Of Mike, Sufi Chants, and Sugar Creek

Steve Charles—A few months before his untimely death in 2006, Wabash Bookstore Manager Mike Bachner ’70 came into my office with a grim look on his face. An unusual expression for Mike. 

"Another one is gone," he said, referring to the closing of another public access point to Sugar Creek. It was the second such "closing" of a public access point that year. While frustrated to lose two places to put in to his favorite stream—the place he considered the most beautiful waterway in Indiana and his personal place of solitude and refuge—he was more concerned that the lack of public access would mean that fewer people would spend time on the creek. Fewer would learn to appreciate, respect, and take care of it. He was unsettled by the direction things were going.

I thought of that conversation when I first heard that the Mike Bachner Reserve, which will be dedicated at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 25, includes an access point to the creek. An access point only a few yards from the very one whose closing had Mike so worried. 

Can you imagine a better tribute to the man who had been drawn to Wabash nearly 40 years ago by Sugar Creek? 

I couldn’t help but think of another image of Mike (above), his fist raised in celebration during his 2005 Chapel Speech in the Wabash Chapel.

Then I found out where the new Bachner Reserve was, and I was taken aback. Just off Offield Monument Road in a wide valley, this place that will honor Mike is located in the very place where one of his most memorable moments on the creek occurred! 

Mike wrote about it for Wabash Magazine‘s "Refuge" issue in 2005. I’ll reprint his words below. 

We’ll have more about how the Bachner Reserve came about—an amazing partnership between Friends of Sugar Creek, the NICHES Land Trust, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Pheasants Forever, and the Indiana Heritage Trust—along with more about Mike, and even a couple of audio recordings of him.

We’ll have directions on the Wabash Web site on how to get there, too. 

But I wanted to get this date out there now so you can mark it on your calendars—April 25, 10 a.m. for the dedication. The rest of the day we’re all welcome to stay and help plant the thousands (yes, thousands!) of trees that will help restore wildlife habitat to the area. Should be a great day.

Here’s Mike’s memory of the place the new Bachner Reserve is located:
Sugar Creek drew me to Wabash almost 40 years ago. My second visit to campus included a fraternity canoe trip. That did it; I was hooked.

 I spent my share of weekends as a student in the ’60s canoeing with friends. Gondoliering down the Sugar Creek wilderness, singing show tunes. On one high-water trip we discovered a canoe lodged beneath a logjam. We returned later and, after considerable underwater sawing, we retrieved not one, but two canoes. One became the first of my now five-boat stable.

 Over the years, I’ve taken several students out to share my love of Sugar Creek. The trip I best remember was about 10 years ago. I took Waseel Azizi ’95, a Pakistani student, down the creek for a couple of hours.

 When we passed through the wide valley where the first settler of record, William Offield, built his homestead, Waseel began quietly singing, "Mani, mani, mani/busan cahani ching . . . "

 I asked what prompted the song, and he told me a tale of traveling with his mussein grandfather in Pakistan to experience a Sufi water ritual at a stream recalled by our location in Sugar Creek.

 I still use that Sufi chant as a meditation focus. It carries me back to one of my many moments of refuge on Sugar Creek.

—Mike Bachner, from Wabash Magazine, Winter 2005

In photo: Mike celebrates during his 2005 Chapel Speech at Wabash.

  1. Mike Bachner ’70, Bill Placher ’70. I still hear their voices and fully expect to run into them as I walk across campus.
    I want to make sure David Blix ’70 stays here until I am gone…he’s the caretaker of the Class of 1970 legacy…

  2. Thanks, Steve, for a wonderful tribute to Mike Bachner. It’s good to remember him at his happiest: whenever he was talking about or actively enjoying his paradise here on earth–Montgomery County and Sugar Creek.

  3. I was one of those students who had the privilege of working with Mike at the Bookstore. I remember that one of the highlights of my senior year was when Mike approached me in the Bookstore on a Saturday and invited me to join him on Sugar Creek. I knew our friendship was deeper than I had imagined. This was a spiritual experience for Mike, as it was for me. I was honored that he would want to share it with me. I had heard him talk about it plenty. This all took place shortly after I had just written a paper on “Refuge,” by my favorite author, Terry Tempest Williams. It was not until about halfway down the creek with Mike that I realized that Mike embodied the spirit of that great book like no one else I had ever known. Mike was a part of the creek. It spoke to him. It spoke to us through him. It’s experiences like this I will always cherish as a Wabash man. Mike will always be a great hero to me. I am happy to hear this news. He deserves to be honored, and I can think of no better way!

