Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dwell in possibility.
Decked out in t-shirts as blue as the Maine sky over Chase’s Pond that afternoon, staff and volunteers bustled around us and up ahead as we made our way from the street onto the grounds. All the excitement was over the 2009 “Wild About Our Community” event at the Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine. The CFW, one of the largest animal rehabilitation facilities in New England, is becoming an increasingly significant education partner with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation due to the extraordinary and varied off-site wildlife learning opportunities they bring to the region. Their invitation to attend on this day was my first visit to their location.
I had the pleasure of encountering my first representative from the Center’s considerable number of sponsors and partners when I met Dan Gardoqui, Founder & Director of White Pine Programs (www.whitepineprograms.org), a nonprofit educational organization providing nature based programs for all ages. “The area around the home that kids are allowed to wander has shrunk to less than 10% of what it was in 1970,” Dan informed me. “As a result, lots of children today can’t identify an oak tree or a grasshopper,” he continued. While I listened, there was the same quiet passion in his tone and directness in his gaze that I witnessed in Richard Louv when he spoke about his book, Last Child in the Woods. After looking over White Pine’s brochure detailing their core programs I had a closer look around me and came away with an inkling that the Center for Wildlife, its partners and sponsors all had something special in common and I set out to learn more what that was.
“Have you been to Mt. Agamenticus lately?” Robin Kerr inquired. I had to admit it was a long time since I had, though it is nearly always visible from the Overlook at Halibut Point, looming over the shore as one of the highest elevations along the East Coast so near the sea. “We can usually always see it from the park. On the right winter’s day we can even make out the tower,” was the best I could come up with for a recent experience with the Big A. Robin, the Conservation Coordinator for the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Region (www.agamenticus.org) for the past six years stood by her organization’s display and removed her sunglasses to connect with me eye-to-eye: “ Things have changed since back then” she said, able to name eight current conservation partners. She explained the work and stewardship challenges of maintaining the acres for watershed, flora and fauna conservation as well as for recreation purposes, each one alone a daunting challenge for any conservator. More importantly, as she let me know about MACR’s successes and going-forward plans I felt a charge in her voice as strong as a pelting northeast rain powerful enough to turn the mountain’s granite to granola. “This mountain rules!” the group’s trail guide says. And there on Mountain Road in the shadow of Agamenticus I met an advocate who did the same.
The dirt pathway framed by pines, oaks and maples curved to the right where I stopped at the outside Turtle House with a number of others and observed the box and painted turtles residing at the Center for Wildlife. The young woman offering us a learning opportunity gently rolled her palm along the carapace of the creature she held and then moved a finger along its marginal scutes. “They shed along these edges,” she indicated, “which are made of keratin, just like your fingernails.”
Adjacent to the presentation stood the Center for Wildlife’s office. I paused in front of the modest sculpted pond prefacing the entrance, squinting ahead at the sign to the side of the door. “Animal Intake” were the important words. Even amidst the hubbub of the day I felt a zone of serenity, the recuperative hush experienced before approaching an important medical unit. Rescue … Rehabilitate … Release. Stand here at you’ll know down to your core what the Center for Wildlife is all about.
A few feet away I met Josh Baston of ReVision Energy (www.revisionenergy.com). I mentioned that at Halibut Point we’ve been using solar, photovoltaic and geothermal renewable energy resources since the mid 1990’s and Josh, sans any further information, was able to correctly detail the features of our older technology. He pointed at a solar panel ahead of us on the roof of the CFW office and outlined the difference between that installation and the one we had at our site. “ReVision Energy has installed more than half of all solar energy systems in Maine over the past few years,” he told me. I wasn’t surprised.
The Seacoast Science Center (www.seacoastsciencecenter.org) Great Works Regional Land Trust (www.gwrlt.org) BioDiversity Research Institute (www.briloon.org) York County Audubon Society(www.yorkcountyaudubon.org) – I met representatives from them all and even more organizations, leaving me to stop at the end of presentation row, have a look back and take stock at what I was witnessing. I could hear storyteller Shawn Middleton, see Ed & Ken so genially scooping ice cream and families grabbing some pizza. Scanning the day’s program, a quick count listed nearly fifty partners, sponsors and donors participating in this event.
“Building a sustainable future for wildlife” – those are words I’ve seen CFW use more than once. And that’s when I realized what everyone at “Wild About Our Community” had in common – they were pioneers of a notion that there are better ways to live. And for at least one day nobody had to make much effort to find them.
Hawks, falcons, owls, porcupines, opossums, bats, squirrels, woodchucks, muskrats, songbirds, ducks, geese, swans and more -up to 150 different species – I discovered the Center for Wildlife rehabilitates and sometimes permanently cares for as I visited their natural history area. Among the series of spaced enclosures for the animals I met CFW Board member Dawn Dickinson while reading interpretive signage by the opossum’s residence. “They did a great job, didn’t they?” Dawn smiled, explaining the materials, laminate and font on the paneling. I smiled back; as an employee of the DCR Bureau of Interpretive Services I knew the level of passion necessary to embrace and be excited about the intricacies and subtleties of a public information display.
I spent the rest of my visit to the Center for Wildlife in the natural history area watching a number of live-animal presentations by staff and volunteers spaced between a number of wild bird releases that children in the audience were invited to participate in. Kristen Lamb, CFW Education and Outreach Director, took some time from a very busy day to stand beside me for a chat. “What’s the most fulfilling part of what you do?” I asked her. “Countering human impact on animals,” Kristen told me. “Humans sometimes injure them … we care for them.” I thought about what Kristen said as I took a look around me. How many times had I seen an animal by the side of the road, bedraggled and hurt? Or heard its cries in some nearby woods and thought it was some poor creature that hasn’t got a prayer? Well, many of these animals do have a prayer in Cape Neddick, one the Center for Wildlife answers some 1600 times a year. You can discover more about the Center for Wildlife here.
Martin Buber said, “An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” That day at the Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine, I met a community of incredibly caring people and felt the power of a great language spoken from the hearts of some fellow human beings.
The Center for Wildlife, Cape Neddick, Maine will be back at Halibut Point State Park with more of their wildlife ambassadors for a Birds of Prey program on Saturday, September 26th at 1:00pm. This FREE event is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Friends of Halibut Point State Park. You’re all invited to come and learn more about this wonderful organization.