Guest blog post by Science Educator Rachel Kimpton
One of Hurricane Island’s most integral assets and programmatic themes is that of “community.” In almost all of our programs, especially with high school students, we emphasize their participation in and contributions to our own island community, and how those experiences translate to their own on (or off!) the mainland. What does “community” look like, especially on an island? How is it taught? Why do we teach and emphasize it? And how does this relate to our role as educators of science and leadership? I think it’s easy to understand the “science” component of the work that we do on Hurricane, as our programs focus on environmental stewardship through experiential field science. How do our programs develop leadership through community, foster critical dialogue around these experiences, and instill a desire for positive impacts and change?
Last week, Robin and I worked with students from Proctor Academy’s Ocean Classroom. This course takes high school students abroad for a semester at sea to develop their seamanship and global citizenship while learning marine science, maritime history, and more. A skill that integral to the success of any crew, landlocked or at sea, is that of participation in that community as clear communicators and active listeners. This group began their semester at Hurricane to bond with each other and develop their skills of close observation, clear communication, and active listening before setting sail.
On their very first day, I posed a question to the group of 22 soon-to-be-sailors: what does community mean to you? And how does an individual make an intentional community stronger or successful? Over the course of their four day program, the students worked together through exercises like our raft challenge, rowing in the gigs, and developing scavenger hunts for each other with orienteering-based clues. They filled the darkness with their screams of delight as we jumped off the pier during low tide for a night swim among bioluminescent plankton, despite the dense fog and cold water. They supported each other and erupted with cheers while squeezing through the classic Hurricane Island challenge of the narrow frostwedge “crack.” We spent each evening before dinner hiking to a different point on the island to silently reflect on that day’s happenings and enjoy the scenery. Even during their short program, I saw tremendous amounts of growth and improvement within the group.
Earlier this summer, the Hawaiian Hokule’a vessel of the Polynesian Voyaging Society stopped by to share their work with us. They also imparted their own insights and knowledge about living as a community, which is best summarized by the helpful phrase they shared with us: “an island is a canoe, and a canoe is an island.” Robin and I shared this concept with the Ocean Classroom students, as it applied to their time with us and for their journey ahead. On islands and on boats, physical and emotional resources are limited, thus one must rely on the resources at hand in order to succeed.
Before I came to Hurricane, I felt like “community” was a word that got thrown around a lot and was starting to lose meaning. I have moved at least once a year for the last seven years of my life. That’s a lot of moving, and a lot of different living spaces, a handful of different cities, many different jobs, and tons of different people. Although I would develop strong relationships with the people in these places, my transience made it hard for me to develop a deep relationship with these spaces. Something just felt… disconnected. Perhaps I never fully committed myself in the way one does to community belonging because I knew it would only be another six months or so until I moved to a different neighborhood or city.
When I came to Hurricane, I chose to belong to an intentional community. My coworkers are not just my coworkers. They are my neighbors, my teachers, my friends, my emotional support system. They are listeners, they give honest advice, they share smiles, laughter, tears, and struggles. Choosing to belong and participate in a community is embracing our humanness and our need for others in order to survive. “Community” is not a phrase that is limited to geographic or physical spaces, as we are a world of hypermobile and digital communities as well. Our staff, island visitors, and program participants contribute pieces of their many communities of place and culture out here, creating a community that is unique and constantly in flux with each new group that arrives and departs.
Together, we are a community of scientists and artists who ask questions, experiment with courage, and make discoveries. We are naturalists and environmental stewards, appreciating, respecting, and protecting the smallest gifts that nature offers us, from the newly hatched dragonflies near the ice pond to the osprey catching fish right off our dock. We are educators sharing what we love and facilitating conversations to inspire and affect positive change. We are humans who love, feel, hurt, think, and act like, and unlike, those around us.
We do not abandon or disassociate ourselves from our communities when we venture 12 miles out to this small island in Penobscot Bay. Instead, we invoke and engage them, we share them, and we embrace and learn about those that are new to us. Perhaps we discover that there are communities that await us, which we never realized we belonged to until we first stepped onto Hurricane’s dock.