Roll on, Cascadia!

20150925_125719The Cascadia Environmental History Collaborative is coming up! In a month (September 22-24), a dynamic cohort of environmental historians will meet to share work in progress, trade favorite reads for teaching, and hash out what exactly it means to consider Nature as an actor in history. In anticipation, I offer here a recap/reflection on last year’s meeting (including updated words to “Roll on, Columbia”).

Gathering at dusk on a wide lawn ringed by redwoods, the conversations began in rings of lawn chairs grads and profs engaged in a non-competitive (read “inclusive”!) game of frisbee golf. The University of Washington Pack Forest conference center nestles at the foot of Mount Rainier. After dinner, participants convened in the log lodge for three-minute introductions. The point of these “speed-dating” power-points was to introduce one’s research and interests in a quick but informal way meant to spark connections among participants so that they can discuss projects with like-minded colleagues over the course of the weekend. The term “collaborative” in the conference title is intentional and a generous amount of time is set aside for small group conversations.

Cascadia offered many opportunities for students and senior scholars to get feedback on work in progress. A discussion of a chapter in Linda Nash’s book manuscript centered on irrigation systems built by U.S. engineers and private American companies in Afghanistan in the early 1960s. Her work highlighted the U.S. commitment to sending expertise but not the physical materials needed both for building and – crucially – for the maintenance of those systems. In Jacob Hamblin’s paper, the push for building nuclear plants in Israel to desalinate water was shown to be more of a nuclear booster project than one dedicated to producing fresh water. Regan Huff, the acquisitions editor at Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books (University of Washington Press) was on hand to discuss a book proposal by a post-doc at the University of Oregon. Sandro Antonello. Critiquing Sandro’s Assembling Antarctica: Conservation, Science and Geopolitics in the Making of an International Environment proved to be a very informative session on the nuts and bolts of what is involved in getting a book accepted for publication. Lisa Brady, the editor of Environmental History also flew in from Boise, ID, to talk with participants about publishing an article in an academic journal.

In the past, paper workshops have taken place at Mount Rainier: discussing the environmental history of ice at the foot of one of the country’s most impressive glaciers brings the effects of climate change to the fore in a spectacular way. This year’s hike was in doubt as it was raining and overcast, but the intrepid group decided to take a chance on the Mount Rainier hike and was rewarded with a clear view of the Lower Nisqually glacier (for at least ten minutes). Lunch at the base provided an opportunity for perusing the exhibits and further in-depth conversations.

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Although the Cascadia gathering is only in its second year, the annual hike to a grove in the nearby old growth forest is fast becoming a venerated and much-anticipated tradition. Participants bring with them a book that has been especially useful for teaching. These books are then displayed in the lodge upon the return from the hike for browsing later in the evening.

Evening activities included the viewing of a hotly debated film, “DamNation,” and an “Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities,” modeled after the event staged at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last fall http://nelson.wisc.edu/che/anthroslam/objects/index.php. Particularly striking were images of the 1970 earthwork “Spiral Jetty.” University of Oregon prof Marsha Weisiger visited this immense earthwork sculpture when it was first installed and more recently: where once the sculpture was periodically completely covered by the Great Salt Lake, the sculpture is was now eight miles away from the water.

Another Cascadia tradition is the annual sing-along which this year included a jazzy excerpt from Westside story (Go Sandro!), a spontaneous grad student dream team dance routine to “My Girl,” and “Desperado” belted out by normally staid profs. And of course, no Cascadia gathering would be complete without a run through of all seven stanzas of “Roll On, Columbia” to which could be added these verses:

Roll on, Columbia, Roll on
Roll on, Columbia, Roll on
Because of your turbines, our salmon can’t spawn
Oh roll on, Columbia, roll on

Most radiated river, it glows like the dawn,
Past glaciers a-melting, and forests long gone.
Historians know there is work to be done,
Roll on, Cascadia, Roll on!

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