David Milne Oral History Interview


David Milne Oral History Interview
16 February 2023
16 March 2023
David Milne
Susan Fiksdal
extracted text
David Milne
Interviewed by Susan Fiksdal
The Evergreen State College oral history project
February 16, 2023
Fiksdal: This is Susan Fiksdal. I’m here with David Milne. Today is Thursday, February 16, 2023. It’s a
pleasure to see you, David.
Milne: Nice to see you, Susan.
Fiksdal: We’re going to start by talking a bit. I want to know a little bit about your early history—where
you grew up, whether or not you had siblings, and a little bit about any major influences you had before
you went to college.
Milne: Okay. I was born in 1939 in Highland Park, Michigan. My parents were David and Mary Milne—
David Milne and Mary Hall. Dad was always interested in engineering and science. He went to Wayne
University and earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering.
My dad and mom both went to a special high school in Detroit where they met. They were
married May 22, 1938. I was born in 1939. We lived in the Detroit area—downtown Detroit a little bit
when I was very young, and then moved out to a suburb, Ferndale. Dad’s parents and Mom’s mother
continued to live in Detroit, so we were close to them.
I have three other siblings—brother Bob, two years younger than me; sister Mary, six years
younger than me; and brother Mike, 10 years younger than me. Mary, unfortunately, is now deceased.
She died in an automobile accident—a hit-and-run driver—in Ypsilanti, Michigan 10 years ago.
Fiksdal: I’m sorry to hear that.
Milne: I can remember being interested in living things and the living world from being a kid in grade
school living in Ferndale, Michigan. At the end of our street, there was a bunch of railroad tracks that
were a mainline in and out of Detroit. Two things about that. One, it was really colorful because they
always had tank cars going off the rails and all the kids would go running down there to see.
Fiksdal: You mean that close to your house they were off the rails?
Milne: It was down at the end of the block.
Fiksdal: Yeah, but it was a tank car full of something.
Milne: Lots of tank cars full of benzene and things like that.
Fiksdal: It sounds really dangerous.

Milne: They were going to the Reichhold Chemical Company, which was a few blocks farther than that,
and they had a fire a week.
Fiksdal: Oh!
Milne: And whenever the fire engine started up, we knew where they were going, and all the
neighborhood kids flocked down to watch. Sometimes it was really quite colorful. Flames shooting up
chimneys and windows blowing out.
Fiksdal: I just have to interrupt. Your father was a chemical engineer. Is that right?
Milne: Yeah.
Fiksdal: Chemical.
Milne: But that’s not where he worked. He worked for General Motors.
Fiksdal: I wasn’t actually worried about his life. What I was thinking about is that he must have
understood the danger, and yet, you lived there. To me, it seems a little hard to . . .
Milne: I don’t recall that he ever said anything about it. But really, there were times where there would
be a blast and equipment would drop in the backyards of kids down the street.
Fiksdal: It sounds like an amazing childhood. [laughing]
Milne: That part of it is just incidental. Because on the other side of the tracks, there was this gigantic
swamp, with standing water and trees and bushes and frogs and bullrushes and caterpillars and birds
and things, and that was the place where we kids always went. That meant we had to get across the
railroad tracks, and through the couple of cyclone fences, but kids can always find a way.
I used to bring home polliwogs and raise them and see them turn into little frogs and hop away.
I was really interested in that. My dad and mom encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do, and that
was it.
Eventually, just before I went into high school, our family moved out to Rochester, Michigan.
It’s a little town that was about 30 miles out from Detroit. We had a little house in the country. For my
interest in nature, it couldn’t have been more interesting.
One of the astounding discoveries I made was that all of the birds shown in this gigantic book of
paintings by John Audubon were real. You could see them in nature. There they were—towhees,
catbirds—and that was my first connect, I think, between books and reality.
The other interesting thing about that was we had some neighbors that were very elderly
people, and the man up the hill, a guy named Will Comins, a farmer—had a big farm; he lived down in
an old house—I’d like to go back and try to retrace whether this was really possible, but he was very,
very interested in Abraham Lincoln and talked like he had actually seen him.

Fiksdal: Interesting.
Milne: The house down the road was another big, old farmhouse. While the owner was cleaning out
the basement one day, he discovered all these old newspapers, including a description of the Custer
battle in Montana, where Custer was killed off. That started a connection with human history for me. I
didn’t realize it at the time, but that became strong.
I graduated from high school. Went to Dartmouth College. My dad and I talked a little bit about
where to go, and he liked that one. He had studied it more than me. It was part of the Ivy League.
Fiksdal: He wasn’t an Ivy Leaguer himself?
Milne: No. Wayne State University, downtown Detroit.
Fiksdal: He went there for undergraduate and graduate school?
Milne: Yes, he did.
Fiksdal: Okay, now I understand.
Milne: And he taught there a little bit before he went to work for General Motors. I don’t think I was
pressured to go to college, but I think we just understood that I would. That understanding didn’t work
so well for a couple of my siblings, but it worked for me, and it worked for my youngest brother, Mike.
Dad encouraged me to apply to several Ivy League schools—Princeton was one, I remember—
and also the University of Michigan, which was going to be my backstop. I was rejected by Princeton.
The University of Michigan said yes. All my high school friends were going there, so that was okay.
Then all of a sudden, there came this letter saying I’d been accepted at Dartmouth, so I went
there. That was amazing. One of the amazing things I remember—first of all, I was now out of
Michigan. I was away from my class. I was away from the landscape that I was familiar with, and in the
company of boys. It was an all-male school then. That was good and bad. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Strange, for sure.
Milne: For a bunch of wild young yahoos, it was the place to park them for a few years. I was looking at
the mountains of New Hampshire. In Michigan, I’d never seen mountains. Wow, here they are. They’re
rocky. They have trees on them. They have cliffs. I had heard a couple of guys from Colorado saying,
“Pretty flat around here, isn’t it?” [laughter] I knew then that the world was bigger than I thought.
I took my interest in biology with me, and I thought, well, it’s been fun. I’ve really enjoyed it.
But you can’t make a living at it. I’d better major in something that I can make a living at, so I became a
physics major.
That was the right choice for me. It really was. It introduced me to all sorts of things like being
at ease with mathematics and calculations. Being at ease with electricity, knowing what it is. Later on in

life, I wired houses and knew what I was doing. Air pressure. Tides. Astronomy. Just the physical
setting that we live in. I came away completely at ease with it. It was not a difficult major, but it wasn’t
an easy one either.
Fiksdal: I think it was difficult. I had a lot of trouble with my one required physics class. [laughing] So,
I’m impressed.
Milne: People have said that.
Fiksdal: We’re all good at certain things.
Milne: Yeah. But it was very, very time consuming. That isolated me and my fellow physics majors a
little bit from the social life of Dartmouth College. Football games and road trips away to women’s
colleges and road trips to New York, or wherever. I did some of that, but I was very preoccupied with
physics, and I liked it. I really enjoyed it. In fact, my college roommate, Steve Merrill, was a physics
major, and he and I still correspond.
Fiksdal: That’s terrific.
Milne: We’re still in touch. Not many others. However, I did try to maintain a connection with biology
as best I could. I had to ask the dean if, as a senior, I could take freshman biology. The dean looked at
me with great suspicion. He was a nice young guy. He was probably about 28 when I was an
undergraduate. We got talking and he said, “Yes, of course you can do it.” It turned out that he was
always beset by upper classmen who were flunking out and wanted to take an easy course so they could
get a C.
Fiksdal: And graduate. I see.
Milne: I was not one of those. I came away with a strange warp in my worldview that all problems can
be solved by science. The person who cured me of that was Carolyn Dobbs, [laughing] who I met when I
came to Evergreen. She made perfect sense. I hadn’t seen that.
Anyway, I took a class in fossils, and this one was an upper-classman class, so I didn’t need the
dean’s permission, and it didn’t have any prerequisites, so I took it. That was mind blowing. One, I was
interested in the biology and how it had changed over time, but also, just the incredible amount of time
that the earth has been here. I remember spending several days trying to get my head around that.
I graduated. I was looking for something that I could apply science to and happened to come
across an oceanography program at the University of Washington. I went there for the master’s
program and that was a different kind of thing. It was a much, much bigger university. In the master’s
program, you’re more constrained by the things that want you to take. That was okay because they
were all interesting.

