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  • Afire at the Kenworthy

    followed by a discussion with the Confluence Lab “Like all of Petzold’s recent pictures, “Afire” draws you in confidently and prepares its knockout emotional punch with scrupulousness and a vivid sense of surprise.” — The Confluence Lab is pleased to sponsor the film Afire showing at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Center in Downtown Moscow, Idaho. A group of friends in a holiday home by the Baltic Sea where emotions run high as the parched forest around them catches fire. A riveting look at complicated relationships, the well-acted Afire finds Christian Petzold working in an arguably lighter but still notably ambitious vein. The Confluence Lab invites members of the Palouse community to a conversation about Afire after the screening on Sunday at 4 PM. As we face longer, more intense fire seasons in the West and elsewhere, communities like ours need to develop resilience and psychological preparedness. In this creative, interactive workshop, we’ll discuss Afire, share personal stories and feelings about fire, and strategize about creating a more sustainable and resilient future in our community.

  • Ground Truths "The Wound is an Opening"

    When I look at Enid Smith-Becker’s Witness, I initially see a scene of devastation. Columns of red interrupt an otherwise peaceful scene in the forest, burning upwards as they lay waste to the trees and understory. The stark vertical lines of flames literally chop the image up into before and after, or, rather, what once was/is and what will be. But, the longer that I look at this painting, the more diplopic, or double-sighted, it becomes. A second scene emerges, in which the columns of fire are not incinerating trees, but held within them. This interpretation foregrounds the idea of serotiny, a term associated with cone-bearing trees such as many species of pine, spruce, and sequoia that depend upon a blast of heat to trigger the release of their seeds. The longer that I look at Witness, the more clearly that I see two fires: one angry and devastating and another the first step in regeneration. I also see two sets of trees, respectively: one in the moment of collapse and another brimming with energy, potential, and life. The double-nature of Witness brings to life for me a line in the poem that accompanies Sasha Michelle White’s The Containment: “the wound is an opening.” The wound in the poem refers to delivery mechanisms in and of the body by which we can receive treatment and begin to heal. But it also strikes me as a powerful prescription for understanding the fire-prone and -affected landscapes of the twenty-first-century Pacific Northwest, or appreciating the two sets of trees that we see in Witness. Our region is full of wounds, of ruined shells in the forest that testify to fires that are too hot and too big. But these “wounds” are also openings of various kinds. Some of these openings are literal, in that many plants in our region need fire to open up to survive and thrive. Still other openings are figurative, in that they assert alternative burning practices and fire regimes that understand and use fire as a tool of life rather than one of only violence and annihilation. (Hence, also, the refrain that runs through White’s poem: “whose lands are you on?”) Her work encourages us to think of not only the burn, but also the salve that follows. Several contributors to Ground Truths emphasize the violence of today’s wildfires and the wounds they cause. See, for example, Justin Webb’s photographs of the aftermath of the 2015 Soda Fire. The two trees that dominate Skeletons of Soda Fire 1 and 2 remain, six years after the event, as evidence of what we have lost. As Webb writes in his contributor’s note, his photographs are inspired by the experience of “seeing a landscape that I grew up exploring stripped of its already limited plant life.” The stark black and whiteness of Webb’s arboreal photos revise Ansel Adams’ iconic images of National Parks for the Pyrocene era. Webb swaps Adams’ wild and abundant sublime for the sublime of what is now absent and the wrecks that remain. See, too, the trees that similarly haunt the backgrounds of Jean Arnold’s paintings of what is left in Malden, Washington. In September 2020, the Babb Road Fire burned 15,000 acres and over two hundred buildings–including 67 homes–in a few hours. The five paintings in Arnold’s Malden series foreground this domestic devastation, documenting the exposed interiors of shattered houses with brutal clarity. Yet is the background that haunts me most in these images. Behind each set of ruins stands a set of trees that signals just how far the loss stretches. The trees in Malden 8: Shreds and Malden 5: Phase Change, in particular, remind me that it is not only our homes that are disappearing, but the homes (and lives) of countless other species with which we share this region. The ghost of what once also