Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hog Island report #1

Well, for starters, let me say progress on the book has been good over the last couple of weeks here on Hog Island.  I hoped to get two chapters and the preface in better shape, and have had good success.  The chapter on Maine as ‘vacationland,’ placing Hog Island therein, reached a conclusion two days ago.  That one will need more work, of course, but at least it’s in good draft format.  The other chapter about life in this historic family camp is budding with rereading old published and unpublished documents from the archive at Yale. Today I’ll be looking at the master outline and rejiggering how all the puzzle pieces might fit together for chapter 5.  So all is good with the book.  

Before I got here, I had asked Camp management to be sure I would have recharge capability at this remote, primitive camp.  Sounds like an impossibility, but Audubon’s Puffin Project, who runs programming on this island, has used solar power for years on the bird islands in the Gulf of Maine to repower computers for record keeping.

Two days ago was nicely rainy up this way with some fog early and late.  I worked right through the day on my Mac with its lousy internal battery life.   Whenever I get low, I hook it up to the solar cell newly installed on the building and the magic just keeps on coming. 

I was a bit concerned yesterday because under full sun, it would appear the cell was not recharging the marine battery that holds the magic.  Hmmm.  Usually when I leave the cottage at night to ascend to my sleeping quarters, the red light on the device blinks a couple of times telling me stored power is down, as expected.  By the time I get back to my work in the morning, the light has turned green and all is well.  Yesterday morning, not so.  By today, though, all appears to be well.  Looks like the solar array needed a whole day to restore juice to the marine battery.  I do like crafting my poetry by hand, but putting the next chapter on paper (instead of my Mac if the power never came back) was a disturbing alternative.  

I sit here this morning at a large open window, looking west into spruce and balsam fir with the water and mainland beyond, writing at the very desk attributed to Millicent Todd Bingham.  I don’t know if her mother, Mabel Todd used it.  There is one picture of Mrs. Todd working out the porch, though I can’t tell what the typewriter is sitting on.  But Mrs. Bingham used this desk, so says a very weathered note tacked to its right front corner.  Writing my book about Mabel Todd and Millicent Bingham at the same desk Millicent used to, perhaps, work on her Emily Dickinson publications is something to appreciate.  

I learned so many things recently, rereading stuff I’ve collected over thirty years.  Yes, I’ve read much of this before, but now with what I know I am more aware.  Pieces are fitting together in ways they did not before.  Feels good to see the narrative unfold right in front of me.  

The writing process is working well for me here in this beautiful and historical place.  I am grateful and sense the grace around me.  As the power on my Mac fades, I will sign off for now and post this later at the Audubon Camp where I can plug in and get a wi-fi connection.  

Good work continues.  Thanks for stopping by to catch up.  

Today’s elder idea:   Millicent Bingham published four books on Emily Dickinson and other texts related to her PhD in geography.  But she had this to say about Audubon’s program on Hog Island:  

‘The work of this camp gives me more satisfaction 
than anything that has ever happened to me before.’ 

Millicent Todd Bingham / 1938 

images: top: Camp Mavooshen’s main building this summer.

later:  Restored and refurnished interior.  Darned comfortable, if I don’t say so myself.  [pics by yours truly]

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Return to Hog Island

Summer and grandparenting have kept me from writing much here of late, let alone making much progress on my book.  I recognize all of these as important parts of life to pay attention to, however.  Still, I surely thought I could find a better balance, but such has not been the case. 

I have concluded that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year about working on a project as big as Nature’s people, is that my brain does better when my body is sequestered.  I hate to admit it, but little (if any) text has been put on paper since my return home from Lake Cumberland at the end of February.  Trust me, I’m thinking about Mrs. Todd and her island crew every day, but putting my butt and brain in a seat in front of the laptop to put 500 words a day together just doesn’t happen. 

From a more positive perspective, though, I recognize that over the last few years I have understood something about ‘getting away’ to push daily business aside for the practice of gathering thoughts and writing.  I’ve done a handful of short get-aways in my little Coleman trailer to John Bryan or Old Man’s Cave State Parks, and written a few things in the process.  A couple winters ago, if you recall, I put in a week at a cabin at Lake Hope.  All of that seems to have lead me to recognizing that if I can get away, some writing might happen.  Don’t get me wrong:  Thinking and writing still happens at my house, but it feels a bit different of late.  The book has ascended to the top priority, so when nothing on the book is getting done, not much else seems to get written either. 

All of this navel gazing here today is meant as an attempt at personal catharsis.  Fact is, I write this entry on the road from home back to the place where it all began.  It was many moons ago in 1981 when I first set foot on Hog Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine after a short first visit to Emily Dickinson’s hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was after only a couple hours on the island that I realized both places were tangentially connected — and my life was changed.  Indeed, such is the origins of the book I now am trying to write.  

So with that in mind, it’s back to Hog Island in just a couple days.  I’ve been back plenty of time since, but this return is extra special.  Seabird expert and Hog Island Audubon Camp director Steve Kress has agreed to let me serve as writer-in-residence for the next month, and what makes it extra special this visit is that I will be able to reside at the very place where Mabel Loomis Todd made her summer retreat/family camp.  Nobody has summered there for decades.  But now I get the chance to be there and work on a book about that very place.  Yow.  

My term as WiRes will last from 18 July through 19 August.  During that time I imagine I’ll chat with Audubon campers about Mrs. Todd, her camp, and her connections to Emily Dickinson, but my primary focus is drafting a couple chapters of Nature’s people.  

Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  

But today I have ‘miles to go before I sleep’ as I traverse New England on my way back to Hog Island.  I’ll be making some blog entries over the next month to keep you posted on book and life progress.  Feel free to pass along any messages as I do.  []

Wish me luck.  

Today’s elder idea:   This island is so beautiful it really makes my heart ache!  Why, it seems to me God's own heaven can hardly be more perfect. 

                        journal of Mabel Loomis Todd
                        August 9, 1924

image:  The ‘writer’s cottage’ at Mrs. Todd’s Camp Mavooshen was built as residence for her daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham.  Such will be my ‘digs’ over the next month.  How cool is that?  ;-)