Today I’m en route to Gunnison CO, home of Western State Colorado University, to participate in the 25th annual Headwaters Conference sponsored by the university’s Center for Environment and Sustainability. This year’s conference focuses on the notion of “The Relative Wild,” and features a keynote address by acclaimed poet Gary Snyder as well as a full day of presentations and discussions on various aspect of wildness. I’m speaking tomorrow as part of a panel discussing the “urban wild” — in particular, the experience of urban nature and its relation to kids and environmental education.
On Sunday, I join a group of writers convened by Gavin Van Horn (Center for Humans and Nature in Chicago) and John Hausdoerffer (WSCU Headwaters Project) for a long-anticipated writer’s retreat in nearby Crested Butte. We’ll be sharing ideas, outlines, and initial jottings to kick off a new book project to be co-edited by Gavin and John that’s tentatively titled The Relative Wild — a collection of stories and essays that, as the editors describe it,
will explore how human and ecological communities co-create the wild. The ‘myth of the pristine’ — that nature is most valuable when liberated from human presence — is quickly being supplanted by ‘the myth of the humanized,’ the assertion that nothing is untouched by human influence, and therefore one may embrace ecosystem change, even extreme changes, as ‘natural.’ We suggest that both of these myths deserve equal scrutiny, and that one way to do so is by celebrating the common ground of the relative wild: the degrees and integration of wildness and human influence in any place.
Having participated in a previous CHN writer’s retreat at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for the forthcoming book City Creatures (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2015), I know firsthand how extraordinary an opportunity it is to take time out from the busy schedules and harried demands of ordinary life to mingle with talented and creative writers all focused on a common project. The fact that this is happening in a beautiful mountain setting at the autumnal equinox is even better!