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All Manner of Poets Stand Up for the Earth:

16th Annual Watershed Poetry Festival
Saturday, October 1, 2011, noon to 4:30
Civic Center Park, Berkeley, California

The 2011 Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, presented by Poetry Flash and Robert Hass, co-sponsored by the Ecology Center/Berkeley Farmers' Market and Ecocity Builders, will be dedicated to the life and work of Peter Berg, founder of Planet Drum Foundation, who popularized the term "bioregionalism" with an ecologist in the 1970s. His talk, from the 1996 Watershed conference in Washington, D.C., presented here with a few of his poems says, simply, humbly, eloquently, everything about the spiritual goals and the way of life, the stance towards our planet, that the festival has been pointing toward and working to inspire for these last sixteen years.

Peter Berg was asked to speak at the festival this year, and he was doubly delighted because this year's festival date, October 1, is his birthday. We're going to celebrate it and the light in which he lived his life. A tribute to Peter Berg will be presented at Watershed by Humboldt Bay poet Jerry Martien, who will also speak at the Planet Drum tribute to Peter Berg to be held at the Randall Museum, San Francisco, on the evening of Watershed day.

Poetry is the focus of Watershed, our most central speech, speech most closely allied to the sacred, which is how we feel about the earth. Watershed was conceived in collaboration with Robert Hass during his term as U.S. Poet Laureate, 1995-97, inspired by readings of Gary Snyder's essays on place and bioregionalism. National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Hass will be presiding and reading this year. His recent book is The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems. Jane Hirshfield will join us; she is a Zen practitioner, and poet of incomparable grace and wisdom. This year's Watershed broadside is a poem from her new book, Come, Thief. Camille T. Dungy, author of three books of poems and editor of Black Nature, the first anthology of African American nature poetry, will read and add her passion, insight, laughter. Her brand new book is Smith Blue. She won the 2011 Northern California Book Award in Poetry for her previous collection, Suck on the Marrow. D.A. Powell will be performing at the festival for the first time. His fourth book of poems, Chronic, won this year's prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award as well as the Northern California Book Award in Poetry from the Northern California Book Reviewers Association. And Judy Grahn, the Bay Area's great feminist and lesbian poet, thinker, and activist, poet of the Goddess, will debut at Watershed with a preview of her poetic-folk-opera-in-progress, "Mental," accompanied by composer, singer and guitarist Anne Carol. Mental uses the butterfly as a central metaphor, comparing our treatment of the mentally ill and of homeless veterans to environmental degradation of the earth. (The original poem appears in The Judy Grahn Reader.) Andrew Schelling will be a featured poet as well, author of many books of poems, essays, and translations, and a worker on land use in the American West, ecology, and wolf reintroduction. His new book is From the Arapaho Songbook. Gail Rudd Entrekin, poet and editor of Canary, A Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis will read. Barry Finnerty's Jazz Roots Trio will be swinging and grooving with us all afternoon.

Youth poets from River of Words, California Poets in the Schools, and Poetry Inside Out led by noted poet-teachers Grace Grafton and John Oliver Simon. Robert Hass will present River of Words students. Eco-updates will be shared by Kirstin Miller and Richard Register of Ecocity Builders and poet Kirk Lumpkin of the Ecology Center. We Are Nature Open Mic will take place in the first hour of the Festival (to enter the reading-slot drawing—be at the info booth by noon).

There will be more poets in this fast moving event, including readings from poets who will have also read on the Strawberry Creek Walk. Part of Watershed, the annual Creek Walk begins at 10 a.m., October 1, just inside the University of California, Berkeley campus at Oxford and Center Streets. You're invited to join Poetry Out Loud mentor and eco-performance poet Chris Olander; University of California, Berkeley faculty poet John Shoptaw, who has recently finished a book of poems on the Mississippi River, "Times Beach"; poet Jahan Khalighi from the Ecology Center; Mendocino poet and California Poets in the Schools teacher Karen Lewis; Nevada City poet, playwright and doctor of medicine Kathryn Smith; and Jason Ryberg, a member of the Tsi Akim Maidu people in Yuba River Watershed and organizer of the "Calling Back the Salmon Ceremony" held in October along the banks of the Yuba River with Indigenous Peoples Day. They will be joined by Kirstin Miller of Ecocity Builders and Tim Pine of UC Berkeley for a walk along Strawberry Creek from the UC Berkeley campus through downtown Berkeley to the Watershed Festival, tracing the route of the creek as it tunnels beneath the city. Along the way, there will be readings and updates on "daylighting" and restoring Strawberry Creek.

