On September 14th we closed our summer season, throwing our final stones at the confluence of the Salmon and Snake Rivers, leaving behind what no longer serves and pocketing a small stone as a token of something precious to hold onto from our time on the river.
This summer LEAP was able to support 10 groups on the river, meeting 127 participants, 34 partner organization staff, 6 LEAP Board members, 7 guides, and 7 volunteers. As this summer program season has come to an end, it is hard to distinguish who gained the most from our work, as regardless of what role one came to a LEAP program this summer, impacts were significant. As the new Program Director who arrived to facilitate, care for, and grow the program in mid-July – I would arm wrestle anyone for the title of the person who learned the most or person most humbled by the learning and dynamics each program offered.
I continued to learn about the incredible capacity of an individual to focus their efforts, surf their edges, and overcome fears. I witnessed participants floating through Cougar Canyon, awe-struck, their paddle silent across their legs, taking it all in, peaceful. I was honored by the opportunity to coach participants through their tears, shortness of breath, or tight-chestedness as they came face-to-face with a physical and mental challenge on the river, doing the deep work to reorganize their pathway through stress or disregulation and generating a new story about their capacities. I watched the growth of the guide team as they integrated their own learning and experiences on the water with each group. I wrestled with when and who and how hard to push folks and how to maintain each person’s autonomy, respecting their knowledge of themselves. I listened to participants speak aloud their strengths, their big, bright, glorious truths about themselves, and short and long-term goals they set for themselves, along with important practical anchors that will help them be successful on their journey post-river. I quietly enjoyed how each week, consistently, on the third day on the river, having traveled through Snowhole Canyon and paddled through the calmer water of the afternoon, that each group felt at ease having been both in the wilderness and connected as a group for enough days to have their nervous systems settle -- making deeper connections, playfulness, and reflections possible.
Those are just some of the observations living on the surface for me as I reflect on the impacts of the season, and I would love to hear the continued reflections of anyone who joined us on the river. As I continue to transition from life on the river to the pace and stimulation of city life, I have been thinking of and honoring each person who I sat in the circle with this summer. On the final night of each trip, we would talk about the idea of reincorporation, about how to take the impacts of the experience – whether that be friendship, connection, awe, quiet, laughter, community, a new personal narrative, and everything in between – and bring them into the fold of one’s life off the river. Weekly, I would remind each group that the work of reincorporation can feel many different ways, sometimes invigorating and inspired, and other times disappointing and effortful – and more often, some of both. As I move through my own stage of reincorporation, I again deeply honor the energy it takes to make changes or tend to the fragile coals of new discovery when returning to familiar landscapes.
For the time being, the boats are deflated, kitchen cleaned, sleeping bags packed and all of our gear tucked into storage. In my reincorporation phase, I am working to take all the learning from the summer and my years of work with groups in the outdoors to create and roll out new programs in the coming months to expand our program offerings beyond the summer. While LEAP will maintain these summer programs as the foundation of our work, we also look forward to expanding opportunities to foster community, cultivate personal growth, and provide wilderness and nature immersion experiences. We hope you’ll join us – there’s good things to come.