In Search of a Course

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In Search of a Course recounts the events of a fateful road-trip through the American Southwest. When Mark Cladis embarks, he is spiritually lost, shaken by a failed marriage, and disillusioned by the academic life he has chosen. When his spiritual foundation gives way, he is wholly unprepared to rebuild it. He needs guidance—and not the academic or intellectual sort. He needs open air, a change of scene, a friendship, and an education. This is how Paul Kane and Mark Cladis, two Vassar professors, find themselves on a road-trip through the Southwest desert. During the trip, Cladis encounters several teachers—Native American educators, local artists, Paul, and the desert itself—who inspire revelations about the land, education, friendship, and the ways of love. Cladis returns considerably healed, spiritually revived, and possessed of a new hope for his life and vocation.

On this journey, equally thrilling and healing, he encounters dangers and seeming miracles. He climbs mountains and sits on Hogan floors and dodges dust devils, barely. He learns that Paul, his closest friend, would risk his life for him. From these experiences he receives a distinct feeling of belonging—to the earth, to a spiritual and intellectual ancestry, to a friendship. He begins to see this spiritual, embodied connection as innately tied to teaching, to environmental commitment, and to love. It initiates his deliverance from grief. It becomes the most important gift he could impart to his students.

Praise for In Search of a Course

“Cladis has written an honest and beautiful book about finding a course after losing one’s way. ‘There are seasons of change that we must accept, even embrace,’ he writes. Yes—the challenge is doing so in horrible weather. Through fractured love, through divorce, through religious crisis, through professional and academic upheaval, through deep seated anxiety—Cladis charts his course so that we might weather life’s seasons more gracefully.”

—John Kaag, author of New York Times bestsellers, American Philosophy: A Love Story; Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are; and Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life

“What a rich feeling it is to fall under the spell of a truly compelling book. Mark S. Cladis layers introspective study with a thoughtful journey of personal loss and continuing discovery. His honesty and narrative grace combine with his gift for quoting from other writers to create a text of immense care and comfort. His long friendship with the poet/scholar Paul Kane shines as a bright thread tying the years together. A profound and meaningful book for students, teachers, people in transition, writers and friends—which is to say, everybody. I love it.”

—Naomi Shihab Nye, Young People’s Poet Laureate of the United States (Poetry Foundation)

In Search Of A Course is a refreshingly ambitious and illuminating account of Cladis’s impassioned confrontation with nothing less than the central questions of nature, religion, love, and education. This is a brave and important book.”

—Ronald A. Sharp, Acting President emeritus, Kenyon College; editor of The Kenyon Review emeritus; coeditor with Eudora Welty of The Norton Book Of Friendship

“Mark Cladis has written a heartfelt, affecting memoir of spiritual and intellectual discovery. Crushed by divorce and a midlife crisis, he sought a more authentic direction for both life and teaching during a long journey in the deserts of the Southwest under the guidance of poets, philosophers, Native American elders, and caring friends. He returned with new hope, new ideas, and a transformed vision of both life and work. This book will speak to anyone who cares about spirituality and education, especially those who have struggled to gracefully weave heart, mind, family, and home place together.”

—John Tallmadge, author and essayist on nature and culture, past president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment and director of the Orion Society.