By Danielea Castell —
There are many ways people talk about Water these days—their concerns about it, how to manage it, how to share it. The 2014 RBC Water Attitudes Study found, “Canadians share a deep connection to Water.” In my life and my work as a Water Gratitude artist and founder of the Water Gratitude Society, my deep connection means I offer my Gratitude to Water at every opportunity at home and in the wild. My admittedly deep and unorthodox connection to the Fraser River also means that when he told me in March, 2013 he is no longer my primary teacher and I must turn my attention to the Athabasca River and the tar sands, I obeyed, and three months later made a Water pilgrimage to Alberta.
I returned to Prince George in August, 2013 carrying the question, “How do we bring the sacred back into our relationship with Water and Oil?” The answer I heard inside of me was, “Start with Gratitude.”
Little did I know this would inspire the creation of an annual Rivers Day event called The Bank of Gratitude, sponsored by Fraser Basin Council, Recycling and Environmental Action Planning Society, and Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The idea is simple. Sit quietly on your local riverbank and give your gratitude to your River through a heart-to-heart ‘talk,’ and then make some form of art to commemorate the experience.
It seems that connecting with a River this way inspires creativity and courage. At The Bank 2013, 40 people in four communities created 53 pieces of tangible art, including poems, paintings, songs, and one gratitude soup! Brandon Cote from the Prince George event admitted English was his worst subject in school and yet after sitting on the Bank of Gratitude his first poem just “flowed” out of him. Helen Styles, participant and co-founder of the Water Gratitude Society says, “Creating art on the riverbank in 2013 was freeing for me. Now I express myself with painting and photography.”
My art practice with Water is a spontaneous form of singing I call sound weaving. One month before the Bank 2014 and 27 days after the breach of the earthen dam at the Mt. Polley Mine, I visited the town of Likely for the first time. From the town dock I found myself sound weaving a Greeting Song to the surrounding Waters and Land that contained a call I had not heard before.
This call wasn’t coming from Water, the forest, or the salmon swimming upstream, but it arose in me because of them. I felt the call to ‘show up,’ and keep showing up with my love on the banks of the Quesnel River and on the shores of Quesnel Lake. No matter how burdened the Waters may be or how painful it is to accept we as a species created this state for them, we can continue to show up and be with them, in their own home, and offer our sincere gratitude.
And this is just what 132 people chose to do for Rivers Day 2014. While the main Bank of Gratitude event was happening in Prince George, simultaneous Bank of Gratitude events were hosted in Vancouver, Quesnel, Likely, Tete Jaune, Jasper, Red Deer, Ft. Saskatchewan, and Edmonton. There were even two solo ‘bankers,’ one at the Edson River in Alberta and another at the Yarrowee River in Australia. Photos stories are posted at www.thebankofgratitude.net.
Venta Rutskauskas, the host from Likely, posted on Facebook about her time on the Bank: “Sharing time with Quesnel Waters, friends, and family on a stunning autumn day. Life doesn’t get more precious than this. Spending more time with our Waters has meant so much to me in these past two months.”
To encourage a more hands-on approach to Water gratitude, two new workshops were added to the Prince George event. In collaboration with ceramic artist Leanna Carlson of Carlson Pottery, community members made individual prayer pots out of Fraser River clay. At The Bank events in Quesnel and Prince George, pots were filled with River water and community prayers during the closing ceremonies, and then buried along the riverbanks. As the clay dissolves the prayers flow into Mother Earth.
At the request of Terri McClymont of Recycling and Environmental Action Planning Society (REAPS) in Prince George, four small pots were buried around the Salmon sculpture in McMillan Fishing Creek Park in a community ceremony on October 27. The Salmon sculpture faces the Nechako River and was installed in 2010 by the organizers of the former BC Rivers Day Music Festival. Each pot was filled with Water from Nechako, Fraser, and McMillan Creek, then passed around the circle of adults who put in cross-cultural prayers specifically for the harmony between all Rivers, Salmon, and People.
For the second workshop I collaborated with another local artist, artisan jeweler Kate Roxburgh of Topaz Bead Gallery. We made what I designed and call Tap Bracelets, a beaded chain with a pendant that wraps around a Water faucet.
Ann O’Shea made two bracelets at the workshop: “I love them. The bracelet helps me to remember to say thank you for the delicious abundance of water from my underground spring at home. At times I rub the bracelet as an act of thanksgiving for reminding me to give thanks.”
And that is the power of Water gratitude—it flows, grows, and enlivens both the giver and the receiver. With the long road ahead of us restoring balance on our planet we need Water stewardship strategies that sustain us as well as the precious Water we love.
Next time you come upon a body of Water, I invite you to stop and slowly breathe in its beauty with your heart, body, and mind. Offer the Water your gratitude and then take a picture.
Danielea Castell is a social artist, educator, and singer specializing in creative community Water engagement. She recently moved from Prince George to Quesnel and is bringing her Water Gratitude tools and practices into schools beginning 2015.