It’s November and we never thought we’d make it this far. But we did! We discovered skills and strengths that blossomed in us. We discovered new relationships, both with humans and the great outdoors. And Hog Island? It continued to rejuvenate itself.
The Hog Island crew, staff and volunteers, likewise blossomed. Friends of Hog Island launched its public digital archive site; click on the orange icon in the sidebar and take a journey to the island’s past. With the swift onset of the pandemic, Hog Island switched many of its scheduled programs to online and even added new ones, such as the Lecture Series and Tern the Page Book Club, which will happen monthly January-April 2021. Also much-needed work was completed both on the mainland and island facilities.
As if that wasn’t enough, many instructors likewise adapted by participating in Hog Island’s online programs and found the time to finish books that had been in the works. Most notable of these was Birds of Maine, the labor of love and life-long dream of Peter Vickery who passed away in 2018; it is the definitive work on Maine birds. His wife Barbara and a team of close friends were determined to finish the book.
Jean McKay, a FOHI volunteer and now Director of the Arts of Birding, published her first book The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook It is geared for those aged 10 and up – that includes us!
Yes, Scott Weidensaul has published another book, A World on the Wing. Fly along with Scott on “an epic reflection of the greatest natural phenomenon on the planet.”
All of these will make great reading over the holidays. For those who missed the off-Broadway sold-out performances of A Woman of the World in New York. Kathleen Chalfant, who played Mabel Loomis Todd, made an audio recording of the performance on Audible. Sit in a comfy chair, close your eyes, and take yourself back to Hog Island.
And our beloved volunteers, they too, kept busy, making masks and volunteering in their communities. Here in Bremen, JB Smith, FOHI trustee and volunteer, has been busy with the local WW&F narrow -gauge railroad as a fireman, engineer, and general do-whatever-is-needed volunteer.
From all of us to all of you,
have a happy and safe Thanksgiving whether it be in person or virtually.
At the beginning of this unusual and unexpected year, I was optimistic and positive that the pandemic lockdown would give us all, individually and organizationally, an opportunity to refresh, renew, rethink, revalue, rebuild, and restructure.
For me, it has done all of those things, but it has also become a time of discovery and appreciation that came from two events colliding: a personal medical event and the beta version of FOHI’s digital archive site arriving in my inbox.
Since the nonprofit incarnation of Friends of Hog Island came into being in 2010, beside providing financial and volunteer support, it promised to preserve the legacy of the Hog Island Audubon Camp, meaning its archival history — thousands of photographs, old films and other historical material that had been in closets, boxes, and cellars. Through the generosity of many, this digital archive created by HistoryIT is now weeks away from its public debut and being saved forever.
In exploring this digital archive, a grand pattern in Hog Island’s history emerges — the unwavering generosity of all those who attended its classes. Since the beginning in 1936, the Hog Island Audubon Camp and the island itself have engendered a desire for its continued existence. In 1937, a well was needed; campers rallied and gave the needed funds. In 1938, to escape chilly days and provide a gathering place, campers funded and built the Fish House. (Many of us have warm memories of singing, sharing stories, learning, dancing, and more within its wooden frame, which has changed little from the day it was built.) Then when two hurricanes caused damage to the island in 1954, campers old and new rallied to raise $10,000 to help with repairs.
Generosity further manifested itself in campers forming a group called the Friends of Hog Island at the behest of Virginia (Ginny) Cadbury in 1998. This group of campers, former staff, and friends raised even more money to pay for items to keep the camp going, including a big boat to carry campers on field trips to Egg Rock and other islands. They had no legal standing just a passion to raise needed funds for their beloved island. Because of turbulent economic times, FOHI could not prevent the camp from being transferred in 2000 to Maine Audubon, which likewise ran into continued financial difficulties resulting in the island once more being transferred back to National Audubon in 2009. Despite valiant efforts by everyone, cold reality set in: it appeared that the camp they knew was gone. It was time to go home. National Audubon would be signing over the island to another local camp.
About that time, a former camper fell in love with the moss-covered paths, the drooping lichen in the stately spruces, the Winter Wren filling the forest with its own symphony, the sense that the forest and land had witnessed so much through the centuries, the fresh air filling every cell, and the ever-present silence of nature: dripping dew, rustling leaves, lapping waves, old trees creaking.
Because of that love for the island, I moved up the road from Hog Island in the fall of 2009 from North Carolina, eager to attend camp in 2010 after hearing that Steve Kress was forging ahead with four sessions. Instead, I volunteered for six weeks including all four sessions. During that time, I learned that the camp was in imminent danger of transfer to another local camp (within 11 weeks).
