Celebration of nature and the arts in honor of John Elder

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Celebration of nature and the arts in honor of John Elder

July 15, 2010

By Kathryn Morse, Environmental Studies Program Director

Earth Day 2010 brought students, alums, colleagues, friends, writers, scholars, musicians, dancers, and family members together to celebrate nature and the arts in honor of Professor Emeritus John Elder’s 37 years of teaching at Middlebury. John, who retired this year, spoke eloquently on Thursday evening, April 22, on “Education, Sustainability, and Letting Go,” as the invited speaker for the annual Scott A. Margolin ’99 Lecture in Environmental Affairs. His talk, delivered before a packed house in the McCullough Social Space, featured a cellular telephone call from the ghost of Henry David Thoreau, and an improvised answer to the question, “Why study literature?” 

The following day featured discussions and panels on nature and creativity and on environmental literature and provided a chance for participants to walk to the organic garden and sit around the bonfire.  On Saturday, Andrea Olsen, professor of dance and the Kathleen and William F. Truscott '83 Professor of Environmental Studies, brought together dancers, musicians, and writers in Dancing with Rivers, a multimedia celebration of time, nature, friendship, and family. Participants danced out of the studio to join audience members for local cheese and bread and to toast John’s lifetime of work in bringing together nature and the arts. The celebration continued afterwards at American Flatbread.

Over the years, John’s steadfast support of the humanities and creative arts within the environmental studies program has made it possible for generations of Middlebury students to study the human relationship to the environment through literature, nonfiction writing, and creative endeavors of all kinds.  Wendell Berry wrote in 1970 that “like a good farmer, a good teacher is the trustee of a vital and delicate organism: the life of the mind in his community. The ultimate and defining standard of his discipline is his community’s health and intelligence and coherence and endurance. This is a high calling, deserving of a life’s work….” Although it is hard to imagine environmental studies at Middlebury without John, his legacy will endure.

To watch or read Elder's lecture, click here.