Mark Bittner, author of “T he Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story,” will be the first speaker in the Willi Unsoeld Seminar Series Thursday at The Evergreen State College.
Bittner’s will discuss a period in his life when, as a street person in San Francisco, he developed an affinity with a flock of wild parrots inhabiting Telegraph Hill. The book was made into a documentary film and Bittner has gone on to write his forthcoming memoir “Street Song.” His presentation reflects the school’s 2014-15 academic theme of “Paying Attention.”
Bittner was chosen after much brainstorming by a college council charged with implementing the year’s academic theme, said Evergreen faculty member Nancy Koppelman.
The entire campus was reading Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Crow Planet, when the selection was being made. “It is also about birds — and about noticing wildness in an urban setting,” Koppelman said.
In San Francisco, where he moved to play music after graduating from high school in Vancouver, Washington, Bittner says he slept in “odd places,” including the roof of a hotel and a store room.
It was while he was caring for the property of a Telegraph Hill homeowner that Bittner first spied the parrots.
“I knew nothing about them,” he said in a news release, “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 in the release.
The series is named for Unsoeld, who is a household name among mountaineers. While known for his first ascent of Mount Everest’s West Ridge in 1963, Unsoeld had a deep intellectual life beyond the sport of climbing.
As a founding faculty member at Evergreen, Unsoeld embodied the interdisciplinary spirit of the small liberal arts college in Olympia. After his death in a climbing accident on Mount Rainier in 1979, the Unsoeld family, friends and colleagues created the annual series at Evergreen to honor Unsoeld and his philosophy. Past speakers have included Jim Hightower, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Terry Tempest Williams, Tom Hornbein and The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.
“The purpose of these lectures is to help us see things in new ways and across differences,” Evergreen Vice President and Provost Michael Zimmerman said in the release.
“Willi used to say the most important thing is how we treat each other … and by extension the way we treat our surroundings,” Zimmerman added. “Mark Bittner was seeing things in a way that others were missing. His message of discovery is important to us.”