Montauk community notes

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We received a photo from Montauk’s Alan Burke showing his son, Private Ryan Alan Burke, a combat engineer in the U.S. Army, on Christmas Day, giving candy to Iraqi kids while on a mission outside of Baghdad. He wrote home and said how good it made him feel. The photo is very small in resolution so it appears here in a small format too. “My son is in the foreground doling out the bag of candy,” Alan writes. “He is an East Hampton high school class of 2006; he is also a true local native, and he is a son of a son of a sailor. His grandfather was born in a little house on Fort Pond Bay that was washed away in the ’38 hurricane. His great-grandfather was a local charter boat captain who ran rum during prohibition in Montauk.” Alan is with the Montauk Fire Department.

We had the great pleasure of talking with Willa Johann just before the Christmas holidays. The daughter of Dawn and Ed Johann and older sister of Marta and brother Pete, this 20-year-old woman, in her junior year at Dartmouth, had just returned from a three-month experience as a horseback tour guide at a ranch in Chile. She was awash with incredible enthusiasm and apparently a great deal of insight from the experience.

Dartmouth has an unusual schedule, which requires summer school studies, and an open fall period, which last year found Willa in Madrid with 20 other students. An anthropology major, she took a leap and decided to try a different, non-academic venture. Through the internet, she discovered the ranch in Pucon, Chile, which engages international students, usually 24 years and older, to serve as tourist guides. They are compensated with room and board and the rest in tips.

With parental encouragement, she wrote to the ranch and told them she had been riding since she was four, that she understood the ranch lifestyle, Willa told us. Her family owns three horses and takes care of another three, “and I am not afraid of hard work,” she said. “Also, I had different kinds of experiences in Montauk, including working backstage at Montauk’s Shakespeare Festival for a few years and had been a lifeguard and taught swimming at Pathfinders” camp. Willa was shocked that she was accepted. She flew to Chile on September 15.

Willa said she was reminded of Montauk in the beauty of Pucon, the resort town, where the ranch Campo Antilco was located near a volcano and beside the Luicura River. It had exploded into a popular international tourist destination as well as one for wealthy Chileans.

Initially, Willa’s responsibility was to guide trekkers for a half day, but later on, after a day of training, she became responsible for leading two-day overnight trips, then six-day rides and eventually, with a helper, several 12-day treks into steep mountains and pristine rain forests.

“It was scary at first to be responsible for the lives of the tourists and for the well-being of the horses,” she said.

Willa said the experience was a great lesson in developing self-confidence, learning to handle situations more spontaneously and trusting her capabilities. She also profited from the support of the close ranching family, whose simple “naturalistic” life was similar to her home relationships and underscored a comparable model for living that she values. Not incidentally, Willa’s dad, Ed, is president of Third House Nature Center and an avid birder. He was busily planning to do the annual Christmas bird count when we saw him.

We segue to ospreys so that if you are so inclined to consider it, the Group For the East End is in need of outdoor volunteers to conduct a survey of their osprey poles in both Southampton and East Hampton. They will then evaluate the condition of the poles in preparation for the coming osprey season. Their flyer states that the project is time-flexible and classrooms, individuals and families can take on the project. Call Kate Schertel at (631) 765-6450, ext. 208, or contact her at kschertel@eastendenvironment.org. It may just be a satisfying short-term adventure.

The Friends of the Montauk Library Winter Movies Series is back at 7 p.m. tomorrow night. The opening showing will be “Mamma Mia!” starring Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan. What a great start and cure for winter gloom.

We were sorry to learn that Virginia (Ginny) Bennis will no longer be the building manager of the Community Playhouse. We wrote a feature about Ginny’s welcoming presence not long ago. She created a very pleasant aura there. Edna Steck, town director of human services, told us that the building will now come under the aegis of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department. We heard that “financial constraints” were the problem. We spoke with John Rooney, the town supervisor of recreation, who will be doing the programming, and also building maintenance. He said he plans to “spend most of my time” at the center. He declared he hopes to “add more things,” though he didn’t specify what they may be. We hope townsfolk will continue to be offered the fine services the center has supported. We certainly wish Ginny well.

The Montauk School reopened for educational business Monday and yesterday was “Challenge Day” for its seventh- and eighth-grade students. When we heard what Challenge Day was about, it seemed a natural outcome of the holidays just recently celebrated. The Challenge Day organization has a goal, according to its mission statement, “to provide youth and their communities with experiential workshops and programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression.” The program will be held at the American Legion Hall in Amagansett and Bridgehampton’s eighth-graders, with their teachers, will join the Montauk group. The East Hampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force and the East End Gay Organization are helping to fund the program and some of their members will also participate.

It’s a great start for the New Year!

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