Riding the wave of adventure from Conserve’s recent visit from a Polar Explorer, History teacher Michael Salat’s unit on Ernest Shackleton came just in time. Approaching the unit in true Conserve School fashion, this history lesson was sure to bring students outdoors and into the newly-established yet rugged winter here in the Wisconsin North Woods.
For just over two weeks, students have been reading about the history of Ernest Shackleton in Endurance, by Alfred Lansing. Here Lansing describes the struggles and the glories of the polar explorer of the early 1900’s. Shackleton was the first person to lead a team on a voyage to cross the continent of Antarctica. Although the team didn’t make it across Antarctica, their story and struggle for survival in such harsh conditions was unprecedented and historical in itself. Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, may have been destroyed by ice, but its name and mission has forever lived on as a testament to exploration.
This deep inspiration to explore shone through to the winter cloudy day in which Michael Salat took his History class out to Lake Elaine, a lake nestled in Conserve’s 1200-acre forest called Lowenwood. With over a foot of snow on the ground in mid-December, the students grabbed their readings and snowshoes and fearlessly took to the forest. After a moderate hike that included breaking trail, the class reached Lake Elaine. Although small compared to the expansive spaces that Ernest Shackleton explored, the frozen lake allowed for a suitable setting to read about Shackleton’s adventure. Bundled in snow gear and cradling a cup of cocoa (which cooled much too quickly to be “hot”), something great happened while envisioning Shackleton’s plight. The cold hands, noses, and toes that could easily hinder an expedition instead became no problem at all. They were a crucial part of the experience, accepting the cold yet steadfastly pressing on to complete the task at hand. The class had encountered their own endurance.
Now as the semester closes, we reflect on the many adventures and explorations in History class that have brought the text to life. Lowenwood and the nearby Sylvania Wilderness have served as microcosms for Mount Everest, the North and South Poles, Lewis and Clark’s expedition across North America, and much more. Each brought its own testament to endurance, exploration, and adventure. Such testaments rest at the core of why these stories and figures made history. But then, they’re also the core of the students’ drive and destiny to make history beyond this semester and into their life adventures.
-Nick Voss, Academic Coordinator Grad Fellow