Maverick Notes

Van BurenAfter experiencing my fourth, and final, field studies at Riverdale High School, I’ve found it challenging to sum up what spending a week with your classmates and teachers outside of the classroom is like.

I embarked on new adventures with familiar friends; I felt uncomfortable but was later comforted; I learned new things that I will never forget; I laughed about things I will surely forget. As I begin to close my four years of high school, I realize that field studies reflect just what these years have meant to me.

Field studies at Riverdale are weeklong learning trips to locations around Oregon that have different focuses and themes. Each trip departs the week before spring break and involves a service learning aspect either before departure or during the week. Traditionally in their senior year, students sign up for a geological hiking trip in southeastern Oregon. This year, 20 seniors, myself included, traveled six hours by bus to Lake County’s Summer Lake, more of a sprawling pond into a salt flat, no more than 15 feet at its deepest.

Situated at the bottom of a basin featuring mountains as walls we would later climb, the lake is a reminder of a much larger body of water that occupied the crater in the latest glacial melt. On the surrounding mountains, which went as far as the eye could see, were geological timelines — lines within the rock that captured where the water level was at one point in time.

On our first full day, we crossed a cattle ranch to hike up one of the nearby cliffs. We followed a natural ridge towards the top, a mix of climbing and crumbling as rock piles held one and then gave way to another. At 4,800 feet in elevation, we ate lunch overlooking the entire basin. It was the nicest day of the trip, with clear sunshine all around and the warm high desert air. Awaiting us after an afternoon of hiking, and the only incentive to leave such a beautiful view, were natural hot springs, which form at the edge of the lake. On the property where we were staying, a bathhouse, which circulates the spring water, became somewhat of a sanctuary, albeit a smelly one, from the dust and wind. It was sulphuric and lavish all at the same time.

Later that night, we bunked in tents out under the stars. We soon stopped romanticizing though, for Summer Lake showed us her infamous winds. Around three in the morning, we ran for the ranch house, dragging our sleeping pads and bags along to spend the remainder of the night inside. This experience was somewhat fortuitous though. Right when I stuck my head out from my tent during the wind fiasco, I saw the biggest, brightest shooting star that streaked gold and orange across the midnight sky, captivating the whole of my attention for three, still seconds. It amazes me how infinitely small the chances of me seeing the shooting star were, and I was sure to count it as lucky.

The next day, we took a bus to see two geological phenomena. First, we drove to Christmas Valley, the site of Crack in the Ground, an explorable fissure resembling its name. We scrambled, a mix of hiking and bouldering, through the cavernous walls, using each other for support during icy stretches. After lunch, we traveled to Fort Rock, appropriately named for its fortress-like appearance. Once again, we were blessed with good weather, which gave way to great attitudes as we approached the behemoth ahead of us. We hiked through its valley up to a peak on the left-side brim. Not much of a heights person, I would never have thought to climb to the highest point on Fort Rock, and I couldn’t have done it without all the encouragement of those beside me.

The view was spectacular, an endless desert flat beneath us and the world at our feet. I couldn’t help but feel like I was looking out beyond my future after Riverdale. Around me were those who helped me get there: teachers, study buddies, friends — a family. Like our unifying week at Summer Lake, we got to the top of every small boulder and tall peak together in high school: theory of knowledge discussions to rock identification quizzes, midterm exams to art project finals. As we posed for a group picture, I realized how grateful I am for my high school relationships.

Field studies allowed me to step back from the physicality of high school life: the building, doorways and lockers. Riverdale High School is not just a building or a name; it’s knowing someone will pull you through icy stretches in a cavern and cheer for you as you brave new heights and challenges. By losing myself in “Oregon’s outback,” I found the family that’s been with me through this amazing journey.

Eleanor is a senior at Riverdale High School. She writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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