A Fireside Chat

A Fireside Chat

Right up to the moment we were about to start I was convinced no one was going to show up. A chilly wet snow had begun to fall at the Banff Centre and I was certain that few would welcome the opportunity to gather outside for a fireside chat, even if there was free hot chocolate. When the folks at Mountain Equipment Co-Op asked me to moderate a panel discussion on diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors on the final day of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, of course I immediately said yes. But when the moment arrived I sincerely doubted that we would draw crowd willing to discuss these complicated issues while standing out in the cold. Turns out I was wrong.

The flames of the propane fueled campfire offered up little light and even less warmth. But those that gathered for our conservation brought with them burning curiosity and a sincere desire to affect substantive change. My fellow panelist included Canadian rock climber Sabrina Chapman and Kieran Britton – founder of  The Lady Alliance, an organization dedicated to empowering women of color to become leaders in outdoor recreation. I also tapped my friend Faith Briggs, a Portland-based adventure athlete and film producer, to join in the conversation. For more than an hour we invited the assemblage of outdoor enthusiasts to share their personal stories of life in the natural world. Their narratives had in common the earliest memories of childhood and the influence of trusted mentors. They each acknowledged not only their obligation to protect and preserve the wild spaces we all love but to prepare a place for those on the margins of our global community who lack or have been deprived the means to get outside and enjoy nature.

As the evening light slowly faded into darkness the campfire seemed to burn a bit brighter. The crowd dispersed but a few lingered to ask questions and share some parting thoughts. Though I cannot say that our little fireside chat provided any particularly rousing insights or solutions. But I came away from the experience with a growing sense of optimism. At least now we seem willing to talk about these topics that make us so uncomfortable. The only way we can expect to make any progress is understand that we’re all in this together.

Photos courtesy of MEC

(Authors note: It has been almost a month since this event occurred. Forty-Eight hours after this picture was taken I had to beat it to Albuquerque, New Mexico to begin the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour. Only now that I’m en route to the lighting ceremony in Washington D.C. after a very long road trip do I have time to play catch-up on my web site updates. Stay tuned…there’s more to come!)

Many thanks to the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival for hosting our panel discussion and visit to Canada. Appreciation as well goes to Mountain Equipment Co-Op for organizing this fireside chat. And much gratitude to the continuing support of funding partners The National Forest Foundation, American Rivers and Patagonia.