Clement Waters Retreat (CWR) was formed in 2015 to do the people-gathering and communications work necessary to popularize nature-interdependent living. The ultimate goal set out in the organization’s long-term founding vision was to establish a retreat, camp and conference center dedicated to host groups in a safe, comforting, quiet country environment as the groups would conduct sessions focused on skill-building, self-healing and renewal, and preparation for reentry as nature-wizened strongholds of society.
In planning the ideal site, organizers reached toward their generational wealth of food-growing land-management experience to form a list of requirements. Hundreds of acres would be thickly forested, with under a third of the area pastured and sparsely occupied by dugout-style cabins and a gathering building. There would be awe-inspiring rock formations and/or caves, and a flowing swimmable stream that would create constant calming sounds. Food would be grown both in the forest and on pasture, alongside whichever animals chose to share the space. Net-zero resources would be a required tenet of any necessary new construction, and North American indigenous architectural vernaculars of form would be pursued.
Until that dream could be made reality, the community-based volunteers who represented CWR efforts began laying the groundwork for the dream:
They held volunteer events in East Kansas City to practice balanced, organic, indigenous-inspired land management alongside learners.
They recruited a diverse group of outdoor therapy trainees who were first-hand believers in the physiological benefits brought about by nature immersion.
They shared with experienced and budding home food gardeners the delightful variety of self-propagating foods swapped and grown by seed savers all over the world.
CWR volunteer leaders were often told, “Please, don’t ever stop what you’re doing.” That was before COVID-19.
For so many families, 2020 into 2021 was a season of personal regrouping—gathering of information about the new world unfolding before our eyes, and our power to change it. This was certainly true for the CWR family of volunteers.
The pandemic brought the world greater awareness about nature’s value. People across the globe shared videos of wild animals roaming amidst sudden calm after the normal bustle of vehicular traffic had stopped. After months of indoor isolation, people needed a change of scenery, and walks in nature were lauded as life savers. Air and water quality in cities showed miraculous improvement because of reduced human activity. Without having to attempt a single message of awareness, the CWR mission was being fulfilled for the world before our eyes. Beyond the gruesome deadliness of the health crisis, everything environmentally affecting future human existence on the earth seemed to be improving.
All was improving, that is, except in the cases of first responders and frontline workers. All except for the suddenly unemployed. All except for people whose connections were cut off to life-sustaining trauma recovery services. All except for people with darker physical features who found themselves scapegoats, unwitting recipients of verbal and physical expressions of angst from a sliding socio-political majority. Among populations of little means, suicide, violence and addiction were rising at alarming rates. Those populations of little means just happened to be the very people doing the continuing on-the-ground, in-the-ground work of CWR. Our family was suffering, so we responded with the strengths-based knowledge and resources available to us, allowing nature to guide and provide.
At the beginning of 2020, CWR paused negotiations with the KC-based residential care facility Cornerstones of Care about bringing foster children and youth into fenced nature-immersive environments to conduct unstructured exploration sessions and nature art therapy. Food access, especially for families with children, was an increasingly obvious need in East KC. Because of the urgent need for wild food availability awareness among income-challenged populations, we held informational volunteer events to increase comfort with and access to naturally-occurring food forests. CWR expanded its 2019 programs which delivered in-home coaching support of nature-mimicking food gardens, and partnered with a church school in East KC to grow food. Regular teams of volunteers built an out-of-the-ordinary triangular raised bed garden for the church school that teemed with street-accessible harvest by September.
Since our small team’s focus was on relief rather than funds, in-kind gifts provided ways forward. In 2020 under $500 in donated cash entered the CWR bank account. Populations of little means can do a lot with a little.
As confidence raised about vaccination, and as hospitalization rates declined in the spring of 2021, CWR volunteers ventured out by air, road, and field (literally, on horseback) across the North American continent. The shared movement was a series of reconnaissance missions to learn the culturally allowable significance of links between centuries-old indigenous practices and the values that have been demonstrated for six years by the CWR organization. The travelling CWR volunteer scouts brought back observations about the many similarities of the poverty experience shared between urban and remote rural communities.
Part of those cultural explorations involved seeking evidence of strength rather than focusing on the obvious and widespread evidence of suffering. This approach has historically gained CWR strong allies within modestly subsisting Ozarkian clans and from East KC neighborhood communities—two suffering communities rich in soul but not in resource, where the strongest individuals and families share unique resiliency driven by culture-based knowledge. This summer our group’s strength-spotlighting approach toward finding effective solutions worked equally well with tribal leadership in South Dakota, earning our organization the allegiance of actual Chiefs (not just the Kansas City recreational kind.)
If there’s anything the heads of Ozarkian extended families, the grass-roots community leaders of East KC, and the South Dakotan Chiefs of tribal clans all share, it’s the pain of watching their communities flounder in crippling poverty. And if there’s anything they’ve proven themselves experts in managing, it is crisis. All of them agree: knowing how to partake of and protect the free natural resources that locally grow and flow out of the ground is a Godsend in times of crisis. The families, communities and tribes who possess that primal, sacred knowledge about food and medicine plants, about the elements, and about how to treat their spiritual siblings, are the groups who pull through without fail.
Walking alongside our partners of humble backgrounds from the tribes of the northern plains states, and from the East KC and Ozarkian communities, in 2021 CWR continues its pre-pandemic path pursuing the mastery and advocacy of Earth-appropriate land management, self-regenerating food sources, and therapeutic, honorable self-healing facilitation services. The new world has afforded us new meaning, and deeper relationships with the people who deserve help and healing just as much as each one of us do. Through joint efforts, we will continue identifying strengths and rising together.