Memorial Service for James Hamilton Crichton

December 28, 1999

Comments by Paul Lepse

Additional Links:
James H. Crichton: A Life of High Points

A Thanksgiving Meditation by James Crichton

Your Memories

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore.

Psalm 121

Evelyn asked me to read that Psalm, which is most appropriate for Jim's memorial service. I also want to read another verse from Scripture -- Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the wits of another." When I read that proverb, I think of the wonderful influence that Jim Crichton has had on me, sharpening me in many ways. Among other things, he helped me understand developments in physics and cosmology, helped clarify science-and-faith issues, and issues in many other important areas, such as baseball statistics, and the history of baseball teams moving from one city to another. It was because of his encouragement that I got involved in the AAUP and in the CTNS, and in mountain climbing and getting to state high points. His humor was a wonderful model; whatever sense of humor I have, I credit much it of to Jim's influence.

I was privileged to be Jim's colleague at SPU for over 34 years, and to occupy an office next door to his for 25 of those years. But, just a few weeks ago, Jim asked me to represent another institution, Boston Street College, at his memorial service, so I will. He somehow got me appointed Dean of Boston Street College, which was founded in the 1970s and met in a coffee shop on Boston Street on the top of Queen Anne Hill. The original four faculty were Jim, Roger Anderson, Grayson Capp, and me, and over the years we have welcomed numerous other faculty (all of us part-time, because most of us have full time jobs at SPU) into the College, and now have a branch campus on McGraw Street. The size of the student body has been consistently zero. So the faculty to student ratio is infinity. But the faculty has had very productive discussions on a wide range of academic issues and benefited much from Jim's wisdom. The three qualities featured in Boston Street College's logo are: (1) Trivia; (2) Satire; and (3) well, there is some uncertainty about whether the third is Ambiguity or Ambivalence; I favor the former, although the latter is printed on our T-shirts. Jim, of course, specialized in only the most important of trivia, was capable of the wryest and most edifying satire, was the discoverer of the Crichton Phase Shift Ambiguity, and was totally certain about the truth of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Jim was multifaceted, as is the case with all beautiful gems. Of course, we all know how brilliant he was in physics, geology and other sciences, science-religion issues, and the liberal arts in general; also baseball statistics and history of baseball, and other areas too numerous to mention. When Jim graduated from SPC in 1959, he won the President's Citation for having the highest grade point average in his class -- in spite of the fact that he got some Cs and Ds in the physical education activity classes that were required at that time. But those low grades in PE were very poor predictors of future performance. In the 1960s and beyond, Jim showed that he was superbly physically educated. He got into excellent physical condition by running regularly, including several marathons, and climbing mountains. I think it was on October 1, 1965, that he attained his first guidebook accredited summit -- Pinnacle Peak, in the Tatoosh Range south of Mount Rainier. Thereafter, Jim Crichton lifted not only his eyes to the hills, but lifted himself bodily to dozens -- no, hundreds -- of summits. He declared October 1 to be Tatoosh Day, and, nearly every year thereafter, on the Saturday nearest to October 1, he led a group of colleagues and students on a hike up to the Pinnacle-Plummer saddle, and from there, up one or more of the peaks. Jim claimed to have climbed all of the named peaks in the Tatoosh Range -- eleven of them accredited, and two unaccredited. But the maps also show a summit which has no person's name attached to it, but is called Peak 5810, for its elevation. We asked Jim, "Isn't fifty-eight-ten a name? And, there is a paragraph about it in Beckey's Guide Book, so it is accredited." Jim agreed that possibly 5810 could be construed as a name, so, just to be on the safe side, he had better climb it, and, one Tattoosh Day, he led a group of us there. It was a difficult scramble up a slippery slope, but Jim got us to the top successfully.

In the 1960s, Jim took mountain climbing courses and, in subsequent years, climbed all the major peaks in Washington, including Rainier three times, Adams, Saint Helens (both pre-eruption and post-eruption), Baker, Glacier Peak, Olympus, etc. In the 1970s, Jim started encouraging me to join him on hikes and climbs, and I was privileged to stand with Jim on 68 guidebook-accredited summits, some of them more than once, and learned from him to really appreciate mountain top experiences. Jim attained more than 180 guidebook-accredited summits, many of them more than once. Jim did not disdain summits not listed in the guidebook; I also stood with him on a number of "unaccredited" summits, including a number of state high points, but Jim was scrupulous about not including these in his statistics, I suppose for the same reasons that baseball statisticians do not include spring training and exhibition games in the official statistics, and do not add a player's minor league numbers to his major league totals.

