Artists, Writers, Poets and... Farmers?

George-Ann Bowers' Annie Creek is at Gallery Route One in one of seven exhibits for the Geography of Hope conference. (Image courtesy Gallery Route One)

Since its launch in 2008, the Geography of Hope Conference in Point Reyes has brought together writers, naturalists, artists, performers and local farmers to celebrate the intersection of literary arts and the environment. Inspiration for the weekend-long conference came from the late Wallace Stegner's 1960 “Wilderness Letter” to the now-defunct Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. In the letter, Stegner pleas to the Commission to preserve wilderness space, signing off with one of his trademark lines: “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

Now, some 55 years later, environmental issues continue to grow with urgency, requiring new systems of thinking. The "wild country" of which Stegner wrote is no longer needed simply to peer at from the edge -- the planet is in dire need of help. The Geography of Hope conference, running March 13–15 and sponsored in part by Point Reyes Books, serves to address this need through in-depth dialogue. Each conference presents a unique angle through which to look at issues like climate change, water quality, environmental justice and more. This year, Bay Area authors Camille Dungy, Brenda Hillman and Rebecca Solnit are a few of the women tackling these issues.

The focus on women and the land arose from "the worldview of 'land as machine' and the extractive, consumption-driven economies that result from treating the natural world as nothing more than a collection of natural resources,” says Robin Wall Kimmerer, who co-chairs this year's "Women and the Land" event with writer Kathleen Dean Moore. “[This has] brought us to the brink of environmental disaster, to climate catastrophe and the Sixth Extinction. It is well past time for another paradigm of relating to the Earth, the feminine perspective of relationship, of care-taking and reciprocity with the other beings with whom we share the planet. As life-givers, women carry the gifts and responsibilities for this transformation.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer brings traditional ecological knowledge to this year's Geography of Hope conference.
Robin Wall Kimmerer brings traditional ecological knowledge to this year's Geography of Hope conference. (Photo courtesy Milkweed Editions )

An author, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology and founder and Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the SUNY, Kimmerer also brings her perspective as an indigenous person (she's a member of the Citizen Band Potawatom) to her work with the conference.

“Traditional ecological knowledge, the ways of knowing of indigenous peoples who have learned from the land for millennia, is rich with philosophies and practices for sustainability. It includes Native Science as well as guidance on how we might reshape our relationships with the Earth,” she says. “The changes we need are not of more money, more technology; they are changes of heart.”

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The event hosts readings, art exhibits, and panel discussions with acclaimed authors on specific issues like What Are Women’s Gifts & Responsibilities in the Work against Carbon Catastrophe? with Susan Griffin, Lauret Savoy and Rebecca Solnit and What Does it Mean to Love a Place? What Does that Love Require of Us? with former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, Ann Pancake and Priscilla Ybarra. In addition to giving an opening talk and moderating a panel, Kimmerer will also participate in a workshop entitled What are the Metaphors We Need for a New World? with Kat Anderson and Carolyn Finney.

“The notion here is that to address climate catastrophe, we have to change more than light bulbs; we have to change ourselves and one of the ways we do that is by examining the stories that we live by,” says Kimmerer. “Is the story that humans are somehow more deserving of the gifts of the earth than any other species, that we have a right to exploit the earth for our own desires and without regard to a livable future -- is that the story we need? We will explore the stories and metaphors that can help us remember who we are as people, that we do not have rights to the earth, but responsibilities to her.”

The conference hopes to draw a wide, diverse range of voices to add to the discussions and also offers field trips to local farms and nature habitats focusing on climate change, carbon farming, wetland restoration, and backyard restoration gardening.

“I hope attendees will be uplifted in celebrating our common bonds with the land, in a community of writers, artists, farmers and activists,” says Kimmerer. “I hope everyone will carry energy and action out into the world, fueling the transformation to just relations with the land.”

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