lingers in Liz Toohey-Wise’s striking Billboard, which anticipated the White Rock Lake Fire in 2022. Be quick, the billboard says to us with its tongue in its cheek; see this landscape while you can, as it won’t be here long. ​ Other contributions to Ground Truths function at a different scale of time or engage alternative cultural practices to help us see wounds as the first step in healing and, often, a necessary phase in life. This perspective is perhaps loudest in the powders, salves, and tinctures of White’s The Containment–part of her larger project FIRST-AID KIT FOR THE FIRE-PRONE. Featuring medicines and dyes she made from fire-adapted plants of the southern Willamette Valley and The Nature Conservancy’s Sycan Marsh Preserve such as arnica, snowbrush ceanothus, and St John’s wort, White’s kit draws our attention how we might use plants that thrive with the recurring disturbance of fire to treat the illnesses and injuries that fire can cause. As she explains, her kit emphasizes “fire, tending, and healing,” particularly those central to Indigenous fire regimes that are not based solely on suppression, to present us a ground truth that “promotes a pro-active, cross-cultural attending to our fire-prone landscapes.” The work of Megan Hatch is similarly interested in healing and renewal. A queer, multidisciplinary artist from Portland, Hatch began her project in the summer of 2020 and took inspiration from the interconnections between George Floyd’s murder, the COVID-19 pandemic, and what was, at the time, Oregon’s worst-ever wildfire season. Her photographs potently insist that we grapple with what is broken and how we might mend it, and each diptych tasks us with viewing, simultaneously, images of death and images of life. A thin golden line inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, by which broken pottery is mended with gold, yokes together each pair of images. Hatch explains that kintsugi vessels “hold our hurt and our hope,” and, similarly, her images tell us that “there is healing to be found in holding multiple truths in our awareness at the same time.” I see this hurt and hope strongly almost there – losing ground, which binds together an enticing forest path with stark snags. Which came first, the photographs ask: the life or the death? Can we truly have one without the other? And what binds them together? Several years ago, when I started to study literary representations of fire, I had a conversation with a fire ecologist friend about the evolution of fire regimes in my current home state of Idaho. She told me that prior to 1900, fires annually burned at least two million acres in the state. These fires had a different texture to the big, hot fires that we see today, she explained; the historical fires burned mostly lower elevation forests and rangelands, were smaller and more numerous, and largely were ignited by lightning or indigenous fire practices. I was surprised to learn that post-Big Burn federal suppression policies have produced a fire deficit–my friend told me that we actually need more fire in our region, just fire of a different kind. She was very clear on this issue: no fire is not the answer, and we must learn to see fire not as bad but part of the land’s personality. Laura Aloha-Young’s work and artistic process crisply captures the swirl of emotions that followed this conversation. Attempting to “provide evidence of the intricacies of regeneration, of life in the forest,” her pieces begin with photos that she takes of fire landscapes that “reveal the marks of fire itself: lichen, mycology, growth, decay.” I clearly see the tension between growth and decay in her work and the ways that it mixes media and species to grapple with the emotional complexity of fire. Much like Becker-Smith’s Witness, I initially see a scene of devastation when I look at Two Pines Down (after the fire)--the dark colors and jagged lines return me to the melancholy of Webb’s skeletons, and the hazy shapes that surround the lines heighten the ghostliness of the image. But when I look again, I see that these hazy shapes are alive. They are not ghosts of what we have lost, but fungal and vegetal assemblages in the process of emergence. The image is thus one of simultaneous wound and opening, past and future. Its depiction of post-fire blossoming–and the revelation of this meaning as late-maturing, like serotiny–reminds us that our relationship with fire must be complicated and double-sighted. It also promises that in our search of the material evidence that remains after the flames burn out, and the layers of meaning that we find there, we may access a new ground truth of acceptance, regrowth, and fortitude. The Online Exhibition Ground Truths, presented by lab in conjunction with Prichard Art Gallery opened in April 2023. Contextualizing this exhibit, further considerations of this collection were contributed by Confluence Lab member Erin James. "The Wound is an Opening" is part III of her response.

