A choice determined long ago

klinger-120-2004.jpgTo employ the vehicle of planned giving to benefit a special place in Maine was a decision in which I had no choice and precious little say — because my gift was determined long before I arrived on the scene.

My gift was determined one summer day in 1908 when Mabel Loomis Todd, sailing Muscongus Bay with her husband, David Todd, first saw Hog Island and endeavored to buy it to safeguard its spruce and fir forests.

My choice was renewed in New York City on a spring afternoon in 1935, when Mrs. Todd’s daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, enlisted the support of the venerable National Audubon Society in creating a nature camp for adults on Hog Island — a radical concept in depression-era America, but one that opened with acclaim the following year, and has endured for nearly 70 successive summers, now under Maine Audubon’s direction.

My decision was endorsed on an August morning in 1960, when Rachel Carson and other midcoast neighbors joined Mrs. Bingham to witness her donation of Hog Island to Audubon as the Todd Wildlife Sanctuary. “Those of us whose business it is to study the American landscape … know the rarity and value of such areas,” Yale University’s Paul Sears said at that little ceremony alongside a Hog Island path. “Natural areas do not, like jewels or precious metal, remain firmly constant in amount while the generations of man increase. Instead, their abundance, size and condition change inversely in relation to human numbers.”

For me, planned giving is much like the planting of tulip bulbs before the onset of winter — the ultimate expression of faith in better things to come in spring.

Of what good — what lasting import, now — are the words and gifts of these people, without me as the living instrument of their will? In whom does the stewardship of their legacy reside, if not in me and others, compelled by posterity to make good on their initial down payment toward the common good?

For me, giving is an obligation — one cheerfully undertaken, but an obligation nonetheless, to predecessors I never knew and to successors I will never meet. It is an optimistic endorsement of all that has come before me, and all that will follow. For me, planned giving is much like the planting of tulip bulbs before the onset of winter — the ultimate expression of faith in better things to come in spring.

Maine Audubon has given me the choice of participation and involvement, as it has to all who seek to contribute to its mission of conserving Maine’s wildlife and habitat through its varied programs and activities.

But, in reality, I have no choice at all, if I am to remain true to everything that took place before I first trod down a Hog Island trail.

For even though my future bequests to Maine Audubon’s Audubon Camp at Hog Island was arrived at willingly and lovingly, its genesis was predetermined … and the consequences of my action remain a hostage to posterity.

David Klinger is president of Friends of Hog Island. He lives in rural West Virginia, and dreams of Maine.

Photo: Ryan Hagerty

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