Winter Reflections   1 comment

January 28, 2011

By: Paul Lamoureux, Program Director

Winter on Thompson Island is a time for reflection and preparation. The island, although still beautiful, is stark and empty. This is partly due to the cold, the snow and the leafless trees, but mainly because winter programs occur on the mainland and the energy of students and staff is missing. It feels like the island is taking a deep breath, in preparation for another season full of growth, both within the students who visit her and the flora and fauna that flourish on her.

A snowy day on Thompson Island.

I visited the island recently, both to reconnect and to prepare the way for next year. When I say prepare the way, I mean that literally. I was out to help create a new trail from the meadow to the beach on the north end of the island. The previous trail was eroded away by a series of winter storms, preventing access to one of our prominent outdoor classroom locations. The geology curriculum on Thompson revolves around students directly viewing the eroding cliffs from the beach. On the beach, while standing among trees that have toppled over, students gaze up at a cliff that has eroded away, exposing roots and trees perched precariously on the edge. This poignant and memorable example of erosion is one that students do not soon forget.

The last time I was out on this cliff, I had an even more poignant and memorable experience and it was also a reminder of the amazing value that a trip to Thompson Island provides. It was late last fall during a Harbor Connections geology expedition with fifth grade students from the Josiah Quincy school in Boston’s Chinatown.

5 year old Kai on courtroom appearance day

Among the students was Kai Leigh Harriott. Kai Leigh, now 11, was paralyzed after a stray bullet severed her spine when she was three. When she was five, in a powerful courtroom moment, she sat in her wheelchair and looked directly at the man who had just pleaded guilty to firing the shot that paralyzed her. Through her tears, Kai Leigh spoke to 29-year old- Anthony Warren who had fired three rounds at the house where she was sitting on a porch with her sister singing songs.

“What you done to me was wrong,” she said to the man seated just a few feet away. “But I still forgive him.”

The Boston trial was videotaped and Kai Leigh’s emotional scene has replayed on television, over the Internet, and in newspapers across the country and beyond. Kai Leigh’s demonstration of forgiveness was hugely inspirational to many, many people.

So, as you might imagine, it was truly an honor to host Kai Leigh Harriott, her mom and her classmates on Thompson Island. We borrowed an “all-terrain wheelchair” from our DCR friends at Spectacle island, which made a huge difference in enabling Kai Leigh to get – down to the beach. This, after traveling through a woodland path (which has now eroded away), over numerous boulders on the beach and around felled trees, right to the base of the cliff.

I took the attached photo, which I think captures the energy of the day of Kai Leigh’s visit.

There she participated, along with all of her classmates, in a truly experiential session on geology with National Park Rangers and the Thompson Island Outward Bound Harbor Connections team. I overheard Kai Leigh’s mom, herself a Thompson Island graduate, talking excitedly to a family member on her cell phone. She was along as a chaperone sharing what a fantastic day it was for Kai Leigh and how she never had envisioned that we could accommodate them in such an amazing way. As tears fell down Mom’s face and as she gave me a huge hug, it reminded me of why I’m here and what is important.

Now in winter, as I help clear the new trail down to the beach cliffs, I think of Kai Leigh’s experience and that of so many other children who come to Thompson Island and are truly transformed and I’m so grateful to help provide that “path” for all of them.


One response to “Winter Reflections

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  1. A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

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