Finding Your Place, and Yourself, on the Penobscot River

Thinking back to when I first arrived at Chewonki, I am amazed at how much I have learned in such a short time. We’ve only been here for five weeks, but already I feel like a new person. Chewonki has taught me to truly appreciate the natural world around me. It no longer feels strange to be told to go sit in the woods and observe for an hour– it feels normal. It’s shocking how little I knew about my surroundings before I arrived. I feel a much stronger connection to the land I live on and my sense of place has strengthened incredibly.

I realized most of this last week, on my wilderness trip. I canoed the West Branch of the Penobscot River with seven other students and three faculty. In the past, I haven’t had the best experiences with canoeing. My boat always seems to arc off to one side, and I always end up frustrated and ready to give up. On this trip, however, something clicked. I found the right balance between individual work and teamwork, and I spent a whole day in the bow of a boat, paddled fifteen miles, and found myself almost overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of the art that is canoeing. There is something so amazing in the connection developed between water, boat, and paddlers. It was a connection especially prevalent when we came across a short rapid section. I kept my eyes glued to the river, searching for clues of rocks just under the surface, calling back to my paddle partner, who steered us according to my direction, and our boat sailed us perfectly through the section without a scratch. Our excited laughter and triumphant yells echoed across the river that day, and I felt like a part of the water I was surrounded by, a feeling that only got stronger as our trip went on. I found myself overcoming the challenge presented by being in the stern and staying in a straight line much faster than I thought I would. I enjoyed several hours at the very small town of Chesuncook, exploring the church and graveyard before paddling across the lake of the same name to our campsite on its shore. We cooked over fires and slept in tents and were greeted with rain almost every evening upon arrival to our campsite. We got soaked and our hands and feet went numb from cold, but we were never miserable. We watched the trees shifting into their fall colors, vivid orange, bright yellow, and deep red mixed in with every shade of green. They stood tall, lining the river banks on either side, framing the river that was all around us. It was water that we filtered and drank, washed our dishes in, traveled on, allowed to fill our wet shoes. It became an essential part of us.

On the last night of our trip, we camped on the far shore of Chesuncook lake. There was a tiny peninsula of sorts there, and after dinner my group laid down and stargazed. The water was glassy, perfectly still, and the stars, more than I’ve almost ever seen, were reflected in it. We were suspended in a sphere of the sky, the Milky Way arching both above and below us, and we huddled together for warmth and reeled in the spectacularity and quietly pointed out shooting stars and satellites. It was beautiful, to put it simply. It was then I felt my relationship with the Penobscot River truly solidify, and I realized how much I love this land I live on, how much of a part of it I am. I am fully aware of my place in it, a connection grounded deep within the skies and the trees and the water.

Ren, Concord-Carlisle High School, Concord, MA

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