I had a major professor, Karl Banse, and I think his son still lives in Olympia and has been a radio
announcer, Tom Banse. Have you heard that name?
Fiksdal: Not that I am aware of.
Milne: Karl Banse was a strict, proper, German professor and I was this character from a men’s school
with a mathematical, scientific bent. His specialty was very careful, detailed observation. Those two
things were not really on the same page. Finally, I was looking for another place that could use the
science more, so I left. I did all the coursework. We parted company amicably.
Fiksdal: It just wasn’t what you wanted.
Milne: Yeah, and he had proposed a master’s thesis project, which was not uninteresting. He wanted
me to try to figure out why there are no echinoids south of the Tacoma Narrows. Echinoids are sea
urchins. Down here, they would be little, burrowing ones in the mud, not the big, spiny things.
I went to Purdue for a PhD program, and there, they were very interested in modeling
populations of pest insects and the factors that enable their populations to go up and down—weather,
predators, applications of spray, abundance of food, the crops that they eat. They were very, very
interested in that and very welcoming.
That was a project that I ended up doing there with a major prof—observe this insect, see if it’s
a new species and describe it.
Fiksdal: I hate to say it, but it sounds like science to me.
Milne: It’s observational science.
Fiksdal: Right, and you had been in physics, so it’s a big change.
Milne: I was interested in it, and the people who do it make a huge contribution to the science, because
the first thing you need to know is, what species are we dealing with here? Somebody, because of that
fascination, has described it, and that’s the key to the whole literature, if you can get the name of the
critter that has never been described, well, you send it to somebody who can. [laughing]
I should say in 1964, Dee and I got married. She was working at the University of Washington.
She was an oceanography technician. She was called an assistant oceanographer. She loved it. She had
a sense of adventure and really enjoyed it.
The way in which we really got to know that we had common interests was we were out on the
University of Washington’s research vessel—the Brown Bear it’s called—and it was a little coastal
freighter that was about 120 feet long. It had been in the past—this was in the 1960s—making trips
back and forth between Seattle and Alaska, carrying cargoes to Alaska and carrying things back. The
Oceanography Department had outfitted it as a research vessel.

We were out on it. I can’t even remember what we were doing—oceanography—out there
measuring the properties of the ocean off Astoria, Oregon, and the Columbus Day storm came along.
We were just coming in—we were right at the end—and got a message from the Coast Guard saying,
“Please stay out at sea. After this is over, if there’s anybody out there that needs help, please help
them.” So, we turned around and went back out.
Fiksdal: This was ’64? I thought that was in ’65.
Milne: ’62.
Fiksdal: Okay, I had it wrong in my memory. I remember it really well. I was in high school coming back
from a dance. [laughing] There were people out there, luckily, with chainsaws because there were
trees all across Cooper Point Road.
Milne: KV [Ladd] said there were 110-mile-an-hour winds in Portland.
Fiksdal: You were outside Astoria at the time or coming back to Seattle?
Milne: No, we had wanted to go back to Astoria, but they asked us to go back out.
Fiksdal: It seems dangerous to be out there.
Milne: No, it was safer to be out there on that ship. Unfortunately, we had a couple of graduate
students who had been terribly seasick the whole two weeks, and they were so looking forward to
getting off. [laughter] They just had a wonderful experience.
They were on the floor of the wet lab, which was a little room that had a steel floor, and it was
waterproof and a few things. The ship was rolling, and they would slide to one side of the room, and
they would slide to the other. [laughing]
We were out there at night and these huge waves were coming up from behind the ship, and
they were 30 feet tall. They were gigantic. They rose up and blocked the horizon. They were breaking
at the top, and there were phosphorescent organisms that made the water at the top glow green.
They would overtake us, and the ship would start to rise and rise and rise and rise, and it would
slide under it, and then it would sink and sink and sink again. It was exhilarating. Dee and I were
shouting and cheering, and we looked at each other and said, “You like this?” “Yeah.” [laughing] That
was a magic moment for us.
We got married in 1964. Dee was born in the Northwest. She was born in Mount Vernon. She
would rather stay in Washington State, but if I was going to Indiana, she’d go with me. We had a lot of
fun there. It was just a different kind of fun.


My thesis project had to do with a tiny beetle about the size of a grain of rice. It’s called the
Columbian timber beetle. They have lots and lots of relatives in the tropics, but this was the only one in
North America of that crowd of species.
It was invading North America. It was invading Indiana. It was coming up from the Ohio River.
Every year, there were more of them. They attacked hardwood trees, and their method of attack was
to burrow in through the bark and make a little tunnel. They make a little notch at the top and the
bottom of the tunnel, and in each one of those notches, they would lay an egg.
The beetles remained in the tunnel. There’s a little fungus that grew in there that their larvae
could live on. A generation would pass, and the new beetles would come out, fly away and do the same
The amazing thing about this was that they did no damage to the tree, which is really, really
unusual for that group of beetles. Often, they kill the tree, but they pick a tree that was in rough shape
There you have it. Oh, and most of their tunnels are within a foot of the ground. Up the tree,
there’s a few more.
Fiksdal: That’s handy.
Milne: Yeah, for studying. What I was doing was going through these Indiana woodlots that were being
logged. The loggers would leave the stumps, and I would take a chainsaw and cut off the stump and
bring it back to Purdue—a bunch of stumps.
The tunnels that these little critters made created what I thought of as a beautiful mahogany
stain that spread up and down through the wood. You didn’t have to find the tunnel, you just had to
find the stain, and put a wedge on that, whack, and it would open the tunnel.
Fiksdal: Would more than one beetle attack the same tree?
Milne: Oh, yeah.
Fiksdal: And it didn’t kill them because it didn’t go in far enough? They didn’t use the nutrients, it
sounds like.
Milne: I don’t know why they didn’t kill the trees, but they’re almost unique in that. You know the
beetles that are killing trees around here [western states] are also bark beetles. Those are very close
relatives to this one.
Each tree ring had a record for that year of how many insects had attacked it, and how many
young they had reared. The record went back about 30 years in the woodlot. Before that, there


weren’t any. They had invaded the state. You can see in that record a wave of attacks. Then it went
down. Then another wave that was bigger. It was an amazing subject for population studies.
Fiksdal: Also, for me, it sounds amazing that you figured out to look at this lot that was already being
logged. You didn’t just go out in the wild and start peering around with a microscope. There was your
site, and you were able, for some reason, to keep cutting. They allowed that. They didn’t mind that you
cut [off the stumps?]
Milne: No, I didn’t cut trees, and nobody minded if I took the stump off. Anyway, that was just an
astounding thesis project. That was fun.
Then I went to work for Oregon State University General Science Department. Don Humphrey
was the chair.
Fiksdal: Oh, for heaven’s sakes. Just for the record Don Humphrey was one of the original deans at
Milne: I knew him well. He was one of my best friends. We went on many fun expeditions together.
Don had created this department. It was called the Department of General Science—it was
interdisciplinary—in the middle of Oregon State.
If a student wanted to combine a couple of disciplines—for example, there was a gal who
wanted to be a botanical illustrator; she took all sorts of art classes and all sorts of botany classes—it
became a general science degree. Then the university had some requirements as well.
One of my students wanted to be a zoo administrator, so he studied all sorts of zoology and
business administration. My gosh, it was fun. Every student, the whole Oregon State catalog was like a
gigantic gourmet menu of education. How about a course in animal husbandry? Sure.
Fiksdal: And that was acceptable. That’s interesting.
Milne: Whatever they wanted to do. I think that’s why Don was approached about coming up to
Evergreen. He knew that I really believed in it [interdisciplinary studies], and several others from
Oregon State, so he brought some of them with him.
I was at Oregon State for four years and then came up to Evergreen in 1971—the ’71-’72 class
Fiksdal: That was the first year the college was open.
Milne: That was the first year of classes.
Fiksdal: The campus wasn’t quite ready for you.
Milne: No, it was not.
Fiksdal: Tell us about that.

Milne: Okay. We all got here. There really was only one desk—I don’t know if I’m remembering this
quite right—that faculty could sit in and use, and it was in a mobile home that was being used as a
headquarters. [laughter] I think Charles McCann had his office in there.
Fiksdal: Yeah, the planning faculty had mobile homes out there. We called them trailers.
Milne: Trailers, yes.
Fiksdal: In the mud. [laughter]
Milne: The building still wasn’t quite ready to have students, so we were all asked to take our students
off campus somewhere. My first assignment was with Ed Kormondy as the coordinator. Was that what
we called them?
Fiksdal: That’s right, we did.
Milne: Richard Anderson, a lawyer from Arizona. Oscar Soule. He was a botanist and he had been on
an expedition with Don Humphrey, which is how Don knew about him. The Rio Mezquital expedition.
Horseback. Sidearms.
Fiksdal: They needed sidearms?
Milne: They carried them.
Fiksdal: This sounds like another story, but maybe Oscar has told it already in his oral history.
Milne: Don—or maybe Oscar told me this—they kept running into bandidos. The bandidos had no
interest in the expedition. They had other interests. But they would impress the Americans by tossing a
can in the air. Bang! Bang! Bang! Kept it in the air by shooting bullets through it.
Fiksdal: That would impress me. [laughter]
Milne: Oscar, and Fred Tabbutt came up from Reed. Was that all of us? It seems to me there were five.
Me, Richard, Ed, Fred and Oscar. Boy! We went out to Goldendale State Park where we had reserved
one of the big park buildings. It had a kitchen in it and an assembly area, and then there were
bunkhouses or something like that. We spent a week there, and that was really fantastic. Everybody
that went remembers that week. Winter was starting. It was quite cold.
Fiksdal: Where’s Goldendale?
Milne: It’s down almost to the Columbia River.
Fiksdal: Is it in Eastern Washington?
Milne: Not really. It’s as far east as you can go and still be western. Satus Pass.
Fiksdal: I don’t know it.
Milne: Denny Heck was in that class. I don’t think Chris Meserve was, but she was a student at the
time. George Barner was in it. Many others whose names did not become public bywords.

