June 29, 2009

Something truthful in the sea

Something truthful in the sea

The sound of waves crashing on a beach makes me feel small and insignificant.

The West Coast Ocean sounded and smelled and looked very much like the East Coast Ocean that I’m used to. But the sun was in a different place. Late afternoon, I’d look through my camera towards the ocean, and I’d be startled to see the sun shining towards me. It was like the dramatic moment in a futuristic movie when the actor suddenly notices two suns instead of one.

My husband and I sat in the sand one evening to watch the sunset.

“Isn’t that bizarre?” I asked him. “The sun setting into the ocean! I feel like I’m in a science fiction novel. Something weird and futuristic. ”

He sighed. “This was supposed to be romantic.”

June 28, 2009

In addition to rabbits

No rabbits allowed

The Campus where Friendly Green Conference Was Held offered beautiful outdoor places for conversation: courtyards filled with flowering bushes, a fountain that made lovely water noises, a quiet pond, a grassy knoll beneath some totem poles.

One morning I woke up at 5:30 am to explore a protected area on the edge of campus, a forested ravine that was acquired by the university in 1993 after a student-led activist group convinced them that they needed to save the forested ravine from development. I walked in under the tree canopy, followed a dirt path that wove through ferns and over a stream, and watched the sun sending rays of light through tree branches.

One evening, Easy-going German Friend and I walked through a formal garden that was carefully fenced to keep the rabbits out. The flowers were just past peak, and the grounds were strewn with petals, gorgeous colours spread across the grass. “Are you sure this is a college campus?” I kept asking my friend as we’d turn the corner to see a stand of bamboo or a reflecting pool or another carefully groomed bed of flowers.

Of course, the best thing about Beautiful Campus on Canadian Island is that the walkways and buildings were infested with Friendly Green Folk. In my book, a college campus can only be improved by herds of Friendly Green Folk trampling into a dining hall or gathering for a plenary or sitting on the grass to talk. More than 650 of us who descended upon the campus for this conference. We almost outnumbered the rabbits.

June 27, 2009

Cute or creepy? You decide

Our first night on Beautiful Campus Where Friendly Green Conference Was Held, my roommates and I went out to find a grocery store. As we walked down the road, I spotted a couple of rabbits on the embankment, eating grass in the afternoon light.

“Oh, aren’t they cute?”
“Shh … don’t scare them.”

We stopped, charmed by the chance encounter with some urban wildlife.

“Aw, look, there’s a baby one.”
“They don’t even seem afraid.”

On our walk back, we noticed more rabbits as we came onto campus. Black rabbits, this time. And then some white ones. Unlike wild rabbits who dart away at any movement, these rabbits paid no attention to us. It was dusk when we reached the lawn nearest our dorm suite, grass that was cropped suspiciously short. Dark shapes, perhaps thirty or forty of them, came crawling across the open space.

Three rabbits eating grass in the sun is cute. Forty rabbits approaching in the dusk is creepy.

For the next seven days, between plenaries and concurrent sessions and meals in the dining hall, we talked about the rabbits. They were everywhere. Hundreds of rabbits, someone said. No, thousands, said someone else. They’d begun as pet rabbits dumped onto the campus, an environment with so few predators that they had bred like … well, like rabbits.

One colleague said he was tempted to jettison his paper and instead do an ecocritical analysis of Night of the Lepus, the 1972 horror film in which people are terrorized by mutant rabbits.

“Can you imagine what this place must look like at Easter time?” asked another colleague. “Eggs everywhere!”

Jokes turned to serious discussion: it was pretty easy to see that the rabbits who conveniently kept the lawns cut short were also destroying any native vegetation. They are as much a nuisance as a source of entertainment.

Many of us had been talking about Alisa Smith and J.B.Mackinnon’s book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating which chronicles a couple’s attempt to eat only foods that came from within a hundred miles of where they live. “Eat local” has become the new mantra amongst food activists. So the solution to the rabbit problem on campus seemed obvious to us: scoop those tame rabbits up and feed them to the students.

We never did get to propose our idea to anyone who might enact it, but the jokes and conversations about the rabbits continued. When I walked through the campus late at night, the flocks of rabbits, usually sitting motionless and staring at me, gave me chills. Many of my colleagues, on the other hand, found them cute. Between sessions, I’d see colleagues crouched on the ground, photographing the bunnies.

“Where’s the next conference?” asked Curly Hair. “I’m hoping for alligators or maybe bears.”

“How come you never mentioned the rabbits?” I asked Charming Canadian Host. I may have sounded a bit accusing, but after all, he spent a whole weekend with the leadership team when we were planning the conference and he never mentioned rabbits. Not even once.

He shrugged. “If your campus was infested with rats, would you tell everyone?”

