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The Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word
Department of Philosophy / Oregon State University

LTEReflections Planning Retreat Report

H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, October 13-14, 2003

Participants: Robin Kimmerer, Barry Lopez, Michael Nelson, John Laurence, Stan Gregory, Franz Dolp, Fred Swanson, Kathleen Dean Moore, Tony Vogt, Charles Goodrich

The Retreat

We began our Long-Term Ecological Reflections planning retreat on Monday morning on a gravel bar beside Lookout Creek. Fred grounded us in some living history-from the recent history of experimental research located on Lookout Creek, to the fifty year history of Long-Term Ecological Research here at the Andrews Forest, to the millennial scale of volcanism in the Cascades.

In the afternoon we drove to the site of the Log Decomposition Research plots, designed to gather data for 200 years, where in the midst of moss-draped old growth forest, we "sat on our analogs," in Kathy's phrase, and considered our charge: what is Long-Term Ecological Reflection and why do we want to encourage it? Then at dusk we gathered in a clear-cut just outside the Andrews boundary, a place littered with shotgun shells and a trashed sofa. Robin reminded us of the physiological changes the plants were going through on their daily transition to darkness, and how even the chemical constitution of the air was changed as the respiration of the trees, shrubs, grass and mosses ceased for the night.

The pulse of the retreat-time outdoors, immersed in our senses, followed by periods of intense thinking and talking-seemed to invite a dialogue between ourselves and the place. Early Tuesday morning we drove high into the Andrews for an inspiring hike along the Old Growth Trail. We didn't cover a lot of distance but we stretched our metaphoric capacities remarkably, with Robin introducing us to the intimate world of mosses, Fred ushering our imaginations into the hyporheic zone of the creek, and all of us marveling at the stump that callused over after the tree was dead.

When we returned to the gravel bar on Tuesday afternoon, for our final moments of the retreat and again sat down to quietly listen, we were all pleased, I think, to note a special difference in the voices of the place, for now, along with the voices of the kingfisher and golden-mantle ground squirrel and the river and the dripping bank, there were human voices in the landscape: a group of folks being trained to do watershed surveys were wading in the creek, laughing and shouting to one another. They seemed an intimate part of that wild place.

Our LTEReflections Aspirations

In answer to the question, "Why do LTEReflection?" we identified the following aspirations. We want our programs:

  • To be a seedbed for long-term ecological imagination
  • To achieve the Land's memory
  • To address questions about honorable use
  • To learn to ask new questions and new kinds of questions
  • To foster the arts of attention
  • To counter narrow, isolating individuality with collaboration and the search for coherence
  • To nurture communities of hope and caring

To begin to actualize these aspirations, we brainstormed a wide array of programs and events from which to choose: (not prioritized)

  • Writers' residencies at Andrews
  • Residencies for writer-scientist collaborative groups
  • Workshops in storytelling methods for scientists
  • Writing workshops for undergraduate writing students
  • Thematic Writing Workshops; e.g. "Hyporheic Writing," "Poetry of Nitrogen Cycling"
  • "Bio Blitz"-a gathering where a community comes together to inventory the biodiversity of a local, loved place; often leads to activism on behalf of that place
  • "living poster sessions" where ecologists, writers and others interpret selected sites, organisms or ecological processes in the field
  • Forays / Pulses: gatherings for writers, humanists, scientists and all interested people, on ecological themes, featuring field trips, living poster sessions, workshops, performances
  • Meta-Foray: teams in various locations do a Foray on the same topic, then come together in a new place and investigate how people get oriented to learn to see/regard an unfamiliar landscape, its organisms and processes
  • Thematic writing-and-learning workshops organized around Research projects at Andrews: e.g. "Something's Rotten in Oregon" on decomposition and nutrient cycling
  • A collaboration with Oregon Council of Humanities (OCH) to bring educators to the Andrews for a Teacher Institute on LTEReflections
  • OCH Chatauqua presentation
  • Lecture series pairing scientists and writers on a common theme
  • Idea of the Year: constructive explorations of resonant ideas that typify years, revisited periodically; include time capsules (possible topics: Sustainability; Ecosystems Goods & Services; Restoration / Conservation; Honorable Use; Ecological Footprint, Uncertainty; Disturbance; Scarcity / Rarity; Networks: Roads, Rivers, Disciplines, Histories; Survival
  • Reflections processes models
  • "Writings in the Land": Literary and landscape art projects embedded in the forest as living monuments; e.g. essays or photos on brass mounted on trees to be ingrown; Rock wall with geology art and literature attached (all done with care not to deface forest; confined to limited area)
  • Establish Reflection Plots: places that participants revisit periodically to record observations and responses
  • Video projects: "Moss Canopy," "The Living Stump," "Seeing and Naming"
  • Publish and/or archive writings from LTEReflections participants via website and print vehicles
  • Publish anthologies of exemplary LTEReflections writings

With any of these programs, we would strive to incorporate long-term commitments and perspectives. For instance, writers and scientists may be invited to apply for periodic residencies, during which they might return to the Andrews at the same season for a number of years. We look forward to making these projects and procedures available to other organizations as models for undertaking LTEReflections in other places.

Some outstanding questions

  • How do we structure collaborations over time?
  • What durable forms will the products of LTEReflections take?
  • How might LTEReflections be a perspective to investigate social structure, policies, politics?
  • If traditional conservation is aimed at preserving space, might it be illuminating to view LTEReflections as aimed at the conservation of time?

Outcomes

Thanks to the generous efforts of the participants, this LTEReflections retreat:

  • generated a list of fruitful possibilities for interdisciplinary and collaborative programs and events, for which this report will serve as the record
  • gave Spring Creek staff a fuller understanding of what goes on at the Andrews and how LTEReflections programs may respect and complement the science being done there, as well as giving the scientists some measure of the potential of the humanities and creative arts
  • created a cohort of advisors with some direct experience of the Andrews and a shared sense of our LTER vision

The Next Step

Over the next few months, we will work to prioritize these fruitful ideas, take stock of our resources, and plan what programs and events to begin implementing this fiscal year, and beyond. We'll keep you closely informed. Thanks, again, for all your input and encouragement.

Respectfully offered by Charles Goodrich
October 31, 2003


Ch'i Chi (864-937)

Little Pines

Poking up from the ground barely above my knees,
already there's holiness in their coiled roots.
Tough harsh frost has whitened the hundred grasses,
deep in the courtyard, one grove of green!
In the late night long-legged spiders stir;
crickets are calling from the empty stairs.
A thousand years from now who will stroll among these trees,
fashioning poems on their ancient dragon shapes?

translated by Burton Watson
from The Clouds Should Know Me by Now,
edited by Red Pine and Mike O'Connor (Wisdom Press, 1998)