The Working Waterfront

Island life still holds capacity for surprise

As my time wraps up on North Haven, the experiences mount

Maria Keeler
Posted 2019-08-21
Last Modified 2019-08-21

Reflections is written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.

By Maria Keeler

Seated in my office in early June, I am surrounded by layers of evidence that I both work with energetic children and have spent nearly two years here on North Haven.

Dead bees glued to sticks are splayed across my desk, prepared for a pollinator activity. Potatoes with overabundant eyes lie in a bucket beneath my desk, patiently awaiting their late entrance into the ground this spring.

Hidden in the bookshelf behind me are three compost containers holding morsels of lunches and snacks past, soon to be added to vermi-compost bins.

As I reflect on my time here, my strongest memories are moments of surprise and shared experience. I’m still able to find new spaces to explore, seemingly an unending amount, and surprises are not hard to come by. Perhaps a contributing factor is spending most of my time with students, where the unexpected happens daily and a sense of adventure thrives. A rainy after-school program this spring revealed a vernal pool heaven hidden in the un-pathed realms near Hope & Ted’s woods, teeming with eggs of frogs and spotted salamanders.

But one particular early May surprise is one I will never forget.

The conditions were not necessarily what I had hoped for a K-4th grade birding experience—cold, cloudy, and slightly drizzling. Barney Hallowell led us through the woods along a path he had created. Binoculars bouncing against our fronts, we cautiously followed Barney toward a clearing. We heard a crunch and looked down. “Bones!” a student exclaimed. “More bones!” another echoed.

Looking up, our jaws dropped. Tucked into a sturdy branch high above us was a massive nest, large enough to house several of us at once. Those who had binoculars pressed tightly to their faces gazing down at the prey remnants swung their lenses upward. We excitedly whispered and waited.

Just in case an excitement boost was needed, I had several bird calls at the ready to play off an Audubon app on my phone. I selected “alarmed calls of perched adult.” Everyone hushed. I played the alarm call once more. From the corner of my eye, I sensed movement.

Without providing time to process, a bald eagle flew overhead and landed above us in the nest! To be honest, I was a little nervous the eagle had heard our “alarmed call” and viewed us as a threat. We watched the enormous bird from below, by far the closest any of us had been to the raptor. It was unforgettable for all, evident by our giddy smiles.

The past few years leave much to digest. During my time on North Haven, projects have started, paused, stopped, and restarted. There is always something to do and somewhere to help.

Change and growth have been consistent as students have graduated, an eldercare facility has opened its doors to residents, losses have been mourned, and new life celebrated. I’ve learned so much from my time on North Haven and am grateful to have been incorporated into a small portion of its intricate community fabric. Wherever my new office will be come September, this island gives a convincing argument for sticking around.

Maria Keeler has worked with teachers, parents, and students at the North Haven Community School to create a standards-based agricultural curriculum. She also worked with the summer farmers market and the recreation committee. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Morris with a degree in biology and psychology.