Cute or creepy?  You decide

June 25, 2009

Naked in morning light

Naked in morning light

When I arrived in Beautiful Island City for the Friendly Green Conference, the first thing my roommates and I did was walk to a grocery store to buy food and flowers for our dorm suite. The second thing we did was yoga. Within minutes of getting back to our shared lounge, we had moved the furniture to the side and stretched out on the floor. Smart Articulate Roommate With a Lovely, Lilting Voice led the yoga session, telling us when to bend and to breathe. I’d spent the day scrunched into cramped airline seats on three different flights, so stretching those muscles felt wonderful.

In academia, conference organizers often don’t recognize that we have bodies. I’ve been to academic conferences with programs so jam-packed that there were no slots for breakfast, or lunch, or supper. I’ve been to events where I had to rush from session to session with no time to even use the bathroom. The intellectual stimulation of an academic conference is wonderful and fulfilling, but spending a whole conference sitting at sessions held in the basement of a big hotel can leave me reeling out of balance, like my mind has been ignoring the fact that I have a body.

Friendly Green Conferences, held on college campuses rather than big hotels, are different. Perhaps because our focus is on environmental issues, the organizers recognize that our bodies can’t be ignored. Even more importantly, the Friendly Green Association strives to be a community, rather than simply a space for the intellectual exchange of ideas. The value of a conference comes not just from the brilliant thoughts presented by speakers, but in the face-to-face conversations we have with colleagues from all over the earth.

The Friendly Green Conference schedule included generous time slots for meals and bathroom breaks and discussions outside in the sun. Friday afternoon was set aside for field trips: after several days of intense intellectual stimulation, it felt great to go ocean kayaking and to swim in icy water. The Friendly Green Conference was an atmosphere conducive to talking about the concerns of the body, from the way our bodies react to toxins to the ways the dominant culture can encourage body hate.

Throughout the week, conference participants kept offering to pose naked for my blog, but since I didn’t carry my camera to sessions, it seemed easiest to choose one of my roommates. That's the tradition, after all. When Lilting Voice volunteered, I thought that some kind of yoga pose would be fitting.

“I’ll put a blanket on this table,” I said. “The texture will work well with your bare skin. The early light’s just right.”

The lounge area was already decorated with a vase of flowers – and a string of chili peppers that EcoWoman had brought. (We like to make ourselves at home, even in campus housing.) As I moved the flowers off the table, Lilting Woman said, “Why not leave the flowers?”

“No, that would look fake,” I said. “Why would you be lying on a table with flowers?”

“Look, honey,” she said. “Let’s acknowledge that there’s some artifice here. You didn’t just come across me lying nekkid on a table.”

She stripped off her clothes and climbed onto the table, her hair in the ponytail she wears whether she’s doing yoga or chairing a meeting. “How’s this?”

Lilting Voice is a leader in the Friendly Green Community, someone who knows how to get things done while somehow being polite and tactful and friendly. She’s a woman who nurtures the intimacy that can happen when people spend time together. She and I are the same age, and we'd been already been talking about our bodies, comparing stories. Despite a bit of artifice, it felt natural to be taking a photo of her as she sat naked in the early morning light.

(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.)

June 24, 2009

Into the Light

Into the Light

All spring semester, as the Friendly Green Conference was approaching, my friends were exchanging emails to coordinate our conference plans. “Which field trip did you sign up for?” and “Who are you rooming with?” and most importantly, “Whose turn is it to pose naked for jo(e)?”

Who Got Naked for Me the First Time We Met and Who Has the Word Leash in the Title of Her New Book argued persuasively that we needed more male models.

It’s true that few of my male friends have posed for the blog. Oh, they like to TALK about getting naked, and they joke with me about the naked photo project, but when it comes right down to it, they somehow never get around to stripping their clothes off.

It’s an interesting gender pattern I’ve noticed so far in the conversations about this project. When women hear that I’m taking naked photos, they will jump quickly from the usual jokes into serious discussion about their bodies: we talk about cultural taboos in the communities we grew up in, the effect of religion on body image, the way that our consumer culture promotes body hatred, and the way we have come to terms with our bodies as we get older. Even when I don’t have my camera with me, just talking about nude photos leads to discussions that get intimate after about half a sentence. Women I’ve never met before will approach me and share heart-wrenching stories.

The pattern with men has been different. The idea of getting naked usually leads to a whole lot of jokes. Sometimes we get into deep conversations, but the discussion tends to be very intellectual – quoting studies and scientific data – rather than a sharing of personal feelings and history. If we talk long enough and I push hard enough, an individual man might turn and say something to me that just gives me a glimpse into how he feels about his body, but it’s a sentence or two, just a quick statement, an aside to just me and not the whole group. For the most part, I’ve been discussing this project with men and women over the age of 35 so I’m curious as to whether I’d find this same gender difference with the younger generation, who have presumably been socialized differently.

