Inian Islands Institute is excited to welcome Hank Lentfer, Alaskan author, grateful harvester, guitar player, and groovy dude as this month’s guest writer. Thank you Hank for helping make the work party happen! Look for Hank in the video below, driving the boat, diving into Icy Strait, and leading the crew building the “sexiest dock in the Hobbit Hole, hands down!”
The work was hard.
Six guys on their back in the boulders and muck, wrestling a rotten 12 x 12 out from under the shop building. Another crew shoveled gravel into Greg’s skiff and then hauled the rocks, one bucket at a time, up the length of the dock to fill a drainage ditch.
Others resurrected old garden beds from a dense tangle of weeds. A few more scratched their heads, puzzling the curves and angles of a new section of dock. And, in the kitchen, Jane, Jai, and Greg stirred, fried, baked, and broiled a steady stream of fantastic meals.
The rain poured, the bugs bit, but our dirt-smeared faces were quick to break into smiles. Evenings, trading shovels and hammers for cold beers, the work crew laughed and sang, played pool and threw horseshoes. As the slow June sun dropped into the sea, tired bodies found the comfort of tents to rest up for the next day of chores.
Years ago, while Zach was still at Stanford, he wrote me a long, hand-written letter lamenting the California crowds and dreaming about the Hobbit Hole possibilities.
He asked me about the feasibility of getting a group of people together to help with the maintenance of the aging buildings. “I don’t have the skills to do this myself,” he wrote. “Do you think people will come together to help?”
Last week, Zach watched the living answer to that question as twenty friends, some he’d known for decades, others he’d met that week, hauled totes of tools up the dock. Before the work began, Zach circled everyone up in front of the house. He invited us each to share a story about our connection to the place and to offer a single word about the week ahead. For Jess and Matt it was their first long-dreamed-of visit. For Greg, Jane, and Fred the afternoon was a punctuation mark, a transition in their forty-year tenure on the island. Paul and Melissa remembered their wedding on that very same lawn. Tania, Eric, and Ula recalled the deep snows and peaceful days of their stints as winter caretakers.
They offered words:
Throughout the decades, the Howe brothers, with Jane’s cheerful help, have welcomed countless people to share the beauty of their home. This powerful combination of connection and generosity lies at the heart of Zach’s vision for the Hobbit Hole. It’s the reason we all showed up, eager to work. It’s the reason laughter was heard in-between the pounding of nails and clinking of shovels. It’s the reason we’ll be back next spring, tools in hand. The levity in our labor flowed from working for something bigger than ourselves. This was a true Tom Sawyer gig. We ended the week tired but grateful that we got to be a part of such an effort.
It was pissing rain on the final evening when a few more boats slipped through the gut. One of the vessels held three generations of Hobbits. Ronan, not quite three years old, clad in Grundens and Xtratufs, was unfazed by the downpour. For Ronan, like his parents, Amy and Taiga, rain-slick docks are a way of life. Bobo and Debbie, Ronan’s grandparents, followed their grandson up the planks, their faces beaming with pride and their cooler filled with king salmon fillets.
When the salmon came off the grill, Greg blew the dinner horn. The horseshoe players washed their hands and re-filled their cups from the keg in the creek. People huddled near the door, waiting their turn to slip off their wet gear and boots and find a place in the home-turned-dining-hall.
The windows were steamed and the plates were full when Zach stood up to address the group. Few will forget the emotion that washed through him that evening. In addition to a week wrestling rotten beams, hauling heavy buckets and facilitating board meetings, Zach has been working for years to deepen his dream, usher his vision. Zach’s tears burst from the tension of that sustained effort. After his long walk and solo paddle, after so many donor visits and business plan drafts, Zach seemed surprised to suddenly be in room with so many people eager to help carry the load.
Zach knows the work of the Inian Island Institute will never be done. With a growing group of committed, caring, connected folks to do that work, he also knows his dream is alive – laughing, singing, eating king salmon and getting-her-done.