What comes to mind when you think of the Oregon coast?

Is it cold? Cozy? Dangerous? Majestic?

Michael Bendixen of Oregon Field Guide (OFG) believes that our special sea is “something to be explored and shared.”  The scientists, artists, industry professionals, business owners and other Oregon ocean enthusiasts that gathered at the recently held State of the Coast conference would probably agree with Bendixen.

These different stakeholders from our community came together with a common goal to understand how we can better communicate the coast using art and science. Several speakers, graduate student presentations, and artist displays revealed the beauty and importance of our murky waters.  The rough waters off our coast are teeming with life, drama, mystery, and stories that demand our attention.

As the keynote speaker, videographer and journalist Michael Bendixen addressed how to connect the public with the science that is shaping our understanding of Pacific Northwest beaches as well as the challenges surrounding how to communicate broader topics like ocean acidification and climate change.  His approach bridging art and science in facing these issues can be applied across disciplines and is just one more example of how the arts and humanities are bringing science to the people. Bendixen spoke of how OFG crafts powerful stories that engage audiences and manage to skillfully balance entertainment and excitement with knowledge and scientific understanding—a noble pursuit that can unite us in our efforts to take better care of this planet we inhabit.

The State of the Coast conference’s effort to together scientists and artists was perfectly exemplified by Kyle Asfahl and Amanda
Salov.  Attendees were inspired by Kyle and Amanda’s love story inspired, and even more intrigued by the romantic story they
weave of their shared passion to marry the abstract concepts found in the pursuits of art and science.  Kyle, a PhD candidate in
OSU’s microbiology department, is also an artist who explores the fundamental multicellularity and cooperation found in all levels of life. His art seems to represent his curiosity with what it is like to be a bacterium.  Amanda, an independent artist, spoke to us about how the ocean changed her practice dramatically.  Since being in Oregon she has transitioned from creating objects ‘outside’ of herself to composing structural art that reflects the understanding that she is of nature; nature and science inspired pieces come from ‘within’ her.  Amanda and Kyle’s relationship and shared journey beautifully reflect how compelling the partnership between disciplines, personalities, and perspectives can be in communicating scientific and environmental concepts.

This year’s State of the Coast conference was a tremendous experience and an impressive addition to the continued efforts to link the arts, humanities, and sciences.

A crowd of over 100 people came to the Corvallis-Benton County Library last night to watch Tim Palmer’s slide show based on his beautiful new book, Rivers of Oregon. His presentation, sponsored by Spring Creek Project and Oregon Wild, was filled with countless hydrological, geological, and botanical images from both sides of the Cascades, with the theme of rivers flowing throughout. Palmer, an award-winning author and photographer from Port Orford, Oregon, branched into topics that tell the big story of rivers: their journeys from source to sea, the life forms and recreation that depend upon them, as well as the forces that disrupt and harm them.

Choosing the Rogue River as his messenger, he began with the Rogue’s headwaters in the high Cascades, highlighting thdscn0287e river’s varied features and moods through personal anecdote and dramatic photography. Having rowed and paddled along the Rogue with his wife multiple times, Palmer described this iconic river like a good friend, respectful of its power and personality, and proud of its recovery from human-caused setbacks. Not only did we see breathtaking images of frothy whitewater and deep, clear pools, but we also witnessed the Rogue’s vulnerabilities through Palmer’s photos of blue-green algae outbreaks caused by pollutants and increased water temperatures, toxic debris leaked from nickel mining, and harmful mudslides triggered by clear-cuts. Palmer also shared some of the Rogue’s checkered history, how its freedom was hampered last century by three hydroelectric dams, and the good news of its restoration when the dams were systematically removed several years ago. Now the Rogue flows for 160 dam-free miles, allowing its former wildness – and former salmon runs – to return.

dscn0290Palmer began his presentation with the statement, “Rivers are the essence of Oregon”, and he concluded with a request, “Think about the importance of rivers to all of us, and protect and adopt them as (y)our own.” By keeping our rivers clean, free flowing and wild, we will nourish Earth’s landscapes as well as our own souls.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading by Kristin Berger and Scot Siegel from their new books How Light Reaches Us and Constellation of Extinct Stars.

