Most people measure experiences through the before and after of their encounter with the event. As semester students come and go, they often measure their growth and change in “Before Conserve” and “After Conserve.” For me, this is not the case. There has been one event that has changed my life, and by being for the better. I now measure my life in “Before the Lowenwood Portage” and “After the Lowenwood Portage,” and it all starts on a chilly fall morning.
My alarm rings ferociously! “How can it already be 8:00 a.m.?” I question, huddling tight under my blanket. It was Sunday morning. Today was the day of the Lowenwood Portage. It was only a few short days after Exploration Week, my seven-day adventure through the Sylvania Wilderness Area and my body was not ready to put that heavy canoe back on its shoulders. The weekend had been long. It was our first interaction with most of our friends after Exploration Week, and we were determined to share every story of our adventures with each other. Every weekend at Conserve is very exciting with both planned and spontaneous activities, but sometimes that means not enough rest. My body was tired. Despite my body’s many warning signs, I rolled out of bed, dressed in many layers, and quickly headed over to the LAB.
I was worried I wouldn’t make it in time. Andrew Deaett, our science teacher and fearless leader for the portage, opened the dining hall early to ensure we had time to paddle all nine lakes on campus. After a warm breakfast and hot chocolate, we headed to the water, leaving only one student behind, Matthew. Matthew was still sleeping, and after many efforts to wake him, we figured he needed the sleep, and we should go on without him. As we headed down to the canoes, we realized we now had an odd number of people. As Andrew contemplated ways to fix this problem, footsteps were heard in the distance, followed by a shout, “WAIT FOR ME.” Looking up the hill, we see what we never thought we would see, Matthew running desperately down the hill wearing shorts, a t-shirt covered by a rain jacket, and crocs, a stark contrast to my many layers of long underwear, coats, hats, and gloves. Matthew had slept in, but he wouldn’t let it ruin his day. We all giggled for a moment, but Matthew’s ambition drove us to become confident and more excited for the big day ahead of us - it was time to paddle!
The Lowenwood Portage, also known as the Nine Lake Loop, is a paddling and portaging adventure to all nine lakes on campus. Starting at Little Bateau and finishing on Big Bateau, the far sides of campus are reached, and the lakes are experienced in a whole new way. This was a challenging day, as some of the portages were almost two miles, but the memories we made, the picture-perfect views, the skills practiced, and new things learned made the trip incredible. This experience is something that I will undoubtedly cherish for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful I was able to be a part of something so special.
The morning started on Little Bateau. A lake that I would soon know to love even more. A month down the road, this lake would host my solo campsite, but for now, this lake was entirely unknown to me, and I was excited to explore campus and its wonders.
Up next was Black Oak Lake. It was 56 degrees, and the wind was cold on my neck. My paddle partner, Rose, and I didn’t mind. As we laughed and talked the long paddle away, it was time to head to the next lake. Between us and the next lake, though, was a massive bog. To escape Black Oak Lake, one must drag the canoe through the cold, deep bog. As I look ahead to other students pushing and pulling the canoes out of the water, I saw many spots in the bog, which I didn’t want to end up - whether that was getting submerged in the bog or the tall bushes. I made a plan that I thought was the best route. As I got out to pull the canoe to shore, a beautiful tragedy takes over my body. In a matter of seconds, I was submerged hip-deep into the bog. As a great chill came over my body, I frantically pulled the boat (with Rose in it) to shore - immersing not just my hips, but my arms and hands as well. When I was finally on dry land, it did not matter if I was cold, wet, or both - I was laughing too hard. How many other people said they went swimming in a bog for school?
After a bushwacking + portaging experience, we arrived at our next lake - Penny Lake. Penny Lake is a small unknown lake just a bog away from Dollar Lake. As we trudged across the bog, picking some yummy cranberries along the way, we arrived at Penny and ate our cranberries, enjoying the magnificent view. After another short bog walk, we made it to Dollar Lake. After this experience, I fell in love with Dollar Lake. Soon to follow this, I regularly bike out to Dollar to enjoy its marvelous views, to take in the sunlight it attracts, and find the peace and joy that this lake radiates.