Devastated and incredulous, I thought, “How can this be possible?” My former life and work experience embodied making the impossible possible. I knew little of the history of Hog Island and had no time to learn. I could only see the future of what it could and would be if only funds could be found — despite warnings that all cards and favors had been called in and that no one standing had the strength to continue a losing battle. Added to that, I was an outsider and a stranger.
I had to move fast and with laser precision. While I worked on strategy and filing 501(c)(3) forms, “Seabird” Sue Schubel worked on detailing the historical significance of the camp and Eric Snyder worked on finding the deed to the island. Just before Thanksgiving 2010, I met in New York with David Yarnold, CEO of National Audubon. Surprisingly, we found that we agreed on many things. A few days later, he asked if I would write a three-year business plan for the island and raise a $1 million in time for the May 2011 NAS board meeting. I agreed.
Fast forward to 2020. The new FOHI thrives under its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, taking care to honor its annual financial and volunteer commitments to the camp, and fulfill other needs, including solar panels, refitting the kitchen and Fish House, restoring the Bingham Cottages; the list is legion.
This historic island and camp, through the efforts of so many unsung supporters now thrives. More encouraging is that all concerned parties — National Audubon, Friends of Hog Island (old and new), and Maine Audubon have found a path of mutual respect and collaboration. Collectively, we look forward to many more years of cooperation — embracing new leadership, new audiences, new laws, new outlooks — with the goal of preserving the natural world that we all value and have discovered anew during this year of lockdown.
Such success would not have been possible without everyone who gave generously of their time and funds, without the willingness of leaders to work together, without the staff finding ways to collaborate on programs, and without the passion embodied in Hog Island’s history.
For me, the collision of two events brought time to appreciate all those before me who endured the uphill struggle to see the breathtaking view — especially Ginny Cadbury, with whom I enjoyed a three-hour animated visit and a brief exchange of correspondence. We continue to save the place we love. As David Yarnold said in 2011, Hog Island is Audubon’s “True North.”
Stay tuned for the announcement of FOHI’s archival website and be ready to likewise explore, learn, and appreciate all that has been and see the future.
And now on to more good news . . .
Despite being closed for 2020, Hog Island staff deftly switched to offering online programs for campers. All five were howling successes: two teen camps; two “family camp in a box”; and one Puffin Islands. Check out the tentative schedule for 2021 and these online sessions.
The closing of the island allows time for work on some of the infrastructure that cannot be done while camp is in session or in the cooler months. It also allows time for nature to renew itself. A few neighborhood FOHI volunteers have been weeding the gardens. The island has seen a lot of traffic from boaters exploring the island trails.
As for all our campers and FOHI volunteers, we miss your songs, your joy, your humor, and your smiling faces! Keep putting one foot in front of the other and look to the sky, birds, and nature.
Although Friends of Hog Island is a tiny nonprofit with a specialized mission to keep an 84-year-old conservation education camp in Maine — Hog Island Audubon Camp — thriving to teach and broaden the understanding of all who land on its shores about ecology and conservation, we stand firmly with Black Lives Matter.
Even the smallest organization, or one person, or one action, can influence a change.
A decade ago FOHI was fighting to keep Hog Island Camp open; as we begin our second decade, we have found ourselves in recent weeks recommending to National Audubon that the camp be closed for the season. In such an unimaginable time as this Covid-19 pandemic, difficult decisions have to be made with the safety of all in mind. To that end, Audubon has communicated the following:
Thank you for your care and commitment to the success of Hog Island Audubon Camp and our summer camp programs.
Audubon takes seriously our responsibility to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19. We have made the difficult decision to cancel Hog Island Audubon Camp programs for the summer of 2020 in order to protect the safety of our campers, volunteers and staff.
We will miss working with you to share the joy of birds with campers this year and look forward to seeing you in person as soon as we reopen.
We know it’s important to you that our campers continue to learn about the natural world. Audubon is creating resources to help our campers continue to find awe and inspiration in nature together, indoors:
Audubon for Kids is an online space available in English and Spanish that provides new, fun activities each week, including nature activities, games, quizzes, DIY projects, and more. For English, visit: “Audubon for Kids” | For Spanish, visit: “Audubon Para Niños.”
Join the Hog Island instructor team for Raptor Rapture Online to learn all about raptors from migration to nesting. Our online program features 10 presentations filmed at Hog Island and includes interactive quizzes and additional reading material. Learn more at “Raptor Rapture Online.”
FOHI volunteers had already filled up all available slots and the opening-week team was ready to go, so we know this news is disappointing. Nonetheless, we know we all want the best for the volunteers, the staff, the campers, and the island. Take this time for renewal, and take comfort in the memories past and the memories we have to make. We will be on the island again.