Whatsa Watershed?

A watershed is the section of water cycle that humans most closely connect to. The area of land that rivers drain through, from the mountains to the ocean. We divert most of these waters for human needs now, but almost all earthly communities of life have grown and developed around rivers, aquifers, and access to oceans. Every kind of life we know of needs water. You are alive because a watershed supports you.

In the Bay Area, where Watershed Witness Tours is based, a bit of our drinking water is locally sourced, like the reservoirs on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County. However, San Francisco and East Bay waters come from hundreds of miles away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through the Tuolumne and Mokelumne River systems. Where does your drinking water come from? If you don’t know, we’re always glad to help you find out.

Watershed Witness Tours are a way to reconnect with these rivers we rely on.

Why Watershed Witness Tours?

In 2015, reservoirs dwindling at the bottom of a multi-year California drought, Bay Area-based metamorphosis ecologist Joshua Halpern, with a rare weekend off, wanted to go camp by a river. So many gorgeous Northern California rivers, right? Which one should he visit? As he imagined magical mystical river communions (while showering ~ a coincidence?) a reconnection splashed over his consciousness. This shower water ~ it’s also a river! Which river?? The “Mighty Moke!”

But Josh was shocked when he tracked his shower water to the Pardee and Camanche reservoirs, and they’re down and dwindling! Jarringly low! Traveling cross-country with his mother and her dog that same summer, the exposed orange riverbanks around Shasta Dam jolted them both. Josh committed to getting folks out to see their rivers ~ the drinking water we each rely on ~ before it all dried up!

Fortunately ~ this driest drought-bottom was followed by several record-setting rainy winters in a row, to offset the drought just in time for the end of this decade. And so our watershed tours have tended to be both rejuvenating and reassuring. Longer term? Well, let’s keep witnessing….

What Happens on Tours?

On a Watershed Witness Tour, we start at the largest water body nearest to your home ~ either the Pacific Ocean, or the San Francisco Bay. You’ll learn how the waters which flow nearest your neighborhood have continued to change over aeons. We’ll take first-hand looks at the ways waters have shaped our local cityscapes and cultural unfoldings, often hidden in plain sight ~ then for those attending the extended tours, we’ll spend a full day traveling out to the sources of our drinking water ~ the aqueducts, reservoirs, hatcheries, and headwater campgrounds, pausing at several points along the long length of river to learn the lessons unique to each section, from source to sea.

Activities can include a variety of co-created possibilities: Hiking, swimming / kayaking / floaties (when safe and available), talks with local watershed experts and professionals, gorgeous spots for photography, art and music-making, citizen-science research, water-healing rituals, solo meditative time with the river, all interspersed with place-based sense-making learning exercises. Our Watershed Witness Presentation video has great examples of some Metamorphosis Ecology considerations we might explore on a tour. We cross-pollinate across multiple ways of knowing, including: indigenous perspectives, up-to-the-minute climate data, planetary ecologies and cosmology, the agency of plants and animals, justice-centered listening to local stories, somatic embodied/embedded practices, enchantivism, eco-psychology, and Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects.

If you’re a water-based being, we’d love to personalize your unique river re-introductions!

About Josh

Joshua Halpern will be our eco-immersion guide.

Josh brings to these educational adventures an MA in Integral Ecologies from CIIS in San Francisco, a BFA in Film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, an up-to-date Wilderness First Aid Certificate from Foster Calm, over a decade guiding adults around the world in reconnecting relationships with their local ecologies, five years working in outdoor education with children, and a lifetime exploring the river systems around his home. He was born at the confluence of the Matawan and the Wopowog rivers in central New Jersey.

Josh works and performs internationally as a Metamorphosis Ecologist ~ developing curriculum (workshops, art/media, events) exploring how relationships between humans and nature are transforming, most recently in Santiago, Chile as part of a Knowledge, Culture, Ecologies Conference. His apocaloptimistic music project is called Home Howls. In the Bay Area, he sells local raw honey at farmers markets on the weekends, teaches children gardening during the week, and offers A Void Dance : Climate Courage workshops, where folks share strategies for showing up. More at ecocourageous.com