Noun: restoration (plural restorations)
• the process of bringing an object back to its original state; the process of restoring something
• the return of a former monarchy or monarch to power, usually after having been forced to step down

Source: Wiktionary

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We invite you to engage with the art & stories throughout Talking Water Project.

We intend this site to allow you to immerse yourself into a conversation about water through the import that art carries!



(Stories) Wangari

Again, there were gardens, fruit trees, water nearby. Again, the creek that once watered the village ran year round. Years of waters from the rains scouring the naked hillsides, topsoil in tow, had left nothing but a dried creek bed and dried water holes. And this was only to be the first village water, forest and earth being regained.

Wangari Maathai’s village was like thousands of other villages on the hillsides of Kenya. Beside these villages once stood forests that had held the rains and mountain streams, releasing the water. But slowly they were being cut down everywhere. Cutting down the forests, contractors said, meant quick money, a well paying job. The hardwood trees were valued lumber in England and Europe. The big leafed deciduous trees had created fertile soil where tea and coffee plantations might be developed. Foreign dollars were to be had. So steadily the forests of Kenya were logged. And the waters, like the other gifts the forests protected and shared, were soon being lost.

Before the forest sheltering Wangari’s village, Ibithe was cut down, she as a child had lived alone with her mother. Often, Wangari would go into the forest with her mother to find dead limbs for fuel, or to pick wild fruit or to fetch a special pail of sweet water. There was a place in the forest where the creek was sheltered by what Wangari remembered to be the most magnificent of trees. Under the shading shelter of the tree, her mother would sit. Nearby, Wangari would play in and along the spring fed creek. Wondrous were the little fishes and water creatures. Wondrous were the birds like the forest deer drinking from the little river. All this fused with the patches of hot sun and cool shadow, and the watery air, spoke to Wangari of a magical and holy embrace. Those times in that place gave Wangari a life time’s sense of what can and ought to be. Experiences yielded a vision.

Was she ten or eleven years old, when Wangari left her mother and village to go away to school? It was in the late 1950s that she went to the U.S. to study biological sciences. In 1966, when she returned from graduate studies in Pittsburgh, she brought several things back with her. Wangari had experienced the emerging ecological movement at work in Pittsburgh with its projects to plant trees, redeem the river and cleanse the air. The civil rights movement gave her a greater sense of what people’s movements might do for the well being of their society and themselves in the process.

When Wangari returned home to Kenya and her childhood village, her heart was broken by what she saw. Much had changed since she had left. And now the nurturing little river was gone, dried up. And the gardens were gone. And the beautiful forest was gone and with it the great tree with big leaves and birdsongs. Gone was the magical stream and forest of her childhood. Gone was the spirit of life among many of the village people. It all left Wangari in grief and despair. But Wangari would listen awhile for the wisdom to be found in her sorrow. So she gave it a room in the little house of her heart. And she gave it the time it needed to become a wise sorrow and its winter to become a kind of spring.

Years later, on World Environment day 1977, Wangari knew what she would do. She decided to plant a bunch of trees near her village home. Curious, neighbour women asked her what she was up to. She explained. Soon several other women decided that they too would plant seedlings along the old creek’s bank. And when they carried water from afar for their family, they would also bring enough to keep the seedlings alive. With Wangari, the women, in the following days, joined by a few others went with into the fields to look for seedlings. They dug up and replanted little saplings that had begun as seeds blown by winds or carried by birds or animals from remaining trees in the vicinity. Eventually, they would begin a small tree plantation with the seeds and little seedlings they had gathered. Soon there was a widening belt of trees being planted up the hillsides companion to their village. Soon, neighbouring and distant villages also had women planting seedlings near dried or drying water sources and hillsides. So began the Green Belt Movement.

Did you hear?

Did you hear?

Eventually, here and beyond there would be local tree nurseries. Seeds gathered from trips to remaining forests would provide them with accessible strong indigenous tree types at little cost.

Initially using money from her job at the University in Nairobi, Wangari paid the women a few cents for each established seedling. Eventually, there were other funders and a foundation. Within years, thousands of village women in Kenya were planting and nurturing millions of trees. This was facilitated by Wangari’s leadership role in the National Council of women. And what was initially solely an ecological initiative became an economic and democracy activating movement. For the first time, many women had their first “income”. And gathering to plan and talk about planting trees became discussions of the well being of the waters and the earth, and what activities and forces were affecting these for ill and good. With shared acts and sense of accomplishment, came a growing sense of power, imagination, good possibilities and conflicts. There as elsewhere this became scary to some. While there was dismissal and outright opposition to this emerging women’s ecological movement, they persisted and persist. In time, men of the villages began to join in. Not only in Kenya, but in many African countries and around the world, the Green Belt Movement has become a green fire.

