• Kayoung Heo with her Ocean Bridge peers

    Kayoung Heo snaps a selfie with other members of the 2019 Ocean Bridge program during their wilderness expedition along the North Shore of Lake Superior. (Photo: Kayoung Heo)

It has been months now since I came back from Ocean Bridge’s 2019 wilderness expedition. The 10 days I spent on the North Shore of Lake Superior were simply unforgettable and left a huge impact on the way I perceive the world. Even after a period of reflection and mental digestion, I am still processing my experience. Now, I feel as if it has set me on a new quest for the rest of my life.

To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from this trip. I knew that I was going to meet the other 39 Ocean Bridge youth from all across Canada for the first time, get to know them and experience First Nations culture in the area, and that we would volunteer our time and service in various ways related to water.

Based on the name of the trip, "Lake Superior Wilderness Expedition,” and the resources our wonderful Ocean Bridge mentors sent us beforehand – “What to do when you encounter a bear” and “Bugs in Northern Ontario,” for example – I expected this trip was not going to be the most glamorous. And I was kind of right: numerous bug bites, constipation, freezing cold nights (when sleeping in the tipis, which was nevertheless a cool experience – I was just underprepared), greasy hair, t-shirts that smelled like campfire … you get the picture.

But boy, was that experience absolutely incredible! I took away an important life lesson from this trip: That one of the most important parts of living life is learning to live together, whether that is with other people or with other creatures on the Earth.

Living with other people (a.k.a. FRIENDSHIP)

To me, Ocean Bridge is such a unique program in that we all come from different backgrounds. our areas of study and experiences vary from business to science to communications, and our jobs vary even more. But we came together with one vision – to take care of our oceans, waterways and nature at large.

At first, I was a bit nervous and intimidated because everyone else seemed so knowledgeable, experienced, and they seemed to know exactly what to do in the wilderness. Meanwhile, I can't even swim, I don't know how to start a fire, and I never even knew that the bug head net was a thing until this trip.

As the trip went on, I realized that everyone has different but unique colours. And by colours, I mean unique abilities and talents that each of us are born with. I started to see my own colour. What I can contribute to the world and how I connect with nature may be different from others. As we recognize and celebrate each others’ colours, we are opening up possibilities to merge those colours to create a beautiful spectrum that will shine onto this world. I have had the privilege to hear many stories from my fellow Ocean Bridgers (oh my, some of them have lived quite the lives) and we all seem to share the same genuine concern for the health of our ecosystems, but also an enthusiasm about what we can do to bring about positive change in the world. How beautiful is it to create meaning out of our coexistence?

Bug head net

Ocean Bridge 2019 cohort member Kaitlyn Hanson sports her bug net at Neys Provincial Park. (Photo: Benjamin Aubé)
 

Living with other people (with LOVE and RESPECT)

Something like 7.7 billion people inhabit this planet, yet there is so much disconnect between them. Such disconnect makes it hard for us to freely coexist. To mingle, to live together, there has to be mutual respect and mutual understanding. I think genuine respect and understanding stem from love. When I told this to one of our hosts at Pays Plat First Nation, he taught me an Ojibwe word, which I shared on our last day of the expedition: zaagi'idewin, to do something from the heart, to be strong, flowing from the heart.

How I understood zaagi'idewin is that there is love inside one’s heart that does not just stand still, but radiates outward. It’s love as a verb.

How might we reach that point? I think that a great place to start is storytelling. I learned so much from talking with our hosts at Pays Plat over just a couple of days, and just as much as I learned about their culture, values, and beliefs, they learned about mine too (my Korean culture and Christian beliefs). As an immigrant who moved to Canada only 10 years ago, it was only recently that I became aware of First Nations issues, first through the book Indian Horse, which I read in first-year English class. Over time, I’ve learned that many issues that First Nations people face are not just theirs, but mine, and ours.

One of the Elders told us, “We sit in a circle so that there are no dark corners.” To me, that is the definition of a community. In a community, we make sure that everyone is seen, taken care of, acknowledged and loved. And the world is one large community. I hope we can all be living examples of the word zaagi'idewin

Kayoung Heo sketchbook

Opening up to new perspectives at Pays Plat First Nation. (Photo: Kayoung Heo)

Living with other creatures (I mean ... nature)

Love and respect do not only apply to human-to-human interactions but also to human-to-nature interactions. It's unfortunate that some people perceive nature as something at their disposal, just because nature is there. They clearcut lands, exploit resources for their benefit in an unsustainable manner. Global temperatures are rising, ice is melting, and animals are dying.

One of my most memorable moments on this trip came at Pukaskwa National Park, where we all watched the sunset, in silence. Alone, but together. Here's an excerpt from my journal (it's a little cheesy because I get emotional at sunsets, sobear with me).

“I closed my eyes. I felt everyone's presence, but the presence of nature was greater. The sound of birds, the breeze blowing past my ears were louder than the presence of people (except for the occasional footsteps). The sound of nature tends to be considered ambient. Humans are the loud ones. We produce a lot of noise. We think that we are the main characters in this play. But when we go silent, when we acknowledge that we are not the main characters, but a small constituent that comprises a greater system, nature reveals itself. Humans can be part of the picture, too, if we stop being so entitled. We can live in harmony.”

I wonder how beautiful the world would be if we all saw ourselves as a small constituent that comprises a greater system, working together and living together. 

Old man’s beard lichen hangs on trees around the north shore of Lake Superior. (Photo: Kayoung Heo)

I recently stumbled upon this song and I think it's a good way to end this reflection.

"Life is moving oh so fast
I think we should take it slow
rest our heads upon the grass
and listen to it grow"

—"Splendor in the Grass" by Pink Martini

Ten days spent in Northwestern Ontario were like listening to the grass grow. It was a break from a busy life, a time of becoming more in tune with myself and my surroundings. I cannot wait to see my Ocean Bridge family from across Canada come together again in January 2020 for our urban service expedition in Ottawa!

Miigwech <3

Applications are OPEN for the four Ocean Bridge 2020 cohorts: Atlantic, St. Lawrence, Great Lakes and Pacific. The deadline is Dec. 9, 2019. Click here to apply to any or all of the Ocean Bridge cohorts, no matter where in Canada you live!​
 
Portail Océan accepte les candidatures pour ses quatre cohortes 2020: Atlantique, Saint-Laurent, Grands Lacs et Pacifique! Les candidatures seront acceptées jusqu'au 9 décembre 2019. Appuyez ici pour postuler aujourd'hui, peu importe ou vous vivez au Canada!