~This blog entry is brought to you from the electronic portfolio of CS9 student Talya Klinger. Conserve School electronic portfolios connect student experiences to the school’s learning goals. Talya is from Novato, California where she is homeschooled.~
Final Thoughts – We Proceeded On!
In The Sound of Music, Maria sings, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start,” but where is a good place to stop when I wish something wouldn’t end?
At the beginning of my Conserve semester, my primary goal was to become more self-sufficient. The first few weeks were very different from my former homeschooling lifestyle, yet I gradually adjusted by developing an intricate system of alarms for every check-in and deadline. Sure my meals were graciously provided by the kitchen staff, but I had to take all my schoolwork and housecleaning into my own hands. Somehow, I learned to balance studying, socializing, and sleeping.
While I am proud of my new-found self-reliance, I’ve come to realize that knowing when I need to rely on my friends or mentors is just as important as being independent. Spraining my ankle almost as soon as I got to Conserve really put me to the test. Suddenly, my desire for self-reliance became a disadvantage: it was hard for me to ask for help even when I needed it. I was in an unfamiliar place with people I was only just getting to know, but I had to trust that others wouldn’t mind helping me. I realize that the trust part is hard for me, even if I will happily help others. Ironically, working toward my goal of independence taught me the importance of inter-dependence. So, while I came to Conserve to be independent, I leave it knowing that a community, much like a family, is closer when people help one another.
My learning goals also took an ironic twist while I’ve been at Conserve. I arrived ready to throw myself into Robert’s environmental science class; I was eager to count orthopterans, pull weeds, and, yes, even hug trees. Many of the projects in Nancy’s Earth Art class, such as metalworking and making paper from fabric scraps and banana peels, showed me new ways of reusing old things, creatively bringing the adage “waste not want not” to life. I have made better than good on my goal to learn more about the environment and stewardship, after months of studying the wilderness, being drawn to nature, and going into the woods. As much as I love wading, digging, and observing, I discovered something else about my learning. I defined myself as a hardcore math and science kid before coming to Conserve. I enjoyed art and history, especially ancient Roman history, but I viewed writing as a chore. After just a few weeks of English and History though, I realized that I looked forward to every one of Jeff’s and Michael’s classes and that some of my best memories are of the activities I did in them. When Jeff and Michael rolled the dividing wall aside and joined forces, I was ecstatic!
It’s hard to say whether societal pressures to pursue science, wanting to step out of my mother’s shadow (she’s an English teacher, after all), or the sheer work of writing prevented me from appreciating humanities as much before Conserve. In the supportive environment of Conserve, I began to look forward to every chance I would get to sit down and write, especially if it involved persuasive writing for environmental causes, analyses of history, fantasy world-building, or in the case of my Monster Field Guide project for English class, all of the above. I now know that I want to keep writing, and quite possibly, I will do so in the service of conservation and sustainability—and maybe even in Spanish too! The forces of science and art unite countries and continents for common causes, and as someone who hopes to understand global issues better from both of those perspectives, it is crucial for me to be able to communicate, like Kathleen, in multiple languages. Though I always dreamed of a career related to the environment, my goals have become more vivid and focused than ever before because of the inspirational examples set by Conserve’s teachers, graduate fellows, students, and guest speakers.
A couple of months into my semester at Conserve, I realized that I had come to know more about the ecology of the Northwoods than my home ecosystem. The irony of traveling clear across the country to find out more about what is going on in my own backyard does not escape me. If anything, I’m a little shocked at how few species I can identify in my home wetlands and woods. (Granted, after living in 10 different places along the California coast, the unique wildlife of each has started to blur.) When I get home to Novato, I plan to learn as much as possible about the species I have been planting at the Hamilton Wetlands, where I volunteer. I want to ask more questions, so I can find out why we plant in polygons, for example. I want to learn to identify more of the birds I see at the wetlands because I was stunned by just how many different species I saw from the Bay Trail when I went home for Thanksgiving. I also want to do more research about growing native species in my container garden, especially since Californian native species tend to require very little water. I am a much better observer now, after a semester at Conserve, and so a much better steward. Just observing my phenology spot through seasons of brightly colored leaves, pouring rain, and heaping snow banks has taught me to watch and listen. Magic always happens; I want to continue to keep myself open to it even when there isn’t an assignment or class activity.
No reflection on the magic of Conserve would be complete without slipping in some ice and snow. I wish I could honestly write that I will continue to ski, snowshoe, and skate when I return to my sunny California home, but the truth is that I will mostly savor the memories of how incredibly wonderful it was for me to finally experience real snow. I want to visit the Northwoods in winter again and again.
I’ve also spent many hours daydreaming about family canoe trips to Sylvania during the summer. The idea of going on another, longer solo camping trip captivates me most of all. I discovered on solos that even though I can thrive in the bustling social environment of a boarding school, I crave the calm of solitude in nature. The longer I’m alone in the woods or on the water, the more my mind sheds its preoccupation with daily details. The farther I am from thinking about deadlines and assignments, or indeed any responsibilities except stewardship and survival, the more I can ponder what really matters to me. It is that opportunity for thinking more creatively and philosophically that I need. On my next wilderness experiences, I want to stretch my limits, knowing that I can travel with or without company. I want to experience more of the tranquility of solitude and the plasticity of “Trail Time,” ideally for a week or so. However, I also want to challenge myself on rougher seas and longer canoeing trips, both to improve my skills and to remind myself that nature exists on its own terms for its own sake, regardless of humans’ needs. (It’s too tempting, when the weather is clear and the wind is blowing in the most convenient possible direction, for me to forget my “Land Ethic” and overestimate humans’ importance in the scheme of things. It’s harder to do that when nature challenges and awes me at the same time.)
Before Conserve, I spent hour upon hour in the studio blowing, fusing, and casting glass, so it is perhaps no surprise that there are more than a few pictures of glass in my Conserve photo album. The windows of Conserve have captivated me, whether I am looking at the tamaracks and firs outside the Spanish classroom or the bird feeders beyond the Student Apartment and history classroom windows. I often wake up half an hour earlier than I really need to just so that I have time to stare through the immense pane of glass that frames almost the entire east wall of the LAB and the sublime view of the changing seasons. Conserve has been my window on the world for the past four months, and it has made a world of difference to me.
Lewis, Clark, and many of their men repeatedly wrote, “we proceeded on.” As I prepare to leave the Northwoods, I take my Conserve lessons and memories with me wherever I go. There aren’t enough words in my E-Portfolio to capture the enormity of the gifts I have been given or my infinite gratitude for them, so I’m going to keep on observing, drawing, reflecting, and writing. I will proceed on!
Thank you Mr. Lowenstine, thank you Conserve School!
Talya Klinger, Conserve School Semester 9
More photos from Talya’s semester at Conserve School.
Checking in first day
Talya and Oliver
First place, e-portfolio competition
Tubing on Black Oak Lake
Conserve School provides a semester-long immersion for high school students in environmental studies and outdoor activities that deepens their love of nature, reinforces their commitment to conservation, and equips them to take meaningful action as environmental stewards. Thanks to the generosity of Conserve School’s friends and its founder James Lowenstine all accepted students receive significant scholarship support.