Sunset on Samso, Denmark

As I sit down to write this, I realize part of me cannot believe I’ve only been here for a week and a half. This place seems so much a part of me already. And perhaps this is true.

At the conclusion of our first week, Malene, Søren Hermansen’s wife, guided us in one of the many open space meetings we’ve had since arriving on Samsø. We sat in a circle, a shape that seems to reappear again and again in this experience as a symbol of community and collaborative spirit. Soren and Malene call this kind of meeting “the campfire.” It is a time for storytelling, for understanding, for reflection.

We took turns speaking, only going into the middle of the circle when we feel ready. We learn to respect the silence; those moments when no one feels the need to rise and speak. The Energy Academy building fills this gap for us. A Passivhaus design, it seems nearly alive, creaking and groaning like an elder resuscitating itself in the grassy chair of the Samsø landscape, opening windows and dropping shades automatically as it constantly adjusts to the external environment.

I looked out the window to the farm fields behind the Energy Academy during one such silence. The bright green rows of young winter wheat stood bold against the deep brown of the island soil. Framed perfectly by the window, the view looked like a work of modern art, contrasting with the white-washed interior of the Academy. Just a few hundred feet away, the Kattegat Sea lazily lapped the eastern shoreline. It was the first time the wind and ocean had been calm in days.

It was in this atmosphere that Malene posed a question about home. How is Samsø different from the places we as students come from? How is it the same? Through the weekend and the early part of this week, I have mulled these questions over in my mind.

I grew up in the Midwest. I spent some of my favorite years working on farms there, so it does not come as a surprise that I feel at home biking through Samsø’s rolling farmland, the smell of apples and fresh-turned earth in the air. However, I am surprised to feel the sense of “home” I get from this place does not stem solely from the fields. To my surprise, I think I would not feel as strongly about this place if it were not for the sea.

When I first came to MDI as a freshman at College of the Atlantic, I disliked the ocean. I hated how it smelled, how it looked. It was foreign to me; that which my home did not possess. I hardly ever thought about the fact I was living on an island. Three years later, MDI is just as much home to me as the Ohio cornfields. I look forward, though still with some trepidation, to the return of that unique smell of salt spray after a hard rain. Home.

Now I find myself on an island that is representative of both my homes. In many ways, I think this realization is metaphoric of how this experience so seamlessly combines my interests—both those I cultivated at home and those I grew into at College of the Atlantic—like the Kattegat Sea meeting the tilled Samsø fields. When I arrived at COA, I wanted to become an educator, but somewhere along in my studies I became fascinated by sustainable community design. Until now, I have struggled to synthesize these two interests.

After much anticipation, we finally chose our CIERA project groups this afternoon. I am so excited to be working with islander Sam Saltonstall and fellow COA student Lauren Pepperman on Peaks Island projects looking at the energy efficiency and inputs at the local school.

Saren Peetz is a fourth-year student from Hudson, Ohio. “Through this project, I feel my interests have finally found a home, together, on islands. “I am excited to continue this kind of work in both the Samsø and Mount Desert Island communities this fall.”

For more, visit the Fund for Maine Islands online.