At the onset of summer, a fellow guide and friend shared a scene from a trip he’d led years prior. One morning he woke early to get hot water going and prep for the day. As he was in the camp kitchen, a young boy & participant emerged from his tent before sunrise, raised his hands and exclaimed to the space around him: This is my world! This is my world!
This image lived with me throughout the 2018 summer season, reminding me each week that when we welcomed a new group to the Salmon River for their LEAP experience, that we had the great honor to create a world together -- in the community we would build, the way we would tend to and listen to each other, and the playfulness, challenge, and peacefulness we would engage through our 53 river miles and four nights under the stars.
Each week we would open the program with creating a set of group agreements – things like:
Each week complete with specific qualities or boundaries that were important to that particular group. Upon agreeing to this co-created code of conduct for our new community, we would move on to introductions that would include a series of things for each person to share. Usually this would include something with levity, like a preferred super power or what type of mythical creature one would ride into battle. Introductions would also always include two essential pieces: why did you decide to be here and what do you hope to gain?
These opening introductions and agreements would set the tone for the week ahead. For many, they wanted to try something new and meet new friends who had experienced similar loss, challenge, or illness. For others, they wanted to step outside their comfort zones and get some new perspective. This sharing would begin to break down barriers and create connections for everyone in the group – guides, participants, and staff alike.
As we paddled and floated through the river, we shared and listened to each other’s stories and hopes – co-creating this world together. A silly but important thing I say each time we would gather in a circle is: no double parking. Meaning, everyone has their own and equal space – no one is in front or behind anyone else, everyone has a spot at the table. Sometimes, it’s these simple gestures – a new friend listening authentically and with heart or ensuring space for all members in the group – that help foster the safety to share.
The worlds we make aren’t perfect. We take unexpected swims, we interrupt someone with a side conversation, we get too wrapped up in a game, get competitive, and forget we have choice about how we treat each other. But on the whole, there was both a lot of striving and inspiration to make a world we all wanted to be in, imperfections included.
There is a lot to celebrate about this river season – an incredible guide team, resilient and remarkable participants, exquisite openness and care for each other and the landscape we got to be nurtured by, thoughtful and well-managed risks. But the thing that will really stick with me are all of the moments when a participant acknowledged and expressed gratitude for having the space to touch something in themselves that really mattered to them. Sometimes that was as big as recognizing a personal strength, identity, or calling. Other times it was as subtle as the feeling of the wind on our skin and the perspective the night sky or a conversation or the whitewater gave us. Sometimes, we don’t have words for it right away, or ever, but we feel rearranged from this new world in ways we won’t forget. And that, I won’t forget the way that feels for me, in the big or subtle, or the honor of seeing it on the faces of so many or listening to the reflections and realizations of each wise and precious person who joined us this summer.
As always, it is a complete privilege to co-create this world each week with so many brave and glorious humans and a river that just gives and gives and gives. As I set to work vision-casting and implementing for the year ahead and beyond, I will carry each name and so many too-good-to-make-up moments with me as inspiration. May we all be well enough and brave enough to co-create such caring worlds around us as we made this summer on the river.