  • Ground Truths: "Boots on the Ground"

    Boots on the ground: in many ways this is a clichéd phrase that, with its evocation of military action, brings to mind images of war, soldiers, defense, and attack. As such, it fits a popular narrative of fire in the twenty-first-century Pacific Northwest as an adversary that we must defeat–an evil presence escaping out of the woods that demands active fighting. The complete story of fire in our region is, of course, much more complicated: modern wildfire is both too hot and too fast, seeded as it is by decades of the fuel loading that has resulted from federal- and state-supported suppression policies, and a necessary part of the lifecycle of many of the region’s ecosystems. Having boots on the ground in our contemporary firescape is thus also much more complicated than the military connotations of the phrase suggest. As many of the contributions to Ground Truths attest, being in the thick of things–or grappling with fire from within, as opposed to witnessing it from afar–is essential to understanding not only what fire is today, but what it means to the various communities that live with it in our region. Kate Lund’s contributions to Ground Truths began when she was in fire: while studying as an art student, Lund spent eight summers working as a wildland firefighter with the United States Forest Service (USFS). As she explains, she used firefighting to “fuel” her artistic practice, collecting “images, objects, and sensations over the course of each summer in the landscape.” That collection is on vivid display in Are You Sure We are Going the Right Way, Downdraft and Microburst–gestural renderings and sculptures that not only evoke her experiences of fire operations but carry within them remnants of the urgency and distress of being in the field. Microburst, for example, makes use of expired and cast-off tents and outdoor firefighting equipment to conjure the way that wind moves during a fire. Fencing, nylon, and tent poles hang together to situate the viewer within the actual wildfire’s wind–“short, sharp bursts of air strong enough to mow down 200 foot-tall trees in a matter of seconds.” The work of David Paul Bayles and Frederick J. Swanson similarly originates in situ. A western Oregon photographer and a retired Research Geologist with the USFS’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, respectively, Bayles and Swanson have made dozens of site visits over two and a half years to the landscape blackened by the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire to better understand wildfire and its effects on our region. As they eloquently explain, “seeking truth involves boots on the ground while looking for clues in the clouds,” as “that’s what trees do.” Bayles and Swanson use a variety of scientific and artistic methodologies to try on a tree’s perspective, working together to combine the photographer’s eye for form and color with the scientists’ focus on biological and physical processes. Their meditative treeness, or quiet on-the-groundness, is clear in the two styles of photographic work that feature in their Ground Truths contributions: Typologies (groups of images of single subjects) and Chronosequences (photographs that track change over time). “Truth may be lodged in the tread of our boots,” they note–a sentiment made visual in the rootedness with which we must observe the treetops in their Typologies: Canopy series and its observations of the forest’s resilience. The Keefe family shows us the intergenerational ramifications of fire field work. As their artist’s statement explains, the Keefes “study fire from a variety of disciplines and perspectives”: Rob as Director of the University of