ASLE Conference Review : Day 2

Print Friendly, PDF & Email editor Simmons Buntin blogs the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment biennial conference:

The British Columbia Government Parliament Buildings near the Victoria Inner Harbour.

The second day of the ASLE conference in Victoria, BC:


Today the ASLE conference kicked off in full, beginning with the opening plenary, featuring conservation biologist, professor, and writer Richard Primack, and ecologist and writer Amy Seidl, author of the new, acclaimed book Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World.

I next attended “Essays from the Wildbranch Writing Workshop,” facilitated by Anne Arundel Community College English professor Susan Cohen, and featuring creative nonfiction readings from Susan, Sierra College instructor Eve Quesnel, and not-an-English-professor me. I read my essay “Songbird,” which I first drafted as part of the Wildbranch Writing Workshop in northern Vermont last summer.

I spent lunch manning the table in the (warm/stuffy/underlit/moderately sparse) exhibitors area. I should note that the onion rings from the UVic Student Union grill around the corner and down the hall are particularly tasty.

After lunch I attended the session titled “Conservation Photography as a Form of Literary Expression,” which was just grand (more on that below), though I was sorry to miss “How and Why to Write about Humans and Nature,” featuring contributors Anca Vlasopolos and Joan Maloof, as well as “Bubbas and Babes in the Woods: Real Men Read Creative Nonfiction about Children and Nature,” which is closest to my own writing. Too bad so many great sessions occured at the same time, but such is the risk when there are fifteen concurrent sessions!

The final session of the day for me was what the ASLE coordinators call a “paper jam,” which simply means fitting more presenters/readers into a single session. “Online, On the Page, and Out of This World: A Reading of Emerging Multicultural Ecopoetries” was led by Camille T. Dungy, and featured delightful short readings by her as well as Shane Book, Sean Hill, and James Hoch. Much to my chagrin, Oliver de la Paz, who was listed, wasn’t able to make the session.

All in all, a great slate of sessions, which is just what I hoped for!

Then I joined Susan Cohen and her husband, plus Eve, University of Nevada – Reno English lecturer Mary Webb, and current issue contributors Andrew Gottlieb and Suzanne Roberts for a lovely dinner at Sauce Restaurant & Lounge, patio dessert along the water, and a walkabout along Victoria’s Inner Harbour that included a street performer juggling flaming torches on a raised unicycle (not to mention a cool bus ride back to campus in a double-decker city bus) this evening.

Environmental Note

I’ve rinsed out my new Earth Basics 900 ML stainless steel bottle and am ready to roll with it. No more plastic bottles, I say!

On a more relevant note, I enjoyed the opening plenary, especially Richard Primack’s conversational style and slideshow about tracking global warming at Thoreau’s Walden Pond using historical data from Thoreau himself, as well as Primack’s and his students’ research. As an opening plenary, however, I would have liked Primack to expand his global warming discussion a bit to the role of environmental literature in general. Something to really launch us into the conference. Or maybe that should have been Seidl’s role? Either way, neither really got me jazzed up or ready to actively think more critically about it, which seems to me the role, in part, of the opening plenary.

Speaking of global warming, I do believe that Victoria is experiencing the phenomena this week. While it’s not too bad outside — not too bad? Why, it’s downright beautiful! — inside the Student Union and classrooms the temperature is uncomfortably warm. Simmons should have brought himself more pairs of shorts, is all I’m saying!

Best Event/Activity

The photography session early this afternoon was stunning visually — slideshows and films — and just as important thought-provoking and essential, especially for me in the context of, which attempts to bring together the web’s best environmental literature and photography (as well as other media). Professional photographers Garth Lenz, Cristina Mittermeier, and Amy Gulick — all members of the International League of Conservation Photographers — introduced the ILCP and its work, and then addressed specific projects each photographer is working on to “bring conservation into focus.” Do yourself a favor and check out the ILCP website, and then keep an eye out in future issues of, where I’m certain we’ll be covering the organization’s good work and photographers.

Worst Event/Activity

Other than the persistently stuffy session rooms — which I’ve already harped on more than enough (and I’ll stop now) — there was nothing to complain about today. Sure, we missed the evening plenary and the opening free bar at the international reception, but that was our own doing as we enjoyed our stroll in downtown Victoria so much.

Beer Note

At Sauce this evening, I enjoyed a Vancouver Island Brewery Vancouver Islander Lager, crafted here in Victoria. I thought it was smooth and refreshing, complementing my delicious caramel pepper salmon quite nicely. Andrew, on the other hand, thought it was bland. The light lager could have used a bit more robustness (both in color and taste), I agree. For that I think we’d need Vancouver Island Brewery’s Hermann’s Dark Lager, which the restaurant did not, alas, have on tap.

By the way, as I type this I’m enjoying the jazz/electronica tunes streaming from Sauce’s website. Check it out.

Take Away

At the Wildbranch panel this morning, one audience member — a two-time Wildbranch participant — noted how great it was to attend Wildbranch and write/commune with like-minded souls. That’s pretty much how I feel following the first full day of the ASLE conference. While I’m not of the academic ecocriticism ilk (most attendees are), the passion, concern, and dedication toward the environment in lifestyle and writing serve as an essential bond and support system. I appreciate being a part of that.

I appreciate, too, the ability to form closer relationships with folks like Andrew and Suzanne, who I knew (mostly) only through before this conference began.


A large totem pole in front of the British Columbia Government’s Parliament Buildings, which we strolled by this evening.

A wonderful plaza near the Inner Harbour.

In my first blog entry I included photos of the painted eagle sculptures. Here are a couple whale samples.

Whale sculpture, tiled, with the Empress Hotel in the background. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.