Mapping the Mysterious

“The Lillooet River is such a mystery,” says Veronica Woodruff. “It’s so murky. Even where it’s only ten centimeters deep in shallow spots in the middle, you can’t actually see the bottom.”

An environmental technician and founding director of Stewardship Pemberton, Woodruff paddleboards the river all summer and lives right beside it. “It doesn’t have the same visual quality as the Birkenhead or Gates Rivers, where you can see the salmon, see the bug life, literally see all the life processes happening. On the Lillooet, you know those processes are happening, but only get the occasional glimpse of them.”


If what’s flowing right in front of you is mysterious, what’s going on upstream is even more obscure, which is partly why Woodruff, and her fellow nature-lovers at Stewardship Pemberton, dreamed up the idea of creating a large, three-dimensional model of the entire watershed, from the headwaters in the Lillooet Icecap, through the Pemberton Meadows, and out to Lillooet and Harrison Lakes.

“It’s been on our goal board for ten years,” says Dawn Johnson, the group’s executive director. “Grounding people in place is a big part of what we do. You don’t love what you don’t know. So it’s a way to give people a sense of how wild and amazing our watershed is.”


Now ten years old, Stewardship Pemberton are a different stripe of environmental group. “We try to focus on celebration, inspiration and education,” says Johnson. “We chose that from a very early stage. It’s easy to get pulled into an advocacy role as an environmental organization and that’s not part of our vision.  And it’s so important for us, working with kids, to focus on projects that cultivate love for nature, based on understanding and experience. The research shows clearly that overwhelming kids with too many statistics and terrifying doomsday prophecies about the environment doesn’t do them, or any of us, any favours. If you’re not well-connected to the place you’re trying to protect, the level of commitment just isn’t as effective.”

So, Stewardship Pemberton is growing a community of lovers, not fighters, where love, bugs, mud, and water come first.  “At Nature Camp, all the kids want to do for hours and hours is pour water over rocks and into ditches and into the pond. Talk about watershed education.”


That hands-on opportunity for the Rubber Boot brigade is now matched with a tactile three-dimensional model of the watershed, newly displayed at the One Mile Nature Centre. It’s a map come to life, a way to orient yourself in place, even if you’re spatially-challenged like me.

“I typically know where I am on a trail,” says Johnson, “but in the landscape overall, it’s hard to situate yourself. We wanted people to be able to identify where they live and places they’ve been.”

The group is downloading all their knowledge and expertise onto the model, labeling rivers, creeks, parks, and also collaborating with the Lil’wat Nation, who have given permission to name some of the major landmarks in Ucwalmicts and to transcribe some cultural sites, Transformers sites, overland traditional routes and temporary village sites, from the Nation’s cultural maps, onto the model. “It will be a work in progress,” says Johnson, to collate and add all the layers of eco-intelligence about the region from where it is currently scattered in different repositories, files, silos.

“Have you ever said, ‘as the crow flies?’” asks Woodruff. “Standing on the edge of this watershed model, you get to be the crow.”

What you see, says Woodruff, is how closely related all these places are, and to her, that’s the lesson of the watershed. “It’s all connected.” Even as her physiotherapist is working to help her solve a nagging elbow injury, by tackling some seemingly unrelated spot around her shoulder, Woodruff is thinking about watersheds.


“It’s so complex, isn’t it? Understanding that you don’t understand everthing about it is the most important thing,” says Woodruff. “When I stand on the banks of the Lillooet, it’s such a mystery. But I have the appreciation to say: this is an amazing incredible force. It’s shaped this entire landscape.  I respect it, and I am awed by it, and I want to understand more.”

And from there, curiosity, passion, poetry, a fishing trip, all might be piqued.



All photos courtesy Dave Steers.

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