I've never really believed in magic. Not since I was a little kid, anyway. But if ever there has been a time that it has existed, tonight is surely it.
The sun is beginning to set in the western sky. The bottoms of the clouds are a perfectly flat ceiling overhanging the north, south and west. The rest of the clouds reach upwards into an endless azure sky deepening to cobalt then midnight blue in the east. The full moon has cleared the horizon and the surface of Big Donahue Lake elongates its form as the faint ripples from our drifting rowboat break its outline into hundreds of exquisite, fluctuating crests of pale yellow reflections and troughs of deep blue lake water. The sun grows lower as we watch, the cloud-ceiling catching its pink and orange light. The trees in the bog stand silhouetted against the brilliant sunset. The beauty is doubled by the mirror upon which we float, whose reflection perfectly recreates every last beautiful detail. We sit there with one of our favorite books held between us, taking turns reading aloud David James Duncan’s superb writing from The River Why.
A loon surfaces a stone’s throw away from our boat. Now we see another loon, flying in from the northwest. It makes several wide circles around us before straightening its flight into a line that passes not twenty feet away from us, then alights on the water with a noisy crash-landing that, somehow, still comes off as graceful. We freeze. We don’t want to scare them off. Five minutes pass. Then, they dance. They dip their heads, dive, turn in circles, raise their bills skyward, flap their wings all in perfect unison.
Another five minutes pass. Now the loons begin to swim straight towards our boat. We are both thinking the same thing: Don’t move a muscle. Neither of us does as they approach closer, then dance again, then keep swimming towards us. We hold our breath as they swim closer and closer. Surely they are going notice us and turn back! But they don’t. They swim right by us, less than ten feet from the boat. With their red eyes, dagger bills, and checkered backs, this pair of huge birds a paddle-length away from us are a breathtaking reminder of the wildness of the Northwoods.
After the longest, most beautiful half-minute of my life they swim away, and we see that it's time to paddle back to shore. The sun and moon are even more beautiful than before as we beach our boat for the night.
Tonight I was truly able to appreciate this “gift from James R. Lowenstein.” As we rowed to shore I was thinking, We are so lucky to live here, in such a beautiful place. I hoped that this place would remain here in all of its surreal beauty, forever. And many more places like it. Though, I think, no place can quite compare to the beauty of Lowenwood. The place that we all have the fortune to live in for a semester of our lives; lives that will be, and indeed already have been, changed from our experiences here.
A friend asked me a few weeks ago, “If you were to describe Conserve School in one word, what would it be?” and I didn’t know the answer to her question. But now I do.