by Georgia Feldman
Walking under the modernist, green-and-white arches to the Lowenstine Academic Building at the Conserve School in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin was a big moment. The picturesque entrance was intimidating as much as it was beautiful. However, the most intriguing part of the building was that it seemed to be built into nature, instead of on top of it, fitting for a school specializing in environmental education.
The education I received at Conserve followed the architecture. The classrooms, filled with light, always offered a generous view of the campus grounds. Despite the view, we never lingered in the classroom very long. We went inside only to turn around and go back out, no matter the weather. It was all about being part of something that was bigger than ourselves.
For example, a unit in my Environmental Science class focused on air pollution and the study of lichen. Because lichen is a bioindicator, our assignment was to navigate to a previously identified oak tree using mapping coordinates to document the lichen prevalence on that tree. To accurately measure air quality over time, these measurements must be documented year after year to note any changes in the amount of lichen. My assignment is now part of a broader scientific data-gathering study that will continue beyond my time at school. Not only was I able to be in my element among the trees, studying with my peers, but it was exciting to be a part of a statewide examination that may one day be used to combat the causes of air pollution.
The main theme of Conserve School centered around the word “connection.” Connection in its literal definition is “a relationship in which a person, thing or idea is linked or associated with something else.” Yet the dictionary jargon can hardly sum up what a connection actually means in relation to a person’s intricate and unique life experiences.
I made deep connections with people at Conserve – people who changed my life in monumental ways in a very short period of time. Having to say goodbye to them on December 17 was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life. My teachers, administrators, teaching fellows and peers empowered me as an individual and gave me more tools to guide me in my quest to make a difference.
I learned how interconnected the human species is with the outdoors. We depend on nature, no matter how much we’d like to separate ourselves from it. We are nature, and nature is part of us. This new awareness prompted me to look closer into how intricately the world around me works. I learned that questions are more important than answers. There’s a lot that we don’t know we don’t know. By asking questions, we can begin to know what we don’t know, and that can be a humbling experience.
Finally, Conserve School instilled in me a sense of deep appreciation. Very early in the semester, my science teacher led a gratefulness exercise in the middle of an old-growth hemlock forest right on the campus shore of Little Donahue Lake, our classroom. It was a place we would visit often.
He posed a simple question, yet one that was somewhat difficult for me to answer at first. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an answer; it was that I had many, but none of them seemed good enough.
What are you grateful for?
The answer doesn’t have to be profound. It’s equally important to be grateful for a paper clip as it is to be grateful for a life-changing experience and the connections you made or deepened with the people, things and ideas that helped you on your way.
Thank you to Conserve School for expanding my horizons, and thank you, Door County, for being my true north. Your support and friendship will always guide me on my way. Now as I look up to the billions of stars in the inky black sky, though I still feel small, I feel more deeply connected to it all. I went hoping to discover more about where my talents lie and gain a clearer vision of what my future might hold. I accomplished all of that and more.
I previously proclaimed my love for climbing trees. One of the first rules I read after getting settled in at Conserve was that they limited tree climbing to fewer than six feet above your height. That rule may have been broken several times. In my defense, it was for educational purposes … mostly.
The world just looks better from up there.
Georgia Feldman is a junior at Sturgeon Bay High School who was awarded a Lowenstine Honors Scholarship to attend Conserve School in Land O’ Lakes for the fall semester of 2018. She plans to focus on environmental studies in her postsecondary education.