Essay - Ann Glenn

Over the past three years Ann Glenn of Arete '97 and '99 has led travel groups across the U S, Vietnam, Cambodia and into our Swiss Alps. She writes, "I grew to know these regions/countries intimately, having a depth to the relationships with locals that is only formed over extended time". Her interest in medicine/healing has recently led her to become a doula (e.g., birth assistant and a certified massage therapist) without forfeiting her next travel destinations in the southwest United States. Ann won two county cross country titles while at Drake, making it to the state finals her junior and senior years. In track, she broke the school record over 3200 meters, placing fifth in the Meet of Champions. Ann ran right on, claiming All-American track and cross country honors by division at Cal-Davis. She was captain of both teams! She continuously is of, Arête.

Bill Taylor

I awoke to a morning shrouded in dense clouds and heavy sheets of rain. Perched high in the attic apartment of a dilapidated farm-house, in a land where charm abounds, waterfalls leap from mountain sides, snow cuddles in high valleys, rivers run crisp and clear, and the troubles of the world seem a distant story. The harsh pellets of raindrops against the metal sheets of patched roof had woken me before I was ready to leave my slumber on my day off. I stumbled out of bed, found my way through the grey morning light to the teakettle, and fired up the stove. I had been anticipating this morning for weeks, finally a day off of leading trips to do some of my own exploration in a landscape that truly captivates me, and has a warm familiarity. An environment where I have always felt very much at home. From my first visits to the Swiss Alps, on Arete ’97 and ’99, I knew it was a place I would come back to for some extended traveling. It had been a dream realized when I was offered the opportunity to lead hiking and biking trips in the Alps throughout the summer of ’06. So here I was getting paid to live in a mountain girl’s paradise, living in the acknowledgement and appreciation for an aspect of Arete’s gift of exposure.

It was still quite early to be setting off for the day, and I had high hopes that the blustering storm would reign in its troops as the day wore on, and that some clear skies could march their way to settle above the Kanderstag Valley. So I settled in with my warm cup of tea in hand, in front of the computer screen to catch up on some email correspondence. I had been working for three weeks straight, and had been feeling the weighty guilt of being completely out of touch with the world, both on a personal and global level. My daily concerns, were if the guests were warm enough, if I could repair their bike fast enough, if I’d remember the name of the glacier, wild flower, or the correct left hand turn that would take us around the mountain instead of up it. As I began sifting through my inbox, I had an overwhelming appreciation for the nasty weather, as it was encouraging me to stay indoors and reconnect with that which I had failed to keep up on. I had been living a month of alpine bliss, in a bubble of natural beauty and catering to the needs of the wealthy on vacation, a brutally stark contrast to the story I would read next. Arete enveloped me. Tears flooded my eyes and nausea pulsed in my stomach. War in Lebanon. Jen and Adnan, her husband to be. His flat destroyed. War, death, destruction, Jen’s reality. No more media telling the tale of horror, no more ocean buffer zone, no more empathy from a far. Not for Jen. I felt a gnawing deep inside me, a sudden collision in my heart, the grappling with justice. I alternated my stare, from the square screen and words of human darkness, to the window framing the picturesque, the pristine.

The layers of Arete abruptly unfolded inside me. I had lived only a part of Arete, as a teenager, with Jen. We had stretched our minds together, challenged the speed in our legs, our breath. We had spent an evening with a Syrian shopkeeper and his family, been scolded by Mr. Taylor for our late night out. We had walked the green grass of life that now surrounded the death of gas chambers, and spent the hours before sleep in laughter and tears. And now years later, we both lived in the respective lands that had captivated our minds and inspiration in the heart of adolescence, in the soul of our own Arete. Arete has and will continue to be a canvas, a foundation for inspiration, for dialogue, for drawing the connection and exploration between the beautiful and the horrific. Arete is not just studied, not just taught, explained or understood, it is the purest form of experience.

As I continued to digest the words on the screen before me, at a time unlike any other, the next layer of experience of Arete seeped into my blood. Over the years Arete has been like an IV, slowly dripping into my veins, constantly priming my ability to confront the depths and array of the human experience. I sent Jen words of love, of connection. I turned off the computer, and laced up my shoes. I wanted to run again with Jen, to share the expression of strides, the active meditation, the experience of time, and friendship. All I knew was what Mr. Taylor had shared over email, but I took what information I had, about Jen’s reality, took my memories of our Arete journey, and set out into mountains, along the rivers, and to the peaks connecting my breath and step, in the act of honoring the sacred; the Arete bond, the friendship of two young women, the acknowledgment of the experience of the horrific and beautiful side by side.

We all explore Arete from our own vantage point, through our own experience, changing over time, and understanding of what it means to be an Arete veteran. The silent connection I felt to you that stormy morning in the Alps, Jen, was a pivotal moment and a plunge into the sacred. Arete’s pulse continues.

Ann Glenn
February 2007