Friendly Green Association is a young organization: our first conference was held in 1995. The first Friendly Green Conference I went to was in 1997, and I remember it well, a conference held on a campus high in the mountains of the northwest, with all kinds of amazing discussions and speakers, and wonderful field trips that included whitewater rafting. I met writers, scientists, activists, and scholars. I especially remember the gatherings we had in the evening, when Friendly Green Folk pulled out guitars and harmonicas and bottles of wine and played far into the night. Warm Bearded Writer says that after that conference he went home and said to his wife, "I've found my tribe."
And that pretty much captures how I feel about Friendly Green Folk. We aren't just an academic association, we are a community. Between conferences, we keep in touch with emails and phone calls. We send each other our writing and our ideas. We edit each other's stuff, we talk about our personal lives, we give each other support and affirmation. When I see a Friendly Green Folk at some other conference, it's like running into a cousin. And our biannual conference feel, more than anything else, like a family reunion, filled with hugs and smiles and laughter, with shared confidences in moments snatched between sessions, with meals that include so much banter and raucous behavior that one of the food service staff asked me, "Did y'all sneak in some beer or something?"
It's not that we all agree on things, or that we don't, as group, have our share of eccentric personalities. In fact, quite the opposite. I'd say we have an unusually high percentage of stubborn and opinionated individuals, and we come from different cultures. If you watch Friendly Green Folk arriving at the airport, you will see some folks wearing blazers and carrying laptops, while others sport tie-dye shirts and birkenstocks, with guitars slung over their shoulders. I have one friend who stayed at an upscale Bed & Breakfast place a mile from campus, and another who pitched his tent near the frat houses. And like any group of people who live in close quarters for a whole week, we have our share of emotional drama.
What we have in common, though, simply overrides cultural differences or personal tensions: we are a group of people passionately concerned about the way that our species is destroying the natural world.
The plenary speaker who opened the conference was one of my heroes, Writer Who Warned Us About Global Warming Years Ago. He's just a normal guy, like someone you'd run into in the grocery store, but he says things that make profound sense. Because of weather and some kind of issue with air traffic control, most of the planes in the northeast were grounded the afternoon he was travelling to the conference. He made his first flight, but then the plane just sat on the tarmac. He got off the plane and into a rental car, and called to tell the conference organizer that he was driving as fast as humanly possible. When he finally entered the big conference room at about 9:30 pm, we all cheered.
Our conferences are always held on a college campus, and this year, we were at a small college in the south. All week we wandered the campus and the town, and everywhere we went, we were treated with warmth and friendliness. Everyone seemed to recognize that the nametags marked us as kin to Warm Bearded Writer and Gorgeous Scientist, the two faculty members who were hosting the conference. And our reputation preceded us. The maintenance men who were fixing something in my building the first day came in to show me how to turn off the air conditioning and teased me the way they would a cousin or sister. "You're one of them tree huggers, right?"
One night, a certain carefree group of Friendly Green Folk, tempted by the warm night air, decided to go skinny dipping in one of the fountains. They'd stripped off clothes and were cavorting in the water when a campus security guard strolled by, and stopped to ask, a bit suspiciously, "What are y'all doin'?"
"We're from Friendly Green," one of the naked bathers said as way of explanation.
"Friendly Green?" he said. He relaxed his posture and waved his hand. "Ah, have fun."
Coming up next: how many bloggers can fit into a hammock?