Fiksdal: We might want to put a little note in right now that those two—[Denny and George] were
prominent Democrats in our area. Denny Heck ended up being a congressman from the 10th District.
Milne: That’s right.
Fiksdal: When the 10th District got formed, he ran. That wasn’t all that long ago. George Barner was a
county commissioner and also a great rock ‘n’ roll band [member].
Milne: He was a rock ‘n’ roll musician. [laughter]
Fiksdal: That’s what I know about them. Denny started TVW. Right? He started the local TV station
here and ran it for years.
Milne: I think so.
Fiksdal: We could look up more information about Denny. But anyway, two very famous characters and
wonderful people.
Milne: Both in that class.
Fiksdal: Amazing.
Milne: We came back, and we put together a tremendous program. It was called Political Ecology. We
really tried to make it exactly what the planners had wanted it to be, with seminars, fieldwork, lectures,
whatever else.
It was really a success. It was really great. And I learned a bunch from Richard Anderson,
lawyer; Fred Tabbutt, chemist; Ed Kormondy, ecologist; Oscar—everybody—and I think they learned
some from me as well.
We attended the lectures as faculty members, and then we had our individual seminar groups.
The seminar groups did things together—potlucks, for example. I just thought that was a high-energy
year, and it had one thing in common for my students anyway that I didn’t see again till the last class I
taught. That was an amazing altruism and amazing commitment to go out and change the world. That
was incredibly energizing.
After that, there was some of that, a little of that, and lip service to that, but people became, I
think, more focused on getting a career—getting a job—and that astounding altruism—I think they all
had it intrinsically, but it wasn’t their driving, motivating factor again.
Fiksdal: But we have to remember, too, that probably—for your students as well—those early students
that we had at the college were usually transfers. They were coming from sometimes one or two other
college experiences. They were looking for something much better, so they were a particular kind of
person. A seeker of some sort.
Milne: Right, the person who would pick up and move.

Fiksdal: They were willing, and they cared about education, and that’s why they came to us. They were
fabulous students.
Milne: Oh, yes. I do know that some of them later—I don’t remember any in the first class saying this—
saying that they were not able to feel at home in the standard university setting, and they really needed
the kind of freedom to choose what they were going to do, and run it by somebody, and have them say,
“Okay, sounds good.” In fact, three daughters of my colleagues back at Oregon State came to
Evergreen. They were looking for exactly that kind of thing.
Fiksdal: That’s interesting. Let’s go back to how you were hired. You say that your colleague brought
you and several others to Evergreen. What does that mean? Do you remember that at all?
Milne: Yes. Al Wiedemann was another guy. Phil Harding, who I didn’t know very well, but he was
from Oregon State. John Filmer a year after. Tom Foote. In my case—I think in all of our cases—Don
encouraged us to apply, and told us what was going on, and told us it was interdisciplinary, which, for
us, was a huge, huge attraction. He said, “C’mon up and interview people and see if you think it would
be a good fit.” So, that’s what I did.
I came up and spent a couple of days. It was a chance to visit Don and Eileen, which was fun.
Went around, and I think I met Merv [Cadwallader] and dean Dave Barry, from the early days.
Fiksdal: I’ll have to think for a second. I know who you’re talking about.
Milne: Talked to Charles McCann.
Fiksdal: And Charlie Teske. You had to have met him.
Milne: Charlie Teske, yes. I didn’t really meet, I think, any other faculty candidates. It was the planning
faculty. I think Fred Tabbutt was one. A couple others. Larry Eickstaedt. Bob Sluss. Some others. And I
liked it. I thought it sounded good. Sounded exciting.
I do think that I had some rough edges on me that were not appreciated. Because I remember
Bob and Larry showing me a layout for a typical week. “We’re going to read two books a week.”
Fiksdal: Two books a week?
Milne: Read and discuss.
Fiksdal: Yeah, that’s a lot.
Milne: One of them was one called The Hungry Planet by George Borgstrom. Are you familiar with
Fiksdal: I’m not.
Milne: That is a dense, good book. It’s a very good book. Worth reading. And I blurted out something
like, “You’re going read and discuss Hungry Planet in one day?” “Yeah, sure.”

Fiksdal: They probably loved you after that.
Milne: They did not.
Fiksdal: Oh, they didn’t?
Milne: No. [laughing]
Fiksdal: That’s crazy to read two books a week.
Milne: Yeah, especially that one.
Fiksdal: I’ve never heard this before. Everybody I’ve ever talked to has read one book a week, and
that’s already . . .
Milne: That’s what we were doing when we got going.
Fiksdal: Yeah. Now, I don’t think anyone can do that, quite frankly. You can’t demand that much of
Milne: Well, maybe for that reason, yeah. There are many books where you cannot do it justice
without a lot of reflection time.
Fiksdal: Yeah.
Milne: I think that I earned a veiled hostility of the people that Merv had invited to come to the college.
Fiksdal: Interesting. Because, of course, it was really small still, so word gets around. That’s so
interesting. That was because of your next programs, or who you taught with next? Or how did you feel
Milne: How did I feel that in later years?
Fiksdal: Yeah, that hostility.
Milne: Well . . . one was non-cooperation. For example, I wanted our ecology classes to use a device
called the Gilson respirometer. It is an amazing device. It’s all of these glass tubes and jars and little
things where you adjust air pressure and flush a little stream of oxygen through the bottle. You’ll have a
crab in the bottle. There’s more in the oxygen when it goes in than when it comes out, and you can
measure metabolism.
It’s quite an intricate thing to use. I had used it just a little bit at Oregon State, but I knew what
its potential was for learning. I remember asking Bob Sluss if he knew how to use it, and he said, “Oh, I
don’t know. I don’t know.” Then it turned out he had used one for his thesis.
Fiksdal: Oh my gosh. That’s astounding.
Milne: Yeah.
Fiksdal: You found that out very soon or . . .?
Milne: No, a little while later. Maybe the same year.

Fiksdal: Oh, for heaven’s sakes. That’s very disheartening.
Milne: I think that traces back to me being skeptical the week I came up to interview.
Fiksdal: And yet, that was on very good grounds, from an academic point of view, it seems to me.
Milne: It absolutely was.
Fiksdal: No, that’s really odd. Did you get the device?
Milne: We had one at Evergreen. Nobody professed to know how to use it, and nobody was using it,
but I knew what you could do with it from Oregon State, and I figured it out. In later years, Erik Thuesen
came along. He was a great marine biologist. He’s still there. Full of energy. Tremendous researcher.
Great teacher. Cares about the students. Compassionate.
Of course, he is the modern marine biologist, so his method of measuring oxygen consumption
is electronic. You put the animals in this water and put these devices in and read a meter over here and
write it down. It works fine, but you do not get the sense that the animal is really using oxygen by
seeing it happen. You really could see it happen with a respirator.
Fiksdal: Oh, how interesting.
Milne: In one class, we used them both, and said, “This is the old way. This is the new way. They give
the same answers. This one’s much less work. This one, I think, you come away with a little more of a
feeling of what the animals are really doing.”
Fiksdal: And Erik was open to that?
Milne: Oh, he was.
Fiksdal: So cool.
Milne: He’s still there. He’s still a great colleague. I’ll show you this. This is post-retirement.
Fiksdal: I’m looking at a book that Dave wrote, Bashing the Great Green Invaders: The Eco Showdown
That Saved Willapa Bay. Very cool. Plus, I like the cover of this guy mowing down something. Hay?
Milne: The green invaders. The grass is the green invaders. There’s supposed to be mud there.
Fiksdal: It’s just anyone’s guess who the invader could be from an Evergreen perspective.
Milne: You’re thinking maybe people. [laughter]
Fiksdal: Well, yeah, people, and especially farmers, can do a lot of damage. Anyway, very cool. Let’s
take a little break here.
Milne: Sure.


David Milne
Interviewed by Susan Fiksdal
The Evergreen State College oral history project
March 16, 2023
[Begin Part 1 of 2 of David Milne on March 16, 2023]
Fiksdal: This is Susan Fiksdal and I’m here with David Milne on March 16, 2023, for our second
interview. Dave, thank you very much for agreeing to meet again.
At the end of our last meeting, you brought up your book, which you published post-retirement,
and I want to hear a lot about that. However, I’d like to steer you back to the beginning years at
Evergreen, when you taught in large programs with lots of folks and try to get a sense of what it was like
to teach back then.
I know you had to have a lot of colleagues. That was the idea. Maybe it was different for you.
You had a lot of science programs with labs and field trips. I wonder if you could tell us about some of
the programs you’re most proud of and maybe some of the colleagues you worked with, and what you
learned from them, and what they may have learned from you?
Milne: Sure. It’s a pleasure. The very first program that I was in was the first academic year and it was
called Political Ecology. The program coordinator was Ed Kormondy, who a year later went on to
become the provost. Fred Tabbutt was there from Reed College; Richard Anderson, a lawyer from
Arizona, was a member of the team; this is where I first met Oscar Soule, a botanist; and me. I think
that’s five. The idea was to examine the interaction between industrial society and the natural world. It
was a broad thing. Law could play a part, chemistry could play a part, ecology could play a part.
Basically, we divided up. We gave lectures on sectors, on things that bear on that central
theme. Everybody sat in on the lectures of everybody else, and it was always a large audience. We got
to know the students immediately. We had some contact with them the week before the classes began.
I must say, the students in that class were the most altruistic, save-the-world-oriented young
men and women that I have ever encountered at Evergreen, with the exception of my very last class.
Fiksdal: That’s amazing. You had a sandwich there.
Milne: Yeah. They were fun. I was closer to their age then, and so were the other faculty, and we really
got along as a huge, happy family.

