Many thanks to Shelly Randall, our conference blogger, for providing the following summary of Day One of the our North American Gathering. Visit Shelly’s Blog, Sustainable Together, at

“We are the ones / We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” was the hopeful message raised in song at tonight’s opening event of the Northwest Earth Institute’s North American gathering in Port Townsend.

Some of the voices were a little off-key, but we just looked at each other, shrugged, smiled, and kept singing.

Not many conferences kick off with rounds and layer songs, but this isn’t just any conference, and the attendees are not exactly shrinking violets. They are bold and innovative environmental activists. They are agitators for change in their communities. They are passionate people with causes–and they are pretty good vocalists, as a whole!

Presenter Gretchen Sleicher (stepping in for Pam Wood, who was unable to present at the last minute) gave a program on “The Great Turning,” which she described as “the adventure of moving toward a life-sustaining civilization”—in opposition to the “the idea that we can keep going and going on a finite planet.”

Using call-and-response, Gretchen taught us songs to illustrate the four “points of the spiral”—Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing With New Eyes, and Going Forth. She wrote some of the songs herself, and has collected others from around the world. The words and MP3 files with the melodies are available at

“Songs metabolize human emotion,” Gretchen told us. She is passionate about the power of music to enliven and inspire: here in Port Townsend she co-directs the PT Songlines choir and she leads workshops around the region that combine group singing and Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects.

Judging by the wholehearted participation of the conference’s early arrivals (50 so far, more to come in the morning) and the positive vibrations ringing in the room, the singing was a great icebreaker. We also paired up to do some get-to-kn0w-each-other exercises where we alternated between active listening and sharing our thoughts on topics such as, “Some things that are concerning to me in this moment of planetary crisis are…”

Serious stuff.

“We don’t know if this great turning is happening at the same time as this great unraveling,” Gretchen said. “But if we knew, would it [this global challenge] elicit our greatest creativity? It is a blessing to be alive at this time and not know.”