As well as restoring creeks, wells and watering holes, the restored green dress for mother earth often meant the revival of individual and community spirit alike. The ecological devastation of deforestation had overwhelmed many communities and individuals sense of well being and self-confidence. To see their trees growing, their forests and their creek return, meant the ecology of the heart was on its way to being restored. The Green Belt Movement started by Wangari Maathai and the village women has become an ecological initiative with many branches and much good fruit beyond first imaginings. And so in 2004, in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wangari said:

We are called to assist the earth
to heal her wounds
and in the process heal our own —
indeed to embrace the whole creation
in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.

Talking Water Project|Bob Haverluck (2013)

(Stories) Poetry| Running Water

run river run
to my cracked lips
our filthy teacups

run river run
from my thirst
our rubber soles

run river run
from our laundry list
of extractions

run river run
you can’t escape
what we are leaking


Talking Water Project|Stories

Talking Water Project|Angeline Schellenberg

(Stories) Poetry| Storm

Study in oil and water

Study in oil and water
Rhian Brynjolson

This poem,
written by Gerry Wolfram,
is a poet’s response
to Rhian Brynjolson‘s
Study in oil and water.

Storm a constant backdrop,
climate menacing
as anger of the young ones
occupies the sky exposing
dark cloudbanks.
Who can blame them, bravely pitching
tents against the reign of greed?

One young figure finds a way
to stay afloat against the sucking tide.

“Pull out all you have,” she says,
“bind it together to make
yourself a buoyant raft.

Retrieve the peach silk of your wedding
dress and peg it to your own yard arm
to catch the wind
of possibility.

Think only on protecting what remains,
what can be salvaged.
The thing with feathers – hope –
is folded in upon itself,
its body slack and slimed
with oily waste.

But gather up its fractured form,
wipe clean each wing,
align each feather

Although the beaded
oil is eddying around you,
shining like false pearls,
tie back your hair, put on
a muscle shirt and gather up
what’s left
– the pelican
your flag
and caritas
your dwelling place,
your tent.
Set out
into the storm
and gather up
your broken hopes.”

*The pelican is an ancient symbol of sacrifice, of caring or caritas. As the story goes, the pelican tears flesh from its own breast to feed its hungry young.
*Emily Dickinson wrote: “Hope” is the thing with feathers.”

Talking Water Project|Stories

Talking Water Project|Gerry Wolfram

Talking Water Project|Rhian Brynjolson

(Stories) A Creek & a People Restored

A little girl laughs as she splashes in the Diebold Creek that runs once more through the Kumeyaay Nation, in southern California. This creek in years past had nurtured their wetlands. In the shade of the oak, willow, and pine trees that again grow here, her mother picks the grasses that she will weave into baskets using the simple and elegant patterns her great grandmother wove.

As she picks, she remembers when she was a little girl how barren and dry this creek bed was. The area was so desolate. The creek bed had become a 12 ft. deep ravine, where water flowed for only a couple of weeks after a heavy rain. The native grasses of the wetlands had been over-grazed and reseeded with European grasses. The mighty oaks that provided the shade for the more fragile willows and pine trees had almost disappeared having been over-cut and not replaced.

Post: Restoration


Post: Restoration


She thinks about when the Spanish settlers first saw the lush wetland grasses. They assumed it was natural pasture land, instead of carefully cared for ancient grain fields. The ranchers, continually wanting more grazing land did not listen to how her wise ancestors had understood and cared for these wetlands. How they had broadcast seed, transplanted seedlings, enhanced the ground water, and controlled erosion. By using controlled burns, they cleared underbrush and opened seeds to grow. Instead, the ranchers drained the swamps, not realizing they were part of the delicate ecological balance. Then, believing the oaks were just in the way, they cut them down or sold the logging rights which were not theirs to sell.

