Posted by: csdailyblog | September 2, 2010

History Class in a Voyageur Canoe

Students pick up life jackets and paddles at the estate boathouse in preparation for taking out one of Conserve's voyageur canoes. Erika and Johnny are holding papers and notebooks as well as paddles, because they'll be reading their essays on wilderness out loud to one another once they're out on the lake.

History class took to the water early this week, when students and teacher Michael Salat launched a voyageur canoe on Black Oak Lake and spent the afternoon reading essays to one another in their floating classroom. Conserve School’s voyageur canoes, big enough for a whole class, give students a taste of the endurance and skills possessed by the voyageurs who explored this region starting in the 17th century. A gusty wind and choppy waves made maneuvering the extra-large canoe a challenge, and students soon found that synchronized paddling was a skill that required some practice and a significant amount of cooperation. Lack of coordination leads to paddles crashing against paddles and a lot of lake water dumped into the canoe and on one another.

Allison and Kayla are ready with life jackets on and paddles in hand.

During breaks in paddling, students read to one another essays they had written on the meaning of wilderness. Two of the classes were treated to a pair of bald eagles sitting in a tree just above their heads while they read their essays aloud.

Following is an excerpt from one of the student essays, written by Marshall:

Why do humans explore? What makes the idea of the unknown so anathema to us? Fundamentally, humans have an innate desire to conquer the forbidding unknown. The unknown presents a challenge that resonates with our heartstrings. People are attracted to challenge – seeking to push themselves further than they thought possible. So, exploration is a fundamental desire of human nature.

The huge canoe takes a team effort to pick up and roll over.

In looking at exploration, one must realize that everyone explores things and pushes boundaries in their own lives. Just a couple of months ago, I went to Colorado for an Economics camp in Estes Park for a week. During the day, we learned from some of the brightest economic minds in the country; in the evenings, we hiked the Rockies. With some friends, I was able to push the boundaries of what I thought I could do. Can I hike down a steep mountain in the pitch black without a scratch? Absolutely. Can I make it to the top of a steep mountain with no trail before the sun sets? Absolutely. Did I think I could do any of those things? No. The last night, we had our greatest exploration. We attempted to summit a mountain called Emerald Peak that was around four miles away from camp. After some highly amusing misdirection that led us miles out of the way, we arrived just in time to see a gorgeous sunset. We were treated to a sky on fire for our hard work.

The way back was when things got really interesting. We left the mountaintop at about 9:45, only to realize that we had forgotten a flashlight. So, with only the light from our phones, we wound our way carefully back down the mountainside. We entered a deep wood that was eerily still; however, the pale translucent light from our phones reflected
off of many pairs of eyes around us. We’d inadvertently walked into a large herd of deer. Knowing that where deer are, predators are likely to be close by, we decided that lingering there was a bad idea. We pushed further on and arrived at a clearing where we could see two glowing orbs suspended inches off of ground level, moving sideways. It was no deer. Almost sure it was a mountain lion, we started flapping our arms madly about and talking in yells. Almost immediately, the eyes retreated into the inky blackness. We continued on our way, arriving back safely.

Students can stand up and relax now the canoe is rolled all the way over and resting on the sand.

Pushing the canoe into to the water.

Jumping in and finding seats.

Finally in the water.

Time for History Teacher Michael Salat to jump in.

Launched at last.

And on their way.





Students lower and turn the canoe over slowly and carefully.



  1. […] by Marshall, Jess (our field-instructor leader), Caitlin, and Krystal. Because of our practice in THE GREAT WHITE CANOE, Alex and I were pretty speedy, and Michael was sure to split us up later in the trip… but now […]

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