The students themselves were from various backgrounds. Some of them were from out of
state. Some were like the daughter of a logger, who brought her dad’s perspective on ecology to this.
Son of a schoolteacher, who went on to become a school principal himself. Some students with sort of
philosophical outlooks, disciples of some guru whose name I’ve forgotten. [laughing]
We began this class the first week by going to a state park camp at Goldendale, Washington,
because the main building that was going to be our classroom—namely, the library—was not finished
yet, and the contractors were finishing it up.
Off we went. We spent a week at this camp. It’s at a high elevation in south Washington, so it’s
very cold down there. That was just a blast. Everybody loved it, and it was a great mixer, get to know
your fellow students, get to know your faculty, that you could possibly ask for. We really had fun.
Fiksdal: Did you have a concept at that time of a retreat, a program retreat? Because that’s part of
what it became, in a sense.
Milne: It was a retreat without even a day to plan it. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Not even a day to plan it. I see, yes.
Milne: We all thought we would be starting out in our classrooms. No, no, no, no. It went fine. We
had entertainment at night. The students put it on, and the faculty put it on, and that was a blast.
There are things about that I still remember.
A friend of mine was a Vietnam vet. He was not in the class, but he happened to be visiting and
dropped in. He gave a talk about what it was like to be in Vietnam and showed some slides of
landscapes that had been blasted by bombs. That was pretty sobering, but it was a reminder that
there’s serious stuff as well as fun.
Fiksdal: And the war was still going on.
Milne: Yes, it was, ’71 that was.
Fiksdal: That’s amazing to have someone come in at that time.
Milne: He was a very personable guy of my age. He’d been right in the middle of it. He really brought a
very nonpolitical perspective to it. Here’s what’s going on. Here’s what it’s doing to people on both
sides. That was valuable. That might actually have been our first lecture in the entire class.
We came back from that, and we wanted to have fieldwork that included— I think we were
working in collaboration with other faculty on some of this. Some of the fieldwork consisted of going
down and observing the Legislature, sitting in the visitors’ gallery, and seeing that. I believe maybe not
that year, but later, actually giving some testimony.


Fred Tabbutt and I got in contact with some people who wanted a survey of the marine life of
Hood Canal. In the fall, the low tides are all at night, so we drove up there in freezing weather with the
entire class, a few at a time, and surveyed shores.
We invited some Fisheries people to join us. They wanted the work done, and they were happy
to help, so they came with us. We would all stand around while they would show us, this is a steamer
clam, this is a softshell clam.
Fiksdal: Oh, my gawd. In the middle of the night?
Milne: Yeah, coming home freezing.
Fiksdal: I hate to say it, but you went to Purdue. It’s freezing there. Of course, you didn’t have to be
outside all the time.
Milne: Right. [laughter] No, this was not like Indiana. But still . . .
Fiksdal: Still, you’re out in the elements.
Milne: But it was energizing. Everybody loved being out there. We learned a bunch and we actually
compiled a report, which is still available. It’s called the Hood Canal Report. Later on in the spring, we
went to a professional meeting in Oregon, and the students gave a presentation on what they found.
This was astounding for freshmen.
Fiksdal: It is! In one year! That says a lot about the faculty. You were doing real work that was
necessary work.
Milne: Right, and people were interested in what we were finding, and the students learned a heck of a
lot. So did I, actually, and so did Fred.
Fiksdal: But those students weren’t 18 years old. Right? A lot of them were transfer students and
older. Right?
Milne: Oh, no, no. A lot of them were less than 18 years old.
Fiksdal: Oh, really?
Milne: Yeah, and they were serious. They loved fun. But I think that they loved learning also, the way
we were doing it, and they could see that the faculty was all very collegial. We all had different
So, what else about that first year? Fred Tabbutt made a video, which is now in DVD form. I
think it was called Political Ecology, and he interviewed the faculty, including me, and somebody filmed
him. Boy, do we ever look young now. [laughter]
One of the things I remember about the college around us is the first year, it was really under
siege by several legislators. Their posture was that they wanted to close the college. I don’t know if

they really intended that, but they talked that way, and they made some moves that way, and there was
a sense of threat to the place.
Also, my sense was that some of the other programs had become very frayed around the edges
and were not the fun experience that we having. So, there were requests from faculty members who
would drop in on our class and ask if we could suspend the class and discuss the threat to college. We
would say, “No. We’re here to learn. This is working. We’re going to demonstrate that it will work, and
we’re going to proceed.” That atmosphere of threat from the outside continued for several years, but it
abated as time went by.
The next year, I was in a six-faculty program. That included me, Richard Anderson again, a
young gal geographer—her name can be found in the Archives—Jeff Kelly—I met him for the first time;
that was his first year, I think, at the college—Rob Knapp. Rob had been there, I believe, the year
before. And, Gil Salcedo.
Again, we had an amazingly good class. This time, it was a really different mix. It was a class full
of students—still large—and they were struggling with questions like, “Who am I?” [laughing] “What is
reality?” [laughing]
Fiksdal: What was the topic of your program?
Milne: It was very, very close to Political Ecology, but it had a different name. Human Ecology.
Fiksdal: It’s interesting it attracted students who—
Milne: Yeah, the next year’s class was . . .
Fiksdal: . . . completely different.
Milne: And they regarded themselves as screwed up. That was their self-image. I remember there was
one guy in the class, a guy named Glen, and some of these ones, in a good-humored way, struggling with
the idea of “I’m messed up. I’m working on it.” They referred to Glen as the only normal guy in the
class. [laughing]
We continued the same thing. We didn’t have a huge, focused project, like the Hood Canal
project, but we did get out a lot on fieldtrips. Now, it’s becoming a blur as to whether some of this
happened in that class or classes to follow. But again, it was a really successful class with an entirely
different read of students. Boy, it was a model that really worked.
After that, I don’t know if I was ever again in another six or five-faculty class. Three-faculty
classes, yes. Two-faculty classes, often. Sometimes me with a standard college class. I was on the
faculty hiring committee a number of times.


Late in my tenure at Evergreen, I remember we were looking for someone in the natural
sciences. By this time, some of the faculty who were intensely interested in research had come along,
so they had a research orientation. They always made sure it was a learning experience for the
students, but they had that focus that, at the beginning of the college, we thought, no, research just gets
in the way of teaching.
We interviewed some candidates. There was kind of a division. I think I was the oldest one on
the committee. There were several candidates that year that were ecologically oriented, and they did
excellent ecological work in the tropics, often it was, as it turned out. And they were good. They were
good candidates. All of them were.
Most of the ones that we interviewed had research interests, so the research-oriented faculty
were attracted by that. I remember there was this one young woman, and she would have been perfect
for the first year at Evergreen. She brought a serious, studious approach to ecology, also in the tropics—
Central America—but she also had that original Evergreen spirit—I’ll try anything, I’ll teach with
anybody. Not so much as [were] the other more focused candidates.
The thing that I remember about her, one time she was speaking with the committee, and for
some reason, in her research site, some tapirs came along—big animals—so here was this pool, and the
tapirs went in it, and they were enjoying the water. She said she couldn’t resist. She took off all her
clothes and dove in the pool with the tapirs. [laughing]
Fiksdal: In her interview she talked about this?
Milne: Yes. And I thought, she belongs here. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Yes!
Milne: But she did not get the offer. The faculty’s philosophy was shifting a little bit as time went by.
My very last class, it was a two-quarter thing. The first quarter consisted of Amy Cook, and she had
been one of my students and she had come back.
And Tom Rainey. I’d never, ever had a chance to teach with Tom Rainey. And Bret Weinstein.
He was brand new. He was there as an adjunct faculty because his wife had been hired as a regular
faculty. As arranged, Amy went to a different program after the first quarter, and they invited me to
join Tom and Bret in the second quarter.
This was a class of about 75 and it included a mix of people, from wives of Fort Lewis soldiers to
adult State workers from downtown to transfers from community colleges and brand-new Evergreen
students. This was their second year. I’ve got to say that was a fantastic team. I’d never taught with


either of them before. I didn’t even know Bret. But it was a fantastic team, and we energized each
I will say I learned a lot of things from Bret because he really applied mathematics to ecology,
which I could identify with, and I did also. But he explained some things that in ecology are always
explained with theoretical models and connected them up with real situations in nature for the first
time. I’d never seen that done before.
One of the deans was going to sit in on our class and he was going to present that. The dean
was evaluating Bret, and I thought, oh, no. This was going to be difficult. But he pulled it off majestically
and the dean understood it.
Fiksdal: Oh, the dean was not a scientist, and you were worried about that?
Milne: That’s right. The dean did not have a science focus.
Fiksdal: I was a dean. It was amazing how many things I could understand in the classes, because that’s
what you’re trying to do is teach people who don’t get it.
Milne: Absolutely. Teach people who you know where they’re coming from and what you can’t say and
how you should phrase it.
This was a time when George Bush had done something that antagonized the whole world. The
students wanted to have a campus-wide shutdown and go up and picket Fort Lewis. Our class asked me
and Bret and Tom to cancel class and join them. We said we’d tell them the next day.
We talked about it, and we figured out a plan that, oh my gosh, it was just perfect Evergreen.
We came back and we said, “Well, from our political perspective, we would love to do that and go up
and join you, so we’re going to make it possible for anybody that wants to skip class that day just to go.
“However, we work for all of the citizens of the entire state and those include maybe even half
of the population that doesn’t agree that this was something that ought to be protested. We’ve got to
have the class. For the people who are reluctant to join it, or have whatever reason to not join it, we
will continue the class. And then, “A few days later, we’ll have an exercise where the people who missed
it can get the subject matter. And then, we will have a class-wide discussion of what came from this
activity. Do you feel like you made a difference? Do you feel like you changed anybody’s mind?
Anybody can say anything they like on either side of the topic.”
And we did, and it was just fantastically successful. The class came back together again and
went right on. I’ve got to say that Bret was very instrumental in helping us put that together. I just wish
later, when there was the big controversy about the Day of Absence that something like that, I think,
could have pulled it back together.

