Alumni and WOOFer: A Transformative Experience by Malcolm McCann
At the end of June last summer in a downtown Portland library, my friend Alex, turned to me, excited. He whispered “check this out!” and handed me his phone which displayed the flyer for the Summer 2019 Environmental Rhetoric course. We were driving up the coast from Southern California to Alaska and looking for interesting opportunities to engage, and this course looked like a fantastic one. We signed up.
Soon we were on a float plane looking down across a vast region of sprawling islands full of thick green forests. Coming through the gut into the Hobbit Hole feels incredible, it’s like entering a fantastical paradise. You walk by lush gardens to a simple turquoise green house surrounded by a beautiful temperate rain forest that is full of life.
I’ll remember my week at the Hobbit Hole that summer as transformative. My whole life I have been learning about the injustices deeply rooted in our society both historically and today. I see my time at the Hobbit Hole as part of a journey to understand my role in the greater fight for an equitable just world. The course armed me with knowledge about the history of environmentalism, skills of persuasion, and a sense of empowerment about my ability to push for progress. I found this invaluable when I returned to college in the fall and helped organize a fossil fuel divestment campaign at my college consortium.
Alex and I left the Hobbit Hole by kayak on a 6 day, 35 mile journey to Bartlett Cove. Zach had been generous enough to lend us two kayaks, some dry bags, some maps, and a bear canister full of food. We kayaked across the Icy Strait, watching a whale breach miles away, and entered Dundas bay, our home for the next few days. It was incredible to be kayaking in such a remote location and bear witness to all the elements working together in the ecosystem, and feeling part of that.
At the end of an important summer, I found myself in a library in Seward Alaska, emailing Colter and with a plan to take a leave of absence from college in the spring and WWOOF for the institute from January to May. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and involves people exchanging their labor for food, shelter, and the opportunity to learn from your host.
Two months ago, Colter picked me up from Gustavus and I began a new life. On the way to the Hobbit Hole we anchored at Lemesurier Island and kayaked in and hiked to a beach where I watched Colter crawl into position, aim and shoot across a frozen beach hitting a large buck behind its shoulder and through the liver. .
We transported the deer to the boat, and then back to my new home, gutting it on the dock, and skinning it in the outdoor kitchen. The next few days we spent butchering and storing it. Eventually eating its tasty liver and heart. Colter showed me how to brain tan the hide; de-fleshing, soaking, and graining. I spent long hours standing in the outdoor kitchen, watching the sun go away and the snow come down as I thoroughly and vigorously scraped all the flesh and hair off of the deer skin, listening to the creek, straining my wrist, and thinking about what it meant to kill this deer.
The work varies from processing food, processing wood, working on the gardening, doing basic construction, and generally helping Colter, being his second pair of hands. The rest of my time I have free to myself. I enjoy spending my free time fishing, tanning deer hide, crafting things, forging metal, reading, writing, cooking, working on fossil fuel divestment, and going on long walks with Russell (Colter’s dog).
Many things drew me here again — a yearning for a simpler life, a desire to live within a healthy ecosystem, a chance to get to know Colter and learn construction and gardening skills, a quiet place for reflection. The winter can be challenging. The weather and lack of sun can keep you confined indoors for days at a time. But slowly the days become longer and brighter and the weather lets up and gives way to blue skies and you feel the warm sun on your face. I wake up every day feeling so appreciative for the institute opening up the Hobbit Hole as a communal space and for the opportunity to live and work here.