Island Time

From Lynchburg, Virginia, en route from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia, on my way to the eighth biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. There are over six hundred and fifty attendees this year, from twenty-eight countries. We’ve gathered by plane and ferry to the University of Victoria (“U-Vic”) to share our work in the field of environmental writing and literature.

victoria 008Teresita Fernandez, “Seattle Cloud Cover”

I arrive on the Victoria Clipper, a boat passage we never did during our years in Seattle. A number of ASLE folk are on the afternoon boat that departs from Pier 69. It is good to be out on the water again, with the Cascades and the Olympics lingering in the distance. I am reminded of kayak trips in these waters as we cruise along Whidbey Island and then out into open water. When we arrive in Victoria in the evening we flag down a blue Prius cab that takes us to the University where we settle into the residence halls and townhouses on one side of the campus.

victoria 027One of many rabbits on the U-Vic lawns

I spend my first full day on the island at the ASLE Executive Council meeting and then, in the afternoon, help to facilitate a pre-conference workshop on the academic job search. The following day I am part of a roundtable for graduate students—“Finding Your Niche: Thoughts on Negotiating the Job Market”—where I share some of my experiences as a graduate student, job candidate, faculty member, search committee member and department chair. As the Coordinator of the ASLE Mentoring Program, I organize mentoring meetings, and on Wednesday I conduct one of these meetings with a post-doctoral instructor at Stanford University.

victoria 020John Felstiner and Lynn Keller near the summit of Mt. Finlayson

On Friday afternoon I join a group of about fifteen or twenty on an afternoon walk up Mt. Finlayson—one of the highest points in Southern Vancouver Island.  John Felstiner and I enjoy an hour-long afternoon conversation about poets and poetry as we pick our way down from the rocky summit and under the canopy of evergreens. Then, on Saturday, I co-faciltate a wonderful half-day workshop with my colleague John Tallmadge. “Staying Alive: A Workshop for Academic Professionals” brought together a group of fifteen or so faculty to discuss academic life. John’s summary of our meeting is available on our Staying Alive blog.

victoria 007Sculpture on the Seattle Waterfront, near Pier 69

In and around these meetings were numerous conversations, meals with colleagues and friends, an author’s reception (where we had copies of Teaching North American Environmental Literature available) and a wonderful donwtown dinner with K and I and M and J. ASLE  is a remarkable thing, and I am deeply grateful to the commitments I share with this wily group of teachers and scholars devoted to the environmental humanities. Since the inception of our organization, we’ve diversified our membership and the program reflects a vibrant field of intellectual work. Every time I get together with these people, I come away renewed by the ideals that motivate our lives as teacher, readers and writers.

summer09 040A pre-conference afternoon kicking steps in the Tatoosh range, south of Mt. Rainier

The Canadian venue for this 2009 ASLE gathering has been especially rewarding for me, as I was among a group who advocated for a Canadian site on the ASLE Executive Council many years ago. Our conference organizer, Dan Philippon, and our co-organizer and host, Richard Pickard, have done a beautiful job  keeping us all headed in the  right directions and encouraging us to best use our limited time here. Kudos!

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