But fortunately the story doesn’t end there. Just twenty-seven years ago Mike Connolly gave up a well paying job as an aerospace engineer, to come to the Campo Reservation, homeland of his mother. In 1990, the General Council of his band created the Campo Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA). He and six other staff members have honoured the traditional knowledge of their original environmental specialists called Kwasiiay. They followed the wisdom of the elders about placing large boulders in the stream bed to slow the water and catch the silt. Since 1992, they have combined this knowledge with modern methodologies including the use of heavy equipment to re-grade the creek bed and banks, to add 200 tons of rock, and to use geotextile materials as foundation for the rock.

And that wasn’t all. They built a nursery so they could plant and nurture native oaks, willows, cottonwoods, cypress and pines. They used these saplings in the reforestation program, not just along the creek, but throughout the community. Now people can landscape their yards with beautiful trees and plants that are hardy, and require less water.

The native trees provide much more than just beauty and shade. Acorns and pine nuts were once part of a healthy diet. It is hoped that re-introducing these nuts into their diets will help prevent diabetes and other diseases.

Post: Restoration

This creek was badly affected by years of cattle grazing. There was no water on the surface. The soil and decomposed bedrock were dry. The only permanent water was underground in bedrock fractures.

Post: Restoration

Now there is water on the surface in the stream bed, and the layers below the surface are also saturated with water.

It’s incredible how this community has turned around since 1992. What was becoming desert is now lush and the native animals are returning. Traditional medicine, food, and construction material grow and are used once more. The water table rose 20 feet, again providing adequate water for the residents. There were so few living here, as there was no way to make a living. With new jobs, and the possibilities of starting more, people from the reserve are returning home. CEPA is planning to expand the restoration to other streams on the reservation. And there’s a new initiative shared with the Western Regional Air Partnership to help regulate air quality as industrialization increases. As well there’s a wind power plant being built. The last cattle are gone, and with them the nitrates from their waste, the overgrazing, and the destruction of the baby plants so necessary for replenishing the different species.

People now dare to hope. There is a growing pride in their culture, and respect for the wisdom of the elders. The children are learning in school about the care of their sacred resources, and that the stories of the elders are not just stories but science that still works!

The Kumeyaay are learning again that water is sacred and want to keep it alive spiritually. Their Creator came from a place of water, and built the land up from water. People are made from dirt and water and as part of creation are caretakers of the earth. Their tradition teaches how to live in harmony and at peace with each other, all other creatures, and creation. They leave enough nuts and grain for the other animals, manage the land, keep it healthy and productive, store water, and respect all life. Living intentionally, and with respect in creation, the Kumeyaay are showing that people can affect the environment in a positive way.

Talking Water Project|Bev Ward (2013)

(Stories) Laughter that Works: a Children’s Story

“Everybody hop on,”

Baruti calls, as the children start the merry-go-round. Round and round they go till Kagiso gets dizzy. The laughter doesn’t stop as they pause to let her off. And then away they go again.

“Mama, Mama,”

Kagiso calls as she runs off to find her mom in the vegetable garden. She proudly asks to help carry water from the storage tank that she and her friends were just helping to fill as their merry-go-round powered the ‘PlayPump’.

Post: Celebration


She is glad her mother doesn’t have to walk the 5 km. for water morning and afternoon, and has time for other things, like growing her favourite vegetables. Kagiso loves school, and remembers the times she could not go, because she also was needed to carry water for her family or school.

Running to the tank, Kagiso looks up at the large poster with the reminder on it to wash their hands to prevent sickness. She thinks about the days she missed school, or listened to the cries of her little brother when he was sick. How wonderful it is now to have clean water to drink, and enough water to wash.

She has heard her mother say that the PlayPumps were invented in Africa by Africans for Africans. Kagiso wonders what she might be able to invent to help her village.

Suddenly she hears Baruti calling his father.

“Come quick, Papa. The ‘PlayPump’ is stuck.”

Post: Celebration

Laugher @ PlayPump

He’s glad his father is one of the village men trained to fix it.

But Baruti never wants to sit still and already he’s calling the children to come play tag while they wait.

One of the men tests the water for bacteria while the children run. They draw a sample from the borehole that goes deep enough into the earth to provide safe drinking water.

Soon the men have found the necessary parts that are provided free of charge for the pump. And the merry-go-round is ready to go again. They call the children back and the laughter and water once more bubble up.

