“You go to nature for an experience of the sacred…to re-establish your contact with the core of things,… to enable you to come back to the world of people and operate more effectively.”
Renowned for his book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story, Mark Bittner is the first speaker in the Willi Unsoeld Seminar Series at The Evergreen State College, on October 30. The event, which takes place at 7pm in the campus Longhouse, follows the college’s 2014-15 academic theme of “Paying Attention.” Bittner will discuss a period when, as a street person in San Francisco, he developed an affinity with a (still-vital) flock of wild parrots inhabiting Telegraph Hill. The book went on to become a documentary film and Bittner has gone on to write his forthcoming book Street Song, a memoir.
Willi Unsoeld is a household name among mountaineers, famed for his first ascent of Mt. Everest’s West Ridge in 1963, but Unsoeld had a deep intellectual life beyond the sport of climbing. As a philosopher and founding faculty member at The Evergreen State College, Unsoeld embodied the interdisciplinary spirit of the college. After his death in 1979, the Unsoeld family, friends and colleagues created a legacy in his name for an annual seminar series to take place at Evergreen. Past speakers have included Jim Hightower, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Terry Tempest Williams, Tom Hornbein and The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.
Bittner grew up in Vancouver, Washington and graduated high school in 1969. Thus, he was intrigued by the invitation to be a Willi Unsoeld Seminar Series speaker at Evergreen. “My high school crowd (in the late ‘60s) was making a lot of noise about (Evergreen) as a place to go (to college),” he noted.
In San Francisco, where he moved to play music after high school, Bittner says he slept in “odd places,” including the roof of a hotel and a store room. While caring for the property of a Telegraph Hill homeowner, he first spied the parrots. “I knew nothing about them,” he said, “but I watched them very closely and noticed there were a lot of social interactions going on between the birds. The idea of paying attention was central to what I was doing with them.”
Interactions with birding and environmental groups have since made Bittner aware of the issues facing urban avian life. “I am sensitive to the controversy on native versus non-native species, for example,” he said.
According to Evergreen Vice President and Provost Michael Zimmerman, “the purpose of these lectures is to help us see things in new ways and across differences. Willi used to say the most important thing is how we treat each other… and by extension the way we treat our surroundings,” said Zimmerman. “Mark Bittner was seeing things in a way that others were missing. His message of discovery is important to us.”
The second speaker in the series will be Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Audrey Marrs, in late January. Famed for her 2011 Oscar winner, “Inside Job,” Marrs graduated Evergreen in 1996. A collaboration with director Charles Ferguson, “Inside Job” was a 2010 Official Selection at the Cannes, New York, Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals. Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe called it, “scarier than anything Wes Craven and John Carpenter have ever made…” Marrs’s current project is a documentary about climate change. She will discuss her work as a producer and show a short film drawn from her current work, which she and Ferguson screened at the invitation of the Climate Summit at the United Nations in September. After her talk, the College will host a screening of “Inside Job,” followed by discussion. The event will take place on the evening of Thursday, January 29th with details to follow.
In spring, Harvard social theorist Elaine Scarrywill be on campus for a public presentation related to this year’s theme and to conduct a set of workshops for faculty related to . her book, Thinking in an Emergency, which is the common read for 2015-16 when she will return to be the convocation speaker.