Oh man. 

Oh man.

So, today, I started the morning off with bird walk led by Chip Blake of Orion magazine, followed by a delightful breakfast among kindred writers, then a lecture about human population from Alan Weisman.  And THEN I had a vulture essay workshopped with Jane Brox and eleven engaged, articulate, and helpful readers. 

And then it was LUNCH TIME.

All of you people who have been to what they call “regular” Bread Loaf around here know what I’m talking about. But the beautiful green rolling hills and the towering clouds and the adirondack chairs that are sprinkled across campus in ones and twos and threes so you can just sit for a moment and practice the 5 minute reading you’re going to give while looking out over a freaking amazing vista and etc etc. 

After lunch, I went to a craft class run by Rick Bass (only 22 books, no big deal–HA! HA!) and then took a brief respite to do some homework for tomorrow’s workshop BECAUSE THIS WAS ALL JUST A TUESDAY.

And then I went to a small roundtable discussion with Joann Wyckoff who now knows more than she ever thought she needed to about vultures, and then I had roasted pork with mango chutney for dinner. 

And then, do you know what happened THEN? Camille Dungy pulled all of my tree-hugging heart meats out with an incredible poetry reading. She gets, like, +100 for saying “vulture” in her very first poem, and not sinking to the tired and incorrect “buzzard.” She also read a poem featuring extinct birds and one where she spoke on behalf of the snail about the beauty of “underneathness.”


Some memorable overheard moments: 

Last night, the Rick Bass gave a introductory reading and talk. Snippets included: “How about some beauty; how about some humor? No one has any answers: the world is burning.” And: “The way we honor our elders is by writing great sentences.”

(This one is actually from dinner last night): “Are you famous, or do I know you from Facebook?”

Rick Bass (via the craft talk on show-don’t-tell) believes that adverbs are like a strange hand on your elbow, trying to tell you which direction to go. In other words they are bossy and a little creepy.

Also from Bass: “What’s that word? Existential angst. Every one in this book has it. I mean, sparrows! ‘Sparrows hopping aimlessly’? Tell us how you really feel about sparrows, Salter!”

Weisman got this line from someone else, but he told it to us: “There is no condom for consumption.” He also spoke of the second most powerful thing that “we” could do to stem population growth: EDUCATE YOUNG WOMEN. (The first thing is to provide free birth control to whoever in the world wants it, but the second most important thing is to send girls to school.) #YesAllWomen (hashtag added)

Jane Brox told us that in research work, your obligation to your subject can get into a kind of  tension with your fascination with a subject.  For me, this means how much does the reader need to know about vultures vs how much do I know about vultures? 

She also said to read widely and tangentially on our topics because we are reading, not to populate the page with regurgitated facts, but to gain confidence on the page. 

Okay. The community of writers is also a thing, and I can’t yet speak coherently about how great that is–I mean, people are walking around making jokes about speaking in latin names of species. They are writing books about feminist horse training, about mussels, about the socio-economic history of El Salvador, about farming and fly fishing, about mountains, community, and gardens. They are high school teachers and psychologists and social historians. They are brand freaking new to this and they have been working on this book for ten years now. They are journalists and technical writers and copy editors. They have never published anything and they were just a finalist for ______. 

You know one thing that sucks? It will be over in a week. Here’s another drag: I am completely brain dead and exhausted on my feet and it is just now dark. And it is only the first day. Do you know who here knows I am writing about vultures? EVERYONE. Ha ha ha. I am so sorry, everyone. 

Moral of the story: As of day one, I hope they do this again, and I hope I can come back. And if they DO do this again, and you care at all about the tradition/leaders/direction/innovators of environmental writing, however you define “environmental,” then I hope I see you there. 


On the Middlebury College campus, adirondack chairs sprout like dandelions. 

On the Middlebury College campus, adirondack chairs sprout like dandelions. 

1 Comment

Jayne Moore Waldrop · July 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Great post! It was an amazing week and I, too, hope to go back.

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