One of the most memorable climbs I did with Jim was Borah Peak, the high point of Idaho, 12,662 feet above sea level, the most strenuous one-day climb I have ever done, although Jim has done more strenuous ones, such as Mount Whitney, the highest point of California and of the lower 49 states. On our first attempt at Borah Peak in 1985, we turned back at Chicken-Out Ridge, because we had underestimated the difficulty and didn't start early enough in the day. We returned in 1988 with Eric Hanson and were successful. Look for a movie to be made about this adventure, entitled Mind Over Mountain; Jim and Eric discussed the details while driving home from Idaho and agreed that Woody Allen will play the role of me, Al Pacino will be Eric, and Robert DeNiro will play the part of Jim. And Morgan Fairchild will play the role of Ranger Judy of the Forest Service. We drove from the motel in Mackay, Idaho, to the trailhead with a Mahler symphony playing on the car's tape deck, because it was Gustav Mahler's birthday, and started up the mountain at the crack of dawn. Watch the movie if you want to see Jim courageously leading Eric and me over the scary Chicken-Out Ridge and Nauseous Notch and down onto the knife-edge ridge that leads toward the summit. After experiencing a Rocky Mountain high at the summit, we finally got back to the car a little after 10 p.m.

After getting to the high points of Idaho, Arizona, and Hawaii with Jim, we learned about and joined the Highpointers Club, which has about 2,000 members as crazy as Jim and me, who set goals of getting to 30 or 40 or 48 or all 50 state high points. Jim and I got to thirteen more state high points together, including some easy ones in the southeast and some strenuous ones like Wheeler Peak, New Mexico and Mount Elbert, Colorado. If he had lived another decade, I think Jim would have been capable of getting to 49 of the state high points, or all 50 if he should have set his mind to doing Mount McKinley. As it was, he reached 22 state high points, including most of the hardest ones. The last summit that I stood on with him was Magazine Mountain, Arkansas, on July 30 of this year, and the last state high point Jim attained was Mount Greylock, Massachusetts, this fall with Evelyn.

It's a wonderful experience to finally arrive at a summit after a long, strenuous climb, especially if Jim is there to shake your hand and say, "Boy, it doesn't get any better than this". [Jim decided that we wouldn't really want the Swedish bikini team to come parachuting in; that would be an unwanted distraction.] Sometimes Jim would look around at the mountain scenery and say something like this: "Boy, words fail me. It's just impossible to put into words how glorious and beautiful these mountains and verdant valleys are; how superb, magnificent, majestic, sublime, exquisite, etc., etc.," and he would go on and on, phrase after flowery phrase in praise of the scene surrounding us.

But just as memorable as the mountain top experiences were the conversations with Jim while on the trail and driving to and from the trailhead, sometimes about geology or physics or current news, sometimes about the Chicago Cubs or Seattle Mariners, sometimes about children and grandchildren, and it became obvious to us how deeply Jim loved these individuals. Sometimes the conversation turned to deep theological questions, like "Will there be baseball in heaven?" which was the title of an article in Christianity Today a few years ago. Jim thought the answer to that question is yes, and that baseball in the heavenly realm will be perfect; none of this moving of major league teams from one city to another. Every team will be in its original city: the Dodgers will be back in Brooklyn, the Giants in New York, the Braves in Boston. Seattle, of course, will have two major league teams: the Mariners and the Pilots. And, of course, there will also be mountain climbing in heaven. Jim and I tried to follow the advice sung by the nun to Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, "Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every by-way, etc." We concentrated on climbing every mountain and left the fording of streams until later, except for those streams we had to ford to get to a mountain. Jim realized that in this life he would have time to climb only a small fraction of the mountains in the world. But in heaven, according to the fourth verse of Amazing Grace, when we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to climb the mountain heights than when we first begun.

Well, after enjoying some time at the top of a mountain, you have to climb down. Jim and I both preferred to descend at a leisurely pace. And, whenever we would descend a particularly rough trail with lots of rocks and tree roots to trip over, these words from Handel's Messiah would come to mind: "Every valley, every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low [we weren't sure we wanted that to happen literally]; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain." Wonderful. In the heavenly abode, the trails will be smooth, with no rocks or roots for exhausted climbers to trip over. In the last four months, since he was diagnosed with melanoma in August, Jim made an extraordinarily rapid descent into the valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes you have no choice but have to hurry down the mountain. But Jim made that down-climb with extraordinary grace and courage. Jim made good use of e-mail to keep his friends informed of his situation. His humor remained alive to the end, as he named his tumors. The one in the abdomen was Jim Junior, and the one behind his left shoulder was The Big Unit, named for a famous left handed pitcher whose autographed portrait hangs in Jim's and Evelyn's dining room. When an MRI scan showed cancer invading bone in his spine, Jim named that Buhner. Jim did not expend energy complaining about his situation but rather on expressing gratitude to friends and colleagues for every little thing they did for him. This was nothing new. Jim was like that as long as I have known him, expressing thanks and appreciation to colleagues for companionship on mountain tops, in coffee shops, at lunches in celebration of the end of the quarter, at professional meetings, in committee meetings, etc. I think I shall cherish the memories of my visits to Jim in recent weeks as much as I cherish the memories of all the mountain tops. When I was ready to leave his house the day before he died, his last words to me were, "May you flourish". I am sure he wishes that for all his friends. May you all flourish.

I have two recommendations. (1) Let's keep the Tatoosh Day tradition alive. (2) Let's climb some peak -- guidebook accredited if possible -- next July 20, in honor of Jim Crichton's birthday. That might be a good new tradition to begin. Non-climbers can think of other creative ways to honor him on that day. Jim remembered everyone's birthday, so I want to always remember his.

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