Fiksdal: I wasn’t there then so I didn’t quite understand everything that happened, but I was very
disappointed, too. I was disappointed that the faculty didn’t listen more carefully to what Bret had to
Milne: So was I. I was stunned by that.
Fiksdal: I couldn’t quite understand that.
Milne: Anyway, that was my last class.
Fiksdal: Do you remember what year that was, your last class?
Milne: It was winter quarter 2005.
Fiksdal: Were you on a post-retirement [contract]?
Milne: I was.
Fiksdal: So, you had retired earlier.
Milne: I retired at the end of the academic year 2002-2003.
Fiksdal: Then you taught several times?
Milne: Right. One, it was a class that I really loved. Two, I didn’t have to have any committee
assignments. [laughter]
Fiksdal: True.
Milne: The very last one was this one with Tom and Bret. Oh, my gosh, did we get along. We were
really meant to teach together.
Fiksdal: That is so nice. That answers one question of good teams. Previously, I think you told me you
taught a lot with other people—Erik Thuesen and . . .
Milne: Gerardo Chin-Leo. I would teach with them anytime. They were great colleagues. I was never
on a team in which the people were at odds with each other.
Fiksdal: That’s really lucky.
Milne: I was on a team with Bill Brown and Al Wiedemann. We had been put there. [laughing] It had
something to do with environmental science. Al was a botanist, Bill was the geographer, and I was
whatever I was [marine biology].
I remember when Bill and I sat down with Al, Al was in a very bad mood for some reason. It was
not us, it was how things were going. He said, “We’re not going to have any fieldtrips.” Bill and I looked
at each other and said, “Fieldtrips, introduction to natural science, that’s going to put in a dent in our
offering.” Then he said, “And we’re not going to have any lectures.” “Well, what do you envision?”
“We’re not going to have any seminars.” [laughing] What is left?
Fiksdal: I don’t know. You’re lab rats or something?

Milne: Watch movies? I don’t know. Bill and I at that time were really on the same team and meeting
privately saying, “Let’s work on this.” We managed to get him to come around. “Al, you know a heck of
a lot about plants, and we don’t know that.”
Fiksdal: When I think of Al Wiedemann, I think of field projects. Something must have happened.
Milne: We finally, after about two weeks, worked our way back to lectures, fieldtrips, labs, seminars.
Fiksdal: And everything worked out between the three of you?
Milne: Everything worked out. I mention that because later on, poor Bill was in trouble. Maybe I
mentioned this. He was put in a class with me and Pete Taylor.
Fiksdal: I think you mentioned it when the recording had stopped, but I’m not sure. The recording is
going. Would you like to talk about that a little bit?
Milne: You kind of know that story. Do you think it’s something we ought to spend time on?
Fiksdal: Well, I do. There’s a lot of stories that we keep to ourselves about difficulties with colleagues,
and I think it could be useful to understand some ways it was approached in the past.
Milne: Sure. I never taught with Bill again after the team with Al. He’d taught with many other people.
His office was just down the hall from mine, and we got along famously. I loved his sense of humor. He
once related a story about the Tennessee police that were surrounding this house and a guy was in
there with a gun. They tried calling the phone number and the guy answered and said, “I can’t talk now.
I’m busy!” [laughter]
The deans decided that teaming him up with me and Pete would put him in a supportive
environment, but he had to come through with his responsibilities or they said they would let him go.
Here we were. I mentioned that we had planned this class for 50 students, two faculty. Made
arrangements for going up to the Friday Harbor Labs, field trips and labs and things like that. They
assigned Bill to us, so with Bill came another 30 students. Oh, my gosh, we had to really rework our lab
schedules. We could not all go up to Friday Harbor with a crowd that size, so we had to divide up the
field trip.
We met with Bill, and we said, “We understand that the deans are on your case. We’re going to
make this work.” We addressed the fact that with three faculty, this means three times as much work,
or one and a half, or whatever the number is, so we’re going to rig it to turn that into our advantage.
Each of us will do the same thing for three weeks, and the students will rotate through all of us, so
they’ll get all of the content. Each of us will have just one week’s worth of work to prepare for, and it
will be in our own disciplines.


We came together with a plan to do that, and he immediately departed from it by bringing in
guest lecturers who didn’t realize they were going to have to come back two more weeks.
Fiksdal: That’s a lot to ask a guest lecturer.
Milne: Yeah, and it crashed. We said, “Okay, we now know what went wrong, so we’re going to repeat
that pattern.” And he always agreed. He said, “Okay, let’s do it this way.”
I later learned that that had been his problem earlier. He had just lost his confidence that he
had something meaningful to say in classes—and I know he did, I know he did—and the program
crashed. There isn’t a lot more to say.
Fiksdal: After one quarter?
Milne: Yes, one quarter.
Fiksdal: Oh, that’s really too bad, and it’s a lot of work doing all that planning to accommodate another
Milne: We wanted it to work. We really talked about that and said, “We’re going to make this work.” I
didn’t realize that in the larger faculty, they, too, had had a problem with him abandoning their plan.
Oh, my gosh, these hearings started, and students were protesting. The hearing examiner said,
“I’m not going to consider anything that preceded this year. It all depends on this year.”
Fiksdal: Oh, for heaven’s sakes. That put a lot of pressure on you, then.
Milne: Oh, yeah. In fact, Pete—congenial guy that he is—it’s hard to describe what his evaluation—it
was not an aggressive evaluation, nor was it supportive, and mine told it like it was. I included in there
that for all that, I found him a very congenial colleague. I enjoyed working with him and was frustrated
by what was happening, and pointed out—as we were supposed to do in these evaluations—“You didn’t
realize that the speaker was going to have to come back three times, and that wasn’t workable.”
And I said, “You have plenty to say yourself in this arena,” and named some topics and said,
“You just need to trust yourself that the students will listen and learn.” And they would. They liked him.
He was a congenial guy. I became the reason why he was being fired.
Fiksdal: You regret that, I imagine.
Milne: No. There were enough other people involved to take half the heat.
Fiksdal: Okay, so in the end, it wasn’t just your statement that—
Milne: He’d worked with Richard Cellarius the quarter before and Richard was very timid about saying
that anything had gone wrong, but it had. After our quarter, I forget what happened.
Fiksdal: Right, because he kept teaching, so it was all about that year.
Milne: Mm-hm. But I know Lucretia, boy, she was just scathing.

Fiksdal: Lucretia . . .?
Milne: Lucretia Harrison. Was that her name?
Fiksdal: Lucia Harrison.
Milne: I happened to see that evaluation and I thought, oh, that’s . . . Anyway, that was a bad
Fiksdal: Yeah, it was a tough experience. He was an African American on top of being a geographer.
Milne: He never said I was a racist.
Fiksdal: That’s good.
Milne: I appreciated that.
Fiksdal: Let’s think back. You mentioned you were on the hiring committee several times. Did you have
other governance positions that you remember?
Milne: That’s the one that I really remember. I was on it a bunch of times. I did, within the
Environmental Studies Group, one time they asked me to figure out where our students are coming
from and where they go after they leave our classes. And I did. I didn’t know how to start it, but I finally
got in contact with Steve Hunter, and he was delighted to take that on.
He pulled together this amazing survey of where our incoming class had been the quarter
before, the year before, and then for our class that had already left, where they’d gone from there. That
was a bunch of work. I liked doing it.
What else was there? There were a couple, but I don’t really remember what they were.
Fiksdal: Those are consequential things that you’re talking about and that’s good. That’s fine.
Milne: I scrupulously avoided being a dean.
Fiksdal: I so note. [laughter] Just tell me why you avoided that.
Milne: Because the deans didn’t get to teach. That was one. The other that I heard from rumblings was
how much they were immersed in personnel matters.
Fiksdal: Unfortunately. You mentioned Bill Brown, but there were many. Then there were perennials,
people just popped up. You’d talk to another dean at another time, and they’d said, “Yep, number one
priority.” Just wasted a lot of time.
But that wasn’t all you did as a dean. I think there were a lot of good things. But I did stop. I
had a six-year appointment and I worked for five. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to get back
into the classroom. I understand that.
Milne: The main thing was they don’t get to teach.


