The river keeps flowing

It flows through my spirit. It flows through my life. The river is just there now, part of my body, part of my soul, part of what gets me out of bed in the morning.TRAVEL

I am haunted by all we saw, what we witnessed, what we learned. The river is my teacher.

The relationship continues. Now I am tuned in to the river stories, some of them so very hard. This one, from October 31, really broke my heart, a collapse of a coal slurry dam near Edmonton that dumped one billion liters of contaminated muck into two streams flowing into the Athabasca River.

Once you fall in love with the river, stories like these really begin to matter. It’s a wound deep in the heart; it’s a breach in our relationship with the river.

River is water that flows through our precious planet bringing us life, what creates and nourishes life. How can we be so reckless with these gifts of creation?

On Nov. 11 I gave a presentation for the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. The program was live-streamed to sisters around North America. You can view it here:

Today, a SSND colleague sent me this link to a page on their Central Pacific Province website: I think this short reflection captures the spirit of the pilgrimage perfectly. We are all pilgrims on this Earth. We ought make no claim to it. It does not belong to us. It carries us, and we are so blessed to be here.TRAVEL

The following Saturday, Nov. 16, I spoke to a packed house at Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center. This was a major event from the pilgrimage, something several groups had worked hard to make happen, to promote, to make into an event that could spark not just more awareness, but more collaboration. It was co-sponsored by Transition Milwaukee, 350 Milwaukee, the Tender Shoot of Joy Dharma Center, Catholics for Peace and Justice, Marquette University’s Center for Peacemaking, Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light, Centro Hispano of Milwaukee, Peacemaking Associates, and the Earth Justice Ministry of the First Society Unitarian Universalist Church (who have now invited me so speak to their church in January).

Colleagues from the group, Tar Sands Free Midwest, came up from Chicago, and after the program we started dreaming about gathering together a Lake Michigan, or Great Lakes grassroots network, connecting all the little incipient groups working to stop the tar sands industry from the accelerating invasion of the Upper Midwest.

Because an invasion is what it is. Expanded pipeline networks, a stunning increase in oil tanker car traffic over our railroad tracks right through our neighborhoods, and now plans for barge transhipment in our precious Great Lakes – when we think about the many disastrous pipeline leaks and spills and rail disasters all over North America, we think a lot of folks would be rather alarmed to find out what’s going on.TRAVEL

And, yes, as Maureen said in her last post, a book is emerging, birthing itself within me. I have started the writing, first as an essay, but it wants more, is asking more of me, and so that will be a priority in coming weeks and months, to complete a manuscript out of the many journal pages, blog posts, and audio recordings that I have from the pilgrimage.

You see how a river continues to create flow and energy. It pushes on, now within me. As we learn that global warming is melting the glacier that created and feeds this mighty river, it seems baffling and stunning that we humans could be on the verge of making the Athabasca all but disappear. It is one of the great rivers of North America.

And it seems baffling and stunning that officials and industry people in Alberta could be so willingly and voraciously destroying one of most stunningly beautiful and significant ecosystems in all the northern hemisphere. It seems baffling and stunning that our state politicians and federal authorities would be so willing to give up vast areas of the U.S. to the dangers posed by the oil sands industry.

TRAVELBaffling. Stunning. But most people don’t know. And so we tell the story. Over and over again, we tell the story. Because we have to now. Because we have become part of the river. It flows through us. It has a narrative that needs to be spoken.


I have written a lot about the pilgrimage on my project blog, Spirituality and Ecological Hope. You will find a photo essay at this link: From Beauty to Horror and Back Again: the Athabasca River Pilgrimage. And then these three posts:

Home from Alberta – Changed
Changed by raw reality – this post includes video
Oil and Ecological Hope – do they go together? Can they ever?

I would love it if readers would subscribe to my blog. This journey continues in so many ways.


About the author: Margaret Swedish believes that we must not only live differently, we must be differently. More about Margaret’s work is available on her website Spirituality and Ecological Hope –

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