Photo by Samm Newton
Photo by Samm Newton

During this intimate event at Grass Roots Books & Music bookstore,  the poets took the audience on a journey through time and place.  Each poem was carefully crafted and read with striking emotion. This collaboration shared a special theme, OR-7, or as we have come to affectionately know him, Journey. Journey is the first wolf seen in Western Oregon since the 40’s and Northern California since the 20’s.  During this adventure, Journey shares his perspective on things such as snow, humans, and love, which was spiritedly read by Scot. Kirsten complimented this poem through the eyes of Journey’s mother. The opportunity to animate this realm provided the perspective not only of a wolf but a mother.

The poets also provided the opportunity to explore landscapes,seasons, nature and the elements. I connected with references to the desert South West and a description of how drought begins. The audience also confirmed their interest with subtle expressions throughout the reading and a warm applause at the end. The audience was attentive and engaged during the Q & A session.

This unique collaboration reminded me of the strength found while working with others. They shared some of the benefits of their partnership, such as offering edits and approval. Kristen and Scot provided a great example of collaboration and offered a creative space to tune into the senses during their poetry reading.  Now as we move into the rainy season here in Corvallis I will remember that poetry has the power to transcend time and seasons, perspective and place. A tool that will help this desert gal see the rainbows at the end of countless rain showers. 

This post is a reflection on the book reading by local Corvallis writer and environmental activist Carla A. Wise. She read at Grass Roots Books & Music from her new book, Awake on Earth: Facing Climate Change with Sanity and Grace.

Carla A. Wise's book on display. Photo by Samm Newton
Carla A. Wise’s book on display. Photo by Samm Newton

It has taken me a little while to write about the reading on Monday evening (9/26), because Carla A. Wise gave me so much to contemplate. Even as she spoke to us at that small, friendly gathering amidst shelves and shelves of books, our nation’s two leading presidential candidates were debating on a fluorescent stage, watched by millions. As Wise introduced her first book, Awake on Earth: Facing Climate Change with Sanity and Grace, one of the presidential candidates on the national stage was proudly denying the existence of climate change.

The hour I spent in Grass Roots Books & Music was at times somber and at others hopeful. Compared to the audience watching the debate, our numbers were miniscule, yet we were focused on a single cause. Wise’s motives were altruistic, her fears supported by sound science and ecological facts. She wrote her book in order to lay out the realities of climate change, as well as to coax concerned citizens off the edge of environmental despair, and it turns out the latter cause is perhaps the most important in the movement toward addressing global crisis.

I say this because it’s time to give up on climate deniers. Let the delusional, the irresponsible, and the insane continue along in a state of blissful ignorance. We can do without them, and we must. As concerned citizens, it is time to turn our precious, limited mental energy primarily inward, giving concerned citizens the tools to make the changes they so desperately want to see in the world. Wise explained to us that studies indicate a successful movement really only requires active support from 5-10% of the population. That’s great news! That is what I want to be told by X,Y, and Z environmental organizations when I check my emails or scroll through my Facebook feed. I want to be told that I can help (and not just by giving money), and I want a list of actions I can take. Inform me on how to write to my senator. Tell me which products to try and boycott. Inform me about upcoming ballot measures that could make a difference on environmental issues. Connect me to local protests and other gatherings. I could go on and on.

I already know about melting glaciers, dying forests, and cracking deserts. I know about dead bees, extinct amphibians, and bleaching coral reefs. I’ve heard the projections about receding coastlines, heard tell of flooding oceanfront properties, and I am aware of monster hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires. What I really need right now is to know that somewhere, progress has been made. I need to hear the good news, even if it may pale in comparison to the challenges we face. Knowing the good news gives me hope, and that hope battles despair. It battles inaction.

