Wayne Grady

There’s value in environmental writing

Three acclaimed writers take to Rivercity Stage to examine our relationship with nature

An extraordinary collaboration of three nationally recognized environmental writers and one local photographer is happening at the Rivercity Stage this Friday, examining the role of environmental writing and the impact of humans on the natural world.

Ken Blackburn, executive director of the Campbell River Arts Council and director of public programs at the Museum at Campbell River – two of the sponsors of the event, along with Stillwater Books and Art – says it’s an important event for continuing an important discussion within our community and around the world.

“These three people coming together to do one event is a pretty big deal,” Blackburn says, “and they’ll be having a discussion that’s a pretty big deal, as well.”

Wayne Grady, the current Haig-Brown Writer in Residence, winner of the Governor General’s Award and author of 14 books  of science and natural history, is one of the night’s presenters.

“We have been growing steadily more alienated from nature, and increasingly reliant on technology, and we are dangerously close to being completely severed from our natural roots,” Grady says.

“We need nature and nature writing now more than ever,” and he’s looking forward to speaking with the community about why.

Andrew Nikiforuk, winner of seven National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism, agrees with Grady.

“By dominating so many natural conditions and even changing the atmosphere, we are losing our soul,” he says.

The third member of the panel, Harold Rhenisch, plans to talk about how we can live with nature in a more rich and fulfilling way, explaining how, ”the best defense against the industrialization of Nature is full inhabitation of place.”

Blackburn says he thinks the presentations by the three writers, which he says will be about 20 minutes for each author followed by a moderated Q&A panel session, will be of great benefit to the community.

“The basic question that is kind of a subtext to the night, I think, is, ‘What’s the value of environmental writing?’” says Blackburn. “I hope the discussion touches on the fact that one of the things that is happening is how people are hearing about the environment as kind of a constant noise and raises awareness about that. There’s an environmental fatigue that has set in for people, and it’s dangerous when the constant noise of hearing about it makes us turn away from the discussion.”

If environmental writing were to stop, Blackburn says, it would be a symptom that we have stopped investigating what our relationship is to the land.

Blackburn says much like visual art, environmental writing examines who we are and what our relationship is with nature.

“It’s about how we construct our experience. That conversation is what artists do, and when we look at it that way, part of that discussion is always going to involve our natural environment and our relationship with it.

“It would be to our peril to think that discussion is irrelevant. How could it be?”

That’s why he feels this kind of event is important.

What’s needed in the discussion of environmental protection and our relationship with the natural world, Blackburn says, is some middle ground between, “recycling my soup can,” and “saving the planet.”

“I kind of hate the concept of ‘saving the planet,’ actually,” Blackburn says. “It’s such an overarching, huge and broad statement, it’s almost become meaningless.”

And the concept of everyone doing just their own little part irks him almost as much, in fact.

“I’m not saying recycling is a bad thing. Not at all,” Blackburn says. “But how are we even talking about my Blue Box when one day of the stuff spewing out of a smokestack somewhere is equivalent to me hucking every can I ever got directly into the river for 20 years?

“I guess what I’m saying is that there needs to be something in between saving the planet and me recycling my can,” he says, and that’s part of what he hopes Friday’s event will be.

The evening will include live music and book signings by all three authors, as well as a display of local nature photographer Eiko Jones and discussions by various local groups dedicated to the natural world and the world of the written word.

Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door and can be bought from The Music Plant or the Museum at Campbell River.

Call 250-923-1374 for more information.