Let me begin by saying that, as a staff member, Conserve School maintains all of the magic it held for me as a student back in the fall of 2012 - the crisp air, the changing leaves, the breathtaking night skies. I still feel a certain excitement and sense of returning home when I drive up to the school gate.
The lessons I learned here as a student have influenced and sculpted my life in countless ways. These influences range from big concrete things like my college (and now job) decision to less tangible things such as my faith in community. As any Conserve School alum can say with certainty, this patch of Wisconsin Northwoods changes your life.
It’s also true that my understanding of Conserve has changed while working here. As a Teaching Fellow, my sense of this place has now morphed to include complexities of work and the responsibilities associated with being an employee and a teacher. The gravity and importance of what we do here is something I know firsthand as a recipient of that effort. To undertake this work is to commit to changing students’ lives, and it is not something I shoulder lightly. Change happens at this school, and to be on the other side in a facilitating and guiding role, is mind-blowing.
Three weeks ago, my sister Zoe came to visit me at Conserve. She is a CS9 alum, and while she was here, we visited teachers and walked the trails. We also had the opportunity to do an afternoon paddle on Big Donahue Lake to visit her phenology spot along the shore. The day was sunny, warm and gorgeous, and we paddled slowly, enjoying each other’s company. As we neared her spot, Zoe’s demeanor changed. She sat up straight and excitedly remarked how the water levels had risen so high that they covered the path she took as a student to get to her phenology spot. When we got to shore, we docked our canoes and walked among the red pines. Zoe shared memories sparked by returning to that physical spot: “This birch tree has decomposed so much from when I was a student!” she remarked. We spent some time exploring, reflecting, and enjoying the lake view.
I feel immensely grateful that my understanding of Conserve has been able to grow, deepen, and develop in complexity across my different ways of relating to it; as a student, alum sibling, and staff member. It is not just a static memory of four months in my life, but a place that holds many different experiences and insights. The more time I spend here, the more clearly I see Conserve as a beautiful, hardworking, and dynamic community that nurtures and holds the next generation of thinkers, leaders, teachers, and citizens. To witness the life-changing work that happens here is privilege enough. To be part of that work is truly an honor.
Photos contributed by Maia and Zoe Stack.