Feature Story

From Sitka, Alaska, to The New York Times

August 20, 2019 – by Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan Professor Publishes Opinion Piece on the Environment, the Arts, and their Ironic Interrelation

Amy Butcher

Listening to an Alaskan logger describe his work cutting down trees to help create some of the world’s highest quality guitars, pianos, and violins, Amy Butcher couldn’t help but feel a sharp note of discord.

An assistant professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University, Butcher shares her thoughts in a newly published Opinion Pages piece in The New York Times, “Harvesting Irony in Alaska.”

Butcher recounts listening to the logger’s story as both sat on a plane heading to the nation’s 49th state. He was off to cut Sitka spruce in the Tongass Forest, the world’s largest contiguous temperate rain forest, while she was flying to the city to teach creative writing at a fine arts camp that would serve more than 1,000 students.

“During the coming rigorous two-week session,” Butcher writes, “my students would take classes in ballet and partner acrobatics, mime and wheel-thrown pottery, creative writing and photography, and raku and the cello. Evenings, they would sample gorgeous, plump salmonberries picked along dusty roads, jump from rope swings into Alaskan water, and hike through extensions of the very forest the man beside me had been hired to clear-cut.

“Ironically, they would play the very instruments my seatmate’s work — just hours south — made possible, his work of harvesting dense wood from the nation’s oldest forests for some of the world’s finest artistic instruments.

“And my students, in turn,” she writes “would play them in a state that no longer deemed their sound of value” as a result of recent budget cuts that eliminated the Alaska State Council on the Arts, making Alaska the only U.S. state without an arts agency.

In her essay, Butcher examines other issues affecting Alaska, including global warming and a project recently permitted to move forward by the Environmental Protection Agency – a project that some scientists report will result in a “complete loss” of the area fish habitat.

Butcher joined the Ohio Wesleyan faculty in 2014 and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa. She is an award-winning essayist and author of the books “Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder” and the forthcoming “Mothertrucker,” about the life and tragic death of Alaskan tanker truck driver Joy Wiebe.

In addition to The New York Times Opinion Pages, Butcher’s work has appeared recently in Granta, Harper’s, The New York Times “Modern Love,” The Washington Post, The Denver Post, The American Scholar, The Iowa Review, Lit Hub, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and Brevity, among numerous other magazines and journals.

Read her complete New York Times essay, Harvesting Irony in Alaska – Global warming, budget cuts and musical instruments carved from ancient trees: A summer in Sitka is an exercise in extremes, at www.nytimes.com.

Learn more about Butcher, Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of English, and its creative writing concentration at www.owu.edu/english.