Time Traveling
Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher

CS17 takes to the wilderness and their imaginations for a day of paddling, learning, fun, and homemade scones.

Imagine traveling back to 1805 with the Corps of Discovery and feeling the same forces of nature -- wind and waves and rugged terrain -- that Lewis and Clark's team did when they portaged around the Great Falls of the Missouri River. Imagine traveling ahead in time to 2064, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act to contemplate its fate and meaning in our future. Now, imagine topping it all off by doing that in a canoe while traversing a federally -designated wilderness area with homemade chocolate chip scones. That is what the students of Conserve did this week in a combined History and English class.
 
Here at Conserve, our block schedule allows for combined afternoon classes to have an almost four-hour stretch of time to truly delve into a topic, to sink deep. We took advantage of that time this week by doing a five lake, four-hour portage and paddling trip through the Sylvania Wilderness which adjoins our campus connecting Big Bateau Lake with Florence, Loon, Deer Island, Cub Lake, and then portaging back to Big Bateau. Along the way the students "time traveled" by reading and discussing journal entries from the Lewis & Clark Expedition and their Great Falls portage of 1805. But for us, it was not just reading words on a page. The writings came alive as students felt the same pull on their shoulders as Lewis and Clark's team did by portaging their canoes between the Sylvania lakes. They understood what it meant to paddle against a strong headwind, to see eagles circling overhead, and wonder at the danger of an approaching dark cloud. It was a lesson in “felt knowledge,” the kind that sinks deeper than words in a textbook.
 
After visiting 1805 through the Lewis & Clark section of our trip, we turned the dial of the time machine to 2064: the 100th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. What will wilderness mean to us in 50 years? Will it even still exist? Will it be even more a part of our lives and the way we understand beauty and our place in the natural world? Or, will it be something we only read about in dusty History books? We contemplated these questions through an on-water discussion complete with “time traveler tickets” laying out possible scenarios for the wilderness of the future and we did it with our canoes rafted up and floating on blue water beneath blue sky, letting students not only think, debate, and listen, but to feel the wilderness all around them.

It is one thing to read a textbook in a classroom beneath the buzz of artificial light and sitting in desks. It is another to contemplate the meaning of a wild place while in a wild place. We topped the day off by gathering on the shores of the final lake and reading as a group an essay called “Stone Creek Woman” by contemporary American writer Terry Tempest Williams as students pondered the role their own voices, experiences, and imaginations might play in the preservation of wilderness for future generations. And, we ate homemade chocolate chip scones.

It is a day when history and literature come alive for the students of Conserve, when education isn't just a chore but an adventure, exactly the way it should be.

Students canoeing
Students canoeing
staff and student canoeing
Students canoeing and smiling
Students holding their paddles triumphantly above their heads
Student and teacher canoeing with a duffer
two students canoeing

Photos contributed by Jeff Rennicke