Duryea Morton’s 75th Anniversary Remarks

Remarks by Duryea Morton on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Audubon Camp in Maine, Hog Island, August 21, 2011

“How natural it feels for Peggy and me to, once again, set foot on Hog Island. Our family spent the summers 1971-1977 here while I directed the Camp and Peggy assisted me with many important responsibilities behind the scenes. We are delighted to be part of the Maine Camp’s 75th Anniversary to celebrate its impact on the lives of so many people.

When Millicent Todd Bingham inherited the 300 acres, the largest portion of Hog Island, from her mother she wrote,

When I walk the woods, listen to the thrushes, spy the osprey circling overhead, or hear the boom of the Great-horned Owl at night, I can never feel that I own such a place. It seems rather the property of all who cherish this and wish to preserve it for others who can cherish it likewise in years to come.

Looking back to the Depression years of 1934 and 1935, two people, with a dream of the future, were moving along parallel tracks unable to find a kindred spirit until Robert Cushman Murphy of the Museum of Natural History in New York introduced them to each other. It was at that point that Millicent Todd Bingham met John H. Baker, the next Executive Director of the National Audubon Society.

Years later, in 1961, Mrs. Bingham wrote to John Baker and reminisced about that meeting.

From the outset our objectives were the same – to further the cause of conservation. But our immediate aims were a little different. You wanted centers of information established throughout the country, but lacked a starting point. I wanted the island for study and enlightenment toward the same end, but had no organization willing to try the experiment. Together we could make a beginning.

Last August, when I presented the Todd Wildlife Sanctuary to the National Audubon Society, your dream and mine had been fulfilled.

And so, in early June 1936, Carl Buchheister, the first Camp Director, stood on the mainland gangway and met his staff. Roger Tory Peterson and Allan Cruickshank were the only two who knew each other. The rest were unknown to one another. They weren’t strangers for long, and soon developed the nucleus of the program that, over the years, has been so successful. The camp ran through 1943. Restrictions during the Second World War closed down operations at the end of the season.

During the following two year period, in order to keep the Camp idea in the minds of Audubon members and others, a smaller version of the Maine Camp was opened at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The Audubon Camp in Maine reopened in 1946.

This summer, 2011, marks the 65th anniversary of my first part time job with the National Audubon Society. Carl Buchheister, then a Vice president of the Society and Director of the Camp, hired me as a Student Assistant to help wash dishes. I rode the overnight train, the Bar Harbor Express, from New York to Newcastle where Mr. B, as we called him then, met me. And like you, my breath was taken away when we drove around the corner at the top of Nash’s hill and I saw Muscongus Bay for the first time.

Operating the camp that summer was very difficult. The war had caused major shortages of supplies and food. Because I had just returned from service with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy, had a Drivers License, and could drive a car with a stick shift, I was asked to drive Carl’s wife, Harriet, all over the state of Maine to scrounge food for the Camp. Every other day, all summer long, we took the Society’s old pre-war wooden station wagon and drove to different locations to collect a few heads of lettuce at a farmer’s roadside stand, some canned goods at a small food store, and bread, at yet, another location. Meat was very scarce so we ate lots of fish that summer. Campers and staff all had to bring their Food Ration Books and at least half a pound of sugar so the cooks could do a limited amount of baking and there would still be enough for cereal and coffee. The only candy available at that time was a box of colored, chewy bits, with not much flavor, called, JuJubees. The Armed Services still had priority on all other items of candy. During the food searching expeditions Mrs. Buchheister recounted the early history of the camp and at one point, mentioned that when the camp opened in 1936, the food budget for the season was $350!

There is no question that, that summer, here on Hog Island, under Carl Buchheister’s inspiring leadership influenced my life to follow a course that included 22 years of full-time employment with the National Audubon Society. One of my most important responsibilities during that time was the administration of the four Audubon Camps. In addition, I had the opportunity to direct, for a total of 14 summers, two of the four camps, Connecticut and Maine.

Carl created the Student Assistant program and subsequent Directors followed his lead. High school and college boys, and later girls, interested in natural history were selected to join the camp staff as volunteers in exchange for participating in the program and the opportunity to study with an instructor on a special project. They worked the necessary hours doing basic chores to make the camp function. Well into the 1960’s, as a surprise at the end of the summer, the Director would give each Student Assistant a check for $25. Believe me, when I say that, in the early days, that was a very big deal.

