Willamette River Initiative

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Reflections and Resolutions

Pam Wiley's picture
By Pam Wiley - January 13, 2014

On the last Sunday of 2013 the paper was full of stories about "the year that was" and how to stick to New Year's resolutions. At this point in my life, these end-of-year traditions contain little in the way of news, but they still prompt a bit of reflection and invite consideration of what may lie ahead. Reflection is especially important in the kind of complex, long-term work in which we're all engaged, but, let's face it - reflection is highly undervalued in a culture inclined toward immediacy. So it helps to practice it with intent.

I practice a little reflection ritual each morning at my house in southeast Portland, just a few blocks from the Willamette as it flows under the Ross Island Bridge. As soon as I get up, regardless of the weather or the time of year, I raise a window, stick my head out, and take a deep breath. I imagine I can smell the river, or even the ocean. If it's light, I look to see what might have changed in the backyard during the previous 24 hours. If it's still dark, and clear, I scan the eastern sky for Venus, or the constellation Orion, or a piece of the moon. This little personal practice grounds my day, reminds me of the passage of time, and connects me again to the meaning and joy I find in the world outside my door.

The power of reflection was on display in my work life last October when, during a gathering of WRI grantees, we asked people to describe one or two big accomplishments from the past year. We heard about breakthroughs in challenging relationships with key landowners, gains in on-the-ground restoration that are far surpassing initial expectations, and legacy land protection commitments by multi-generational farm families. We heard about new science and new partnerships. As each story unfolded, what might have been a straightforward recitation of facts and figures became instead a shared reflection on what's possible when the right combination of people, science, and technical and financial support are brought to bear on a big social challenge.

Which brings us to the part about using reflection to consider what may lie ahead. The stories shared by WRI's grantees are just one indication that a healthier Willamette is absolutely within our reach if the trajectory of the past five years continues into the future. Whether that happens depends not only on continued funding and progress on the ground, but the continued evolution of a strong and sustainable institutional foundation - a foundation based on shared priorities, connected to local values and partnerships, and supported by strong backbone services. Pulling that off will take lots of reflection, and resolve. Here's to more of both in 2014.