Scholarship Reflections

Emily Schoenberger

Partners in the Parks Reflection Essay

September 4th, 2018

Together, we climbed rung ladders up mountains. We “showered” in Echo Lake.I knew from the twelve hour drive – completed alone, with only a bushel of green grapes and a bag of pretzels for company – that this week in Maine would be transformative. Already, I had to push myself further than I’d gone before (twelve hours of driving by yourself is a lot). When I thought about what I was driving toward, part of me wanted to speed up, get there sooner, while another part of me wanted to pull a U-turn right there in the middle of Interstate 95 and high-tail it back to Pennsylvania.

After a night at the Comfort Inn in Portland, I met the group with which I would be spending the next seven days in a parking lot the next morning. Although not intended to be, the entire group consisted of women. This made me wary – I could envision the cliques that might form, the cattiness that might spread in such close quarters. How could I know that over the course of only a few days, these women would become close friends who left me inspired by their kindness, hilarity, and personal stories?

We built campfires and made s’mores and walked to the sea wall for sunset. We were
seasick together. We saw a humpback whale breach. We lived in luxury for an afternoon in Bar Harbor, indulging in iced coffees and gourmet ice cream and tacky souvenirs. We suffered through rainy nights and wet tents, hanging our sleeping bags to dry on picnic tables the next morning. We built a trail with park rangers, wheel barrow after wheel barrow of dirt and gravel and moss.

We also took time to learn from ourselves and others. We discussed environmental ethics, bunched together under a tarp while rain poured on all sides. We considered environmental justice. We learned about the history of Acadia, of the National Parks System, came to understand why it’s so important and why such treasures much be preserved. Afterward we ran in the rain.

However, the memories I think of most fondly are not those in which we were together as an entire group, but rather small moments with individuals. Sitting atop a rock on the shore, watching the sunset and talking about the strengths and shortcomings of our college experience with two women I never would have guessed could be so much like me. Daring to touch the edge of Cadillac Mountain with my tent-mate, our feet dangling below. Comparing reading progress with an English major as we read in camp chairs every morning and encouraged each other to finish our books by the end of the week.

As I get older, there are fewer opportunities to create friendship out of nothing, to meet someone one morning and be best pals by the end of the day. My Partners in the Parks experience was like kindergarten – it took all but twenty four hours for me to feel like I had great friends surrounding me. Together, we embarked on adventures which tested our personal limits and opened our minds and hearts to all the park had to offer. We accepted our ignorance in the face of nature and agreed to learn about the world together. We decided to be kindergartners.