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Williams’ Visit: A Gift for Wabash

Jim Amidon — Terry Tempest Williams will pack her luggage today and head back to Utah, leaving me thinking, "Now that’s what I call a Visiting Artists Series event!"

Her two-plus day visit to campus was nothing short of a gift to the students, faculty, staff, and this community. Stuck in the doldrums of a soggy, foggy, gray spring, we were rescued, if only temporarily, by Williams’ love of people and place.

I left Tuesday night’s reading — and this may surprise some — speechless. So did lots of others who attended and listened as the acclaimed writer, naturalist, and activist read a brand-spanking new work (two hours old) about Montgomery County’s Shades State Park and Sugar Creek, along with significant passages from her book, Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert.

Her prose is breathtaking, and leads the reader (or listener) to a more perfect world, a world where we bury political axes to come together to make right choices and good long-term decisions about the world we share. Her powers of observation, whether of the Redrock Wilderness or the stunning gorges of The Shades, are beyond this writer’s words. Thankfully, she captures the subtleties of natural beauty in words that sing to us.

Wiliams spent Monday on campus, delivered a lecture to a large crowd on Monday night, spent time in classes on Tuesday, went with Mike Bachner and Pat Galloway to The Shades on Tuesday afternoon, and she then gave, perhaps, the finest reading ever in the Salter Concert Hall. Of course, she has wonderful material, but her spoken voice is so lovely, so beautiful that it adds depth and passion to the printed page.

What impressed me most, though, and others with whom I’ve talked, is how sincere and caring Williams was with each interaction she had with students, faculty, staff, and friends of the College. Within minutes, she knew the name of every student in Marc Hudson’s class, as well as the name of every student in Helen Hudson’s Crawfordsville High School class. She answered every question with honest candor, and evoked a rare trust in our ability to have meaningful conversation and debate, even when we disagree.

She hugged alumnus (and fellow Utah native) Ryan Yates, who drove out from Iowa to attend the reading. After the reading, she sat in the front row next to Alix Hudson and Grey Castro to get their reactions. She put her arms around the students who have founded the College’s "Students for Sustainability" group. She shook hands, gave autographs, and posed for photos. But mostly, Terry Tempest Williams engaged on a deeply personal level with each and every individual she encountered.

Indeed, Terry Tempest William’s visit to campus was a gift; a taste of eternal spring to lift us from our winter doldrums and carry us through this school year.