Green Fire: A History of Huxley College

by Bill Dietrich
I’ve led a double life, writing about Nazis, pirates, and Napoleonic generals in my fiction but drawing on my newspaper experience to teach environmental journalism. I just ended a five-year stint of such teaching at Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, and my swan song was completing work on the just-published: Green Fire: A History of Huxley College.
This was an in-house book, of course, aimed at alumni and students, but it also turned out to be an ambitious and complicated project that I hope will be of wider interest to those involved with environmental education. From start to finish took three years and involved at least 20 different contributors.
The 185-page book has my narrative history of one of the first (arguably, the first) dedicated environmental colleges in the United States, which was controversial when founded and has been pioneering and experimental ever since.
It also has profiles of 40 Huxley alumni that provide environmentalists with 40 wide-ranging examples of how to lead one’s life. The grads have ranged from organic farmers and a zen monk to high-powered attorneys and environmental activists. They are saving the tiger, climbing mountains, reforming high school education, running an airport, cleaning up toxics, coaching composting, rehabilitating salmon streams, mediating disputes, the examples go on and on. The book has about 170 illustrations, all on recycled paper, naturally.
It was very much a collaborative effort. Most of the profiles were done by a team of nine recently-graduated students who had been editors on the college’s undergraduate Planet magazine I advised, and it’s gratifying to make them published authors. Some of the photos came from students as well, and the book was given a lovely design by recent graduate Avela Grenier of Bozeman, MT. I’m always impressed what college-age students can do if given the opportunity.
Other parts include a brief biography of Thomas Henry Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” from which the college takes its name, and an environmental timeline of the last 40 years. As noted, Huxley’s history parallels modern environmental history: it was founded in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day and the creation of basic U.S. environmental laws and agencies.
Since Huxley Development Director Manca Valum managed to raise the money necessary to produce the book, all proceeds from its sale will go directly to student programs, which is very gratifying. I also hope the book will increase Huxley’s own self-awareness (it is a modest place, to an extreme), interest future students and donors, and encourage a dialogue with other environmental colleges.
The book is $30. It’s available through Village Books in Bellingham, Washington and the bookstore at Western Washington University. If you know of folks interested in environmental teaching, give them a heads up: I think they’d find “Green Fire” provocative and intriguing.

Photo by Christian Martin.

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