Community at Hog Island

Diana Villanueva Romero, of Madrid, Spain, is a PhD candidate in Modern Languages with a specialty in American Literature from the University of Alcalá, Spain. She has further focused her work on poetry and has done extensive study on American writer Alison H. Deming.

Why in the world would a Spaniard be willing to cross the Atlantic at the end of August and head for the tiny piece of land that is Hog Island for only one week? Was something special going on there that she just couldn’t miss?

Hog Island is a good place to develop the ecological mind, to be one with others and be aware of the immensity of nature’s work.

Yes, there was. It was an opportunity to attend the Nature Literature and Journaling session, which is precisely the subject I have been studying for the past two years in graduate school in Spain.

In 2000, when the American organization Friends of Thoreau established its European program at the Institute of North American Studies of the University of Alcalá (Madrid) where I work, I began collaborating with them due to my interest in American Nature Writing. This year they awarded me a grant to attend the Audubon Camp in Maine so that I could combine the formal training that any program entails with the experience of living in a natural reserve surrounded by people who shared my interest in nature.

I must admit that reality went beyond my expectations in a number of ways. But perhaps the element that contributed the most to my enjoyment of the camp was the sense of camaraderie among the staff at the Audubon Camp. This helped all of us campers to feel that we were part of a community of people interested in making the best out of our time in the woods near the sea, away from urban distractions, and led us to observe ourselves and the beauty of nature around us.

Back home in Spain, I have tried to include that good feeling of community with my surroundings in my work, and it does work to think in communal terms instead of individual. Perhaps one of the elements of the ecological mind, as poet Gary Snyder puts it, is the realization that wherever we go we can be part of a community. Daily tasks acquire a wider meaning if we look at them from this perspective. At the same time, we do not feel isolated but part of a larger being: family, planet Earth. Hog Island is a good place to develop this ecological mind, to be one with others and be aware of the immensity of nature’s work.

That is why I am now working on my own personal island to share with others, even though I am back in Spain and, in fact, live on no island.

Diana adds that for more information on The Friends of Thoreau’s European Program see <www2.uah.es/iuen/friends_of_thoreau/fthoreau.htm>

Lasting images of Family Camp

For each of us, our time on Hog Island is unique. We bring our individual combinations of expectations and hopes, feelings and passions, knowledge of the natural world, personal challenges, and thoughts and concerns from home.

The week at camp gave the boy’s grandmother a chance to share in the glow of his youthful enthusiasm.

As we settle into our Hog Island experiences, there are certain elements which begin to touch us all: the rich natural beauty of the place, abundant wildlife and plant life, amazing night skies, the cycle of the tides, the peacefulness, Janii’s delicious food, and a community of like-minded, caring people who want to experience, learn, and share more about the wonders of the natural environment.

It is this setting that provides the opportunities for golden experiences to take place for us as individuals and in partnership with other family members. Some of them are shared with other people; some are probably quiet personal experiences which we Camp staff members never know about.

As an instructor in the Family Camp program, I have many lasting images which remain with me from the special shared experiences which I have participated in and/or observed as the programs have unfolded. I would like to share two of these with you.

The first was not particularly focused on the natural history of Hog Island. Instead, it was when a father reported to me that the night before, when he was very tired and ready to go to bed, his middle-school-aged son came to him and said he wanted to talk. Resisting his exhaustion, this father gratefully received this special gift of his son seeking him out to sort out some of his feelings about life. Apparently they had a good long talk. Being in a safe, spectacular environment, where they could share special experiences and have a breather from everyday life, helped to create a mood where they could come together and get a new perspective on life.

The other special memory involved a grandparent watching her grandson blossom in his knowledge and skills in a passion for learning about the world of birds. I clearly remember this boy because he became my ‘shadow’ for the week, accompanying me on early morning bird walks, boat trips, and a field trip to a marsh on the mainland. He had a steady stream of questions and requests to find out more about various birds he was encountering on and around Hog Island.

