The Headwaters Conference – Celebrating 25 Years — Colorado Central Magazine

George Sibley
George Sibley

Here’s a recap of the recent Headwaters Conference held at Western State University, from Tyler Grimes writing for Colorado Central Magazine. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The 25th Headwaters Conference, The Working Wild, began Friday, Sept. 20 at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. The auditorium was full in anticipation of the keynote speaker, Gary Snyder. One spectator mused, “It’s the gathering of the eagles,” with community leaders from all over the Headwaters region in attendance. After a poem by Art Goodtimes and a song by Alan Wartes, Conference Director John Hausdoerffer introduced Snyder. He revealed that Snyder, a beat generation poet, inspired Jack Kerouac’s famous character from the Dharma Bums, Japhy Ryder.

Snyder began by dissecting the words of the theme: wild and wilderness. Wilderness, he said, came from the Old English words meaning self-willed, beast and place. What does it mean for land to be self-willed, Snyder asked the audience. Wild in Germanic and Chinese, which Snyder studied, meant self-ordered or self-managed. He explained that when he thought of wilderness he looked at the percentage of wild processes. Snyder went on to give a few opinions on land management before moving into reading. He read mostly from Mountains and Rivers Without End, a collection of poetry he had written over the last 40 years. He lulled the audience into meditative stillness as he described white water and rivers, trees and forests, and rocks and mountains. Hausdoerffer said later, “It was like listening to a mountain speak.”

Near the end of his Keynote address, Snyder read from his famous poem For the Children, which ends, “Stay together/Learn the Flowers/Go light.”

The Headwaters Conference was started 25 years ago by former Western faculty member George Sibley. He recalled the years leading up to the Conference during his address Saturday afternoon. He said universities all over the country were struggling after the baby boomers were completing higher ed. He recalled a time when there were talks of turning Western into a medium-security prison. Sibley went to faculty meetings that “he didn’t belong in” to push his idea of a conference. He described thinking that Gunnison was just a few hours’ drive to the start of many major rivers. “We were the headwaters school,” he said. The Headwaters Conference was a way for headwaters communities to gather, network and collaborate…

Sibley ended the day’s events by addressing the Conference. “We’ve barely scratched the surface,” he said, on what the Headwaters Conference could be. “We hope for another 25 years.” In summary, Sibley turned to a table of students and built upon Snyder’s poem, “‘Stay together, learn the flowers, go light,’ and I would add to it, work wild.”

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