Short disclaimer: This blog post was written a week ago while the power was out at Chewonki and I have only just found time to upload it.
Good morning! It is storming hard outside but here I am rain pants and all writing to you by hand from midcoast Maine. Much has happened since I last posted. I have tales from two very exciting back to back weekends to share with you all.
First up is Outdoor Leadership Weekend which was so busy it felt like part of the school week. There were two parts: encampment and wilderness first aid training. The purpose of this weekend was to prepare everyone for solos which happened the following weekend. To begin with, the semester was broken into four groups. Two of the groups started with encampment. This meant we took a trip to some woods on Chewonki Neck for a day and a night. Our leaders were from the Outdoor Classroom, another program that runs here on campus. We went out, did some work on the challenge course, learned how to set up tarps to sleep under for solos, and made our way to the campsite where we got to relax and cook dinner over the fire. The leaders just gave us the food bag and a quick rundown on what we were making, and left the responsibility of creating an edible meal up to us which I thought was very cool. After dinner, we had a one hour practice solo where everyone found a spot near to the campsite to be alone in the forest. This may not seem like much but it was the longest I had been completely alone since I got here, seven weeks before. I spent my whole hour lying on a rock next to the water in between wakefulness and sleep. When they called for us to come back I was sure I’d had at least 17 very cool dreams but I couldn’t remember any of them.
After our encampment, my group and one other participated in a wilderness first aid certification course, where we learned how to administer epinephrine in case of a severe allergic reaction, perform cpr, splint an injured bone or joint, safely reposition people if there was concern about spinal injuries, clean wounds, and other super cool stuff. The best part was that on multiple occasions, we were given scenarios with a patient and a responder and made to act the part. Patients got grease paint for bruises and scrapes, and were instructed on how to show symptoms for various ailments. One day they used wax and fake blood to create puncture wounds that we had to clean by removing sticks, dirt, and tiny stones. We also practiced identifying the severity of head wounds and hypo/hyperthermia. It was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken, and I imagine I will build upon that knowledge sometime in the near future. I’ve been considering taking an Emergency Medical Responder or Wilderness First Responder course when I get home.
In the midst of all this, semester students had been assigned a few intense homework assignments that made for a pretty crazy week when put together. One was a book analysis essay with a turnaround time of about 4 days, another was an essay about food choices in This I Believe format as a final for Farm and Food Systems Seminar, a third was a several page packet about our Human Ecology Capstone project, and as always we had a species quiz and a science field trip. It’s usually hard for me to condense my ideas about literature into a compact, easy to follow essay with an argument and a conclusion so the analysis essay was stressing me out in a very big way. My English teacher gave me a piece of advice for this type of writing that I had never heard before. He told me the essay isn’t to explain everything in the text; rather it’s all about picking a thread and following it through the story. He also told me that the essay was probably going to feel way shorter than I expected so I should pick one thing to write about. Those sentiments proved to be very useful, and I ended up with a decent piece of writing to show for myself.
As part of the Human Ecology assignment, I had to speak with someone in the Chewonki community about a potential project idea. This prompt led to an incredibly interesting conversation about hands on science in schools, sustainability, and the next generation with one of my science teachers. She mentioned that observation is a great equaliser, in that it’s a skill everyone already has. Science at Chewonki is based in natural history which mainly uses observation to draw conclusions about the environment. This ensures that students can succeed no matter their individual backgrounds in science.
On that note, science field trip that week consisted of observing a stream and collecting Benthic Macro Invertebrates, or BMIs, to measure its health. Some BMIs are much more sensitive to stream quality than others, so the percentage of sensitive ones out of all that were collected helps to judge whether the stream is in good condition. This trip was definitely one of the most fun so far. We got to wear thigh high rain boots, or waders, and in order to collect the BMIs we stood in the middle of the stream and shuffled our feet, kicking rocks and generally agitating the stream bed so any little bottom dwelling creatures would float into our nets. We collected mayfly, stonefly, caddisfly, fishfly, and dragonfly nymphs, as well as hellgramites and various other worms and larvae. Then, we brought them all back to campus to look at under the microscope.
The next day, we got to interact with real animals again during our species quiz. Since all the species we learn about live in the same area we do, part of our species quiz took place while watching the birdfeeders. We had to identify real life blue jays and tufted titmice. We also went on a forest walk to complete the tree identification section. After that, we had lunch and then we were off on our solos.
Solos at Chewonki: all of the semester students get an area of land to live on for three days and two nights. During this time, we ate cold food like trail mix, crackers, apples, and granola bars, and slept under tarps held up by a ridgeline tied in between two trees. This time was free to do as we chose, alone in the woods. For me, it was very reflective, and a welcome break from being constantly surrounded by people. I journalled some, sang a bit, balanced on dead logs, and watched my environment change throughout the day and night. I saw the moon move across the sky, peeping out from behind a tree and then moving towards the next one. I also saw a seal, a flock of turkeys, and several types of smaller birds.
On Sunday afternoon, we came back to campus. Our window of good weather was about to end. As we all sat and spoke of our experiences, a massive storm began to brew outside. That night, the power went out, and did not come back on for about a week.
to be continued because I’m still in Maine!