The Berkeley Farmers' Market, nature and critter face painting, and book sales by Pegasus Books Downtown will be in full bloom. The familiar city park will be transformed with Watershed banners created by the late Bolinas artist Arthur Okamura, the Creek Poem Installation, River Village exhibits, and "waterchutes," parachute-shade structures for audience sunshade; chairs and carpet squares will provide seating.

In other Watershed Festival activities, Watershed poets will visit Berkeley High School for an exciting poetry session with the students on the day before the festival. Watershed Environmental Festival is a collaboration of Robert Hass, Poetry Flash, Ecology Center/Berkeley Farmers' Market, and Ecocity Builders.

So join us for the sixteenth annual Watershed. It's become a holiday, holy day, here in Berkeley. Help us remember Peter Berg and stand up for the Earth.

Peter's work over the decades with the Planet Drum Foundation, and the periodical "Raise the Stakes" was of immeasurable importance in defining and disseminating the ideas and possibilities of bioregionalism. In recent years he was much involved with the municipal governments of Ecuador and helped design some remarkable projects. Throughout his long career he stayed with living right in San Francisco and in word and deed was a proponent of a non-dualistic urban/hinterland view of bioregionalism, one which I totally support. Peter was a unique and cranky figure. I salute him and will deeply miss him.

—Gary Snyder

The Watershed Festival emerged from Robert Hass's national Watershed initiative during his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, 1995-97, which explored connections between the environment and the American literary imagination. That is how the first U.S. Poet Laureate from the West came to organize a national Watershed conference in April, 1996, in Washington, D.C. in association with The Library of Congress and Orion magazine. Fueled in part by a Creative Work Fund collaboration between Robert Hass, sculptor Shane Eagleton, and Poetry Flash to unveil "Down to Earth" rubbing panels, a fifty-foot bas relief wood carving of a river poem by Robert Hass, the first Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival in the Bay Area became a reality. The first Watershed celebration for poetry and environmental awareness was presented by Robert Hass and Poetry Flash, and co-sponsored by International Rivers Network and Orion magazine at the Bandshell, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on April 6, 1996. The crucial River of Words international poetry and visual art program for children also emerged from this initiative. River of Words now has a permanent home at Saint Mary's College of California's new Center for Environmental Literacy, in Moraga.

Appearing at a session with Gary Snyder and Stephanie Mills at the Washington, D.C. Watershed, Peter Berg delivered this talk, included in his book, Envisioning Sustainability.

Talk by Peter Berg at Watershed:
Writers, Nature and Community

Washington, D.C., 19 April 1996

When I was with the San Francisco Diggers in 1966, Paul Krassner of The Realist magazine wanted to put out our street communications as the "Digger Papers." In one of those essays I used the word "ecology." He had never heard it. Krassner was an intelligent, urbane New Yorker who had to go to the dictionary to look up the word "ecology." Today, there are many words that have "eco" from ecology as a prefix. Eco-friendly, eco-fascist, eco-feminist, eco-terrorist, eco-consumer, eco-freak, eco-literate, eco-art, eco-governance. And this list is probably growing while we're sitting here. I think this is indicative of a vast consciousness shift that has people scrambling to try to account for their reality.

It could be thought of as merely a fashionable trend, but most of these eco-words indicate a serious attempt to revise the previous sense of ideas from their industrial context into a new mutualistic, shared-values context. I think it represents, and here comes that prefix again, an eco-cultural transition. This is a big shift, on the scale of a civilization change. It's a new perception of human identity. What a person is, where he or she is, and what he or she is going to do about it. Possibly the older transition to industrialization was not as large as the one that we're engaged in now. It involves the knowledge that we share the planet together, which invites a new sense of interdependence as opposed to simple individual independence. I think this will eventually become a mutual perception of the world regardless of the particular cultural diversity of human groups. The moral, social, political, and spiritual dimensions of this idea are enormous. What should one do? How should one make a living? How should one behave toward other people and living things? We're beginning to identify ourselves with the preservation of the biosphere as a conscious activity in major aspects of our lives.

It's not unusual when words come out of the natural sciences into general cultural terms that they change their meanings. Almost nobody means ecology in the strict natural science definition when they use it popularly today. They're really referring to the suchness of being connected together. . .This new sense that we're all part of the human species together on this planet. That's what people are attempting to say by the term "ecological." It's very different from the previous industrial context. Is there anyone here who hasn't heard the phrase "board feet of lumber"? That's an industrial definition of a tree, to describe it as so many board feet of lumber.

