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At the 2015 Geography of Hope: Women and the Land conference, The Grove’s Laurie Durnell and Associate Kathy Evans drew from an unusual mix of visual facilitation methodologies to listen, engage, and reflect participants’ thoughts. A final summary image was the fruit of a rich collaboration among the participants, poets, artists, and visual facilitators.

This conference takes its name from Wallace Stegner’s famous “Wilderness Letter” to Congress in support of the 1964 Wilderness Act. In it he described wild landscapes as part of our “geography of hope.”

Now, as humanity navigates an unknown terrain with potentially fearful hazards, where do we look for hope?

Two Core Questions

First, Laurie and Kathy created a large graphic for the plenary session of the conference that was designed to hold sticky notes containing participants’ contributions. Like a braided river, the template symbolized a weaving of participants’ answers to these two key questions:

What do you love too much to lose? and

What will you do to protect it?

Kathy Evans prepares the template

Kathy Evans prepares the template.

Changing a River’s Direction

Sometimes as a river flows along, logs and debris pile up so high that they block the flow of the river. This is called an avulsion. When this occurs, the river may jump its banks and head off in an entirely new direction, or it may split, then reconverge.

In this context, the river metaphor represents our world moving in directions that greatly concern us. How do we change course? How do we shift the directional flow? It’s literally about pushing a river. Something is needed that can compel the status quo to shift its course. By identifying what we love too much to lose, our passion can create a logjam of caring that causes the river of events to jump its banks and shift into a new and hopeful direction.

A River of Words

On Saturday evening, the night before the last day of the conference, the group sifted through the participants’ sticky notes and the personal visual notes created by Laurie and Kathy from the speakers’ presentations. From this well of inspiration, they created poems that became The River of Words, a convergence of the two rivers that answered the two core questions.

Meanwhile, Laurie adapted artist Sirima Sataman’s painting to craft a final poster to fit the outpouring of words. Using a Wacom Bamboo tablet, she handwrote the poetry into the custom template. The group worked until nearly midnight to complete the image.

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The Poetry of Hope

The next day a group of conference attendees came up on stage to read the text of The River of Words.

“…Throw in your stone. Make art, save seeds, plant seeds. Grow food, grow forests, grow organizations, grow justice. Send your wild and holy imagination into the future. Ask the uncomfortable questions. Keep asking. Remember to remember… ”

Toward the end it became a spoken poem, going back and forth between “what do you love” and “what are you going to do.”

At the conference closing, everyone was given a copy of The River of Words poster. People said that they really appreciated seeing their words reflected, and they loved receiving the image as a takeaway at the end.

A Post-Conference Reflection

Laurie sums up the experience: “I found the conference to be beautiful and motivating. It had an evocative, inspirational tone to it that many of the more tactical, strategic conferences I attend do not have. It was an innovation—definitely different from the classic graphic facilitation job. In the end poetry was created, art was created, participants’ visions were crystallized into form, and a takeaway art piece was created to carry the hope and the meanings forward.”

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View the Geography of Hope poster and images from the conference at the Gallery tab of the Geography of Hope website.