Idaho Experimental Forest (UIEF), Maggie as a watercolor painter, and their nine-year-old daughter Alice as a collager. Maggie’s paintings pull directly from Rob’s work in the UIEF, capturing the results of prescribed burns that prepare the site for regeneration and low-intensity fires that burn the understory to reduce grass and shrub fuels. The prescriptive titles of Upper Hatter Rx and West of Cabin Rx signal the tone and intent of these paintings; the Keefes explain that “prescribed fire is one of our most effective tools for reducing wildfire in the Pacific Northwest,” and these paintings “show the use of good fire in forests on the Palouse Range.” We see this “goodness easily in the latter painting, which depicts a fire manager walking calmly amongst a stand of healthy trees and signals the harmonious relationship of the prescribed burn and landscape via the fuzzy border between flame and grass. Alice also captures the “goodness” of prescribed burns in her collage–a bright and cheerful work that illustrates what this fire means “to her soul” as she remembers “seeing the flames for myself disappear as they burn down the pile.” Her collage, evoking the safe and the domestic in its doily base, offers us the same challenge as her mother’s paintings: what if we understood fire to be not “wild” and destructive, but peaceful and familiar? Finally, work from two field schools once again highlights the power of being boots on the ground. Members of the Overlook Field School, funded by the Fuller Initiative for Productive Landscapes, spent five weeks in the summer of 2021 visiting post-fire sites in the Willamette National Forest, most of which had burned within the past thirty years. Their focus was on “recovery,” which they explain as “analogous to resilience, restoration, and regeneration . . . a return to a previous state–perhaps a new normal.” The temporary landscape installations recorded in their Recovery booklet track not only these forest explorations but also the exceptional conditions of their field work, including the record heat wave of their first day of field school and the wildfires that dominated the final design stage. Their work is thus triply-site-specific, in that it studies wildfire in place, takes inspiration from the environment in which it is produced, and demands that exhibit visitors, too, inhabit this specific location. Similarly, the collaboration between Sophia Hatzikos and the students of the Oregon Episcopal School enrolled in the I.M.P.A.C.T. (innovate/make/act/collaborate/tinker) course activates situated public art to generate new knowledge about climate change and the wildland firefighting industry. Inspired by site visits to the Lake Oswego Gallery without Walls, particularly the nearby tall trees and the next door firehouse, the students repurposed fire hoses originally used in wildfire suppression during 2020 and 2021, now destined for the landfill, to create Lift, Coil, Zip. The three hose towers, which cleverly summon visual and formal connections to tree rings and silver birches, intertangle contemporary forests in the Pacific Northwest and the fire suppression efforts that have created and maintained them. They ask: how much does our experience of the region’s forests rely upon the wildfire-fighting industry and its policies of suppression? Where does hose end and tree begin? And what might the landscape look like in the absence of either? The Online Exhibition Ground Truths, presented by lab in conjunction with Prichard Art Gallery opened in April 2023. Contextualizing this exhibit, further considerations of this collection were contributed by Confluence Lab member Erin James. "Boots on the Ground" is part II of her response.

