One fine late-summer day, seven people set out from the Waldoboro shore in five kayaks to paddle the three and a half miles across Muscongus Bay to Harbor Island. Nothing unusual in that. In August, the coastal waters of Maine come alive with boats large and small. But this voyage was different. This party consisted of five women and two men, all bound for a weekend of kayaking, beachcombing, camping, conversing, and, most importantly, healing. For this was a Two Roads Maine trip.
Since its inception in 2000, Two Roads Maine, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, has taken more than two hundred people on this and similar camping trips - hiking to remote ponds, mountains and islands, canoeing and kayaking, in search of the healing power of nature. In the beginning, Two Roads Maine focused exclusively on guiding people with life-threatening illnesses, but in recent years Two Roads has branched out to serve people who find themselves at a personal crossroads for a variety of reasons, from disease and death to divorce and job loss.
For two and a half hours, the kayakers paddled down the bay, sitting low on the water, feeling the wind in their faces, smelling the iodine freshness of the salt air, watching small islands pass beside them and gulls swoop overhead, picking their way through a waterscape littered with a motley assortment of lobster buoys.
When they reached Harbor Island, the paddlers came ashore on a small sand beach below a tidy white farmhouse. Not far from an old Cape, they set up a cluster of small tents in a grassy clearing. From the eastern shore of Harbor Island, the campers could look out over the gray-green waters to nearby Hall Island, the Franklin Island lighthouse, and the strange, lonely hump of Monhegan far to the southeast. The pulse of the island was kept by the lapping of waves on the shore, the wild spirit of the place announced by the whistling of ospreys.
The Harbor Island party consisted of Chewonki guides Dot Lamson and Megan Hayes, Two Roads Maine founder David Hyde and his wife, Sarah, and the two women for whom the trip had been arranged, Paula Slipp and Cecily Rich. Paula Slipp, a Cumberland resident, had - all within the course of four months - lost her best friend, a brother, and a sister. She also had been diagnosed with cancer. Her therapist had recommended a Two Roads Maine trip to her as a way of helping to process her grief, and Slipp had asked her friend Rich to come along, too. Cecily Rich, of Yarmouth, had also recently lost a very close friend and was in the midst of a very painful divorce.
"The beginning was full of trepidation, because we didn't really have a clear picture of what we were going to do," says Slipp.
"There were a lot of unknowns," adds Rich. "It could have been a really scary thing, but it wasn't. The Hydes make sure you are well taken care of. It's like David throws a big blanket over you. He makes you feel so safe. He's a capable outdoorsman, a great listener, and he's so non-judgmental."
Taking care of other people is something that David Hyde is very good at because he is able to draw on a deep reservoir of empathy and compassion he discovered within himself when he faced a crisis of his own not that long ago. In 1999, Hyde suffered a one-two punch that would have sent anyone reeling. Two days after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he lost his job of seventeen years due to a corporate restructuring.
Suddenly faced with both unemployment and his own mortality, and with two daughters about to head off to college, Hyde felt completely vulnerable for the first time in his life. He had been a practical man, a businessman, a good provider. Now he found himself at what Buddhists call a "threshold point," a personal crossroads. What was he supposed to do now? How was he going to deal with the anger, the fear, the uncertainty, the sense of helplessness?
With time on his hands and a lot on his mind, Hyde sought solace where he had always found it - in nature. Having grown up in rural Connecticut and having lived in Maine since 1977, Hyde was an avid and veteran outdoorsman. He found that getting out into the woods and out on the water helped him think more clearly, put his problems in a larger context, and gain a little perspective. Then one day, while out kayaking, he experienced one of those epiphanies that busy people only have when they are forced to stop, slow down, and take stock of their lives.
Maybe chasing the fickle gods of personal success and financial security and the illusion of immortality was not what life was all about after all. "I was kayaking off Scarborough one day six or eight weeks after radiation treatment," Hyde recalls, "and I just felt so liberated to be out there. Then I thought maybe it would feel good to other people, too."
As he began to formulate the idea for Two Roads Maine, David Hyde found he was able to draw on the people closest to him in a way that seemed almost predestined. He calls the timing of his illness and job loss "synchronicity." Sarah Hyde calls it "karmic."
Sarah Hyde has a background both as a hospice worker and as a Waldorf teacher. She was able to bring to Two Roads Maine a wealth of knowledge about how people process grief and how to nurture personal growth. David's younger brother Stephen has spent years in meditative practice, having been attracted to Buddhism through the study of deep ecology. He was able to bring to Two Roads Maine a deep sense of spirituality. Two Roads meditative retreats would be held on Stephen's Standing Stone Farm in Pownal.
And David, of course, was able to bring to the venture himself - a cancer survivor and a man who was able to turn adversity to advantage.
"I saw him come into his life in a different way and meet the challenges," says Sarah Hyde of the way her husband responded to his combined health and career crisis in 1999.
"I'm very grateful," says David Hyde. "It opened up my world."
