Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Camp Mavooshen

One of my New Year’s commitments to self and community was to gear up my work on The Dressy Adventuress, my book on the Nature side of Mabel Loomis Todd, the first editor of the Emily Dickinson poetry.  And I must report, so far, so good

And as a way to handle two things at once (I hesitate writing ‘killing two birds with one stone’ in this scenario), I thought I would publish monthly book progress in the same blog entry posted on both my blogs, The Back Porch and The Dressy Adventuress.  If you are reading this, then you’ve found at least one of them.  

Let me briefly recap my story with Mrs. Todd for those who might be unaware of how the woman has impacted my life.  Back in 1980, I was encouraged by an administrator in the junior high school where I taught to get working on a masters degree.  I had been teaching for nine years at the time and was, indeed, ready to continue my education.  

Within short order I was enrolled as a graduate student in a new academic offering at Wright State University, a master of humanities program.  By the third quarter of study I signed up for a workshop on Emily Dickinson facilitated by a favorite prof of mine, Jim Hughes.  The following summer I was awarded a grant by the Dayton Audubon Society to attend the Audubon Ecology Camp in Maine on Hog Island, a lovely 330 acre site in Muscongus Bay.  Three years later I finished my MHum with a monograph entitled ‘The Epic of Hog’: The Todd Bingham Family and the Establishment of the Audubon Ecology Camp in Maine.  As it turned out, the island was ‘saved’ from clearcutting in 1908 by the one and only Mabel Loomis Todd.  

My masters project was good in what it tried to accomplish:  placing Mabel Loomis Todd in the framework of American conservation history.  But it wasn’t really enough.  There was so much more of her story to tell. 

By the time I retired from teaching in 2002, I was active with Friends of Hog Island, a newly formed organization dedicated to help the Audubon camp flourish as an environmental education center into the future.  At the time, the summer program was hemorrhaging cash for Audubon and the camp’s future was uncertain.  

About that time I committed myself to enlarging my focus on island history and write a publishable piece that Hog Island lovers, Mainers, Emily Dickinson aficianados, and Auduboners everywhere might like to read.  And so, in due course, The Dressy Adventuress was born. 

For a few years I tried to figure out a writing schedule as I dusted off old files and collected new ones.  Books that I had read about during the masters project that were not available for purchase at the time, had in the interim become available with the dawn of ‘print on demand’ technology.  At this time I have a shelf full of old books newly printed and acquired.  

I also determined that the January through May timeframe would be the best for me to focus hard on the book.  Other months of the year draw me into perennial volunteer projects, travel, and summer grandchild care.  The winter months seemed perfect for getting lost in writing.  And that’s where I am now.  

In order to hold my feet to the writing fire, I figured I should report to you all in my blogs monthly (January-May).  I also solicited the help of an academic friend, David Dominic, Earth & Environmental Sciences department chair Wright State, to meet with me regularly for a writing update.  I am pleased to report progress in both of those areas.  

My hope for these monthly updates is to let you know a bit about what I’m learning and how the book is developing.  Here’s where I am today: 

When I first organized the book in prewriting, the working title was Nature’s people which intended to compare the Nature loving behavior of both Ms. Dickinson and Mrs. Todd, different as they were, yet similar.  As of January, the nine chapters initially conceived were condensed into six.  

I had been advised to consider each chapter as an extended essay, and I figure the fewer chapters, the fewer essays.  If I need to expand into other chapters I will, but for the meantime, I feel good about the compression of topics.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been focused on researching the year 1908, which was the summer Mabel Todd observed forest cutting on Hog, an island she had no connection to prior.  That same year President Theodore Roosevelt held the very first national governor’s conference in Washington with focus on the ‘new’ concept of conservation.  1908 also marked Henry Ford mass producing his company’s first Model T for the masses, as well as the Wright brothers mastering controlled flight for extended periods.  It was a very important year in American history.   

Currently I am looking into ship building in the Hog Island region to fill in details about the first structure on the island, a ships chandlery.  I am also intent on unraveling the mystery of Howard Hilder, an artist friend of Mrs. Todd, who graced the main camp building with two fine murals painted c. 1922.

As mentioned in previous blogs, this is my first book and I have been working hard trying to figure out how that process works.  I think I have things moving in the right direction and am energized to continue.  Tune in here again the first week of March and I’ll let you know how it’s going. 

Comments and encouragement always welcome!  ;-) 

Today’s elder idea:  We must handle the water, the wood, the grasses, so that we will hand them to our children and our children’s children in better and not worse shape than we got them. 
Theodore Roosevelt
current epigraph for chapter 1

images:  (above) Mabel Loomis Todd’s Camp Mavooshen main building following restoration by Friends of Hog Island.  (summer 2012)
(below)  Detail of Howard Hilder’s mural of nesting osprey.  (summer 2011)