  4. Charlie Crowley

    It is most fitting that there will be a Bachner Reserve on Sugar Creek. While appreciated, used and perhaps abused by generations of Wabash men, I know of no one who appreciated, respected and, yes, loved Sugar Creek more than Mike. Like so many of us, I spent many a Saturday or Sunday (and with apologies to a few professors, an occasional weekday) on the creek. To this day I can not think of Wabash without remembering the pleasure in those weekend journeys.
    This summer we are having a family reunion at my sister’s home in Zionsville. I am driving in from Minneapolis; brother Steve (’72) is flying in from Germany with his family; and “brother” Bob McMahon (’70) and his wife are coming in from Portland. Of course the plan for any such an event includes a canoe trip down Sugar Creek. Those non-alumni family members will spend yet another afternoon listening to tales of yesteryear including the stories of annual canoe races, memorable swampings, creek bed fossil collection, water-soaked picnics, and … and maybe we better take the longer trip. We have a lot of great history to review.
    Mike’s care and concern for this wonderful natural resource helped the Wabash and Crawfordsville community develop a clearer vision of what we’ve always had before us, but not always clearly seen. This summer as we paddle or float through the Bachner Reserve we’ll be sure to take a moment to thank Mike for his lifelong commitment to this beautiful place.
    Charlie Crowley ‘70

  5. Nicely Said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Graeme Whytlaw

    Great memories of Mike and I in 1969. It was the week before the Monon Bell, and we were playing away. Mike and I went to the local printer and printed over 1000 signs 6″ wide by 18″ long that read WABASH ALWAYS FIGHTS. Friday night we went out and stapled every telephone pole from Crawfordsville to Depauw. School spirit, dedication, a little crazy is my fond memories of that weekend. Thank you Mike for my introduction to the Wabash family.
    Christmas break was begining and Mike was driving me to his home in Cleveland so I could fly back to Connecticut for the holiday. When we left Crawfordsville we were already pushing 3 “of snow with the wheels of his car. By the time we hit Indianapolis it was a fullfledge blizzard. Mike was notorious for not getting gas and running on fumes. Unfortunately this night was no better. As we traveled I 70 I kept asking don’t you think we should stop, The only vehicles on the highway were plows going the opposite way. We had passed two closed gas stations on I-70 and Mike new a short cut through the back way of Ohio, Off the main highway around bo-dunk Indiana. I was an easterner and he was showing me the great outdoors and was teaching me how to enjoy natures fury. Driving snow, temperature hovering around 25 degrees. I know we are lost. We could not see the signs as we stopped the car at least 100 times, I thought , to wipe the signs off to read them. No gas, no other vehicles, where the hell was I. Finally after 6 hours we ran out of gas. On a rural four lane road, no buildings to our right, no bulidings to our left and white covered roads to forward and aft, oh but Mike knew something I didn’t. Mike went into the trunk of his car and out came an empty gas can, and a rubber hose. Mike looks at me and says, see the light over there, way over there throught the driving snow. God that was the smallest light I ever saw. Mike said to stay in the car, he was jumping the fence and heading to the barn where the light came from. There he was going to siphon the farmers tractor. He said I hope the dogs aren’t out. Boy did I think he was nuts! Not one vehicle passed the car which was parked in the road for over 90 minutes. I was worried the farmer caught him, the dogs chased him into hiding, or worse he never made it to that light. Amazing sitting shivering and lost what goes through your mind, Especially when the time goes by flake by flake. Mike returned with gas just as happy as when he left. Now after warming the car to clear the windows we begin grinding through the 8” of snow. We went about a mile and up on the left we could see a light. Look a station and diner, open and full of people, in fact there were no less than 8 plows sitting in the lot and the men in the diner all warm and laughing as they saw a couple of college kids walk in looking like frosty. If we went only two more miles we would have been sitting in the nice warm diner watching the storm whirl away outside. Yes 20 hours to Cleveland was quite the experince. I was only a freshman, still with green behind my ears, and the big o’l senior with the smile and drive to enjoy each moment, teaching me the finer things in life. We never saw each other more that two times since Mike graduated, but we would both start laughing and share our time together as if it were yesterday. I was part of the Wabash family, and my mentor was this crazy wonderful guy. Mike you are always in my heart and mind.

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