  • Ground Truths: "Ubiquitous Fire"

    A key theme of the art that features in the Online Exhibition Ground Truths collection is the ubiquity of fire. To live in the Pacific Northwest these days is to live with the pervasiveness of fire in its many guises–with the smoke that signals fire, over there; with the flames that signal fire, right now; and with the charred landscapes that signal fire, back then. Fire is present here, even when it is not. As Meredith Ojala notes in her response to the call for submissions, her oil on canvas Seeing Red is one painting in a set “made at the time when wildfires felt all-encompassing, when the world felt like it was on fire.” Her experience of driving through and living in fires in Southern Idaho, Eastern Oregon, and Washington in the summer of 2018 was so sweeping that it defined the daily rhythms of her life. She fell asleep looking out at wildfire from her windows and was woken up by the sounds of water-bombers. Even her dreams turned red. She notes that wildfires took over many of her paintings, even when she “had no plans to incorporate them.” The ubiquity of fire looms large in the wild abstractness of Ojala’s painting: we are unsure if we are looking at flames, or wildfire scars, or red dreams. The image is both beautiful and terrifying. It, like fire, appears multiplicitous–expansive and unbound to any one meaning or experience. Indeed, the very everywhereness of fire in our region is one way of conceptualizing the diversity of vantage points and materials with which the Ground Truths artists come at the subject. Margo Geddes’ work, too, grapples with the all-presence of wildfire. She notes that “fire season has become ubiquitous during the summer months in Montana,” and her photographs are one way of processing the “swiftly changing” landscape as it moves through fire’s various phases. Geddes’ prints illustrate fire’s mercurial nature as well as the rich range of emotions that fire can produce. The starkness of Standing Dead evokes familiar narratives of fire’s capacious destructiveness–its ability to rip through a landscape, leaving only wounds behind. But the patient observer will notice life among the ruins; what initially appears as a luscious shadow of a tree in the photograph’s bottom right corner encourages the eye to recalibrate and open itself up to the trees that live and thrive amongst the char. This emotional movement, from that of scars to that of regeneration, repeats in her photo of the Heart Boulder. While driving through the Bitterroot National Forest, Geddes spotted granitic boulders previously hidden amongst forest foliage but now exposed by fire’s wake. By capturing this moment of legibility, before the boulders are hidden again by fireweed, Geddes’ work illuminates yet another version of fire–one of reveal, regeneration, and renewal. Ojala’s and Geddes’ descriptions of their artistic process suggests that one way to grapple with the ubiquity of fire is to drive through it, literally. This act of experiencing fire on the move, or moving with fire across space and time, is even more apparent in Siri Stensberg’s From the Smoke, For the Birds. Filmed while driving through a dust and smoke storm in Eastern Washington in early fall, 2020, Stensberg’s piece is a visual and auditory echo of the “Fable of Tomorrow” that opens Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring. The video, which at first appears peaceful, quickly becomes filled with what is missing: no birds perch on the telephone lines, and the reason for their absence becomes clear as audio of a voicemail from Stensberg’s grandmother tells us about birds dying of smoke inhalation after fleeing a fire. Stensberg explains that the video and layered vocals create space for viewers to “mourn the wildlife and ecosystems lost in forest fires of the Pacific Northwest.” Her piece also asks us to linger on the various ways, both immediately perceptible and not, that fire lingers in our lives. Two additional pieces similarly turn to the non-human to illuminate fire’s ubiquity. Julie Mortimer’s Crow Memories brings to life the ghostly presence that defines Stensberg’s video, demanding that we shift our perspective from human to bird to experience wildfire and its effects. The misty air that dominates public imaginations of the Pacific Northwest is present on the edges of Mortimer’s watercolor. But this moisture gives way to dirty smoke in the painting’s center, such that the titular crow must turn its head to breathe. Stensberg’s video asks us to live in a world in which the birds have fled, or died. Mortimer’s work, on the other hand, tasks us with inhabiting a moment of captivity during which the crow attempts–and perhaps fails–to find the air to escape. The crow, a powerful cultural symbol of both death and the future, is here caught between the two in a landscape that similarly hovers between one version of itself and another. If Mortimer’s crow is trapped in the moment of, Asante Riverwind’s bluebird thrives in the time after. Mountain Bluebird and Waldo Wilderness is inspired by Riverwind’s experience of the 1996 Wheeler Point Fire in Eastern and Central Oregon, which he himself fought to save structures and forest for five brutal days. Like the crow, Riverwind struggled to breathe the smoke and see through the air that enveloped him. But as a longtime resident of the area trained as a USFS sawyer and firefighter, he remained to experience the aftermath of the fire. As he explains, the bluebird is a “resilient species well adapted to fire ecology,” and his particular bluebird, thriving brightly amongst the snags and debris, reminds us that “life is truly resilient, as are we all.” His painting visually declares that blue skies, like bluebirds, are also part of the fire cycles of our region. Finally, Mary Vanek Smith’s painting provides us with yet another perspective of fire and its ubiquity–this time a highly emotional one. Sky on Fire takes, as its subject matter, the presence of active fire. But rather than menace or destruction, Smith’s oil painting evokes beauty and tranquility. Its brilliant orange imagery and symmetry foster a sense of calm, and the foregrounded fence suggests a certain safety from the wildness of Ojala’s red dreams. Indeed, the painting could easily be one of a stunning Western sunrise; as Smith explains, the painting’s “beautiful natural display” stands in for “hundreds of thousands of acres of forest being burned.” The painting thus cleverly captures the cognitive, emotional, and affective dissonance of finding beauty in terror, and locating a new tomorrow in the fires of today. The Online Exhibition Ground Truths, presented by lab in conjunction with Prichard Art Gallery opened in April 2023. Contextualizing this exhibit, further considerations of this collection were contributed by Confluence Lab member Erin James. "Ubiquitious Fire" is part I of her response.