It's a useful measure in construction but when it's the only term for a tree, we're in serious trouble. "Acre foot of water." Probably very few people know what an acre foot of water is. This is agribusiness code. It's the amount of water that can cover a square acre one foot deep. It's a useless measure to nearly anyone except a large agricultural consumer of water. Rivers are acre-feet of water to industrial sensibilities.

We know that trees and rivers are actually complex habitats. But the industrial notion was: How can I take something out of nature and transform it to make something else out of it? We're trying to reverse that. We're trying to get an ecological perspective where a forest is once again a living context, a river is a living context. The terms that are coming out of the natural sciences for this include "watershed." Trees and rivers are part of a watershed. A watershed is also being seen as a large context for understanding our own human location within a natural system.

How does this work? A young woman came to the Planet Drum Foundation office and said she had heard my lecture in her Ecosystemology class at Berkeley. ECOsystemology. There's that prefix again. She wanted to make a presentation on the notion of watersheds for her class as an Environmental Sciences major. How could she do it?

Well, start with the bowl itself, the water basin, the landforms of ridges, hills and valleys. Put gravity in it. Water flows and carries things, primarily soil, downhill. Soil determines what kinds of plants will grow. Willows need to have their roots in water so when you see willows at a distance you're looking at a place where water is near the surface. Some animals go where certain plants grow to browse. Some animals go near water to hunt other animals. All of those connections are in a watershed: landforms, gravity, hydrology, soil, native plants and animals.

Next consider what people do each day. Whether or not sunlight falls on you might be because a shading hill is nearby, that's part of the watershed. If you have firewood it's because of the biomass in the watershed. Our food is usually from rich bottom land that's made up of soil that is carried downhill into the valley. Those are some of the considerations. Also, everything about planning or where you put a house, whether or not it's going to be dry, whether or not you're going to get sun, what the water and waste restrictions might be, where the roads go. All of those human considerations revolve around the watershed.

Now back up farther and look at the oldest ways humans have lived. We've mainly operated in the context of our immediate locales, which meant we knew our watersheds. We were consciously relating to them every day. We weren't just abstractly "on the earth." Indigenous, land-based Europeans actively refer to things this way. The Welsh word "bro" meaning: all of us who live here around this river, my relatives, the animals of this valley, etc. (This might be where we got the word "borough.")

I told her that in order to understand that context, you're going to have to get out of the natural sciences department. You're going to have to shift over to the philosophy department. I directed her to read Lucretius and Lao Tzu to find out what water really means, what water teaches. How it wears things down. How it flows and seeks the low places, and why that can be thought of as a desirable way for a human being to think and behave. And also to get over into the anthropology department and find out what people refer to for the basics of life. What they eat. What they think of the things they eat. Why they think that way. What they mean. Even what prayer means to indigenous people.

When she left I thought about the last time I saw all of this myself. I was in Hakuba, Japan because the Winter Olympics were going to be held there and some of the local residents had been reading "deep ecology." A friend who works part-time at a ski lodge said he would like me to come and talk to his fellow town residents about the impact of the Olympics on their valley and its ecology. When I showed up they said, "You can do anything you want. We'll arrange a bus tour. That's the way we do it. We'll all get in a bus together and you'll show us our watershed."

I asked if there was a hillside with a spring nearby. Luckily, there was one that looked just like the spring in the city of Mount Shasta in California that is the northern source of the Sacramento River. It's a spiritually powerful place because you can see the river jump right out of a rock there. I stood on a bridge and underneath it in the stream was watercress just the way it is at Mount Shasta and I immediately felt at home. I showed them how water flowed down. I noted the difference between a planted wood lot with trees of only one species and a more diverse natural forest. We saw where water carried rich soil into the rice fields and then how the river went down to the town. We went to one of the Olympics sites where the construction crews had pounded a hillside to make a ski recreation center.

They had cut huge swaths through the forest for cross-country ski trails that the officials said were going to be turned into facilities for urban-originated skateboarding and rollerblading when the Olympics were over. Supposedly it was going to be economically beneficial, but they were already polluting water right beside the construction site and you could see major erosion that was going to cost restoration monies in the future.