Talking Water Project|Bev Ward (2013)

(Stories) Dam Tobacco Creek

Cartoon: General


Over much of the prairies that became farmland, there were little sloughs, potholes surrounded by bush and grasses. There were marshy wetlands where the spring run-off would sit, only slowly draining over a period of weeks and months . This meant that near potholes and wetlands that planting and seeding was often delayed or impossible altogether. If the crops were to have twelve weeks or so of frost free growing and harvest, the sooner the farmer could get on to the land, the better. Therefore, draining the sloughs, cutting out the surrounding bush and cutting channels to drain the wetlands offered not only more land, but the promise of early seeding, and a good fall harvest. Before the 1980s, less than a hundred years after immigrants and their descendants flooded prairie “farmlands”, the vast majority of the sloughs and wetland had been drained. Not only did this mean early seeding, it now meant that ever more massive farm machinery didn’t need to negotiate with the trees or troublesome wet areas. This would save time, gas and money. A no brainer!

In early 1980s, a handful of farmers had been talking, who farmed on the Manitoba Escarpment, a high land in south central part of the province.These included Gordon Orchard, Les McEwen, Bill Turner and a dozen or so others. Peristent concerns were the eroding top soil, lack of soil moisture into the growing season, wiser use of fertilizers and herbicides. Conservation practices that had proved successful nearby, and elsewhere, were intriguing . This included the planting of tree “shelter belts” to gentle the force of winds and store some of the later needed spring moisture; reduced tillage; and the use of small dams to hold back the corrosive rush of spring run-off and land damaging storm rains.

Prior to this, the federal government had been investing tax dollars into research and local innovation in varied conservation practices for the well being of land and water. For decades the government ‘s Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Association had been acting on the the need to re-think the “bigger, faster,more and more” mantra. Bigger and bigger acreage, faster and faster on to the land, more and more fertilizer and herbicides was the “common sense” approach. Such farm practices had fueled the dramatic payback from sister-mother nature of the 1930s dustbowls. They also were contributing to the sickening of the soil and severely damaging the wetlands, potholes and creeks whose essential well being meant the long term sustainability of prairie agriculture. The PFRA had been researching and rehearsing farming practices and tactics that were both conservational and productive. These drew on the minority practices of farmers here and there across the prairies.( For example, Les and Bill’s own dads had long been grassing their water channels with thick matted broom grass.) With good timing, the PFRA’s Harry Hill came to join this gang of enquiring young farmers around Gordon Orchard’s kitchen table, atop the Manitoba Escarpment.

Cartoon: Postcard

Warning …

Together they walked the land, these headwaters of Tobacco creek. Tobacco Creek, in many a spring and summer storm it spit, no, poured torrents of devastating water into the plains and Morris and Red River below…taking topsoil as it went. They examined three near forgotten little dams constructed by a local municipality decades before, which confirmed this ginger group’s growing sense of the workability and wisdom of small dams. With the help of PFRA and local know how, the emerging Tobacco Creek Watershed Association began figuring out where the dams would be placed and which kind.

The first small dam was built on Les McEwen’s farm in 1985. By 1996, the initial project of fifty-two dams were completed. This series of small dams did and do the important job of slowing the flow of Tobacco Creek and its tributaries. A storm that might pour torrents of water for three or four hours might now be slowly released over three days with the use of Dry Dams. Gated Dams hold back water for two weeks and longer allowing the farmer to retain some water for animals or needy field crops or pasture. Several dam types researched by the PFRA meant appropriate small scale constructions adaptable to the particular character of the terrain. These structures not only meant happier soil and friendlier water for the farmers on whose land they were constructed.Rivers and lakes downstream benefitted from water with less soil and fewer algae feeding nutrients.This cluster of little dams also means that fields, riverbanks, roads and bridges are being largely spared of devastating assaults of flood waters below the little dams of Tobacco Creek watershed.

Local governments and beyond can now see the wisdom of investing in such configurations of small dams and not needing to be continually replacing roads, bridges, culverts after yet another ”storm of the century.” Nevertheless, the dominating “common sense” is still “ faster on to the land, bigger and bigger acreage, more and more chemically addicted agriculture and soil”. The question of who benefits from such a mind set gives way to how can more fast drainage ditches and channels be built. Nevertheless, the wisdom of Tobacco Creek watersheds little dams are there to see and are in the process of being added to in a another area of the watershed.

How did the Tobacco Creek watershed project manage to happen? It happened because a number of small seeming separate groups and activities came together, co-operated to take on a a recognizably shared problem. The problem was to work with the good water of the watershed, allowing it to nurture the soil and its growth, and help the water regain its earlier manner of not flushing the soil downstream in flood torrents.

For further information:

Talking Water Project|Bob Haverluck (2013)