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.

Partners in discovery

Hog Island. The Audubon Camp in Maine.

The mere mention of these names brings an instant flood of memories of special people, scenes, and life-changing events which remain with me no matter where I roam on this planet. For me, and others like me, Hog Island was the first real introduction to the “Audubon Family,” that mix of Audubon members, program staff, and others from Maine to Hawaii who have a shared passion for the natural world and who respond with a knowing smile or nod when you wax enthusiastic about a warbler, puffin, or mushroom sighting on Muscongus Bay or some other natural spot. These members of the “Audubon Family” are kindred spirits, not only in exploring, enjoying, and wondering at the marvels of the natural world, but also in seeking knowledge about the processes and flow of human experiences. Hog Island provides a wonderful place to look inward as well as outward.

He turned to me and said, “I can’t believe that I’ve been around for fifty years and never knew that all this existed!”

For some of us, our experiences on Hog Island have had a significant impact on our professional lives by sparking an interest in teaching, conservation action, or research, or in renewing our spirit to return to our work with new energy and dedication. Often this inspiration came through interaction with one or more staff members or special guests during our sessions. I, for example, was privileged to hear inspiring presentations by former Audubon president Carl Buchheister, renowned ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson, and more recently, teachers and researchers such as Steve Kress. These people have provided me a mixture of historical perspective, technical knowledge, natural history, and poetry drawn from the rich inspiration of the natural world.

It was through my first involvement with the Camp in Maine in 1974 that I came to know Duryea Morton, then camp director and Vice-President for Education for the National Audubon Society. I vividly remember Dur’s way of interweaving the inspirational writings of Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder into his opening night slide program on the beauties of Hog Island and Muscongus Bay for the newly-arrived campers. In particular, Dur stressed the need for each child in the world to have at least one adult to be a companion in the exploration and appreciation of the natural world, and that image has remained with me ever since.

During one of my first summers working with Dur, a father and daughter came to the camp, at the daughter’s request, as a celebration of her graduation from college. Several days after their arrival, I was on a boat trip with the father, a business executive in his fifties. Midway through that trip, he turned to me and said, “I can’t believe that I’ve been around for fifty years and never knew that all this existed!” Since then, this event has reminded me that sometimes adults need “child-like” experiences in the natural world to help support and sustain their own “sense of wonder,” particularly if their own childhoods were not rich in natural adventures or experienceshas.

Following three summer seasons as a bird life instructor at Hog Island, I was hired for a position at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, working as a teacher/naturalist during the school year and director of the Audubon Ecology Workshop for teachers during the summer months. Over the 23 years I have worked with those programs, not a week has gone by when I haven’t drawn upon lessons and inspirations I received during my time at the Camp in Maine. In many cases, our programs have enabled urban teachers to enjoy “childlike” experiences in natural settings, helping them to be more aware and better prepared to be partners in discovery of the natural world with their own students.

Luckily for me, I have been able to return to Hog Island periodically to lend a hand as an instructor for ornithology or family camp sessions. These opportunities have continued to prove how regenerative this special place can be. This past summer, during the family camp, while I was working with campers ranging in age from 9 to 69+, I watched once again, with pleasure, as Hog Island’s unique setting and natural wonders brought to life Rachel Carson’s words about the importance of sharing and sustaining a sense of wonder in both the young and the old.

Ted Gilman first came to the Maine Camp in 1974 as an ornithology instructor. When he wrote this essay in Fall 1999, he was working for NAS as education director at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.