2018 SHIFT: Public Lands/Public Health

Day 1 - Blue Mind

I’m in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the base of the Teton mountains. Last night, I attended an uplifting and moving talk at the SHIFT conference by author and researcher, Wallace J. Nichols. He’s a sea turtle lover and expert, with a captivating ability to connect everyone in a room around water. To a packed house, he talked about his book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Heathier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”

He showed research and data on how water diminishes anxiety, amplifies creativity, expands compassion, and improves well-being. He also made the qualitative, or very human case, for water’s restorative benefits. He showed seemingly random photos, paintings, lyrics, and poems connecting people to and around water, making the case water heals us, makes us smile, makes us laugh, heals us, and makes us happier and healthier people.

SHIFT 2018

SHIFT 2018

He gave each of us a blue marble to hold up in the air to remind us earth is a small blue planet of water. His resounding message was a call to action - find your water! We were encouraged to think about our marble and a particular body of water we relate to. It could be your favorite fly fishing stream, the lake you and your kids swim and paddle board, a river you paddle, the neighborhood pool, a mountain of snow (it is water after all), a beach, the water you drink. It’s different for everyone, but Nichols is so confident in water’s connective power that he uses is as a conversation starter on airplanes, “What’s your water?” he asks.

We all need water and our waters need us, is Nichol’s poignant and timely message to everyone. It struck a chord with me. We have waters in Idaho that need us; what’s our relationship to these waters? What’s our collective responsibility and my own responsibility to “my water”?

Next week, I will help facilitate a citizen science effort. Idaho Business for the Outdoors has teamed up with high school environmental science classes in Boise to conduct water quality testing along the Boise River from Arrowrock to Parma. As I board the bus to visit various testing sites with high school students, I will be thinking about the health and nature benefits of clean waters as well as their economic value to our state. I will be thinking about the collaborative business, education and community advocacy efforts needed to make 100% of Idaho waters fishable and swimmable. I will be thinking about what water quality data means to different people and stakeholders managing water quality, infrastructure, flows and water policy. I will also be thinking about how these young people connect to water and what it means to them.

We believe engaging young people in water science and monitoring is key to environmental science education, water conservation, and valuing water as an asset. What Nichols reminds me is that perhaps what is equally important and valuable, is helping everyone find their water and to make sure there is quality access for all. Water on a basic human level is fun, restorative, enriching, and life sustaining. We all deserve our own water story! Next week something about a particular student will engage me. We will connect on some level and I will do what Nichols suggested. I will share my blue marble, put it in someone else’s hand and help them find their water story.

What’s Your Water? #shiftjh2018 #bluemind #bluemarble

Heather Parkinson Dermott