Retracing Thoreau’s Wandering Pen

Retracing Thoreau’s Wandering Pen

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Oliva Winn, an eighth-grader at Chewonki Elementary and Middle School, won first prize for memoir in her age group in a writing contest hosted by the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine. Olivia’s essay described the four-day backpacking trip she and her Chewonki classmates undertook last fall on Mount Bigelow in western Maine. 

Backpackers will appreciate Olivia’s description of one of the last high points of the Bigelow trip: 

“After four days of hiking, I dropped my bag for the last time. I felt like I was walking on air, as I straightened my back and legs. The feeling of the sun through my shirt, no longer blocked by my heavy, blue pack, made me ecstatic. I was free again and ready to swim…As we arrived at the pond, I could feel the air. It carried the smell of water, drifting off the pond like the smell of pie floating in a kitchen. It was clear and relaxing, but also giving us a warning about just how cold the water we were about to dive into would really be…We ran in up to our waists, the water surrounding us as we splashed and bobbed…. My legs felt like they were going to turn blue, but I never thought about running for the sandy shore. I was too thrilled by the feeling of water on me after my long trip to do anything other than play. My muscles relaxed as I spun with joy.”

Every student in the school, which serves children in grades one through eight, goes on an age-appropriate outdoor adventure in the fall. The middle-schoolers’ trip to Mount Bigelow gave them a chance to encounter the wilderness first-hand, grapple with challenges, strengthen their connections to each other, gain outdoor skills, and have some wild fun. Kat Cassidy, head of the Chewonki Elementary and Middle School and teacher of the combined seventh- and eighth-grade class, also saw the trip as inspiration for students’ narrative writing.  

”I asked my students to reflect on the experience and share not only what happened but also how they felt they were meeting the Chewonki mission and our class values,” Cassidy explains. She was delighted when Olivia took first prize in the writing contest. 

“We are thrilled for her,” says Cassidy. “She did an outstanding job. All of the essays were fantastic…These students’ eloquent and thoughtful writing expressed how deeply the trip impacted them.”

The awards ceremony will take place on February 5 but Olivia has a (pleasant) scheduling conflict: “Though we all want to go and hear her read her essay and be there to support her,” Cassidy explains, “we will actually be out on our next wilderness adventure in the Maine Huts and Trails network. Oh, the life of a Chewonki student!”