Getting Creative with Conservation in Maine
By KEEN Fan Rosalie Haizlett
I’m living alone on a 330-acre island off the coast of Maine. My home is a tiny, off-grid cabin nestled within a grove of spruce trees and ferns. The island is beautifully moody and timeless. From the primitive cabin to the untouched landscape, there are few indicators of what time period I’m existing within. Is it 2019? Or is it the early 20th century, when the cabin was built as a summer writing retreat for the editor of Emily Dickinson’s poetry? Not many places remain that are so well insulated from human development.
Rosalie wears KEEN Pyrenees waterproof hiking boots
I am here for an artist residency with the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to helping protect birds and their habitats. Each summer, they invite three nature-focused artists to experience this seabird restoration island and create new work inspired by the wild landscape.
Life is simple here. Each morning, I wake up to the sounds of red squirrels running laps around my tin roof. Breakfast consists of an apple and hard-boiled egg, washed down with a few swigs of black coffee. Just a few yards from my cabin is a rocky beach, where I often watch the harbor seals fish in the bay through my binoculars.
Puffin swimming in the wild photographed by Carrie Frickman
I pass my days combing the island for tiny treasures to observe and depict using my watercolors. Even the most commonplace natural objects like seagull feathers, rockweed, and mussel shells contain a complexity that piques my interest far more than man-made objects and spaces that humans have designed to be organized and controlled. I enjoy reminding viewers of the intricacy of the natural world through my art. When the sun sets, I crawl into my mosquito net and read an old issue of National Geographic by headlamp until I drift off to sleep.
I am not a scientist, but I can use my artwork to be an effective advocate for our earth.
On the northern end of the island, there is a small camp called Hog Island Audubon Camp. Each summer, the camp brings together some of the brightest conservation educators to share their knowledge. It’s an intimate, multi-generational atmosphere. The children inspire adults to look closely and ask questions. In exchange, the adults show children what it’s like to be a lifelong student. I think it’s a beautiful cycle, and I’m excited to be a part of it by teaching several nature illustration workshops while I’m here.
Surrounded by scientific experts at the Audubon camp, I am reminded of how much I still have to learn. And while it is slightly intimidating, it is also exciting. It wasn’t until my late teens that I began to care deeply about the planet. In fact, the only reason that I took environmental science in high school was because I’d been told that it was the easier science course. But as I began spending much of my free time hiking and painting the amazing creatures and plants that I encountered, something began to shift within me.
Becoming more intimately acquainted with the planet makes me healthier and happier. Hiking alone has become my favorite pastime and gives me the confidence I’ve always lacked, a confidence that spills over into other areas of my life. But as I breathe in the crisp, evergreen-scented air on a hike, I also feel unrest stirring within me. How can I fully enjoy this pristine spruce forest if I know that future generations may not have access to the same natural spaces? Sustained environmental degradation will deny our children access to the life-giving nature that we have taken for granted. This unrest motivates my work.
Ordinary people are not powerless when it comes to conservation. When we stop waiting for others to handle things, we can start taking action. In fact, one woman saved this very island from exploitation for human profit. When she first visited Hog Island in 1908, Mabel Todd knew that this slice of paradise was destined to be the next victim to the excessive logging and overgrazing that was so prevalent in the region. Instead of shrugging her shoulders, she acted on her unrest and used her resources to purchase the island and ensure its protection. Are there environmental initiatives in your area that could benefit from your time or resources? Trail cleanups need volunteers, research initiatives need donations, and everyone has a voice that they can use to encourage conversation about protecting our planet. I am not a scientist, but I can use my artwork to be an effective advocate for our earth. What’s your role in the conservation story?
Rosalie Haizlett is a freelance illustrator specializing in travel and nature-related themes. She enjoys using her illustrations to honor the people, places, and creatures that aren't often given the spotlight. When she's not traveling to faraway destinations, you can find her hanging out in the West Virginia forests that she calls home with a backpack stuffed full of snacks and painting supplies. Follow along on her artistic adventures on Instagram @rosaliehaizlett, and learn about her workshops and other projects at rosaliehaizlett.com.