The roster of Student Assistants at Maine and the other camps is long and impressive. Many have held positions of responsibility in the federal government or in private conservation organizations. Some are university professors of science or biology, others are teachers of conservation or ecology. Whatever their future profession, all Student Assistants carry the Maine Camp experience in their hearts and minds and continue to spread the message.

In 1995 when enrollment at the camp was dwindling, several former staff members and campers organized The Friends of Hog Island. From its early days of fund raising to the activities of the present, FOHI has grown and assumed a substantial role in the future of the Hog Island. Now, under the leadership and skills of Juanita Roushdy, the future is very bright.

What is it that has caused so many people to become inspired to help?

First, the setting is idyllic. Carl wrote that,

This island like most Maine islands is one of ineffable beauty. Spruce and Balsam Firs, great sheer forests growing straight and tall and limbless, their needled branches joining over the top to form a green canopy. In the world of subdued light and silence below, the only sound is the waves on the shore. One walks noiselessly on a deep, soft carpet of needles passing now and then outcroppings of rocks covered with lichens and mosses. Here, one senses a quality quite different from a mainland forest. Here, one has a feeling of apartness, of aloneness, of being in a small self contained, finite world at once insulated and bounded by the sea. This was the island feeling. A sense of wonder that I was to experience every time I visited a Maine island.

Second, the program at the Camp was designed around the idea that every participant is a teacher either in the classroom or in the family unit. Although there have been slight alterations over the years, the goal of introducing every camper to the importance of ecological literacy, using the coast of Maine as a living laboratory, has never changed. Based on Carl’s experience and expertise, the Maine Camp staff viewed every session as a play. The curtain rose when the campers arrived and went down when they departed. Every program, every trip, and every event was planned so there would be a series of climaxes which led to the next scene in the story of Muscongus Bay. The activities were consciously programmed to raise the ecological and emotional awareness of the participants. Enthusiasm, spontaneity, a sense of fun, and a common goal, were the ingredients. The simple, quiet, natural rhythms of this enchanted island stir ancient connections to the land which are hidden deep in our hearts; the sounds of lobster boats in the early morning, rainy evenings, the wake up bell, the smell of hay-scented fern and of mudflats, the uneasy feeling as you first step out across rockweed, the silence of fog, and the measured pace of island living, quietly steal into our minds and, without knowing how or why, – we have slowed down and given ourselves breathing space to unselfconsciously explore this wondrous world with child-like, wide-eyed excitement.

As the Society’s first field educational program this Camp has always set the tone for all subsequent Audubon teaching programs. Indeed Maine is the Flagship of the Audubon Camps, or as Carl often said, “The Mother Church.”

Staff is the key. They are drawn here by a common bond to share their knowledge and appreciation of the outdoors with the campers. The staff become part of a great tradition of quality which characterizes the National Audubon Society and particularly the Audubon Camp in Maine. They embrace a heritage which has influenced the lives of all who have taken part – and they have an unparalleled opportunity to maintain and add to these traditions. Very few people are in a position during their lifetime to shape the minds and actions of others in such a positive manner.

It is important to remember that the success of the Camp can never be measured in dollars and cents, for the participants have experienced, not only growth of knowledge, but an emotional awakening or reawakening as well. Intangibles are difficult to quantify because, while in some cases the response is immediate, in others, the response may take months or years to surface. But have no doubt, the staff and campers have all been touched by the spark of Hog Island and are changed for life.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who came before us and who have inspired and guided us. Countless dedicated staff members and volunteers have put their creativity, knowledge and energy into all phases of the program. How lucky we are to have been part of this grand experiment and mission.

As we carry on our lives in the future, remember the inner feelings and rich history we all share. Remember, too, that in these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to recognize that there is reassurance in the cycles of life; the ebb and flow of the tides, the succession of the seasons, the sunrise and the sunset, for they provide our strength and our beacon. What better place to reaffirm our commitment to these truths and the glorious potential of this program, than on Hog Island at the Audubon Camp in Maine on its 75th birthday.”