Don’t get me wrong – we need the the bad news too. It’s the whole reason why I and so many other people feel compelled to act. My undergraduate education is in Natural Resources, and I will tell you, I learned some depressing stuff. What I do with that knowledge – run away in panic, or stand my ground and fight – is dependent on how the information was presented to me. Despite bouts of despair, I have decided to fight. As Wise recommended, I have made climate change my Number One Issue, and I am not alone. We may have been a humble gathering at Grass Roots on Monday night, but humble gatherings such as that are taking place around the globe, and they are gatherings of people who care deeply and are taking action in their own ways. That has to count for something.

Carla A. Wise signs her book. Photo by Samm Newton.
Carla A. Wise signing her book. Photo by Samm Newton.

The EAH group at OSU has, as part of its mission, organized to cover local environmental lectures and events. Last night, I attended my first event in Corvallis at the Grass Roots Bookstore. The visiting author was Hob Osterlund and her book is titled Holy Mōlī and published by OSU Press. She lives in Hawaii, working to protect the albatross and their habitat.


Albatross are beautiful birds. I’ve known that for some time. They mate for life. I knew that too. Of course, like many birds, they face multiple dangers: plastic pollution, fishing hooks, introduced predators; dogs, cats, mongoose, human development, climate change…

But little did I know how little I knew about these amazing creatures. Here are some things I learned.

1. Some species have wingspans that are 10 feet wide. Their wings have 4 folds.
2. They coo gently to their eggs before settling down and will not leave them for anything, including predators and fire.
3. Though pairs mate for life, they only see each other for 2 weeks out of the year. During that time, they are super affectionate and linger when it is time to go.
4. They return often to feed squid oil to their young but only for 15 or 20 minutes. The rest of the time, the chicks are alone and teach themselves how to fly (by jumping off a cliff) and find food at sea.
5. There are 20 plus species of albatross remaining and most in Southern Hemisphere.
6. At the turn of the last century, many thousands were slaughtered for their feathers which were used to make hats for ladies in Europe.
7. After flying off a cliff for the first time, a chick’s feet will not touch ground for 4 years!!!
8. This just discovered – they attract their main food source (squid) to the surface of the ocean by swimming in tight circles and madly kicking their feet to stir up the bioluminescence!!!
9. They can desalinate water with their beaks!!!
10. They also have a speedometer in their beaks which allows them to sort of surf the air currents off of ocean waves and in this way they can fly for hours (maybe days) without flapping their wings at all!!!

Cornell Bird Lab has an albatross cam set up. Not sure if it is still live but there are videos there.

“Conservationists warn that 17 of the 24 albatross species are facing extinction.”
National Geographic

Shotpouch Creek

Last week our brand new cohort stepped onto the beautiful sunlit Shotpouch Creek property to begin the first class of our two-year Environmental Arts and Humanities MA program (which I affectionately call the EArtH MA), expertly led by Jake Hamblin, Director, and Carly Lettero, Program Manager. Through readings, walks on the land, and discussions with experts in the humanities, arts, and sciences we became better acquainted with our program’s interdisciplinary themes, including environmental ethics, justice, history, artistic expression, purpose and action. And very importantly, we became acquainted with one another. Our cohort shines with the multi-facets of each individual; among us you will find writers, conservationists, poets, leaders, artists, field and lab scientists, philosophers, dancers, and teachers whose stories include courage, creativity, and passion for our planet’s healing. To balance the week’s depth and intensity, Dr. Hamblin gave us daily downtime for reflection and rest(oration). And so each day, Shotpouch Creek itself became my source of renewal, where I could always find the flow of music and wisdom to remind me why I am embarking on this academic adventure. The creek became an integral part of me and us, and for that I am grateful! ~Jill Sisson

We are delighted to announce our new students as they arrive Fall 2016! Check out their bios on the “Current Students” tab.  They will begin blogging when OSU begins classes in late September.

In the meantime, our students will gather from September 12-16 on land near the Shotpouch cabin, about thirty miles west of Corvallis, as part of their required course, EAH 506: Field Course Projects. There we will get to know one another and do an intensive class on the themes of Environmental Arts and Humanities.  It will be a great kick-start to the year.

Looking forward to a great year!