What do Alaskan salmon, Tanzanian orphans, the rock cliffs of New Mexico and Burmese refugees have in common? They’ve all seen Sara Crippen ’11 during the past year.
Sara has spent the 15 months since she graduated Central on a physical and spiritual journey. But it didn’t start out that way. After the hats were flung and the photos taken last May, Sara set out for the same refuge where she’d spent her past four summers: her uncle’s 58-foot seiner, Siren. The fishing boat pushed off from Petersburg, Alaska, in mid-June and spent the state’s “warm” months ferrying hundreds of thousands of pounds of salmon back to shore.
Fish and Freedom
A young woman with a “restless and adventurous heart,” as she puts it, Sara has salmon fishing in her blood. (Her mother’s family has been located in Mitkof Island of southeastern Alaska for generations.) You can tell because all the painting, sanding, scrubbing and sewing nets—on fewer hours of sleep in three days than the average American gets in a night—doesn’t bother her a bit.
Sara sees herself as both an attentive outsider and an integral part of the “strange and curious” fisherman culture in the area. “The quirks, complaints, time of reflection, dedication and plain faith in nature and God that comes along with commercial fishing is so deep and developed in Petersburg,” she says. “Anthropologists would have a field day.”
As the deck boss on the Siren, Sara was in charge of the other two crew members while also catching fish, hauling gear, forcing salmon into the hold and keeping morale high and the ship safe. During a good haul, they filled their hold with more than 65,000 pounds of fish. Before each shift began, Sara savored her morning coffee on the deck at 4 a.m., gazing at the rising sun reflected in the waves and the “raw beauty of the Alexander Archipelago.”
To the Top
But the seasons progress, as always, and the fish of summer quickly gave way to the Christmas trees of fall. Sara returned home to blank to help on her parents’ tree farm—work she’d done since she was a kid. After a cozy Christmas at home, she left for Tanzania with her best friend Brandon. The trip was a chance to fortify two pillars in her life—her faith and her love of nature.
Located in eastern Africa, Tanzania is a stunning country with falling but still widespread rural poverty. Sara wanted to help—and she wanted to grow as a person. First, the friends spent a week setting up a computer lab and teaching typing in a rural orphanage of 120 teen girls. Then they set out on a backpacking trip winding through tiny villages, giant Eucalyptus forests, waterfalls and hundreds of small gardens. Next came a safari in the Serengeti—and a close look at warthogs, wildebeests, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, hippos and elephants.
The pair topped off their trip with an 8-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. They lingered in moors and tundra among moonscape flora and fauna, acclimating their bodies to the elevation. On the last day, they left base camp at midnight in order to reach the summit at first light. With the wind gusting at 40 miles per hour, the water in Sara’s CamelBak froze in less than two hours. She soon lost all feeling in her extremities as she kept her eyes glued to her guide’s feet, visible only in the glow of her headlamp. After six hours, they climbed out of the pink-tinted clouds of the sunrise to the summit. “It was like coming awake after a deep dark dream,” says Sara. “I felt like I was soaring.”
As if a blind and frozen climb at 15,000 feet weren’t enough, Sara returned to the U.S. with a desire to push her body to its limits. Inspired by a book about the ultrarunners of Copper Canyon in Mexico, Sara signed up for the 45-mile Cedro Peak Ultramarathon in Tijeras, New Mexico.
“I’ve been running track and cross country since I was 12, and I wanted to challenge myself even more and see what the human body can really do,” says Sara, who ran at Central. “It was one of the hardest and most beautiful things I’ve ever done.”
By April, Sara had discovered extreme physical strength and deep inner peace in her travels. But she wasn’t ready for the journey to end. She moved to Jubilee Farms, an intentional Christian community founded 30 years ago. Located in Comer, Ga., the community includes 30 members from ages one to 92 and serves five refugee families from Burma. The group grows their own food using sustainable agriculture and helps prepare the refugees for their new lives in the U.S.—teaching English and the quirks of modern American life.
Sara teaches English to the refugees and contributes to the daily routine of the farm—caring for children, painting, mowing, gardening, processing food, cooking and cleaning. She loves the personal reward of growing food with her own two dirt-stained hands, even though its hard work.
“Sometimes I have to come back down to Earth to realize how lucky I am to be here,” she says, “to be part of such a unique, rich community committed to helping those in desperation, keeping our minds and bodies strong and being aware of the impact of certain agricultural practices on our Earth.”
Sara’s season at Jubilee ends in December, and who knows where her compass will point next? She wants to continue immigrant service work or teach sustainable farming in Central or South America. (Her major at Central was Spanish).
Wherever she goes, Sara is sure to challenge her body and mind to make the world more hospitable and beautiful. And that grueling work will make her happy. “Happiness and contentment and peace are not destinations but rather things we acquire along the journey.”