Then we all went to the edge of a cliff. This promontory was about a thousand feet high and looked down on the whole Hakuba Valley. We all stood and I asked the people to be quiet for a little while and try to put together what we had seen. After a few minutes of silence, people started spontaneously talking about how the water came out of the hillsides, how it came through the forest into creeks and down into the rice fields. The rice was green and gold, beautiful just before harvesting. The river was swift because the peaks around it rise two thousand feet in something like a thousand feet. Really steep. River water has pounded down and brought gravel with it so that the banks of the river on both sides were ten times the width of the river.

I said: "You know all of this was here before people came. And all of this will stay here after the Olympics are over and even after people leave. Here's your choice. You see how powerful it is. You see how rich it is. You can either harmonize with this watershed pattern, try to get along with it and maintain it, or you can allow it to be degraded. It's a values decision. You have to find the basis for making that choice in your hearts."

I couldn't help noticing during my visit that Japanese have a great appreciation of spirit and respect for it. The people in this group were as humble as though they had been in a temple. When we walked back they were quiet, almost whispering as they showed plants and mushrooms to each other. We all got back in the bus and a woman came up and said: "I have to go but…" A man began translating what she said while I was looking at her somewhat dumbfounded. She said: "I've never been as touched by anything in my life." I said: "Ah, no." She said: "Yes. I'm very, very grateful. I can't thank you enough. I'm a school teacher and I was going to stop teaching." I said: "Oh, please." I was feeling embarrassed. I looked at my friend and said: "Kim, isn't there any way we can make a joke?" He said: "No, you have to listen to her." She said: "I'm going to make what we learned today the basis of what I teach to the children of this valley in the future."

What does this mean to us? Where is this going? I think it's going to go as far as we push it. We must continue to push the reality and meaning of watersheds and bioregions, our natural homes. We've seen how far it's taken us already. As a particularly interesting example, a quarter of the mail I get at Planet Drum Foundation has the sender's bioregion or watershed in the return address. They write the street, the town and the state, and then put something like "Delaware Watershed" at the bottom. When I started putting "Shasta Bioregion" on our Planet Drum stationery years ago, I jokingly told people I was doing it to confound the U.S. Postal Service. But people are now doing this in a dedicated way. Sometimes their address is even more detailed. They'll write the creek in the watershed in the bioregion.

I'm going to push this as far as I can and I want you to push it as far as you can. I'm staying with a lawyer here in Washington who presents cases having to do with health to government agencies. I asked him: "What's the actual city of Washington like?" He said: "Washington is a very distracted political entity because it's so artificial. The only solution is for it to be a regional government, for Washington to be seen in the Potomac Watershed of the Piedmont-Tidewater Bioregion. It's the only way that this place can ever make any sense." Let's push it as far as we can.

Let's see what eventually happens to Washington, D.C. Let's see what happens to the places where we live. Let's watch what happens to our city and county boundaries, and state boundaries in terms of watersheds. Let's help to rejoin the planet in every way we can.

From Envisioning Sustainability, by Peter Berg, republished here by permission of Judy Goldhaft and the Planet Drum Foundation.

San Francisco Bioregional Chant


    beneath the sewers and cables

    beneath the basements of these buildings


    for the last 60 million years



    sliding downhill over the Rocky Mountains


    off the California Current fed by Asian Kuro Shio


    with grey hooded intimacy


    Of the North Pacific Rim


Invisible Except For a Nervous System

forest bottom

thick layered hemlock and pine pieces

from last fall’s roof-breaking wind

grey-brown with torn ends

black rocks floating in needles

clean-edged bright spring green leaves stab through

i want to be less than i am

porous woods light

play over me, warm then cold

hidden birds call tease directions

fly through me

shushing breeze humped field descending in yellow-dotted waves

to the night-filled lake

slide over me deep underground



Shasta Bioregion Winter Solstice

December bare branches

leaves underfoot

bottom of winter.

Daylight like embers

holding out.

It all starts up again

without us

flows to spring.

With us

it all returns

like wildness glowing

under ashes.


Solstice Solo

for Lew Welch

climb alone red rocks

pristine hill top

above bay downtown buildings

pull conch shell from bag

blast to find sweet spot

sunset fires spreading

in office windows

how to play for people

from before, are now or to come

uninstructed in chill Pacific wind

on longest summer day

gold dome sparks rose sky

plaintive toots raise heads

quick shakes Amazon rattle

Mediterranean tambourine elbow smacks

Look crazy keeping balance

San Francisco


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