Last weekend I was privileged to be a participant in the Blue River Writers Gathering at the H.J.Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Mountains up the McKenzie River east of Eugene, Oregon. The gathering was organized by the Spring Creek Project, whose goal is “to bring together the practical wisdom of the environmental sciences, the clarity of philosophical analysis, and the creative, expressive power of the written word, to find new ways to understand and re-imagine our relation to the natural world.” The Blue River Writer's Gathering was an expression of that larger mission, and brought together thirty-five Northwest nature/environmental writers “for support, inspiration and restoration . . . in this loving but sometimes lonesome occupation.” Some were writers I have long admired, but never had a chance to connect with directly – elders in the field of nature writing like Robert Michael Pyle, Kathleen Dean Moore, and Tom Jay. Others were writers I had never heard of, being a fairly new writer myself, but am now eager to get to know better – gifted poets like Clem Starck, Charles Goodrich, Bill Yake and Joanna Reichhold. Through opportunities to share readings and works in progress with the group, I was blown away by the power of their work. By the end of the weekend I had a pile of new colleagues I have sorely needed, and a stack of new books and poetry collections I am eager to dive into. I also have new inspiration to stay out on the farthest edges of our cultural conversation, and to lean into my writing as one important way to keep that conversation moving.
The gathering featured “an inquiry into the future of nature writing”, and the conversation was skillfully guided by Jennifer Sahn, editor of Orion magazine. The core questions we explored together were precisely the ones that are most burning in my mind and heart these days, both as a writer and a climate activist. Here is how the questions were encapsulated in our program notes: “To love nature and bear witness to its power to astonish and inspire is a great gift. Is it enough? Given the challenges of our time, should we also cultivate greater courage, even ferocity, in defending the world we love? How can we push the boundaries of 'nature writing' to weave together a love for nature and the tough facts of a hard-worn world? What are the stories that will inspire the great changes we need to make?” Finding and sharing those stories, and finding the courage and community we need to live those stories in our own lives, is a pretty good description of what I want my life to be about from here out. No one person's story can begin to go the distance, and sometimes it feels like there just aren't nearly enough healing stories to compete with the stories of an unraveling nature and collapsing civic life that dominate the popular media. But after this past weekend, I feel a lot less lonely on the path of finding the stories that matter, and the courage to write about them, even as I attempt to better live into those grounding stories.