Welcome to Canaan
Epiphany can occur with a vision, or with the lack thereof (think of Saul
on the road to Damascus). The soul can be liberated with a sound. The
promise of a new future can be communicated in a single touch.
But for Jeff Louden, epiphany arrived with an aromaÏthe fragrance of
hot roofing tar. He savored the pungent vapor as he stood on the campus of
the University of Montana on a crisp September morning in 1973. Just 100
feet away an asphalt kettle boiled and sputtered as grim men in denim jackets
ascended their ladders. To Jeff their stoic expressions only served to mask the
depths of their despair.
ÐPoor exploited bastards,“ he whispered.
The object of their labor was the blistered rooftop of a dormitory known
as Duniway Hall, an architecturally nondescript rectangle of bricks and
windows that linked stately Elrod Hall to the south with Craig Hall to the east.
As Jeff paused on the concrete portico that formed Duniway’s north
entrance, he turned slowly and took in the vista of the campus, the city and the
mountains beyond. He was slightly disappointed with the mountains; they
didn’t sport the jagged alpine peaks he had expected. Magnificent as they
were, the summits that ringed the city of Missoula were rounded with pine
trees and yellowish grass. In the far distance, Jeff saw at least one peak
crowned with bare, gray rock, but it was the exception.
No matter. Until he and Paul Jepson had reached Wyoming on their
westward journey, neither had seen mountains in the flesh. Now Jeff found
himself in the bosom of the Rockies, preparing to embark on what he felt
would be the greatest adventure of his life. It was his childhood dream come
trueÏbest friends together at the threshold of adulthood, far away from home
and free from parents at last.
ÐOw da way,“ Paul Jepson mumbled as he labored up the short flight of
steps. He carried a load of record albums beneath one arm and a small
loudspeaker under the other. His bearded face was almost completely hidden
by a sheet of paper clenched between his teeth.
ÐOfen da door,“ was the nearest thing to speech that Paul could manage.
Jeff dutifully pulled open one of the heavy steel doors.
ÐSo what are our room assignments?“ Jeff asked.
Paul jerked his chin up sharply. ÐTay it. Tay it and read.“
Jeff gingerly plucked the form from Paul’s mouth. He grimaced as he
wiped the saliva from the University of Montana letterhead.