ASLE Conference Review : Day 5

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A painted eagle sculpture on the promenade in front of the Empress Hotel, Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

* A traveling dope, you ask? Yes, sadly: First, I didn’t realize until after I got up to British Columbia that my credit union doesn’t allow the use of my debit/VISA card in Canada. I’m a dope not because I didn’t know (I mean, really, who calls their credit union before heading up to Canada from the U.S.?) but because I left my Wells Fargo card at home, and it would work just fine up here. Second, I failed to bring a rainshell with me up here. So far I haven’t needed one, but I’m participating in the Walbran Valley rainforest day trip/hike tomorrow, and it’s likely I will.

So this afternoon, before the ASLE banquet, I caught a bus to the local mall, only to get there fifteen minutes after it closed. (What mall closes at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday, anyway?! Apparently all of them in Victoria.) At that I cut my losses (rather than heading downtown, where for all I know stores may have already closed, as well), and headed back to UVic. Here’s hoping it doesn’t rain on our trip tomorrow!



Another wonderful day of panels and plenaries to close out the ASLE conference.

I slept in, so missed the first sessions of the day, which also gave me the time to staff the table in the exibitors area for a bit before hitting the “Borderlands” panel, which featured (among others) Tom Leskiw, a contributor (see his essays here and here, the latter an essay on southern Arizona’s San Pedro River, relevant for this panel’s discussion). Though the panel featured a ranging mix of academic and creative literary work, it was a good mix, and I learned a lot and appreciated the diversity.

I should also praise Tom (and more so his wife Sue, who suggested it) for bringing from their home in northern California a bottle of Eel River Brewing Company’s Acai Berry Wheat beer, which I’ve yet to enjoy, but will before I leave Victoria.

The afternoon plenary was headlined by Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times journalist and author behind the excellent Dot Earth Blog. Turns out that Andrew is a friend and neighbor of editorial board member and columnist David Rothenberg. I purchased Andrew’s book The North Pole Was here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World, which he kindly signed for my daughters, as it’s a book aimed at middle-school-aged children.

Milkweed Editions publisher and CEO Daniel Slager and Orion Society executive director and Orion magazine editor-in-chief H. Emerson Blake sat with Andrew on a sort of Q&A panel following Andrew’s great multimedia presentation. The overall topic of the panel was “New Publishing Environments: The Changing Landscape of Reading,” and it spanned what publishing may look like in the realms of books and magazines over the next ten years.

The phrase of the day might be: Change, it’s a comin’. But of course change in the publishing industry is already here. For a journal like, the changes bode well, I think. But for traditional print publications, it’s hard to say. With Chip Blake at the helm of Orion, though, and knowing the great use they’ve made of their website and the new Orion digital edition, I’d bet they’re poised well. Ditto for Milkweed, which understands the need to get excerpts of their books out into the webosphere (like, for example, in, as well as to feature actual book content on their own website. As for the books themselves? Well, there’s Amazon’s wireless reading device Kindle, of course, and advanced wireless, portable book readers from other manufacturers are less than a year away, blowing open that market.

So how we read books, magazines, and the like will certainly evolve, and that will undoubtedly save costs as well as resources (think of the elimination of production, printing, and distribution). As I see it, the wireless readers may also force online journals that want to be included in this new digital reading format to create Kindle-friendly versions in addition to our “traditional” websites, as these readers are definitively not web browsers. That’s exciting to me; though for a low- or self-funded publication like, could be a real barrier if these readers charge to host our issues, which are already provided for free. The internet may be (relatively) free, but most content on wireless reading devices certainly won’t be.

Following logically from the afternoon plenary, “The Virtues of the Virtual: Using Blogs to Communicate Place across Space” roundtable featured a number of bloggers (though really only one who’s place-based, and that anonymously so), and was an interesting discussion, though given my blogging experience a bit remedial. Still, only two or three members of the audience, when asked by a panelist, said they were bloggers, and I was one of them, so I suspect the content was right on for the majority of folks in the audience.

