Periodically I've roused myself to higher levels of masochism such as by climbing Denali in 1983 and competing in a 58-hour cross-country ski race on the Iditarod trail in 1988. Another such urge struck a few weeks ago when a friend and I entered the "2002 Winter Wilderness Classic". This obscure backcountry race traverses 145 miles of trackless valleys and windswept mountainsides deep in Alaska's interior. With the need to bring along so much food, fuel and gear we had to split our 70-pound loads between backpacks and toboggans that trailed behind us. After 3 days of wallowing through unconsolidated snow and camping at 30 degrees below zero, we (along with most of the other contestants) bailed at a checkpoint 60 miles into the course. We are finally old enough to know when we had had enough fun!
Over the years Ginny and I have spent a few interludes away from Alaska, once while I studied for a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins and another time when I worked on a Buddhist monastery in New York When our kids were 4 and 6 we took them to Nepal where we trekked for 55 days through the mountains halfway across the country to the village where I had lived when in the Peace Corps. We found trekking with kids to be a great icebreaker with the Nepalese villagers.
It wasn't until the mid-eighties that I finally discovered my true calling in life. Contrary to Tom Tobey's imaginative note in the Archon I have never dabbled in politics - except as a frequent critic! It was the romantic life of a septic engineer that ultimately captured my soul, and I've been fully immersed in the ebb and flow of this work ever since. It is difficult to describe the feeling of oneness that develops between man and job. All my colleagues sense it immediately, however, and frequently comment upon it. I can almost visualize GDA's public relations office wanting to post my c.v. right up there alongside those of Peter Machinist and Steve Barkin in their proud roster of alumni accomplishments.
Thankfully, our kids did not do to us what we did to our parents. After surviving public high school here in Alaska and college "Outside", both have returned to live nearby. Our daughter, Heather, migrates each summer to remote Aleutian Island field camps to conduct bird biology research. Son, Ian, does computer mapping consulting work to occupy the time when he and his girlfriend aren't hewing timbers for their hand-made house only a mile by trail through the forest from ours. Our current favorite summertime recreations include orienteering and sea kayaking along sections of Alaska's intricate coastline. More and more often when the long winter sets in we set off for treks and travels around the world so that Ginny can break her ankles in exotic locations and be operated on by foreign doctors.
I know this bio is far too long, but that is what people say about my Christmas newsletters every year, and this one is trying to span 40 years. I have been genuinely surprised at my reaction to being "outed" by John Tarbell. Memories that I had long repressed almost into oblivion are gradually resurfacing in a much more benign form. Although it may not have been evident to my teachers at the time, some of their lessons actually did sink in. I particularly appreciate David William's valiant efforts to instill literary awareness through John Brown's Body. I also regret never having properly thanked Ben Stone for his wise counsel and mathematical motivation. Thanks, fellow classmates, for all your efforts at reconnecting. I'll be with you in spirit this June and would welcome further contact from any of you.