  • Mapping Fire Recovery in Oregon's Rogue Valley

    In November 2022 the Confluence Lab partnered with Coalicion Fortaleza and Our Family Farms to lead a fire resiliency and map-making community workshop in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. The 2020 Almeda Fire impacted the Rogue Valley/Jackson County area profoundly, and local nonprofit organizers invited a Confluence team to the area for an afternoon of inter-organizational reflection, information sharing, and map making. The resulting maps of organizations and county resources will be completed and digitized by a Confluence graphic designer at the University of Idaho and given back to local Rogue Valley organizations to help with their future fire resiliency planning and messaging. ​ Read more news from this event.

  • Dilshani Sarathchandra and Kristin Haltinner featured on Vandal Theory Podcast, Episode 5.2

    You can purchase their book published by University of Washington Press later this spring. Book Description: As wildfires rip across the western United States and sea levels rise along coastal cities from Louisiana to Alaska, some people nevertheless reject the mainstream scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. What leads people to doubt or outright denial? What leads skeptics to change their minds? Drawing from a rich collection of interviews and surveys with self-identified climate change skeptics (and some former ones), sociologists Kristin Haltinner and Dilshani Sarathchandra delve into the underlying dynamics of climate skepticism in the United States. In probing how ideas about science, religion, politics, and media affect perceptions of climate change, they find a far greater diversity of attitudes and beliefs than one might expect—including some pro-environmental views. With this nuanced understanding of climate change skepticism, Inside the World of Climate Change Skeptics offers much-needed insights on improving communication in ways that can move us toward a better future while advancing environmental policies with widespread political support.

  • A Musical Score to Understand Wilderness

    University of Idaho's Lionel Hampton School of Music’s Ruby Fulton wrote a musical score that encapsulated Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. When Teresa Cohn from the Department of Natural Resources and Society peeked at the sheet music, she found it beautiful but complex and alien. “But then one of the pianists playing the score said, ‘Wow, I’ve just never played a piece with such topography in it,’” Cohn said. “I looked at the notes and just thought, ‘Gosh, it really does look like the landscape of the Frank.’ The score was rugged. And you could hear the ruggedness in sound.” Learn more about this project here:

  • Lab Member Spotlight: Leah Hampton

    Leah Hampton’s journey with the Confluence Lab began fall 2021. She is the Environmental Humanities Fellow in Residence and the project coordinator for Stories of Fire, a project in partnership with Whitman College and the University of Oregon under the University of Oregon’s Pacific Northwest Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice. It is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Confluence Work & Beyond In partnership with the Confluence Lab, Hampton is working on Stories of Fire, a project to create a polyvocal atlas to amplify stories around social and environmental justice in normally underrepresented rural communities. Through 2022, she will be conducting community workshops on the impacts of wildfires and other climate changes in the region. Her workshops will focus on finding ways to help people process the impact fire has had on their communities and how regional fires factor into the bigger picture of climate change. Hampton will also be teaching classes for the English department at the university. Hampton is the author of F*ckface, a collection of short stories about “people dealing with the environmental apocalypse who will never have the resources to fix it… or will they?”(Hampton). Her debut collection has been called the best book of 2020 by The Paris Review, the New York Public Library, Slate and more. It is a direct response to the impact of climate change and the destruction to Hampton’s home in Appalachia. Hampton’s Background Ever since she was a little girl, Leah Hampton has been writing stories. Her first stories were focused on folklore and fairytales, but always were tied to the mountains she called home. Her life took her in several other directions, but about seven years ago her path brought her to writing as a career and that became her main focus. However, she still stuck to her roots in North Carolina and wrote about the places she grew up and loved. While writing about the places she loved, Hampton noticed the ecological destruction occurring before her eyes, the kind of changes that leave destruction in their wake. The damage done to Appalachia and the surrounding area due to climate change has been a major part of her stories. Her next project will continue to focus on her love for her home in Appalachia, but it will look back to her roots as it focuses on folklore and oral traditions. Hampton’s poems, stories, and essays are published across many platforms and have received several different awards. Hampton’s essays have appeared in Guernica, an online magazine that focuses on art and politics, LitHub, an extensive literary website, and McSweeny’s, a literary journal that focuses on short stories, illustrations, and reportage. Her short story Parkway was included in the 26th issue of Ecotone, a literary journal that focuses on publishing the best of location-based fiction across the nation. She is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, where she studied and wrote for three years. She has been awarded the Philip Roth Residency at the Stadler Center for Poetry and UT-Austin’s Keene Prize for Literature. Her awards list also includes several regional prizes including the Doris Betts Fiction Prize and the James Hurst Prize for Fiction.