Fiksdal: No, and you start to lose touch with teaching, with students. Your schedule is an ongoing 8:00
to 5:00 schedule. That gets annoying as well.
Milne: I taught one summer school year. That was ’73-’74. In fact, we were out at the coast when
Richard Nixon resigned almost as soon as we got out there, and we heard nothing about it. When we
drove back here, somebody rushed out and shouted, “Nixon has resigned!” If I had not heard that,
enough time had gone by that the newspapers were now talking about President Ford—
Fiksdal: Who is this President Ford? What’s happened? [laughter] That’s funny. Back then, that’s true.
There were daily newspapers and the daily news and that’s it. That’s funny.
Milne: I never taught summer school again because I needed the break. The academic year was always
so intense that to continue all that, and then have two weeks to yourself and start it all up again, I could
not do that.
Fiksdal: I can understand. In your time teaching, thinking back, do you remember some teaching—you
mentioned Bret Weinstein and I think that would fit into this category of people who influenced you in a
certain way by their philosophy or their approach to teaching, or even teaching strategies that maybe
you appreciated and maybe adopted? Do you remember?
Milne: Yes, I do. That would be Carolyn Dobbs. When I came to the college, I had been through
sciences, mostly sciences, and I was developing this view that all you needed to do was use science to
figure out the answer and it’s problem solved.
Very early on, I remember having a discussion with Carolyn and she said, “You’ve got to realize
that the scientific answer is only part of the solution. Suppose you apply that, and a hundred people
lose their jobs? Or it costs $50 million. The economic dimension, the social dimension, what it means to
people’s lives, how it might change the landscape. Yes, it might solve the problem that you were looking
intensely at, but there are all sorts of other ramifications.”
That was early, and that was how I think I really began to develop my view that we ought to be
reading these books that are not about science. We ought to be keeping our eyes on the whole
civilization’s social dimension for what it is we’re proposing to do.
I remember, even as early as maybe the second or third year, reading a book called City Politics
as one of our seminar books. I would never have picked that one up and started reading it and I learned
a heck of a lot from it. I forget who proposed it. So, early on, Carolyn Dobbs expanded my whole
Fiksdal: That’s terrific.


Milne: Other methods of teaching . . . no, I would say she had the most profound effect on me of any
faculty member.
Fiksdal: I’d say that’s a pretty profound thing that she was able to do—to get you to move those
blinders away.
Milne: Oh, yeah.
Fiksdal: Because I think in our disciplines, we have blinders. You’ve got to just look at this amount of
data and get this written up and published, and that’s the job.
Milne: Right. Or why are you thinking about unemployment when the problem is pollution?
Fiksdal: Exactly. I had a question in my mind, and I think I’ve got it formulated. You told me about your
academic career, and your PhD was not in marine biology.
Milne: No, it was not.
Fiksdal: But it seems like your examples and your teaching seem to be all about marine biology. I know
you loved that, and you did that work at the UW. But I’m trying to understand now, was that mainly
your career? Marine biology?
Milne: Yes, that’s what it became.
Fiksdal: If so, why is that?
Milne: I had gone from a physics major—which I thought, boy, that really explains everything; there’s
nothing else you need to know—but I was interested in doing something that had an element of
In high school, I was incredibly interested in biology, always was and still am. But when I went
to college, I thought, this has been a nice interest, but you can’t make a living at it. Imagine somebody
saying that. Well, that was me.
Fiksdal: You sound like one of our current students. [laughter] But you were being practical. I think
that’s fine.
Milne: I thought I was. I thought, I need to major in something that I can find a job doing, and physics
seemed like the right thing. I can’t tell you how much that made me at home in the world,
understanding space, radiation, electricity, heat, energy, momentum, planets, stars. Things like that. It
just made me a citizen of the universe.
But I was also thinking I would like to do something that gets me outdoors. I went to the
University of Washington and was in the Oceanography Department master’s program for three years. I
had a classic German professor of the old observational school. I liked him and got along well with him.
He liked me. But I was interested in—well, I’ll tell you what I was interested in. There is this problem in

oceanography that lots and lots of organisms live 500 meters below the surface during the day, and at
night, they all come up to the surface. They stay there till it starts getting light and then they all go back
down. The question has always been, why don’t they just stay at the surface? Then there are these
theories—they’re hiding from predators or whatever.
It was always phrased, why do they waste all that energy swimming up and down? I thought,
what if they’re saving energy? I was interested in that problem, and as it turns out, they are. I was
probably the first person to want to think that. But my major professor had no interest in me following
that up. There were some faculty who did. I learned later that somebody at Halifax had really
discovered that this is true.
Fiksdal: Oh, no! Your idea was—
Milne: No, they had never heard of me. The animals live in cold water when they’re deep, and their
metabolism is very, very slow. Their metabolism speeds up tremendously when they get to the surface,
and they need more food. The small amount of mechanical energy that they use going up and down is
Fiksdal: Would we be able to apply this theory to the geoduck?
Milne: No.
Fiksdal: Oh, darn.
Milne: The geoduck just sits there. [laughing] I left there without actually completing the master’s
degree, but I got all of the education. Down at Oregon State, I had some contact with the marine
biologist down there, but I was really able to come back to it when I came to Evergreen.
Fiksdal: You got to pursue your passion.
Milne: Right.
Fiksdal: That’s very exciting because some people moved completely out of their discipline. You stayed
within one of your disciplines. That’s terrific.
Milne: Where were we going with this?
Fiksdal: I just was wondering about why you mostly taught marine biology classes.
Milne: Oh, I loved it. I loved getting outside. I liked the ocean. Loved the estuaries.
Fiksdal: I was struck by the fact that it sounds like you had seminars in all your programs.
Milne: In all my programs?
Fiksdal: In a lot of your programs, you brought up seminars.
Milne: I think in every one. I think there was always a seminar.


Fiksdal: That’s a very exciting fact that I wanted to underscore and ask you a little about because for a
long time at Evergreen—let’s say my knowledge of the discussion starts in the ‘90s, certainly when I was
a dean in the late ‘90s—a lot of the science faculty were not having seminars. One of the questions was,
how can we get them to do that? They’re working long hours in the lab, and it takes a lot of effort to do
labs, so there were all kinds of reasons, I guess. But why do you think you always had seminars in your
Milne: Hmm. That’s a good question.
Fiksdal: I’m not saying you were alone because clearly, you taught with a lot of other people.
Milne: Oh, yeah. Erik and Gerardo. With them, our seminars were on scientific articles but they always
bore on what we were doing in one way or another. For example, when Pete and I were teaching
Marine Biology, we had a seminar on the book The Hunt for Red October.
Fiksdal: Oh, for heaven’s sakes. That’s a good book.
Milne: Yes, it is. There is so much stuff about underwater sound and pressure and stuff like that in
there. Besides, it’s an engaging story. That was an example. It wasn’t utterly unrelated to what we
were doing.
In teaching with teams like Carolyn and Kaye V. Ladd, they had really different perspectives.
Among the three of us, we could always identify a book that would fit what we were doing and have a
seminar on it.
I’ll say, I think we always had seminars. There might have been a class or two where we didn’t,
but generally, I tried to, and so did the faculty I taught with.
Fiksdal: How did you feel about being a seminar leader or facilitator? Was that easy or hard for you?
Milne: It was easy from the beginning. I would read the book. I know there were faculty that said you
didn’t need to.
Fiksdal: Really? [laughter] No, I think you need to read the book.
Milne: I can think of one. [laughing] Nobody I ever taught with. In 1975, I was the Thurston County
coordinator of a group that wanted to ban nuclear energy. I was kind of active and prominent in it. It
had nothing to do with what I was doing at the college.
I remember somebody that I still know and really love, a guy named Tom Sherwold—ever heard
of him?
Fiksdal: I haven’t.


Milne: He happened to be in my class, and I can’t remember what the class was, but we were having
seminars. One of them was some book about energy. He brought it up in class. “Well, maybe nuclear
energy is the answer.” And he knew . . .
Fiksdal: The devil’s advocate.
Milne: . . . that I didn’t believe that. I remember saying, “Well, maybe. Why don’t we just share what
we know about it?” I did not try to impose my view on the class. I usually told them, or they already
knew. In fact, I always told them, “You do not have to agree with me. You just learn the facts, interpret
them as you will, present them honestly and arrive at your own opinion.”
I was in many classes where their opinion was not mine at the end. That was fine. That was
perfectly okay. It was what we were there for. I remember that first instant that I thought I didn’t even
have to think about it. I just knew. “Well, let’s discuss it.”
Fiksdal: That’s great.
Milne: I do know there was a faculty member who would put negative remarks in his evaluations about
students who didn’t agree with him.
Fiksdal: Oh, no.
Milne: Yeah.
Fiksdal: That’s not good. We’re going to pause for a second.
[End Part 1 of 2 of David Milne on March 16, 2023]
[Begin Part 2 of 2 of David Milne on March 16, 2023]
Fiksdal: We’re starting a new segment.
Milne: Okay. The work was getting so hard, and I’d been at it so long, that I was looking for a way to
leave Evergreen and start another job.
Fiksdal: Another teaching job?
Milne: Not a teaching job. The Nature Conservancy was looking for somebody to work over on the
coast. I interviewed for that one. I interviewed at a museum in Portland. I got this opportunity to go
work for NASA on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, if you can believe that.
Fiksdal: No, I can’t.
Milne: It was a radio telescope survey. They were learning plenty, but while they were learning it, they
were looking for the kind of signal that only a transmitter can create.
Fiksdal: This called on your physics background?
Milne: Some. My education background, especially. I had been down at the NASA Ames Research
Center in California a couple summers on fellowships. Then, for a year, as an editor of a compilation
they were putting together on this topic.

