Within Our Reach conferenceBill Dennison ·
The 'Within Our Reach' conference held in Corvallis, Oregon and focused on the Willamette River, did several things extremely well. One thing was the 'book ending' of the science and technical aspects with more socially relevant aspects; the film night at the beginning and the poetic reflections of Kathleen Dean Moore at the end. Kathleen provided one of the most compelling verbal nature essays I have ever heard. Her personal connection with the Willamette River was palpable, her gentle humor was refreshing and her ability to connect with the here and now audience while providing a timeless perspective of the connection of people with nature was unique. Kathleen opened up with her personal life, and when she was describing holding her new granddaughter next to the wetland near her house, it conjured up a powerful image of connectedness. She graciously gave me a copy of one of her books, "Riverwalking: Reflections on moving water", which I read on the long plane ride home. It was a delight to read so soon after hearing her talk, as I could literally hear her voice as I read the book. I will certainly be chasing down copies of her other books. I felt a particular kinship to Kathleen, as we are both originally from Ohio, love water and being outdoors, appreciate poetry and nature writing. The Willamette River really does have a Poet Laurette in Kathleen Dean Moore.
Another thing that Pam Wiley and her colleagues did really well was look after the important details like providing excellent food and drink (e.g., smoked salmon and Oregon Pinot Noir), allow for breaks in the schedule, intersperse panel discussions, keynote speakers, and break-out sessions. The River Cafe session where rotating groups of people discussed river issues provided a voice for everyone, the plenaries were uniformly excellent (e.g., David Hulse, Stan Gregory, Michael Douglas, and Cliff Dahm), and the poster session with a 'dating card' which provided an entry into a raffle were nice features. The length of the conference was just right, ending on the second day in the afternoon. The audience was quite varied, farmers, graduate students, city planners, fisheries biologists, regulators and funders. What was reassuring was the wide age distribution and the heartfelt recognition of those who had made contributions but had passed away.
Stan Gregory gave an excellent abbreviated history of some of the giants in Oregon conservation that preceded the current recipients of the Theiss International Riverprize. Then he did a most remarkable thing. He invited everyone in the audience to look around the room and note someone that they thought had done something special, a 'legend' of sorts. Then he asked the audience to make a point in the coming months and years to invite their heroes for breakfast or a cup of coffee and let them know just how important they were. He said that this was not just for the sake of the people receiving this praise, but for the person giving the praise. By expressing their respect and appreciation, they were living a life of no regrets. Stan had recently organized a memorial tribute at Oregon State University for his long time good friend and colleague, Jim Sledell, so his request was particularly poignant.
My closing comment was that I was so glad that the water carrier trophy for the International Riverprize was sitting in this room with so many talented and committed people. They were not basking in the glow of winning, rather firmly setting their sights on the next set of challenges ahead, and proving once again, in the words of Margaret Mead, that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
About the author
Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.