On Wednesday, Sept. 7, 26 students and four adult chaperones from the Watershed School in Rockland embarked on their annual canoe trip down the St. George River.

Every year, the entire student body gathers at Ayer Park in Union, where they begin their four day, three-night journey downriver, an outdoor adventure designed to establish a spirit of cooperation, appreciation, and camaraderie between classmates and their teachers. In rising to meet the challenges of maneuvering a group of 13 canoes down the river safely, and in accepting the shared responsibility of group travel and leave no trace practices, the community sets the tone for their upcoming year together.

This year, the group was met with challenging weather conditions at the outset. Paddling all day in a steady rain, they made their way through Seven Tree Pond and White Oak Pond, admiring the silver maples lining the shores of the river along the way. Damp conditions did not dampen spirits, however, and day one ended with songs around the comforting warmth of a campfire on Vaughn’s Neck in Warren. Day two began with more rain and a difficult portage around the falls at Payson Park, but the group was rewarded later in the day with the truly incredible sight of the largest concentration of bald eagles anyone in the group had ever seen, just below Warren in the salt marshes of Thomaston.

Day three dawned bright and clear, and as the paddlers departed from Hyler Cove, the widening river greeted them with new challenges and opportunities. The expansion of the river meant wider views, a greater tidal influence, higher exposure to the wind, and an introduction to the important concepts of fetch and lee shores. Wavier conditions meant more challenging paddling, but the wind generating the waves provided the opportunity for some improvised sailing! Gunnelling up, students formed a raft, and using canoe paddles, a couple of large tarps, and tent poles, created a sail that sped them across and downriver. When the group arrived at Gay Island in Cushing, their final overnight destination, a celebratory and jovial mood prevailed, as students well-practiced in camp craft set up tents, prepared for the evening meal, then enjoyed the afternoon sun, each other’s company, and for some, a refreshing swim.

Paddling home on day four against a headwind and the outgoing tide presented a final challenge for the group, which was met with the well-earned congratulation and welcome of family and friends at the Meduncook River boat access in Friendship. Despite the sense of urgency engendered by conditions, time was taken for reflection on the last morning, upon the multiple definitions of “watershed” and how each individual’s experience of this trip would help define Watershed’s learning community for 2011-2012. Upon the river that gives definition to the geographic watershed in which they learn and grow, Watershed students began to redefine, as they do each year, their vision for the Watershed School.

Watershed, based in the Lincoln Street Center, is still accepting students for the current year. The school is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and is a Maine State Approved School. For more information, please contact: 594-1873 or go to watershed-school.org.