Fiksdal: Oh, so you were familiar.
Milne: That’s another subject. I got this invitation to go down there for a couple of years and run a
science education program. It was being created from the ground up. It was for middle school students
from third grade to eighth grade.
Fiksdal: A completely different population.
Milne: Yes. Those are the best three years of my life. [laughing] There was a team of 20 ace teachers
from around the Bay Area that were being paid to come in maybe twice a month and spend a day at this
institute where we would talk about what we were doing, how our teaching is going, ideas for new
lessons and things like that. Then there was a staff of lesson writers that was there. We were in a room
with the institute’s public relations scientist, who was probably the best guy I ever worked with. It was
The director of this whole thing didn’t know me at all. He just knew me by reputation from
when I’d been there other times. He was really kind of wondering how this was all going to work out. I
remember, in the first week, I went down there—I left here and was down there for three years and my
dear wife was here. It was kind of a commuter marriage.
Fiksdal: Oh, dear.
Milne: But it worked. We made it work.
Fiksdal: She chose not to go with you.
Milne: She would rather be here. Her family is here. I was also writing a book—a different book—and I
wanted to be monastic. There were a number of reasons why she wanted to stay here. Her friends, her
artist friends. She was helping run a store with a friend. All that.
When I went there, I was kind of discouraged. I thought, oh, you know what? Evergreen has
left me with no marketable skills at all. [chuckles] The first week, I called together all of these teachers
and they had not met each other. This was going to be their first meeting. There were about a dozen of
them, I think, who ought to be at this meeting. There were some others on the outside.
The guy that I was working for, Director of the SETI Institute, came in and we all said, “Hello, I’m
So-and-So,” and we wore nametags and so on. I knew something about them. We all sat down around
this big table, and I said, “I’d like to have everybody go around the table, please, and introduce yourself
and say what school you’re from, and what grade you’re teaching, and just the name of a lesson that
you like teaching best.” They all did that, and that started conversations. I said, “Hang on. Let’s wait till
we’ve all had a chance to talk.”
I had an agenda. “If you guys think this is a good idea, I’d like to have some people here once in
a while during the week, and bring your ideas for a lesson that you’d like to work on and take the time
to work on it.” Everybody was talking and I said, “You’re next. Give Gerardo over here a chance to
After that, I had them bring their favorite lesson and set it up before we had this meeting and
stand by while people went by. Introduce your lesson, and the next person do that. Then everybody

went home, energized, full of ideas. The guy I was working for said, “I’ve never seen a meeting handled
like that.” [laughing]
Fiksdal: Suddenly, you realized you had skills after all. [laughter]
Milne: Oh, my gosh. Things just got better from then on. It was really, really energizing. I would go out
and visit the classrooms where these guys were testing our lessons and sit there. I became a personality
to all these classes. “Doctor Orbit.” [laughter]
Fiksdal: Did you choose that name?
Milne: I chose it in conjunction with the public science guy and the gal who was essentially the head of
the team of writers. I wish I could find a picture. Give me a minute and I’ll see if I can find that picture.
I want to show you the character of this whole thing.
Fiksdal: Okay. We’ll pause this for a second.
Milne: It’s a picture on video that we took on a film for third graders. NASA was asking the third
graders to help figure out where their stolen space shuttle had gone. It had been stolen by a lady
astronaut named Amelia Spaceheart. [laughter]
Fiksdal: Well, she had a heart. That’s good.
Milne: The public science guy was an administrator who was in serious trouble for letting her take off in
the space shuttle. She was interested in following up some signal from somewhere in the solar system.
And I was Doctor Orbit. I was the guy that was operating a computer that was trying to track
her. This was a series of videos in which we all acted out these roles. These pictures came up on the
computer. “All right! All right! We’ve got this picture! Where is it, kids? Where is it?” They might see
Saturn in the picture or something like that. They loved it. All three of us were just personalities.
Fiksdal: Yes, you were in the video, and then you would come to their class! Oh, I can’t imagine. They
must have been thrilled.
Milne: It was really funny. I think the best evaluation I got over that whole three years was “This class
liked Dr. Orbit because he thinks like a kid.”
Fiksdal: Oh, isn’t that the best?
Milne: Yeah, it was heartwarming. That was so much fun.
Fiksdal: It is heartwarming. You got a leave of absence from Evergreen to do that?
Milne: Two years. I didn’t dare ask for another. I couldn’t come back, and I wanted to come back here.
But when I left, they wanted me to stay and work there. This was funded by the National Science
Foundation, and I was in charge of the grant. I was answerable to one of the scientists, but she was
doing research, and then there was the Director of the Institute, where the facility actually was. They
wanted me to stay, and I wanted to come back here.


Fiksdal: Yeah. That sounds like a great interlude. I think for most of the faculty who have been there a
long time, you need something. People rotate into the library or into advising. I became a dean, and
you went off to look for extraterrestrials.
Now what we’re going to do is talk a little bit about some writing that you’ve done. First, you
were talking about when you went to work with the SETI Institute, but you were interested also in
writing a book.
Milne: Yes. When I went down there, I had been writing this book, which eventually came out, Marine
Life and the Sea, a real marine biology textbook. I’d been working on that and was not finding enough
spare time while I was working at Evergreen to make a lot of progress on it.
I went down there, and I had a 40-hour work week—this was maybe the first time in my life—
and it was while working there, it was the kind of thing, if you didn’t get it finished, you just came back
to it the next day.
Fiksdal: Wow! A dream job.
Milne: Yeah! You had weekends and evenings free. Being there enabled me to get this written. I
would go home at night—Dee was here [in Olympia]—and do nothing but write on this thing. Write on
it all weekend long. Get out just enough. Go see the coast in California because that’s new to me. That
was an amazingly good experience.
The manuscript was published by Wadsworth Publishing Company. I wrote three drafts of it,
which were sent out to 52 reviewers. I was not supposed to know who they were, but it was quickly
obvious from their writing styles and their stationery and stuff like that who it was, so I got to know
In fact, at Evergreen, some others and I had this Friday lunch. Everybody brings a sack lunch and
somebody from the faculty talks about something they’ve been doing. That was really good.
Burt Guttman and I put on one in which we talked about what it’s like to write a book and
publish it. All of the reviewers, and the time, and you’ve got to decide for each reviewer, is this a good
criticism or is it not?
I think the main thing that I remember that I learned from all this was that if I had a beer and
worked on the manuscript and thought it was great, the next morning I end up crossing it all out.
[laughing] I had no feeling the night before that this was affecting my writing, but it was so obvious the
next day.
That came out in 1995 and it was extremely popular, and it sold out quickly. There were some
reasons why there was never a second edition. It’s okay.
The other book—this one here—the title is Bashing the Great Green Invaders, and I think maybe
rednecks or even environmentalists have taken that to mean fighting environmentalists. That’s not
what it’s about. It was about the invasion of Washington’s coast by a non-native grass from the East
Coast. Those are the green invaders.
This is a huge, huge environmental success story—it [the grass] was wiped out after 15 years—
and it was a source of a fantastic class that I had based on the ecology and the human impact,

economics of this invasive species on the communities of the coast. We went over there all the time,
and students took part in this. They had a lot of papers and even a thesis or two based on this grass.
Fiksdal: How many years did you work on that project in your programs?
Milne: The first program was a one-quarter group contract in 1994, I believe—I think maybe it started
January 1994—and I had that class for the next 10 years. It was incredibly popular.
A couple of the students that took it actually went on to become the statewide [Washington
State] Spartina coordinators for the whole program. They were, I don’t want to say, trained, but they
learned enough. They had jurisdiction over like five departments in the Washington State government.
Fiksdal: But obviously, people took this very seriously, this grass.
Milne: Oh, they did.
Fiksdal: Could you explain to a non-scientist why it was so important?
Milne: Sure. It was invading Willapa Bay, which is this huge bay on our coast—a very shallow bay—and
aquaculture there supports the whole county. It also provides something like 20 percent of the entire
oyster supply in the entire United States. This grass was going to end it all.
Also, like Bowerman Basin over there, Willapa Bay is a migrating stop for ducks and shorebirds,
and the grass was going to destroy the entire habitat. Everybody took it seriously from day one when
they saw it start to spread how deadly this was going to be.
So, DNR, Fish & Wildlife, county weed boards, tribes, the Department of Agriculture, private
homeowners, volunteers, high school classes—everybody joined forces against it. Talking to all those
people was part of our class and going over there to help eradicate it and see how difficult that was, that
was the whole basis of a class.
The thing that made our students, I think, so attractive to the State government was we went
over and talked to people and learned what their concerns were, and developed the skill of how do you
start a conversation with somebody you might not agree with? Say, for example, an oyster farmer
whose attitude toward regulations is “To hell with them?” And he does it anyway, and then what? How
do you talk to someone like that?
Fiksdal: Did the students learn how to do this by recording people?
Milne: No. Just stand there with your hands in your pockets and boots and talk.
Fiksdal: And bring that back.
Milne: Right. Anyway, I wrote this thanks to Covid. I was here at Panorama. I wasn’t going anywhere.
And it was fun. When I started to write it, it just wrote itself.
Fiksdal: Did you publish it yourself?
Milne: Self-published through Amazon.
Fiksdal: Terrific, so it’s still available there?