Interestingly, the age of the model – male or female – seems to influence how comfortable a person is with posing naked. You’d think, by Hollywood standards, that the young grad students at the conference, with their toned youthful bodies, would be the quickest to strip their clothes off for the camera. But no. It’s actually the opposite. The older the person, the more likely he or she will take her clothes off.

That’s perhaps the most promising thing I’ve noticed so far. The older we get, the more comfortable we get with our bodies. This idea completely defies the premise of the fashion industry, the cosmetic industry, and pretty much every television commercial or magazine advertisement I’ve ever seen. When it comes to our bodies, older is better. Being comfortable with our bodies comes with experience. “It makes sense,” said Conference Friend Who Doesn’t Have a Pseudonym Yet when we were discussing this issue. “The more books you read, the more hikes you take, the more sex you have – it’s all good.”

The photo for this post took all of two minutes to take. Jempé, who chose his own pseudonym and who is far older than he looks in this photo, agreed to pose naked for me only minutes after Blogger From Maine introduced us. Without hesitation, he stripped off his clothes and stepped into the light of a staircase while I snapped the photo. Later, when I saw him (fully clothed) at a plenary session, he came over to hand me his card and suggest a title for the post. For the rest of the conference, I kept pointing him out to my male friends as a role model to follow.

(Readers who want to know the history of the naked photo tradition can check it out here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.)

June 23, 2009


After three wonderful weeks on the west coast – an amazing, awesome, transformative trip – I’ve returned home to Snowstorm region, where I belong. Although I often take short trips to attend conferences or visit friends or go camping, this three-week trip is the longest I’ve been away from home in 26 years. Yes, I was a college student last time I left Snowstorm region for more than a couple of weeks.

I didn’t have my computer with me – and I didn’t have cell phone service most of the trip either, since I spent the first week in the Country to the North and the second week hiking in national parks. When my husband and I drove to the coast, and I called my mother to let her know I had cell phone service again, she said to me, “This is the longest we’ve gone without contact – since you were born.”

I realize that the Friendly Green Conference in Five Minutes post was filled with inside jokes that you wouldn’t get unless you’d been at the conference, but hey, I was a friend’s computer and writing fast. And to be fair, half the jokes are ones you probably wouldn’t get even if you were at the conference. You’d really have to have the same sense of humor as me, and that’s a pretty small audience. The post was hilariously funny inside my head. You’ll just have to take my word for that.

Being away from my computer for three weeks felt wonderfully healthy, but I did miss writing on my blog. It’s amazing how many times I said to myself, “Oh, I have to tell my blog friends this.” I’m not sure whether or not those ideas made it into my journal, but at the very least, I’m going to take some of the photos off my camera and throw them onto the blog. The photo above is me taken at the top of a mountain, with my obliging husband acting as tripod. (“Stand here. Hold the camera at this height. Now press that button when I say so.”)

And I won't be surprised if it's a dream

June 10, 2009

Naked photos, ecocriticism, and so many rabbits

I'm staying out on the west coast for another two weeks, and I don't have my conputer with me. But I've borrowed a friend's computer for a few minutes to blog the Friendly Green Conference. If community theater groups can perform the Complete Works of Shakespeare in an hour,surely I can blog the Friendly Green Conference in five minutes or less. Here goes.

I got pretty Canadian money. I got the key to my dorm suite. I saw rabbits.

I did yoga with my roommates. I went to a day-long meeting. I asked Conference Host, "WTF is up with these rabbits?"

Ecowoman arrived by bicycle, carrying luggage and a plant. We got Friendly Green tote bags. And hats! Complete with a funny story about how the editor bringing the hats had been stopped at the border. Because giving free hats away at a conference is clearly some kind of terrorist activity.

I walked through petals -- red, pink, white. I chaired a panel. I went to sessions. I wrote profound thoughts in the margin of my program. I hugged everyone I knew. I hugged people I didn't know. I saw kelp.

Women kept asking about the naked photo tradition, and then pulling me aside to tell me their stories. I felt honored.

Native people in ceremonial dress sang and danced and welcomed us, giving the Friendly Green Folk permission to hold our gathering on their traditional lands.

I met the guy from Terrain.org who was blogging the conference. He was wearing the first tie I've ever seen at this conference. It was covered in Muppets.

At dawn, I walked a trail through a forest that looked primeval. I took photos of morning light coming through the trees. Then I took a photo of my roommate. Naked.

I ate lunch with a bunch of bloggers. We made so much noise laughing that we almost got kicked out of the dining hall. Then I went to more sessions. And another plenary. The doorway was crowded with folks coming back from dinner. Friendly Green President asked Conference Host to go to the microphone and stall for time.

So he talked about rabbits.