Whether or not David Hyde actually had prostate cancer is now in question. He never became ill, and by the time he underwent brachyotherapy (the implantation of radioactive seeds), his extremely elevated PSA counts had fallen dramatically, perhaps in response to alternative therapies he had tried, perhaps in response to his newfound contentment, perhaps because the readings were in error. In any event, Hyde wears an angel on a cross around his neck these days to memorialize his recovery.
"It's a reminder of where I've been and where I want to go," he says. "I won't ever lose that sense of vulnerability."
With his wife and brother on board, Hyde put the final piece of the Two Roads Maine puzzle together when he approached the Chewonki Foundation, one of Maine's best-known environmental education organizations, about sponsoring the healing trips he had planned. Yes, Chewonki would become the umbrella organization, supplying the equipment, the guides, and access to ideal outdoor destinations such as Big Wood Pond, Lake Umbagog, and privately owned Harbor Island.
The first Two Roads Maine trip was a sea kayak excursion to Harbor Island in August 2000. And one of the most meaningful and memorable Two Roads trips was also to Harbor Island two years later.
In March of 2002, Bates College student Morgan McDuffee was stabbed to death while trying to break up a street fight in Lewiston. A few months later, David, Sarah, and Stephen Hyde took Morgan McDuffee's deeply grieving father and girlfriend on a healing journey to Harbor Island.
"The trip out was absolutely beautiful, not too strenuous, but adventurous enough to take my mind away from my grief for the first time in months," Regis McDuffee writes in a Two Roads Maine testimonial in which he goes on to explain that the Harbor Island trip was the first chance he had had to share his feelings of grief and loss outside of his family. From his home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Mr. McDuffee reports that the Hyde family accompanied him to the trials of his son's killer and that his Harbor Island weekend stays with him to this day.
"When I go out in a boat or on a bike ride or a hike," he says, "I think back on my Two Roads experience and I can get into that space pretty easily."
"The form is that of a journey and crossing water, leaving the known to cross over into the wild," says Sarah Hyde of the Two Roads Maine experience. "It isn't group therapy. It isn't therapy at all, but it is therapeutic."
"Physical safety and emotional safety are very important," adds David Hyde. "I don't pretend to be a therapist. All I want to do is give people time away from all the distractions, to put them in a beautiful place where they feel safe and taken care of."
As with any journey, the Two Roads trips have a tripartite structure - departure, adventure, return. Once established on Harbor Island, the kayaking party settled into a routine of eating, exploring, and examining their feelings. The forum for discussing what was on the hearts and minds of the campers, not just the paying guests but the staff as well, was the "council." Twice a day, the group would sit in a circle, listening deeply and without interrupting, as people shared, to the extent they felt comfortable doing, how they felt about losing loved ones or facing their fears about illness and death.
"I believe the sharing of our life stories is medicine," says Sarah Hyde. "The storytelling is the healing. Hearing your story is healing to me. The other's story is what breaks open the heart."
"The courage people showed in their willingness to share their stories was remarkable," says Cecily Rich, who works as an addiction counselor. "There were a lot of issues of pain, but it is healing to hear what other people have experienced."
The rhythms of nature and the sheer serenity of Harbor Island worked their magic during the daily "solo times," hours when each person went off to walk, read, meditate, or explore on his or her own. Paula Slipp spent hours searching for sea glass with which to make jewelry. Cecily Rich spent much of her solo time collecting heart-shaped rocks along the island shore.
"A lot of my issues of grief and loss were around divorce," Rich explains. "I was so sad that my children were not going to have the experience of an intact family. The heart rocks represented all the different kinds of families and love."
The intentional nature of a Two Roads Maine trip, the mindfulness of and the attention to the ways in which we are all connected to one another and to the planet tends to elevate phenomena we all take for granted to new significance. Whether it is a hazy sunrise over Allen Island or a spectacular moonrise over Muscongus Bay, nature's displays take on almost symbolic meanings.
In a rite of passage, the return to the world is often the hardest part. So it seemed somehow fitting that the day of Slipp and Rich's return from Harbor Island dawned thick with fog. Seven people in five kayaks set off without hesitation into the unknown, feeling their way back across the shrouded surface of the bay to the safety of land.
"We were going to go off in a group to take new risks," says Cecily Rich, recalling that foggy departure, "but I knew I was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay. I was going to be okay, and my kids were going to be okay."
By the time the Two Roads kayakers reached the shore, the fog had lifted and the old familiar world stood revealed anew. No one was in any hurry to leave. There were new friendships to be celebrated, new bonds to be cemented, a sense of well-being to be savored. David Hyde suggested that Two Roads Maine participants not speak about their experiences right away, that they give themselves a couple of days to let what they had learned and felt sink in and digest.
Upon reflection a few months after her Harbor Island trip, Cecily Rich says, "I could not have imagined that the whole weekend would turn out the way it did. It was a huge, wonderful surprise. I can't wait to go on another trip."
"Life goes on at such a furious pace," says Paula Slipp. "The most meaningful thing to me was just to pause, to take a step back and pause in my life."
For more information about Two Roads Maine trips, workshops, meditation retreats, and fees, visit its Web site, www.tworoadsmaine.org
, or write to the Hydes at Two Roads Maine, P.O. Box 415, Freeport, Maine 04032; or call 207-865-4517.