Environmental gathering scrutinizes local landscape

Two specialists in interpreting the natural landscape will discuss their impressions of lands protected by the Androscoggin Land Trust in 7 p.m. presentations on Saturday, Oct. 12, and Sunday, Oct. 13, at Bates College. The Saturday talk is in Chase Hall Lounge, Chase Hall, 56 Campus Avenue, and Sunday’s event is in the Keck Classroom (G52), Pettengill Hall, 4 Andrews Road. The talks by plant ecologists Tom Wessels and Mitchell Thomashow, both of Antioch New England Graduate School, are open to the public at no charge.

Wessels and Thomashow are coming to Maine for an annual Bates program that explores themes related to the natural environment and the wilderness, especially themes involving the spiritual and moral dimensions of human relationships with nature. This year’s three-day Philip J. Otis Environmental Gathering, undertaken in partnership with the Androscoggin Land Trust (ALT), is designed to give members of the college, the land trust and the greater community a more intimate understanding of the local landscape.

The gathering applies the practice of “reading the landscape” during daytime field trips to tracts under ALT protection. Those include sites on Merrill Hill, Turner; the Harkins Preserve, Auburn; the Garcelon Bog, Lewiston; the Purinton Family Homestead, West Bowdoin; and Hooper Pond, Greene.

In the evening programs, Wessels and Thomashow will interpret what they experienced during the field trips. Wessels is the author of Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England (Countryman Press, 1999), a guide to interpreting the history of forested landscapes. Applying his skills as a plant ecologist, he offers ways to spot the evidence of land use and shifts in plant communities over time.

Wessels’ colleague at Antioch, Mitchell Thomashow wrote Bringing the Biosphere Home: Learning to Perceive Global Environmental Change (MIT Press, 2001), which points out the link between reading landscapes and registering global environmental change. His juxtapositions of scale (the cosmic with the intimate) and emphasis on interrelatedness extend the act of landscape reading into philosophical and humanistic terrain.

The Otis Enviromental Gathering is one of several environmentally focused programs supported by the Philip J. Otis Endowment, a permanent fund at Bates College. The fund was established in 1996 by a gift from Margaret V. B. and C. Angus Wurtele in memory of their son, Philip ’95, who died attempting to rescue an injured climber on Mount Rainier. Other Otis programs include student fellowships, professional development opportunities for faculty and an annual lecture series.

This year’s Otis Environmental Gathering receives additional support from the Edmund S. Muskie Archives at Bates.

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