At 5:00 AM, I awoke miserably. I dragged myself out of bed sure nothing, not even a morning paddle, could be worth leaving my warm covers. The minute I saw Big Donahue lake, I knew I was wrong. So wrong. The lake looked unearthly, covered in mist. This sight alone was worth waking up for. Emma, my suitemate and friend, buzzed us into the LRC.
About a dozen of my classmates waited inside, as well as Andrew and Hannah, who were technically overseeing us but would want to be described as co-learners or, better, fellow adventurers. Everyone grabbed paddles and picked canoe buddies. Kelby, the morning paddle’s organizer, whispered, “try to paddle out silently” to us as we walked to the boat launch.
Emma and I finagled a canoe into the water. We then attempted to get in while keeping our feet dry and not scraping the bottom of the boat (we failed miserably at both goals). Hannah helped push us out onto the lake. Silently we paddled through a strange sort of spirit-scape. The water chilled us from below, the fog-coated my face in coldness. A red glow glinted on the horizon. Big Donahue's water was black instead of its standard blue. All of the landmarks I was used to onshore - the LRC, faux sunset point, sunrise point, the white birch that leans over the water, the lagoons - had transformed into unrecognizable shadows. My classmates, scattered across Big Don in canoes, looked like black smudges through the dark fog. I took deep breaths, and I could taste the fog, feel it coating my lungs.
Eventually, we stopped paddling and just watched the light on the horizon grow. The world I know slowly returned under the beautiful colors of sunrise. Shades of pink and orange mixed in the air. The beauty captured me, and I felt I could stare at the sky forever. I stared at the horizon until the sun burned my eyes, and I was forced to look away. As it surrounded me, the water reflected the tie-dyed sky. My classmates had reappeared, clear as day in their brightly hued jackets. I smiled at their smiles and wide-eyes. The LRC was once again tan, the trees green. The world of the owl and coyote and raccoon was slowly being replaced by the one I know so well.
I looked to the sky again. The sun had risen above the horizon, a blazing nexus of color which the sky embraced warmly. The day was cloudless. Wow. I wished I could watch the sunrise forever. Between the end of classes, AP tests, and exploration week prep, I had hardly had time to breathe. And the end of the semester loomed over me, over all of us, a monolith waiting to fall. We were not yet close enough to the end to be sad or to talk about it. But, I could feel it was on everybody's mind. My friends spoke in “one last"s. We need to have one last bike ride, one last hike, one last wing meeting, one last after-school snack. The little fights and arguments that are usually too insignificant to bother anyone much seemed like the end of the world. My peers, my friends, wanted to make the week before exploration week memorable, exciting, exceptional, calm, loving, fun, everything we were used to, special, and stress-free all at the same time. I kept thinking there was no way to have it all. But my worries melted away under the light of dawn. As long as I could sit there, surrounded by friends, watching the most beautiful sunrise ever on the lake I love so much, everything was perfect. Before Conserve, I never would have imagined a paradise lay in the eternally chilly Northwoods.
I wished I could watch the sunrise forever. I wished I could forever be calm and happy. But, I also feared we might freeze solid in our fog-soaked coats if we did not start moving soon. I reminded myself that there will be other beautiful sunrises before looking at Emma with a grin. “It’s beautiful!” I told her. She laughed at me. We spent the next thirty minutes paddling around the lake, exploring, talking to friends in other boats. Eventually, we returned to shore with everybody else, the whole day in front of us.
The Monday morning paddle was a wonderful capstone on a semester full of early morning adventures. I am forever indebted to Kelby who dragged me out on a ski one cold February morning and introduced me to morning adventuring. I want to thank Kelby for organizing morning skis and hikes and helping produce some fantastic announcements. I want to thank Andrew and Hannah for facilitating that Monday morning paddle. Most of all I want to thank every student who woke up at 5 am on a “sleep in day” to ski, hike, or paddle.
I wish I could spend the rest of my life watching the sunrise over Conserve with my CS18 classmates. Time marches on, in contempt of my wish. We will all have to leave soon. The next sunrise I see will be in a different state over my other, not Conserve, home. And it may be as beautiful as the sunrises I have witnessed here. But it will not be the same.
Photos contributed by Emma Aiken, CS18.