As part of this year’s Earth Day Celebrations, the Tropical Audubon Society (TAS) hosted an afternoon of activities on April 22nd including the unveiling of the restored Chickee Hut. The TAS Conservation Concert Series Chair and Advisory Board Member Elizabeth Kuehner Smith addressed the attendees in a poignant and moving speech dedicated to those who came before us and to those who will inherit our care of the earth.
“Earth Day reminds us to preserve what remains of our Natural World and to rehabilitate and restore what we can rescue from our collective environmental misdeeds, which makes Earth Day an apt metaphor for the restoration of our beloved Chickee Hut.
In a community effort that unified a diverse supporting cast — from rock ‘n’ roll doctors to an anonymous philanthropist — our Tropical Audubon chickee hut rose like a phoenix from the ashes only a few months ago. Its return to full flower began with my own personal journey of loss, the love and support of friends and the willingness of volunteers to see the project to fruition. The structure, built in 1983, had fallen into disrepair after the 2005 hurricane season in which three back-to-back storms destroyed its thatched roof. With renovation complete, a host of educational events are again unfolding in its welcome shade, as are Yoga classes led by yogi Suzen Gerrish.
When I approached TAS executive director Laura Reynolds two springs ago to ask the board’s permission to hold a memorial service for my late mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Hanson Kuehner, on Mother’s Day, May 9, 2009, none of us could then imagine that the “Yes” answer Laura gave me would ultimately set the chickee’s repair into motion. My sisters and I wanted to remember our mother at TAS because it is a charming, down-toearth setting and a haven for the feathered creatures of which she was so fond. As many of you know, at dawn and dusk the property comes alive with chatter, chirping and song. Happily, we were invited to hold a late afternoon gathering in the Doc Thomas House where friends and family shared remembrances and then we went outside for a life-affirming bird walk. When we reached this site, TAS executive Director Laura Reynolds briefly explained that Audubon lacked funding to repair what was then a very dilapidated, balding chickee hut. My friend Steve Chavoustie without hesitation piped up, “Let’s have concerts next winter to raise money.”
Laura had long nurtured the same idea, seeing concerts “as a way to rebuild the chickee and reestablish our community connection.” Historically, TAS has focused on environmental education, a stance established by Laura’s mentor, Bob Kelley. She wanted to continue his legacy, and that first concert series helped us exceed our fundraising goal for “raising the chickee.”
Charlie Galloway, a self-described “lifelong student of the ancient art of thatching,” directed the physical restoration of the 20’ by 30’ structure. He and his crew harvested fronds from native Sabal Palms in a southwest Florida hammock during a full moon. “Where[ever] people live under thatch roofs,” he explained, “the understanding is that the roofs last twice as long when the leaves are cut at that time” in the lunar cycle. Using only fronds from trees growing in shady hammocks was another Galloway tactic, because “The more dense and shady the forest, the more supple [and pliable] the leaf.” The artistic weaves you see above are an amalgam of native styles borrowed from native peoples from the Everglades to the South Pacific.
An immeasurable amount of good has come out of the modest memorial we held at TAS for our mother. Indeed, “Betty’s Birdwalk” underscores the pebble-on-thepond ripple effect of life. From the depths of our sadness, acknowledging our mother’s passing and honoring her at TAS brought renewed life to a structure that is again serving as our anchor for outdoor activities, and, most important, as a place where young people are again gathering to learn about — and become enchanted by — birds.
Members of Tropical Audubon can also now apply to hold special gatherings here, which helps enrich our coffers, in turn, enriching our crucial conservation efforts in our region.”
For more information on the Tropical Audubon Society and upcoming events including a visit from Bob Graham on May 15th, check out www.tropicalaudubon.org or call 305-667-7337.