The portage from Dollar to Inkpot Lake consisted of acapella campfire songs, great portage dance moves, and many questions for Andrew, including “When’s Lunch?” Andrew told us that if we could wait a bit longer, he could take us on a bonus adventure for the perfect picnic spot. With excitement, we raced into the water and paddled quickly, following close behind Andrew. In the distance, we saw a beaver dam. What was Andrew thinking? As we followed him over beaver dams and through a secret passage, we soon found the perfect picnic spot - a portion of still water surrounded by big trees and falling leaves. This spot was truly magical, and so was the lunch. Our hungry bodies scarfed down some delicious sandwiches and Sun Chips. A beautiful picnic gunnel to gunnel was a perfect way to end the morning and begin our next set of adventures.
The next portage was long, but with more dance parties, yoga stretches, snacks, and inspirational words from our fearless leader, we made the 1.72-mile portage to Big Donahue Lake. Paddling on this lake was nothing new, as it was the lake I first paddled on at Conserve, the lake I first did a T-rescue on, and the lake I first practiced with my Exploration Week group a few short days before where I first learned to portage. Paddling on this lake felt much different today. Most times, this lake is the adventure in itself, but today it was a stepping stone in a bigger picture, a more significant journey.
Up next was Little Donahue Lake, the lake that we can see from the LAB. In the weeks to come, I would be canoeing on this lake again, but in a slightly different way. In history class, the expedition of Lewis and Clark soon comes to life as semester students ride out into Little Donahue on dugout canoes. These canoes, just as in our history, were dug out using minimal tools in a short amount of time. Little did I know at the time of the Lowenwood Portage that soon I would be out there again, doing a lesson I would never forget.
The next lake we had the privilege of paddling on was Lake Elaine. This lake is home to my phenology spot, an area on campus unique to each student where they spend time reflecting, learning, and growing. This lake already had importance to me and gave me a sense of place, but viewing my phenology spot from the water and seeing its importance to me in a whole new light was something I will never forget. Perspectives can be magical, and I was so thankful to experience something so meaningful to me in a new and exciting way.
The day was coming to a close, but thankfully we still had one more portage. This portage was merely a half-mile, but we wanted it to be longer. It blew our minds that this day was almost over. As tired and weak as we were becoming, we did not want this experience to be over. When we got on the water of Big Bateau, we paddled and paddled around the lake, avoiding the thought of leaving our canoes and heading back to reality. As we chanted the theme songs to our favorite television shows and talked incessantly about what was for dinner, Andrew probably thought, these kids are going crazy as he decided to end our canoe-filled day finally. Big Bateau Lake marks the start and end to many of my adventures here at Conserve, the Five Lake Loop into Sylvania in English and History, My Exploration Week, and now The Lowenwood Portage.
Exactly one month after the Lowenwood Portage, I write this story and reflect on my experience. The chilly morning, the beautiful views, the exhausting portages and paddles, the conversations and the memories made with the ones around me, and the personal reflection I was able to endure left me with a lot at the end of the day. The exhaustion swept through my body, but the overflowing feeling of thanks and gratitude was much more overpowering. To be here at Conserve School has been simply the most significant experience of my life. My heart is flooded every day with joy and happiness, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for the world. But the Lowenwood Portage in itself was something magical. This campus is my forever home, and to be able to adventure out to the far ends of our school in many different ways makes my connection and my love for this place grow deeper and deeper. The Lowenwood Portage was just another stepping stone on the journey to pure bliss and tremendous love for not only Conserve School but my life and who I am. I am so incredibly grateful for every adventure and journey this place has led me.
“It is the small things in life which count; it is the inconsequential leak which empties the biggest reservoir.” After reading this quote, I can’t help but think about the Lowenwood Portage because it's experiences like this and all the little things in my life that have shaped me and continue to mold me into the best version of myself. I am grateful for these little things, and I am thankful for Conserve.
Photos contributed by Sydney, CS19 (Fall 2019), Brookville, PA