The Guy Who Follows Caribou talked. And showed photos. And he was so amazing and so humble and so inspiring that we stood up when we clapped. And then we went to another party. And stayed up too late listening to the musicians who were hanging out with their guitars just outside the dining hall.

Then more talking and eating. Another amazing plenary. Ecocritic Who Lives on a Boat in England said he'd forgotten how polite Canadian culture was. He saw a sign on a door that said, "Thank you for using this door."

Then I took a naked photo of a professor I'd just met the day before. He came up to me later at a plenary to give me his card. And suggest a pseudonym. Clearly, he was following the etiquette book on naked photo shoots.

Between sessions, I sat on the lawn in the shade and talked to Artist Friend. And hugged anyone who walked by. Whether I knew them or not.

And there were books! Tables full of books! Authors drinking wine. A pajama party with my roommates. And rabbits, dozens of them, staring at us from the lawn.

We climbed into ocean kayaks. We saw a bald eagle. A mother seal and her pup. Kelp! Lots of kelp! Then I went skinny dipping with the plenary speaker.

We talked about books. We talked about climate change and the extinction of species and the fate of the earth. I went to some amazing readings. I ate vegetarian samosas at a table in the sun while Warm Bearded Guy read me a poem he had just written.

People kept coming up and offering to pose naked for my blog. But only when I wasn't carrying my camera. Between sessions, we argued about whether the rabbits were cute or creepy. And we told Exhausted Conference Host funny stories about all the things that had gone wrong at other conferences.

We gathered in a big room to hear a speaker from Earth.com. And the publisher from the Press Named After the Plant That Monarchs Eat. And the Editor-in-chief of Cool Nature Magazine.

Then Henry David Thoreau called on his cell phone.

We did a roundtable about blogging. Except there was no table, not even a square one. We kept seeing rabbits. They were multiplying like crazy. "It could be worse," said Friendly Green Photographer, "at least they aren't Burmese pythons."

I saw a parent telling his child not to eat the rabbit pellets. "They're not raisinets."

And then another party! More eating and drinking. We clapped. We laughed. I drank ginger ale. Handsome Editor from Press Named After a Plant complained about his pseudonym. Then he looked at my ginger ale and said to me, in surprise: "You're sober?"

There was a banquet. With an amazing speaker. We ate food. We clapped. I hugged friends goodbye.

There was some kind of ferry boat issue. The field trip to Cool Island became a field trip to Random Places That Conference Host Thought Might be Cool. We walked around a lake. We went to a winery. We saw pigs. Talkative Animal Lover almost kidnapped a dog. We ate lunch by the sea. And bought books too heavy to carry home and cursed the Conference Host for sending us to a town with so many bookstores. What was he thinking? Then we went to the top of a mountain and took photos.

I kept meeting Friendly Green Folks from other countries. I had a bad case of Accent Envy.

People kept saying to me, "You are SUCH an extrovert." I think that's code for, "My God, you talk a lot, you obnoxious bitch, but we love you anyhow." And they kept hugging me and inviting me to visiting them in real life,wherever that may be.

That night we stood outside the dorms arguing about the validity of a study about sexual preference that involved men looking at porn while wearing sensors that attach to the penis. Brilliant Ecocritic Who Never Comes to Conferences in the States Because He's Not Allowed in the Country had a hypothesis about how American women's obsession with weight and appearance may have originally been driven by a desire to please men, but has become its own vicous cycle perpetuated by women. But he kept dodging the question about whether he would strip for my blog.

The next morning, a blogging friend picked me up and drove me to a wharf. With sailboats. And a view. And houseboats that were colorful and quirky. But the harbor seals were still sleeping. Then we ate breakfast in a cafe filled with kitchen chairs from my childhood.

Then I took a ferry boat. And saw islands! And sat at a table by the water, eating French fries. German Friend fed me chocolate. Woman from Taiwan massaged my shoulders. We analyzed the images on my obnoxious American passport. Then I hugged everyone goodbye and got into a cab.

My week was amazing and exhausting, and the best conference I've attended yet. Watching our Friendly Green President, the guy who had put together the conference, was like watching Barack Obama. Really. I am not even exaggerating. Except every day, he looked even more exhausted. And Conference Host somehow managed to stay laidback and friendly and polite even when people complained about ridiculous things like whales who did not show up at the appointed time.

Eh. Thoughtless whales. Damn those huge mammals anyhow. Who needed them? We had rabbits.

I'm blogging from a friend's computer so I can't post photos. And now I'm off to State South of Here to meet my husband for a long vacation. I promise naked photos -- and more details -- when I return.

Postscript: If you'd like to see other (possibly more serious) posts about the Friendly Green Conference, check out this post by Charming Canadian Professor Who Reads a Lot. He's compiled a list of bloggers who are writing about the conference. Leave him a comment if you wrote about the conference and would like to be added to the list.