Early each year, the graduate students and staff of the Au Sable Graduate Fellows Program are invited to spend a weekend together in the Michigan north woods. Au Sable promotes education, research, and scholarship of environmental stewardship, from a Christian perspective. For graduate fellows, the conference is an opportunity to both build relationships and networks among academics from many major universities with similar interests and also refresh, worship, and reframe with a break from graduate student ‘life and business as usual’.
Visiting the ‘fingertips’ of the Michigan mitten in the dead of winter creates a vision of snowscapes – and the Au Sable campus did not disappoint, despite the strong El Niño year. Fellows enthusiastically participated in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hikes around the frozen lakes, and broomball as critical ‘retreat’ aspects of the conference agenda.
Professor Dave Warners, Calvin College, gave two plenary sessions focused on restoration ecology/reconciliation (restoring the human-creation relationship) ecology. He used two primary examples to illustrate his vision of what creation care can and should look like. The first highlighted the work of the Plaster Creek Stewards, a watershed-focused, ecological community restoration project in Grand Rapids. The second was the story of how and why the Chacón family (Rio Savegre Valley, San Gerardo, Costa Rica) transformed their land-use practices from traditional slash and burn dairy to ecologically considerate orchard and fish farming, forest preservation, and ecotourism.
The weekend was capped off by a Sunday worship session and a sermon/plenary contextualizing historical theological responses to environmental crises by Au Sable Graduate Fellows director Rolf Bouma.