I just returned from the ASLE conference in Victoria, B.C. This is my third ASLE, and it marked the first time this wonderful conference was held in Canada. The ASLE conferences are like no other conferences I’ve ever attended. I always leave these conferences feeling not only inspired, but refreshed. If there were such a thing as summer camp for academics this would be it. We talk about our research and teaching, attend workshops, hear inspiring plenary speakers and participate in panels. We also go hiking, bird watching, kayaking, etc. On any given evening during the conference you can stroll around campus and hear the sounds of ASLEers playing the guitar and singing. There are a significant number of conference-goers who appreciate the finer points of a good pint of beer. This is the kind of conference where you can strike up a conversation with a total stranger and end up making a new friend in a matter of minutes. The dress code is totally casual and there are always vegetarian/vegan options at the banquet. This conference is unpretentious, collegial, totally inspiring and I love it! Far too often I’ve witnessed conferences turn into pretentious pissing matches and I’ve just walked away in disgust. ASLE redeems my faith in academic culture.
I heard many good presentations during this ASLE conference, but I want to take a minute to mention one that stands out above all the rest — the plenary session that featured Greg Garrard and Cate Mortimer-Sandilands. From the outset, both speakers acknowledged that their work came out of very different theoretical and methodological traditions. I suppose they could have argued loudly with one another, stomping their feet and pointing out all the reasons why they felt that the other was wrong. But they didn’t. They opened the session by taking 10 minutes each to describe the significance and the importance of the other person’s work. These were generous and genuine tributes to the work of two scholars who have done so much for the field of ecocriticism. This was incredibly inspiring and I think it serves as a good reminder that differences in scholarly approaches need not result in academic incivility.