STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/05/2012

On Direction, Time, and Moving Forward

By Janel Curry

Map of Grand Rapids to Gordon

In his book Across This Land, John Hudson states that if North America had been settled from west to east, New England would be a wilderness area today. As Gordon’s new provost, I now live in the midst of that “wilderness,” among the forests and rocks of New England, in the epicenter of medical research and world-class higher education—and I can’t help but reflect on Hudson’s observation.

My ancestors settled on the North Shore in the 1630s. I grew up with a family history book on our shelf that told our story and traced it back to this area of New England. Before my move east, as I cleaned and packed, my daughter began to read another book from my shelf, one that was given long ago to one of my great, great (etc.) grandfathers in Francistown, New Hampshire.

Over time, however, my forebears had trickled westward. As I made my road trip from Michigan to my new home in Massachusetts this past summer, moving against the direction they had travelled, I contemplated their timeline, the direction of their migration, and my own sense of self. Direction and time were crossing each other as I journeyed into my future. With this move—bringing family books and items back to their origins—I was, in some sense, going backward.

Yet as I traveled east toward New England, I discovered new metaphors. My mother joined me on my road trip, and we took the highway that follows the Erie Canal. This canal, this overgrown line in the landscape, moved my ancestors from east to west, their migration to the Midwest corresponding to the peak of the canal’s use as a major transportation system.

We stopped along the way to see some remnants of the canal. One of those stops was at Seneca Falls, New York, from which a canal connected to the Erie Canal. I had always wanted to go there because it was the birthplace of the movement to give women voting rights. Never did those who began that movement in the mid-1800s believe it would take so long to get to where we are now in 2012. I was moving to Massachusetts to become the first woman provost at a college founded in 1889 as a missionary training school. It has been an arduous journey forward for women, both in the nation and at Gordon College.

I’ve been moving eastward through the space of my own family and personal history—backward, yet very much forward.

Janel CurryThrough three published books and more than 45 academic articles and book chapters, Gordon’s new provost Janel Curry has built an international reputation for her research on human-land relations, institutional health and resilience, and theological perspectives on nature. She is the past recipient of a fellowship from the Pew Evangelical Scholars Program and two fellowships from the Fulbright Scholar Program. She comes to Gordon from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

NEXT: A Sense of Where We Are