At one point, in the middle of the week, we went to the Queen Mary laboratory to examine study skins. The young man was impressed to touch specimens of birds, some of which he had seen around Camp. This week with this boy was a chance for his grandmother to share in the glow of his youthful enthusiasm and it was a chance for me to pay back the many patient and knowledgeable mentors who shared their time and experience with me when I was his age.

The wonderful gift here came from the grandmother who, knowing of her grandson’s interest in birds, brought him to a place where that interest could be nurtured and where they could both be part of the learning adventure.

As I watch people take their last boat trip to the mainland at the end of their Family Camp program, I can see them look back at Hog Island as they reminisce about the special experiences which they have shared. But I think that I can also see them look ahead to future adventures and learning which will grow from this special time of coming together in new ways in the nurturing community of Hog Island’s Family Camp.

The tradition continues

The summer of 2001 demonstrated the continuing tradition of an exciting teaching program in natural history, ecology, and conservation at the Audubon Camp in Maine. Especially significant to me were the FOHI Work/Study session, two additional weeks on the teaching staff, and working with a changing leadership team of the Friends of Hog Island.

The camp continues to attract campers with serious concerns about the environment

The work/study week was the camp’s first experiment in this type of session. We found that returning to Hog Island to invest effort and talent to the cause generated a level of enthusiasm and commitment that was exciting, gratifying, and contagious! Planning and support of staff guided participants to accomplish more than had been expected. We filled our week with a blend of hard work, field trips, great food, and conversations about how best to help the camp continue to grow. I believe we all look forward eagerly to next year’s work/study week, and an alumni effort that grows in effectiveness.

This summer, Seth invited me to join the teaching staff for the two natural history weeks. Of course I was thrilled to return to a teaching role I had last played there over 30 years ago! After observing the entire camp experience for two whole weeks, I was impressed that the camp continues to attract campers with serious concerns about the environment, still employs a dedicated, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic staff, and still presents the Audubon cause appropriately in the framework of today’s scale and array of environmental concerns.

Lastly, I want to indicate my appreciation of the camp staff, the representatives of the Maine Audubon Society, and the current FOHI leadership. After several years on the executive committee of FOHI, Bart and Ginny Cadbury now add their valued experience and perspective as members of the Advisory Committee. David Klinger and Tom Schaefer are vice presidents of FOHI for the coming year, while Tom continues to edit Across The Narrows. Betsy Cadbury continues to provide valuable skills as secretary. FOHI will surely profit from the breadth and advice of this expanded leadership team, and the coming year promises to offer exciting opportunities to help support the Audubon Camp in Maine.

To taste every morsel

I study the small tightly wrapped pine cone in the palm of my hand and think about my week of work and study on Hog Island — a week that brought a group of people together to support an historic summer camp. We worked and studied and in one week became community.

DSCN0051.jpgI first began to sense there was a story in the camp kitchen of this unique island when I attended the Hog Island Summer Camp for Families with my husband and oldest daughter in 2000. I am an early riser and discovered that I could get coffee in the Bridge. Each morning as the sun rose, I conversed with the camp “cookie,” Janii Laberge. And with other campers continuously exclaiming about Janii’s food, a desire to write about the food of this place began to churn in my mind. Upon returning home, I wrote a personal account of our most astonishing experience on Hog Island and stowed it away.

Winter brought the 2001 Audubon Camp in Maine brochure. New this year was a “work/study” opportunity at the camp on Hog Island. Len agreed willingly to join me. My personal mission was creating a cookbook. We arrived on the island this time without the weak joints and uncertainty of our first visit. We felt like experienced Hog Island campers and quickly found our room in the Port Hole. The week continued with a rapid pace of work/study and culminated in Janii’s traditional lobster feast.

During the week, Janii welcomed me and other work/study volunteers into his world of the kitchen. What I learned should not have surprised me. For one thing, he does not write down recipes. “You are forced to make measurements when you tell someone how to do something,” he says. His cooking process comes from deep within and, like his life, is always evolving and changing. He carries with him the details of the cooking process that he feels will be useful to the process ahead.

