Looking Back: Reflections on a journey down the Fraser River

By Petra Markova –

It feels like yesterday our canoe landed at its final destination: the Jericho Sailing Centre in the Lower Mainland, for which we had set off 25 days earlier from Tête-Jaune Cache in BC’s north.

Petra Markova at Yellowhead Lake in the Fraser River headwaters region. Photo: Megan Rempel.

It feels like yesterday I was first meeting the eight other participants and four facilitators who would become like my family, even after our journey ended.

It feels like yesterday the Fraser River was my home.

My journey down the Fraser took place thanks to the Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP), a 27-day trip put on annually by the Rivershed Society of BC. Nine of us were selected to canoe and raft down the river, starting from Mount Robson near the Alberta border, and ending in Vancouver, all while connecting with nature and each other.

The SLLP gave us the opportunity to shift our perspective to that of a river, and to develop new relationships with each other and with the larger world. We learned about the issues affecting the Fraser River, how they connect to the larger ecosystem and the world, and discussed solutions. We also attended community events, took part in leadership activities, and meditated in nature. By the end of the trip, we were a floating family, with deep bonds that would hold strong after the journey.

A significant part of the SLLP is the development of an environmentally-focused project to implement in participants’ communities upon returning from the trip. I am very passionate about education and my project involved visiting environmental science classrooms as a guest speaker, to share what I learned about the Fraser and about how students can get more involved in their communities. The positive feedback I received from the professors and students has shown me just how significant of an impact a single lecture can have, and has reaffirmed my career goal of becoming a professor in this field, which will allow me to educate young people about issues such as those taking place on the Fraser, and what can be done about them.

In addition to this ongoing project, I have teamed up with Megan Rempel, a fellow alumna from my SLLP year, to create a condensed version of the program. The shortened, three-day Rivers Clinic for Environmental Leaders will take place this summer along the banks of the Lower Fraser, featuring many of the same aspects as the full-length SLLP. Our goal is to create an opportunity similar to the SLLP that is accessible to everyone, and allows people to connect with nature and one another. The hope is that people will become inspired to take action, just like we were, and that this will have a ripple effect.

Looking back, the SLLP experience was a catalyst for helping me realize where my passions lie, as well as allowing me to discover what I need for a balanced life. The silence of the forest reminded me that it is important to take time for myself, doing something I enjoy away from the daily rush of the city. The constant flow of the river made me realize that life constantly changes, and to appreciate the beauty in each moment. And the stories shared by every member of my river family encouraged me to become a change-maker.

Although this was easy to do initially upon returning from the trip, as time has gone on, it has become more difficult to hold onto these values. Life gets busy, and sometimes things don’t go the way I want them to. Fortunately, I have my river family to inspire me. These people went on the same journey as me and discovered similar values—I can see in them a reflection of myself and of who I aspire to be.

Overall, the SLLP has truly been a life-changing experience. Not only did the trip allow me to meet some amazing people and to learn about pressing environmental issues in our province, it also ignited my passion for teaching and inspired me to become a change-maker. I would highly recommend this experience to anybody interested in protecting the environment and making a difference in their community.

For more information on the Sustainable Living Leadership Program, hosted annually by the Rivershed Society of BC, visit www.rivershed.com.

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