  • Confluence Lab, Partners Address Pacific NW Justice Issues with $4.5 Million Grant

    Moscow, Idaho — Jan. 14, 2021 — The University of Idaho Confluence Lab, University of Oregon and Whitman College were awarded a three-year $4.52 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch the (PNJFI) that will address racial and climate justice issues. As part of PNJFI, the Confluence Lab will create a virtual “Stories of Fire: A Pacific Northwest Climate Justice Atlas” that illustrates people’s complex relationships with fire. In this context, an atlas comprises maps, stories, images and other representations of data that bring insight to a specific issue. Within the Confluence Lab, scholars in the humanities, arts, social sciences and sciences tackle Idaho environmental issues alongside community members using interdisciplinary approaches — especially related to storytelling, emotions and communication. The collaboration began in 2019 and was co-founded by Associate Professor Teresa Cohn from the Department of Natural Resources and Society and English faculty Associate Professor Erin James and Professor Jennifer Ladino. “We came together to think about ways we can address and explore environmental issues in Idaho and in the region in more interdisciplinary, creative and community-based ways,” Cohn said. James, Ladino and Cohn are partnering with Associate Professor Stacy Isenbarger in Art and Design on the “Atlas of Fire” project. The atlas will focus on the connections between fire, social justice, environmental justice and traditionally underrepresented communities, drawing on the environmental humanities to tell stories about the changing region. The atlas is one part of a larger suite of projects associated with the PNJFI. Ladino noted: “Wildfires highlight some of the social crises we are facing. By focusing on people’s personal experiences with fire, we can better listen to a diversity of rural voices and address social justice issues like settler colonialism, environmental racism and socioeconomic inequities.” In addition to a digital atlas incorporating geospatial technologies, the project will result in a traveling teaching toolkit, art exhibitions and storytelling workshops across the region. To create the “Atlas of Fire,” the team plans to incorporate GIS as well as a tool called photovoice, which invites community members to show and tell their own stories of fire using photography. The Confluence Lab plans to use photos and photovoice artifacts to spark conversations at the storytelling workshops. “A moment captured in a photograph tells us much more than just what’s in its frame. The rich experiences of those who take them will be threaded into the collection of these visual narratives,” Isenbarger said. The Northwest Knowledge Network will act as the “Atlas of Fire” repository, and the U of I Library’s Center for Digital Inquiry and Learning will help the team develop and present data in accessible ways. For more information, visit the University of Oregon website.

