As the dust settles and our towels dry, we look back on our week spent paddling the Swedish lakes with awe and gratitude. Both in equal parts for the earth and water that have so gracefully carried us along our way, providing channels for us to move, wood for us to warm our bodies and cook our food and ground on which to rest at the end of each nearly endless day. And again, both gratitude and awe in equal parts for the 12th grade students from Steinerschool Gent (Belgium) and the teachers that have supported their becoming. Their courage to face the world, their physical and mental strength, their care and consideration of one another and their environment, their humor and spirit and their willingness to paddle into the unknown has been humbling to witness and an inspiration to stand beside.
The first days we spent getting used to our paddles, feeling how the shape of the canoes worked with the water, pushing, pulling and splitting through the calm, glassy lakes. Each day our understanding of currents, waves and winds deepened. Day by day making camp became a rhythm; gathering wood, striking a fire and preparing the meal, learning which types of wood can be used to create different kinds of fire.
Day three was spent on foot getting perspective over the landscape and witnessing the magic of the Swedish forests. One example of this presented itself in the form of a full grown female Moose whose curiosity allowed her to linger for a while, sniffing the air and looking back at us as we observed in silence.
On day four the winds arrived creating waves on the lakes that required a different kind of attention and focus. Not wanting to be caught broadside, we learned to zig-zag with the wind along the shoreline, studying the patterns on the water so as to be prepared for the inevitable gusts that attempted to turn us sideways. Here we stuck together, looking forward and backward to make sure that all were safe.
Day five brought us wind-whipped and tired through the village of Gnesta where we experienced how it felt to be suddenly surrounded by brick and concrete and glass – an experience so common in our daily lives, and yet so foreign in that moment.
Our closing happened after the canoes were emptied, cleaned and returned, in a quiet place in the forest next to the brackish fjärd, the mixing of the fresh waters we had paddled to those of the open Baltic Sea. We spoke to the transition the students were in from the safety and rhythm of school-life to the openness and unknown of what lay beyond, honoring the threshold on which they were standing.