Hog Island, a “most royal spot”

I’ve just returned from giving a book talk at one of the most magical places on earth. Mabel called it, “a most royal spot.” Millicent referred to it once as “this blessed island.” Bart Cadbury, a former director of the Hog Island Audubon Camp, called it “a place of the heart.” Anyone who’s been there understands why.

Of course this is the island that Mabel saw one summer in the early part of the 20th century and became determined to purchase to save it from being decimated by loggers. This is the island that Millicent set about to save for all times by getting the Audubon Society to take stewardship of it. And this is the island that another visionary and determined woman named Juanita Roushdy decided to help save, once again, when Audubon felt that the financial demands of all the deferred maintenance had become too great and that running the camp would not be sustainable into the future. Juanita revitalized fundraising, wrote a business plan, developed and activated a well of volunteers who’d been touched by their own Hog Island experience. Three times this island has been saved by strong women who intrinsically knew its worth.

Mabel, David and Millicent on Hog Island
The boulder dedicating the Todd Wildlife Sanctuary you can find in the middle of the woods on Hog Island

It’s hard to put into words what makes this place so special. There’s something about the towering pines and spruce, about the spray of salt in the air, about the enormous variety of avian life that swoops by that make it feel pristine. But Hog Island is just off the coast of Bremen, Maine – and I do mean just off the coast:  you could literally swim across, easily, if the water wasn’t so cold. (And I did hear a story last night about how, years ago, the Cadbury children were told that they first had to demonstrate that they could swim the distance before they were allowed to go across in their own dorys, before the age of mandatory life jackets!) To have this wilderness in a contained 330 acres, so close to the mainland but feeling so removed, is part of its allure.

Another thing that makes Hog Island so special is the sense of renewal you get from being there. Millicent probably summed it up best in a talk she gave to Hog Island campers in 1950:

I wanted just to say that I think the thing that was to me, the most inspiring, in all the years I was trying to save this island, was when I had been turned down innumerable times and I saw no way, at all, out, that I went out into the forest and I heard a great horned owl. It was a marvelous night — a midsummer night with a full moon and no mosquitoes, at all — I suddenly said to myself, ‘Why am I trying to save this island? The island is the thing that can do far more for us than we can ever think of doing for it.’ So I turned directly about and with that thought in mind, that this island was something which was a heritage for the future …– which must be preserved for the people who come after.

And the other thing that makes Hog Island so incredibly special is the way people feel about it, universally. This brings them together in unique ways. For example, at a number of the book talks I’ve given in different locations, people have come up to me afterwards and told me about their own Hog Island connections: that they were campers there, or had been there as a child, or had volunteered there. Everyone says the same thing: “It’s an incredibly special place.” Here’s the way Millicent described the reaction of folks who’d been at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in the early days:

But it is this sense of dedication and this complete devotion, which is the thing that is characteristic of this camp. It takes people from the many different places, as you all come from, with as many different interests that makes you into one great family that will go out and spread this gospel, I could almost call it, to every little community from which you have come.

And that’s exactly what people do.

The annual Hog Island work week at which I just spoke drew people from across the country. I met people who’d traveled from California and Colorado, from Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as from across New England. They were all drawn back by this “most royal spot.”

Here’s how I concluded my talk at Hog Island last night:

Let me just end my remarks this evening by saying that there are probably few things that would please Mabel and Millicent more than knowing about the important work that Bart and Ginny Cadbury did in helping to ensure that the Friends of Hog Island existed, and the work Juanita Roushdy and others have done in ensuring that this organization has become such a vital force in maintaining this incredibly special place. The fact that you are all here this week is but one testament to the vision of Hog Island that the Todds had long ago; you are its embodiment.

photo by Jeremy Vale

To find out more about Hog Island, its history and programs, check out the Friends of Hog Island website.

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