  • Lab Member Spotlight: Kayla Bordelon

    Kayla Bordelon is a Ph.D. candidate in the interdisciplinary Environmental Science program at the University of Idaho. She found her “intellectual home” in the Confluence Lab when it was first launched in 2019. "Working in the boundary spaces between the humanities, social and natural sciences suits my inclination towards the ambiguous, the complex and the critical." Kayla’s trajectory to graduate school inhabits those tendencies. After earning a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts, Kayla spent her twenties exploring the human-environment relationship and social justice. She has worked as a backcountry wilderness ranger in the North Cascades, a trail crew leader along the US-Mexico border, an environmental educator in the “Victorian Alps” of Australia, an international service trip coordinator and guide in Central America, an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service, and a program coordinator for multiple nonprofit organizations working on social and environmental justice in the Pacific Northwest and Central America. These experiences shaped her sense of the world as entirely relational, “what we do for and to the earth, we likewise do for and to each other.” Storytelling in Climate Communication Kayla came to her Ph.D. work and the Confluence Lab with a curiosity about the value of storytelling to ground communication about the environment in lived-experiences. She notes how her own sense of self was cultivated through the stories told around the dinner table. “My dad is an amazing storyteller. His stories are mostly hunting, fishing and firefighting adventures, and that lore really got into my bones. I saw us as a family with sand under our fingernails and smelling a bit like fish guts.” While serving for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Panamanian highlands, Kayla recognized stories as a vessel for ecological knowing. “I spent countless evenings shucking beans and drinking sweet coffee, listening to my neighbors described the rich ecological history of their community, all tangled up in personal loves and losses. Story taught me that place through their eyes.” Confluence Lab Work & Beyond In the Confluence Lab, Kayla feels fortunate to be able to draw on the narrative expertise of humanities scholars to explore how stories are connected to our identities, place relationships, and the larger socio-ecological context. She is a collaborator on multiple projects that incorporate storytelling and science communication around issues related to climate change. Her dissertation is based on research within the NSF funded Communicating Fire project, exploring narrative to improve communication about the changing nature of wildfire in Idaho. She also serves as a Research Assistant on this project. In the Our Changing Climate project, Bordelon and Jennifer Ladino facilitate community climate dialogues utilizing climate change fiction as a jumping off point for discussion about the socio ecological impacts of climate change in Idaho. Bordelon is also the Confluence Lab lead on the NASA sponsored Earth to Sky – Idaho Regional Hub (ETS-Idaho), a partnership for advancing evidence-based climate communication. The group hosts professional development workshops for environmental educators to help improve climate communication, utilizing a network of NASA earth scientists and National Park Service communication strategies to do so. .

  • Communicating Fire: University of Idaho Project Enhances STEM Learning with Wildfire Stories

    Aug. 11, 2020 In an effort to provide Idahoans with a better understanding of wildfire in Idaho, University of Idaho researchers are bringing together the voices of people on the landscape who view fire from a variety of perspectives. As part of a recently-funded project of the U of I’s Confluence Lab, “Communicating Fire” will draw from the narrative voices of fire managers, firefighters, fire scientists and people affected by both harmful and helpful wildland fire to provide a rich learning experience and increased participation among students in informal STEM learning in rural Idaho. Research shows that student learning is enhanced through storytelling, which is often lacking in traditional communication between scientists and the public, said Teresa Cohn, research associate professor at the College of Natural Resources’ McCall Field Campus. “The American West is rife with personal narratives of evacuation, smoke and disaster. Yet, alongside these deep, dramatic events, fire scientists carry a quieter but no less important message that fire has always been part of the western landscape, and many wildland fires play natural and beneficial roles.” Comprised of teachers, writers and scientists, the team will build a curriculum that incorporates interviews with “frontliners” who have firsthand experience with wildland fire, including the beneficial use of prescribed fire and the suppression and management of wildfire. The research team is distinctive because it includes two English faculty, Associate Professor Erin James and Professor Jennifer Ladino, who with Cohn are co-founders of the Confluence Lab. The lab brings together scholars in the humanities, social sciences, sciences and community members to engage environmental issues in Idaho. The stories that people tell about fire in the western landscape are as diverse as the ecological roles that fire can play, said Leda Kobziar, associate professor at the College of Natural Resources. “We hope to augment understanding of fire by exploring the power of narrative in communicating the nuances and complexities of fire science.” The project is exciting because it pairs science with storytelling, James said. “When we listen to stories, we learn what it is like to experience fire first-hand,” she said. The cross-disciplinary research team will provide workshops to train informal STEM educators, pilot summer programs and create a podcast based on their findings. “Our team will work collaboratively with informal educators based in rural areas of Idaho underrepresented in STEM fields,” Cohn said. The two-year project was funded to University of Idaho by National Science Foundation under award 2006101. The total project funding is $299,911 of which 100% is the federal share.

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