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 she 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 her retelling. Lauren’s interp is always like this. She doesn’t just share her knowledge, she gives it, wrapped and embellished and tied together with a strong sense of context and tradition.
As a third-generation Holiday guide and granddaughter of company founders Dee and Sue Holladay, it would be easy to tell stories about Lauren’s connection with the river, or the way she’s grown from a child at the oars of her father’s boat to a strong guide in her own right, or about her artful “hot coffee” calls. But all that is only a part of who Lauren Wood is. She writes, “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, and I think that Lauren has taken his torch and carries it in her 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. She’s been on the leading edge of a number of grassroots movements in her home community of Salt Lake City, including Peaceful Uprising, a citizens group committed to defending a livable future through empowering nonviolent action. In 2013, Lauren was selected as the first recipient of a Hero Hatchery fellowship, an innovative program led by an impressive A-list of activists and educators designed to teach and train Lauren to be an even-more-powerful spokesperson for the climate movement.
Sean D’Amboise was a rookie the same year that Lauren began her official guide training, and he remembers her first time leading a rafting trip. “She was 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 her find her voice.” Lauren herself writes about life lessons learned “while lounging upon Holiday rafts”. She writes, “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 she loves it. How she was worried about her future. I just thought, how could someone like her be worried about the future? She seems to have all the answers.” But Lauren is never satisfied, Lexi goes on to explain. “She loves who and where she is, but she doesn’t go, ‘yup that’s enough for me’, she just keeps wondering and working and thinking and figuring it out.”
With her family and friends behind her and the whole world in front of her, Lauren has a deep font from which to draw in her tireless quest for a better, cleaner, happier world. Someday we’ll owe her 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 her just for the brew. Thank her for saving the world.
Written by Susan Munroe