Reader Center will be a place to enjoy nature, literature, art

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Burnham HouseBurnham House has begun to settle in its new home in the Arboretum after an official groundbreaking ceremony May 15. An addition will house an elevator and necessary physical equipment, allowing the existing rooms in the structure to house the James D. Reader Jr. Urban Environmental Education Center.

Speaking at the ceremony, poet Robert Hass said the Arb was "built in the 19th century, exploited in the 20th and we need to write the scene for the 21st century. We need to have an idea of how we will live in relation to the natural world."

Hass said the Reader Center will not only be a place to learn about nature and the plants in the Arb, but a place to weave literature and fine art into a natural environment. "There is no more important task that to do what this urban environmental center begins to do," he said.

President Lee C. Bollinger noted that the Arb is a place of many memories for those who are or have been students here or who have lived in Ann Arbor. One memory of the Arb he shared with the audience was of trying to "dominate the hill" while he was training for races. "Now," he said, "I have a more mature view of nature and do not wish to dominate it," but he confessed that perhaps his desire was tempered by age and lack of that youthful endurance.

"There is a healthy tension between places like the Arb and education," Bollinger said. "We want a non-rational experience in these places instead of learning botanical names or categories." But sometimes we can only get what we want from learning those names and more about the natural surroundings, he said. Poetry offers an opportunity to find a middle ground, he suggested in introducing Hass, who was United States Poet Laureate in 1996 and 1997.

Regent Philip Power talked about the importance of the Arb and the Reader Center, and said that moving Burnham house to its present location is "an example of creative historical renovation and an example of how preserving the past creates the future." Together the Center, the Arb and the University have the "joint capacity to transform the present" into the future.

Guests were welcomed to the ceremony by Harrison L. Morton, director of the Nichols Arboretum and associate dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment.