James Bertolino has very good news to report: for two weeks during the first half of October, he will enjoy a writer’s residency at Oregon State University’s Andrews Experimental Forest, which is about 60 miles from Eugene, Oregon in the Western foothills of the Cascade Mountains. He will have his own apartment, and no responsibilities other than pursuing his writing. He says, “This residency was something I applied for, and was chosen by OSU’s Spring Creek Project, which is directed by Charles Goodrich—himself a poet. I’d been present at the Andrews Forest a couple of years ago for a gathering of Northwest writers, and found it a marvelous environment, with many steep acres of old-growth timber.” Whether you’re a writer or not, you may want to click this sentence for a link learn about the forest and the Outreach Program.

My favorite poet is there at the Andrews Experimental Forest right now halfway through his two week writers’ residency. James Bertolino, I call him Jim, left Monday morning to drive all day so he could arrive during the one hour in the evening that the gates are open. It was a worthwhile trip, and he made good time. For a writer whose work is often about the natural world, Jim couldn’t have landed in a better place. So I’ve asked him a few questions, and have copied his answers in this blog. I don’t want to bother him much, so these are brief responses.

What do you plan to do during your stay at Andrews Experimental Forest?

My plan is to spend time alone at some of the most inspiring sites around the Andrews Forest, and just see what comes, what triggers my imagination. At the point I’m writing this, I’ve been here three full days and have already written 12 poems. It’s working!

Why is the forest called “Experimental”?

This forest, under the auspices of Oregon State University, is being studied by a range of scientists and researchers. Some use a chute that is about 300 feet long to study avalanches and in general the movement of large bodies of earth and  rock—I’ve been told that scientists from all over the world come here to study that phenomenon. In the same building where I’m staying is a crew that is trapping small mammals as part of the ongoing work with the Spotted Owl. Of course, it’s not a  bad idea to have an experimental poet around once in awhile.

Who are some of the writers who have had residencies at Andrews Forest? 

The roster of well-known writers who have been guests of the Spring Creek Project of Oregon State University’s Andrews Forest is very long, and includes Brian Turner, Brenda Peterson, Jane Hirshfield, Miriam Sagan, Scott Russell Sanders, Pattiann Rogers, Robert Michael Pyle and Maya Zeller (my brilliant former student).

How do you think the mountainous environment will affect your writing?

It is such a change for me that virtually everything I do, every site I visit, is a source of creative stimulation. So far I’m averaging three or four new poems a day! Today, I spent a couple hours a few thousand feet up on Lookout Ridge. I was able to drive there in my Audi “Jeep” on gravel roads, and found some spectacular viewpoints, which were good places to write. My total now is 14 poems.

Here’s a link to what other writers have written during their stay. You’ll probably recognize the names of many of them.

Jim would like to share a few of these fresh-off-the-pen poems, so here are a couple for now.

Flight From Lookout Ridge

Were I an adventurous flying squirrel,
I would dream of climbing
the highest tree, and from that lofty
vantage look out over the valleys below,
and the forested peaks beyond.
Then, fully trusting my fur-covered wings,
I would launch into a thousand-foot flight
and become the hero of my life.

Andrews Forest Boulders

The round and whitened boulders,
with light green leafy foliage as a border
below the massive, heavily shadowed
rock outcrop that supports a stand of trees
that reach toward the mountain ridge above—

this isn’t the setting for some drama
or idea, this is the exquisite world we rise
and fall in. And below it all is
moving water that finds, and sweetens,
and carries life.

Poems by James Bertolino
Blog post by Anita K. Boyle (Bertolino)