By Susan Munroe
A small group of children and adults stepped reverently through the rotted doorway into the old bootlegger’s cabin in Firewater Canyon. Deep within the remote twists and turns of the upper Green River. Ducking to avoid the low ceilings, blinking as their eyes adjusted to the damp gloom, they peered at the artifacts left behind by Ben Morris, the outlaw who’d built the place. “Let me tell you a story.” The soft, theatrical voice made everyone jump, and turn to see Lauren Wood’s head peeking through the cabin’s narrow window as they spun the tale of the bootlegger and his wild girlfriend, Josie Bassett, of shoot-outs and adventures in the lawless west of yesteryear. The group stood mesmerized by the retelling. Lauren’s interp is always like this. They don’t just share their knowledge, they give it, wrapped and embellished and tied together with a strong sense of context and tradition.
As a third-generation Holiday guide and grandchild of company founders, Dee and Sue Holladay, it would be easy to tell stories about Lauren’s connection with the river. The way they have grown from a child at the oars of their father’s boat to a strong guide in their own right. We can talk about the artful “hot coffee” calls. But all that is only a part of who Lauren Wood is. They write, “Ever since my first river trip at the age of two, muddy water has run a current through my veins and into my heart.” On that elemental foundation, Lauren has built an ethos—and the determination to live it—that is nothing short of inspiring.
“A lot of us guides are interested in the environmental causes that relate to our rivers, but Lauren takes it to the next level,” says Tim “TJ” Sattelmeier. “Dee Holladay has always been all about how the company could play a role in those causes. I think that Lauren has taken his torch and carries it in their own way, in a very strong way.”
A passionate activist for climate justice, social equality, and human rights, Lauren is the kind of person who makes you excited to carve your own mark onto the surfaces of the things you believe in. They’ve been on the leading edge of a number of grassroots movements in their home community of Salt Lake City. Including co-founding a grassroots group Peaceful Uprising, a collection of people committed to defending a livable future through empowering and training folks in nonviolent direct action. They now sit as the Board Chair of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Sean D’Amboise was a rookie the same year that Lauren began their official guide training, and he remembers Lauren’s first time leading a rafting trip. “They were a little freaked out, but everyone has a little freak-out on the back burner during their first trip lead. What’s cool is to see how confident Lauren is now as a public speaker and activist. I think learning to be a leader on the river is what helped them find their voice.” Lauren writes about life lessons learned “while lounging upon Holiday rafts.” They write, “I find those lessons from the river carrying over into all aspects of my life; I love finding the natural cycles within our cities and the currents that direct and shape our communities.”
Guide Lexi Foutz remembers bonding with Lauren on one of Lexi’s first trips. “One night we sat on our boats looking at the sky, and I listened to Lauren talk about acceptance of all people, about the earth and how much they love it. How they worried about their future. I just thought, how could someone like that be worried about the future? They seem to have all the answers.” But Lauren is never satisfied, Lexi goes on to explain. “they love who and where they are, but they don’t go, ‘yup that’s enough for me’, they just keep wondering and working and thinking and figuring it out.”
With family and friends behind them and the whole world in front of them, Lauren has a deep font from which to draw in their tireless quest for a better, cleaner, happier world. Someday we’ll owe them thanks for the fact that we still have rivers to go rafting on, and breathable air in our home towns. So, why not start now? The next time Lauren wakes you up with a “hot coffee” yodel or four-part harmony or (my favorite) a Space Odyssey: 2001 Special, don’t thank them just for the brew. Thank them for saving the world.
Susan Munroe is a reader, writer, traveler, and river guide. She moved to Utah from New Hampshire for the mountains, but it was the allure of the desert and its rivers that have truly kept her transfixed. More than eight years after she first came to work for Holiday River Expeditions, she still can’t get enough of life on the water. Susan spends her winters skiing and working in Salt Lake City, Utah, with frequent trips to southern Chile to run the Río Baker and support the work of the educational kayaking exchange program Ríos to Rivers. See more of Susan’s work here: www.susanmunroe.com