Finally, the ASLE banquet and awards presentation featured — beyond the good food, great company, and typical end-of-conference accolades — headliner Ruth Ozeki, a Japanese-American filmaker and novelist whose award-winning novels include My Year of Meats and All Over Creation. Her presentation/lecture/discussion/speech (really, what do we call these things: keynote address, I guess) was wonderful, eloquently weaving novel excerpts with a pointed yet not painful environment/food/literature discussion, initiated with a meditation excercise that put me, at least, in a fluid mood set for listening.

:: By the way, I think it’s important to note here that I’m listening to U2’s “So Cruel,” from the album Achtung Baby on my iPod. It’s song #1863 of 2432 on my all-play list — I’ve been listening to the full library of my iPod’s songs in alphabetical order, which I started several weeks (or months) ago. It’s a beautiful song on a stellar album from an amazing band. But for the record: The Joshua Tree is U2’s best album and, I think, the best rock album ever produced. Discuss among yourselves. Okay, we return now to your regular ASLE blog update…. ::

The banquet in effect concluded the ASLE conference. It was announced that the next conference, in 2011, will be in Bloomington, Indiana at Indiana University, hosted in part by Scott Russell Sanders. Count me in, as this conference (and its location) have been all I’d hope they would be — and more.

Environmental Note

I have not driven a car or watched a television for the past week. I can’t say that very often. Well, maybe I could say that about the TV — except for The Office, college football, and the occasional DVD, I don’t watch much TV anyway. Of course, I’ve been on the computer a lot, including the continuously rotating slideshow at our exhibitor’s table, but even with that my overall computer energy use is down from my standard resource suck. Does that offset the carbon used to transport me up here? Possibly not, but combine it with the proverbial energy and connections I’ve gained toward my work on and my writing while up here, plus the carbon offset fee I added onto my ASLE registration, and I think it gets me close.

Energy or not, though, you can’t walk away from this conference any less concerned about the dire situation of the Earth. As Andrew Revkin says, “By 2050 or so, the world population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where, scientists say, humans are already shaping climate and the web of life.” How we sustain our environment and cultures into the future, when we’re not doing such a great job of it right now, is the ultimate question.

Best Event/Activity

Tough call, this. I really enjoyed both the plenary and keynote speaker at the banquet. And sleeping in this morning deserves good marks, as well.

But I’ll give the nod to my conversation with Milkweed Editions publisher and CEO Daniel Slager at the banquet, something I wasn’t expecting. I’ve long admired Milkweed’s work, so chatting it up with Daniel about Milkweed’s future website plans, opportunities for including Milkweed excerpts on, fatherhood, sons vs. daughters, living in Minneapolis compared to New York City, and my own work and writing, capped off the conference in a pretty great way.

Worst Event/Activity

Wasted bus ride to the closed mall, hand’s down. Though, really, do I ride the bus in Tucson? No, so here was a rare opportunity. And besides, Victoria has cool double-decker buses. So it wasn’t so bad, was it? Nah — I did get back to the banquet on time, after all.

Beer Note

I drank a couple lovely IPAs at the banquet. But from where? The bottle labels were blue, I think. Anyway, good brew, as they all have been, without exception. Thanks Victoria!

Take Away

The ASLE conference was a success for and for me personally. Couldn’t ask for more than that.*

* Well, I could, actually: At one time I had planned to travel up here with my wife and two daughters, but alas, economics and a quickly approaching family reunion in San Diego snuffed those plans out. They would have loved it, though.


Victoria’s Inner Harbour, with Prince of Whales whale-watching boats.

Sunset and bay view from Cadboro Gyro Park, just a few blocks south of UVic.

Driftwood (drifttrunk?) at Cadboro Gyro Park.

Victoria’s famous Butchart Gardens? Nope, this is one of the courtyard paths to my dorm. Though the UVic campus kind of feels like a suburban office park, it is not without its charms. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.