Wednesday, March 12, 2008

If I Had A Soundtrack It Would Announce My Return From A Place Of No Posting

Geography of Hope Conference: A Conference Between Myself

“He did was he said he was gonna do.” –Carl Brandt on Wallace Stegner

I was about five or six, and had begun braiding my hair in the hopes that it would look like Sacagawea’s. I very pointedly removed my shoes before running outside through the grass, though ours was a very yellow, very prickly variety. I’d hang in trees and sing to the flowers and never, ever pick them. As most children can, I talked to plants and animals and if I didn’t know what they were called, made up my own names for them. I was a little tree-hugger in the making.

Then, as the story goes, teenageism hit, and the pigtails got lost in the mess of trying to make my hair look like the girls in the magazines and my bare feet were covered by Converse All-Stars. But that little girl who held bake-sales to earn money for saving rainforests was still there somewhere. Gradually, that girl is rising again, bowling through the cement with tiny furious fists so that the grass can begin to poke through.

The Geography of Hope Conference in Point Reyes pulled me inextricably back to the call of the wild. Set in a town full of cows atop rolling hills, marshes and ocean, bookstores and feed barns, Point Reyes seemed like the perfect setting for discussions on conservation and writing. Under the soft motivation of Robert Hass, panel members recollected vivid memories of Wallace Stegner’s life and works. Being in the midst of so many good writers was enough to reduce me to a smiling bubble of jelly, but I was actually able to pay attention too. From the general panel discussions I learned more about culture, civilization, wilderness, and environmental concerns than I would have had I been in class all weekend.

Before coming to the conference I knew little about Stegner, less about Point Reyes and nothing about literary conferences at all. Because the stories the panel members told were about life, not just Stegner’s life, but life in general, giving hints and tips for how to live that life, so they were fun and interesting simply because we the listening were alive and would have to keep living (for a while at least).

Carl Brandt, Stegner’s literary agent, taught me something about life in the thinly veiled excuse of ‘the work ethic.’ “He would do what he said he was gonna do,” Brandt said. Stegner turned manuscripts in on time and in good shape, and carried that ‘Frontier Mentality’ where hard work paid off. The thing that Stegner was so concerned about was the Western Frontier. He was concerned that without the frontier the American man would go soft and the American culture would go soft. So he remained hard and strict in self-discipline to get those manuscripts in. And this reminds me of my father.

Most panel members at the conference said at one time or another, “and this reminded me of this,” though perhaps phrased otherwise. Hass said of Angle of Repose, “[it] taught me something about my family,” and other panelists recognized their family members in Stegner’s characters. What I saw in Stegner’s works was myself: that wild-girl child running barefoot in make-believe woods, writing poetry about all the little live things. My earliest poem is one that I look back on with mixed feelings. Imagine a horror-face along with this poem:

“I am thankfull
for all the animuls,
even the spyders and terrantulas and centipeds.”

Horror not for the content, because that is a nice sentiment, but because now I shudder to think of being thankful for spiders, oh horror! and am glad to have learned that Stegner was an adamant exterminator of pests (though I do feel for those poor gophers!).

After the last panel, which was held in the Point Reyes National Seashore Park, where deer sauntered in the background as the speaker spoke, Cameron, my boyfriend and I were talking to Hass. Hass said that what struck him, was that while “they” were out getting stoned and protesting the war, Stegner was out in San Francisco arguing with corporations. This is a bad rendition of what was said, but eloquence and memory are not my strongest points. The fact of the matter is, Stegner was a powerful force for ecological conservation and what remains important today is not attending rally’s that fail to achieve anything, but to get out there and do. And Stegner did. And now maybe I will too.

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