Milne: Yes, it is. Twenty dollars. I’ll tell you also, I very much underpriced it because I wanted
bookstores to be able to buy it and sell it. I didn’t anticipate how hostile bookstores are toward
Amazon, so I don’t think many of them are doing it. Some are, I know.
Fiksdal: Yeah, you have to choose your place of publishing, because each place has its own methods for
getting books out—or not, burying them. Those are two really good examples. It sounds like you have
done a lot of writing in your life.
Milne: Yes, I have written letters to the editor to The Olympian for decades.
Fiksdal: I remember reading a lot of them.
Milne: Oh, yeah. I’d like to show you one. I worked with an outfit that was trying to save Capitol Lake
for 10 years, starting about 2012—I was retired then—and I ended up being the antagonist for the
Department of Ecology.
They—I will say it out loud—were part of a conspiracy to get rid of the lake and replace it with
an estuary, not for scientific reasons but for political reasons. My colleagues and I were hitting brick
walls wherever we went. That was a case where science didn’t make any difference.
First of all, I drew on my experience in Budd Inlet with classes. We’d done measurements there.
Switched over to fresh water and actually got out on Capitol Lake after it was closed and made some
measurements. I wrote a number of reports defending Capitol Lake. One was for the Audubon Society.
It’s called “Capitol Lake: Washington’s Environmental Gem,” which it really, really is. And I took on the
Department of Ecology. They were using a computer model that supposedly showed that Budd Inlet
was being damaged by Capitol Lake. It was not.
They had been getting away with it because hardly anybody is in a position to challenge
computer modeling, but I was. I understood it. I used to do it, actually. Boy oh boy. Did I get
stonewalled. [laughing] I would write these reports and give them to the Department of Ecology and
usually, there was no reply, and they were never cited in the literature cited in all of their computer
modeling reports. That was, again, some more writing that I did.
Fiksdal: Can I follow up? There has been an environmental impact study. The decision by the State is
that it will disappear, the Capitol Lake, and become an estuary, so there was time to resubmit.
Milne: I did. I participated in that process, I commented on that thing, and they kept saying the same
things. They wished I’d go away. They really did. [laughing]
Fiksdal: That’s useful to know.
Milne: Those reports are available on the CLIPA Web site. It’s Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection
Association. Bunch of businessmen, realtors, downtown marina owners and operators, so I was
immersed in that unlikely company for years and learned plenty about it.
I will say that that group of people called me “Dr. Milne” more in one meeting than anybody
ever said in 35 years at Evergreen. [laughing]
Fiksdal: I have to laugh because it’s true. We never asked the students to call us “doctor.” We were
known by our first names. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Milne: Some of these guys I was working with were a little reluctant to use my first name. All the same
Fiksdal: It’s a mark of respect and I think that’s good.
Milne: It helped in dealing with the Department of Ecology. This was not just somebody randomly
Fiksdal: No, and you had evidence that you were presenting.
Milne: So, there is that writing and there are those reports.
Fiksdal: That’s great.
Milne: They’re quite impressive. I used their own figures—reproduced those, critiqued them. Other
professionals who were writing that stuff, I don’t know how they could live with themselves, the things
they were saying.
Fiksdal: We’re picking up on another theme in your interview, which is science matters.
Milne: Yes.
Fiksdal: It’s difficult not to be heard. Since we’ve gotten into your post-retirement years, I see a piano,
and you have talked a little bit about your performances, and I want to know, when did you start your
lessons? It must have been in your youth. Who knows? Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your
piano playing?
[Response is shortened version written by Dave]
Milne: I took piano lessons from Mrs. Anchor who lived down the street. I was about 10 years old.
When our family moved out of Ferndale to Rochester, a small town to the north, my lessons ended and I
pretty much stopped playing the piano. My interest revived when I went to college in 1957. My
roommate and I purchased an old piano for $50 from a Vermont farmer who had dozens of them in his
barn, and somehow got it up the stairs to the second floor of our dorm and put it in our room. Here I
played it for raucous sing-alongs until we moved it a second time over to a fraternity house, where I
lived during my senior year. The guys insisted on raucous sing-alongs every Saturday night, and that is
where I really learned to play. Nobody in that energetic crowd was paying much attention to whether
or not I was making mistakes, and it was the start of a lifelong experience in which I enjoyed playing for
people who were focused on something else.
After a lapse of many years, I resumed piano playing again after I came to Evergreen. I started
by buying a piano from Bud Johansen, about 1972 or so. Since then I’ve had a special fascination with
ragtime – starting with Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag – and have played more or less regularly, until
Dee’s health went into decline in 2015.
One highlight of those musical years included learning to play accompaniments to silent comedy
movies. The first of those was Buster Keaton’s fantastic locomotive film, The General. These were
perfect opportunities to play for audiences that were not really listening to me – they were focused on
the films – and I presented many of them. Always in support of good causes – the Camp Quixote
residents, restorations of old theaters, charitable projects by the Elks organization and the like. Always

for donations, always free of charge for people with stressed budgets and/or kids, never for pay. And
now, on occasion, for the retired residents of Panorama.
Now that I’ve retired and am myself living at Panorama, I’ve resumed playing ragtime and am
really enjoying that. This is in no small part due to encouragement by Judy Lindlauf, a retired Evergreen
administrator who has become a very good jazz pianist.
Fiksdal: One of the questions that we ask towards the end that you can answer or not is, do you have
any thoughts about—we know Evergreen’s enrollment is quite low and they’re struggling. They’re doing
all kinds of things to try to change that and revive the college, but they have fired a lot of faculty. The
firing has stopped, luckily. Still, they’re not in such a good place. You earlier mentioned threats to the
college, and those occurred quite often. Now, there’s another big threat. Well, I don’t know how big a
threat it is. It is a state college.
Do you have any thoughts about what the college should be doing or could be doing, or any
observations about all of that?
Milne: I think I’m too far away from it to say anything meaningful about that.
Fiksdal: Would you be sad if the college did close its doors or change its approach.
Milne: Absolutely.
Fiksdal: We all worked really hard to make that college viable.
Milne: We worked to make it alternative.
Fiksdal: We did.
Milne: And I think if it’s not alternative, then maybe it’s superfluous. I just think of the story that I told
you when you came in by a student who said, first of all, she left home early to work on this, and she
said that she could never have done that in a conventional college. She might have come around to it
later, but maybe not. But she really was armed to go forth and do that by what she was able to do at
Alternative. Stay interdisciplinary. What else? Steady as she goes, I guess I would say. I hope
it’s still what it once was.
Fiksdal: Thank you, Dave. This has been a pleasure to talk to you.
Milne: You’re welcome.
Fiksdal: I learned a lot about you and about your many interests, so thank you so much for contributing
to our [oral histories]. Okay, we’re going to stop.
Milne: Thank you for interviewing me.
[Next segment was written by Dave to add to his memories of Evergreen’s early days]
I’d like to conclude with just one last memory of the “early days” that we didn’t talk about. That
is, a hilarious incident that occurred during one of TESC’s “Super Saturdays,” which were one-day fairs
held yearly on campus late in the spring. The whole Olympia community was invited. Visitors from off

campus turned out in droves. This personal experience really illustrates the fun and camaraderie of
those first years.
Among many other attractions of those events – bands, craft booths, dunk tanks, etc – there
was a tent where Evergreen employees could put on costumes, then go out and mingle with the crowds
of people enjoying the fair. These included Darth Vader and Wookie characters from the Star Wars
movies. The Wookie was easier ... you didn’t have to speak English with the many kids surrounding you
... just say AWWRRRRR and gesture.
The big hairy costume was infernally hot. While walking around among kids and parents (acting
like a Wookie visiting planet Earth, of course) I made my way to the refreshment area, at that time on
the fourth floor of the library. That very large space contained a kitchen and dining area filled with
tables and chairs, at that time. It was packed with people beating the heat. And of course, they all
noticed that a Wookie had just walked in.
At the counter, I realized that I couldn’t drink my Coke without removing my “head.” That would
tip off the kids that the Wookie wasn’t real! So, I stepped through a swinging door leading to an obscure
seldom-used stairway to the ground floor, removed my “head,” drank the Coke, replaced the head and
was just reaching for the door to go back into the refreshment area when ...
... the door swung open, toward me! Holding it open was a guy who was looking back into the
room, talking to someone. He didn’t see me, but everyone else in the room did. He kept saying things
like “That’s right! Parking Lot B! What? No! At 3:30! Right! Bring the kids ... “
Everyone in the room was spellbound. Here was this guy with a gigantic Wookie towering over
him, standing there right behind him, and he didn’t know it.
He turned. And screamed! The crowd roared with laughter and applauded. The Wookie went
back to work, waving, shaking hands with kids, and out the hallway door to the elevator.
Forever after, when people ask, “What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you,” I recall
that incident.”

[End Part 2 of 2 of David Milne on March 16, 2023]