Posted by: Nick Voss | October 3, 2013

Experiential Education with Lewis, Clark & Vedder

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SYLVANIA WILDERNESS– Occasionally the English and History classes here at Conserve School combine forces to double their education impact. This week on October 1st and 2nd was one of these collaborations, and it’s fair to say that everyone from students to staff were greatly impacted by living out the literature. We may have been our everyday selves, but were explorers none the less.

Carefully planned in everything from timing to safety, the day was a pinnacle of two curriculums. English class with Jeff Rennicke is reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, while History class with Michael Salat is delving into Undaunted Courage which is a record and interpretation of Lewis & Clark’s journals by Stephen Ambrose. Conserve School is very lucky to have the Sylvania Wilderness practically in their back yard, walking distance from the classroom. So as many schools read these texts, reading them in Sylvania makes them, well, very real! Despite the ending of Into the Wild, there’s still much one can learn from it about living fully in the moment.

Discussions included exchanging definitions of risk, outlining limits one places on risk, and assessing steps to manage risk. Although canoe gear and snazzy water-shoes helped us immensely in our voyage, certain risks were still present. What if the portage was very muddy? Getting three to four canoes past them might require someone to step in the mud… and what if it’s more than knee deep? It was also a blustery day… what if white caps and wind caused difficulty paddling, or worse, capsizing in the chilly fall water? What if we get lost? What if we get back late and miss dinner? Such questions and predicaments are present in any modern day camping trip, yet such risks seem to be what we as humans crave. Such risks seem to wake us up to better see the present moment and truly live in it.

There was also ample reflection to be had from Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Our surroundings momentarily transported us to a different time, imagining a wilderness where we had no portage trail, map, or wilderness boundary. Surely, Lewis & Clark would be rather baffled by this inside-out wilderness, surrounded by a tamed West. Then as for today’s leave no trace principles, would they even bother to comply? Despite the drastic differences, there were many sights and sounds that helped us see and think like an explorer. The maple leaves still have the same distinct sound when rustling in the wind that’s unimpeded by skyscrapers. The beavers still leave unfinished tree trunks to mark where they’ve been. The sun still marks the time of day and a direction, and the untamed lake shore still seeps mystery through the shadow of the trees. Not to mention, even the smallest error in reading the map still got a few groups lost. So yes, we were explorers!

In the end, many students walked back to campus humming the Into the Wild soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, amazed and bewildered from such a day of “school.” The wildness of communicating this experience and its importance to the world however, lies ahead.

-Nick Voss, Academic Coordinator Graduate Fellow

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