Yearning for identity, discovering life
By Rachel Lapp, director of public relations
In Yearning Wild: Exploring the Last Frontier and the Landscape
of the Heart, GC alumnus R. Glendon Brunk uncovers layers
of identity in a compelling philosophical memoir that, in chronicling
an individual journey, calls also for a societal awakening to
the infinite interconnectedness of all things.
Snapshot a mental picture of a dark-haired young
man coiled with energy, leaving the office of then-Academic Dean
Atlee Beechy after three restless semesters at Goshen College.
It is the height of the Vietnam War, and, in another untaken photo,
the young man is soon articulating his pacifist beliefs to an
Elkhart County draft board in hopes of earning conscientious objector
Known to most then as Richard Dick Brunk, Glendon
Brunk remembers that young mans draft board experience as
isolated. I saw other Mennonite and Amish young men passively
accepting their pacifism. I could not understand that. In my mind,
it should have been a fire in them something they would
willingly die for, he said. There should have been
more than religious lockstep; there should have been conviction
behind it. I searched for that conviction. My father said this
is what I should do, but I had to decide that it was really what
I believed for myself.
Brunks honest memoir chronicles his quest to do just that
to travel far from the familiar territory of his upbringing
to claim his life for himself.
Now an environmental activist and faculty member at Prescott College,
Brunk recently published a memoir, Yearning Wild: Exploring
the Last Frontier and the Landscape of the Heart (Invisible
Cities Press, Montpelier, Vt., 2002). Moving beyond surface snapshots
to examine his rite of passage into manhood, he describes a quest
of coming into alignment with the souls calling
while examining issues of family, faith, culture, calling, gender,
politics and environmental justice.
Brunks search for what he wanted for his own life, how and
where to live, began when his family attended a Goshen College
event one night a slide show presented by an Alaskan couple
narrating a year-long canoe trip on the Yukon River. This frontier
vista was compelling, even at the age of 12, to him.
Growing up, he said, describing his youthful rebellion,
I heard mixed messages from the church we were to
live outside of society, but we were only allowed to think differently
to a point, and then we were supposed to think the way we were
supposed to think.
He describes moving from job to job from mental hospital
aide to forest fire fighter to log cabin builder to caribou hunter
to world champion sled dog racer to oil pipeline worker to wildlife
biologist to environmental activist and in the process,
learning to survive subzero temperatures and live off the land.
What emerges is not, however, a professional vitae, but a portrait
of an American man whose journey in self-realization involves
discovering the interconnectedness of humanity and the environment.
Brunks engaging story opens personal and cultural wounds,
but, rather than evoking despair, calls for love.
Interior and exterior landscapes
Following several years of 1W service in Denver, Colo., Brunk
settled in to the harsh Alaska climate. He embraced a lifestyle
completely different than that of his upbringing, uncompromising
in a quest to try new things: hunting, building log homes, land
squatting, sled dog racing. Then emerged an intersection and parallel
between his life and that of Alaskas oil pipeline boom,
when Brunk began to realize the irony in his own use of the land
against the backdrop of commercial and political efforts to tame
wild country in the name of economic interests.
So many things we do in life, he writes, are
justified by dual rationalizations of inevitability and economics.
He began to see his own place in a larger pattern of rather random
consumption, from helping build the first oil pipeline on Alaskas
North Slope to hunting caribou, bear, moose, sheep and more.
Describing a hunting expedition into then-pristine wilderness,
Brunk describes the tension in Yearning Wild, Today,
Im well aware of the paradox of my own special privilege
of entering that country when I did.
I must take some responsibility
for being part of the places demise.
Realizations come slowly, Brunk shows us:
But something was turning in me. The twinge of regret that
had always followed killing had grown larger.
I had never
given much thought to the circle of life and death, to the collection
of sacrifices and suffering that accompany survival. I just followed
my passions, whatever the cost, wherever they took me. But my
passion for hunting had brought me to a moment of reckoning. The
act of killing had become fraught with emotion. A voice deep inside
me was demanding to be heard. Change, though, for the most part
comes slowly; I could not know then what the voice was asking.
All I could do was go on and discover that it would get louder
and more insistent, and other events would coalesce into a fist
that would eventually pummel my life into consciousness.
Also important to Brunks journey of the landscape and the
heart was his relationship with sled dog racing, which began several
years after he and his wife moved to Fairbanks. Something about
the sport and competition appealed to his need to explore When
his marriage dissolved, separating Brunk from his daughter, he
threw himself even further into the consuming sport, keeping and
training more than 70 dogs at a time, committing all of
his waking hours to the sport and eventually achieving a
world championship title.
But after winning the world championship of sprint racing in 1980,
he sold his dogs and took up the travelers life, living
in Hawaii for a year, and visiting New Zealand, Australia, Africa,
Central America, the South Seas, Europe and North America. It
was during this restless and seeking time that Brunk began to
feel the possibility of a different life than one driven by random
choices; he began to sense another path, one that recognizes evidence
of our interconnectedness. And in interpreting inklings
of inter-relatedness and cosmic order, he also began to discern
what choices he might make toward change. A profound passion emerged
from all he had experienced in his wild yearning for protecting
the Arctic National Wildlife refuge and sharing his compelling
A quest for alignment
At Prescott College, Brunk teaches creative writing and environmental
studies, including courses such as Natures Voice,
Reading and Writing About Natural History, Environmental
Ethics and a series of classes that travel to Alaska to
explore natural history and environmental issues there. Humans
are facing the largest issue to be encountered, Brunk said
environmental collapse, which incorporates not just concern for
unhealthy habitats and extinct species but also social, economic,
cultural and political issues. Humanity is called to begin to
imagine another story for ourselves.
With my own students, I spend time trying to find rays of
hope for them because the more they learn, the more despair comes.
What keeps us from caring and acting? Passivity and denial gets
in the way. A great disappointment to me is Christians who are
not willing to be stewards of the planet because of the risks
to their careers, lifestyles, economic safety, or some sense that
their reward will be in the future in heaven, that in the meantime
they have no responsibility for doing their best to create heaven
here on earth, said Brunk.
He encourages his students to take some action the
best antidote for despair. He said, You dont
have to save the world. You just have to follow your heart and
find the one thing you can do really well and do it. If you do
it well and with a soulful connection, then somehow the world
will be a better place. I encourage my students to live honestly,
to follow what you are called to do even if that leads you to
some pretty odd places.
Brunk writes in Yearning Wild that We are defined
by stories, ways we believe ourselves and our institutions to
be. In writing the story of discovering and rediscovering
his place in the interconnectedness of the world, he prompts readers
to take risks, even making mistakes, toward growth a process
that cannot be captured by a single snapshot.
An engaging and heartfelt memoir, Brunk prompts mindfulness and
transformation in cultural, societal, faith and personal beliefs
about taking responsibility for our part in the interconnectedness
of Gods creation.
Yearning Wild is available at major bookstores and online
retailers in hardcover and paperback.