Janii’s food preparation reflects the love affair that he has with the natural bounty of the earth. On any particular morning he will offer freshly prepared fruit, oatmeal, and granola along with toast, French toast, or pancakes. Eggs also emerge as scrambled, coddled, hard boiled or soft-boiled, depending on his mood.

Janii’s food preparation reflects the love affair that he has with the natural bounty of the earth.

Janii greets me with blues eyes twinkling and a grin and, during this work/study week, tells me to get an apron. His tie-dyed, hand-crafted aprons in a variety of colors reflect his inspiration and artistry. Some colors appear to be bleeding, so before the week is over he soaks them in the ocean water hoping the salty content will set the colors.

As I begin my tour of kitchen work I am instructed in the ways of the kitchen. “Waste” from food preparation is divided into two categories: that retained for another recipe where leftovers are thought of as meal starters, or that added to the island compost. Cardboard, plastic, and glass are separated for recycling on the mainland. Nothing is to go down the drain except water because of the fragile nature of the island disposal system. Thus I learn how Janii’s kitchen is an integral part of the Hog Island ecosystem.

Every morning at 4:30, a breakfast menu that has been festering in Janii’s mind takes form. This morning he is preparing pancakes and blueberry sauce from fresh berries. He commences to make the pancake batter. I ask him the recipe and he says, “Let me see. Seven cups of pastry flour, 3 cups of regular flour, 1 1/2 cups of wheat flour, and 1/2 cup of corn meal.” He adds five eggs separated but, “no dairy so two cups of apple juice. A splash of vanilla … about one second’s worth.” He has been scraping a nutmeg and comments, “and one half a nutmeg.” He pauses. “But when I get to the center I usually eat it.” He pops it into his mouth with a boyish grin.

I whisk the egg whites and pour them over the other ingredients in his bowl. “I’m using five eggs because that is all I have left,” he remarks. He continues, “I cook by intuition — you can awaken intuition. It leads to personal revolution. I see work as play, and that is how it should be. Life cannot be diagrammed or there would be no mystery.” He then goes off to add cornstarch to the blueberries.

As today’s breakfast preparation nears completion, Janii says to all of us who are listening, “The main thing in life is to taste every morsel — bitter and sweet. They are both components of life.”

And again Janii says something profound that leaves me silent.

Invested in the island

At the end of the 2001 annual meeting, then-FOHI president Art Borror was ready to gavel the meeting adjourned when Jean Fisher, a work/studier from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, asked to have the floor. What follows here are Jean’s thoughts on her first FOHI Work/Study experience.

I am here representing the entire group of participants in the 2001 Friends of Hog Island Work/Study Week. This was the first session of this program, and thus we are the first alumni, so to speak.

We suddenly realize that we are mentally and emotionally invested in Hog Island in ways we never dreamed possible.

Most of us are alumni of past study programs here on Hog Island, but a few of us are new to Audubon camp experience. All of us have come to appreciate the beauty of the Maine coast and the uniqueness of the Hog Island camp.

As the week is ending and we prepare to return to our homes far and near, we suddenly realize that we are mentally and emotionally invested in Hog Island in ways we never dreamed possible. We, each in his or her time, will remember sighting a new bird, hearing an animal or bird call for the first time, facing a new physical challenge, and feeling the sheer pleasure of a new experience, meeting new friends, eating outstanding food, and accomplishing tasks, often as a team member, that benefited the camp. In months to come, we will think of the jobs we did and wonder, “How is that flower bed developing, how is the paint job holding up, didn’t I learn this technique in the kitchen of Hog Island, or gee, if I had just had this tool I could have done such and such!”

We will remember staff members and how each earnestly and enthusiastically gave of him or herself in sharing their knowledge and love of nature. We will also remember the thanks given to us by staff and Friends association members for the work we were able to do towards the maintenance of the camp.

It is through these work projects that we are particularly invested in Hog Island, its development and future success in its mission. In addition, this first group of Friends of Hog Island Work/Study session would like to donate the sum of $150 towards this mission.