My heart is full from days on the river in the presence of healers: the furred, feathered, flowing water kind, and the human kind. It began as a Wild idea, to provide a day in the natural world for healthcare workers and hospital chaplains, to offer a soft place to land as they continue to hold so much. Countless conversations and the steadying hands of my colleagues at The Wild Institute helped bring this idea to life.

As we envisioned the day (and the purpose behind the day) — canoeing, talking, listening to poetry / native flute, picnicking along the shore, sharing stories from the frontlines of covid-19—it just didn’t make sense to charge people for this experience, given all they have endured. So we asked. We asked for help in providing this day free of charge, a way to say thank you for what these healers have given and sacrificed in this pandemic time.

And people answered. With gifts of all sizes, wanting to be part of this whoosh of gratitude. 129 GoFundMe donors gave nearly $13,000. Foundations and individuals also gave large sums. Combined, it made these canoe days possible. This generosity set the tone, providing an emotional thread of gratitude throughout the day. Participants clearly felt seen and appreciated. ‘The kindness of strangers’ meant a lot.

Each day had its own unique qualities. Many chose to walk through deep mud in order to see the Great Blue Heron Heronry and hear or catch glimpses of the chicks. We saw eagle and osprey, a deer swimming across the river, bear tracks, the vast expanse of sky and so many shades of green. To be on—and in—the river on those hot summer days offered a sense of belonging and peace that is so very needed.

I could go on and on, but perhaps it’s best to share with you, in people’s own words, what the experience meant to them. Here, then, are snippets of wisdom and gratitude gleaned from their days on the water…

I hope these stories offer inspiration and a breath of fresh air, maybe even nudge you outdoors. None of us are untouched by this pandemic. It’s safe to say that everyone is carrying grief and all are exhausted. And, like the healers on these canoe days, we can re-wild ourselves periodically, and align again with who we are and the gifts we have to bring to the world.

Snippets of wisdom and gratitude…

“On the days, when the heaviness and frustration of yet another surge arises and when I take the time to remember snippets of the day – beauty of nature, power of being physically active, listening to others stories and beautiful poems, laughter, tears, seeing an eagle circling overhead, relaxing into the music of the flute – then I can feel the energy and resilience rising within me.”

“I felt like a different person driving home than I did driving to meet you all this morning – sort of like Eeyore on the way there and Tigger on the way back. Wait a second – is this joyful enthusiasm for life that I’m feeling? My, how I’ve missed you! And then I had the very mature realization that even though I want to be all Tigger and shed the hell out of Eeyore, I am able to realize and accept that both are me, and both are real and true and valid. The woman who drove to the river this morning is the same woman who drove home, but she did leave behind some things that weren’t serving her anymore, and she brought back little pieces of herself that she thought she’d lost.”

“My time on the river reminded me that we can get through this. Just as the waters of the river shape and leave their mark on the land around it, the pandemic has already and will continue to shape us, as individuals and as communities. We cannot stop that any more than we can hold the river back. We will be changed as a result, but we also know that there will be new life afterwards. Like the generations that have gone before us, we will find the strength and creativity needed to face new challenges. Being on the river was restorative. It filled me up and added a little to my reserves. I left with a bit more hope and confidence that we can weather this.”

“I got to relax and hear my own thoughts again. It felt so amazing to be out in nature and being challenged to relax and let my anxieties go. It’s hard to focus on ourselves and it’s even harder to let go of what I felt like was subpar care during the pandemic. I am finding that even now patients are coming in super ill with respiratory stuff and all the emotions come back. The anxiety strikes like it did during high peak of covid. Being able to remember the River and throw back (the anxiety) after those long shifts is really helping me cope.”

“I am grateful for this Healing the Healers, canoe experience. It was the perfect way to bring into perspective that life is about work AND everything else. Time away is as important as work. Without support from donors my team would not have been able to take advantage of this unique retreat opportunity. It was better to participate in the practice of well-being rather than sit in a room discussing well-being. I will be planning mini-getaways over the next few months while the weather is still nice. Thank you Chris! Thank you donors!”

“The past 18+ months have been indescribable for so many health care workers. The chance to step away and breathe was invaluable. My appreciation for a stranger’s generosity can’t really be put into words. The funds found the right team which brought to life a vision that led to somewhere soft to land at least for a moment in a season wrought with hard places. Thank you. I keep a picture on my phone of the canoes at rest during lunch. This reminds me of that space which is marked by important things like connection, soft places to land, the continued need to grieve, and what brings me joy: water.”

“Like most of the world, this has been one of the most difficult years of my life. This trip came at just the right time. I’m so tired. Even for the patient’s without Covid the restrictions placed on all of us place a greater burden on them. We struggle to hear each other and recognize one another through masks, we stand 6 feet apart when we really want to give hugs and hold one another up, everyone experiences visitor restrictions which, while understandable, are heart wrenching and logistically exhausting. With a young child who cannot be vaccinated, every day I worry that I may unknowingly be exposed or expose someone else. This Canoe Day truly gave me the deep breath and the release I needed to show up again and continue to bring passion and hope to my work. Thank you so much for making this possible. I love what I do, it is such an honor and I’m so grateful that your gift has helped me to keep loving and doing my work.”

Here is a story that KSTP News did on the canoe days.