friends of nature conservation

About: FON founder Rudy Haase

"My life was most influenced by Black Mtn. College, Scott & Helen Nearing,
& Richard St. Barbe Baker." - Rudy Haase

Rudy Hasse, FON founder
Rudy Haase - still driven by his love for the water and the land
Feature and photo by Jodie Turner
Published in 2005 by Rural Delivery

Nature's ally, [then] 82-year-old Martin Rudy Haase holds fast to the belief that where there's life, there's hope.

Haase was born in Wisconsin and spent his formative years in the U.S., but has lived in Nova Scotia for more than 35 years, earning a reputation as one of the province's most respected conservationists.

He traces his progressive politics and keen interest in the environment back to the experiences of childhood. His earliest memories are of his third or fourth summer camping by the lake. Enjoying the outdoors was a family affair. Haase recalls the hike to his grandmother's house a mile away for Sunday dinner often involved a detour along the lakeshore or river, tripling the distance.

"My mother was very much into walking," he says.

The Depression

The Depression had a fierce grip over the country, and yet the Haase boys knew happiness - especially during the summer. Their grandfather and great uncle manufactured the Haase Automobile. They later turned their hands to North Western Furniture, a marine engine and furniture company.

While Haase's father stayed home to look after the family business, mother and sons went camping. Instead of worrying over his wife's driving, Haase's father bought a large Cunningham funeral car - not a hearse - and converted it into a camper. The 1926 black beauty had an aluminum block engine and typically, but not always, traveled at 15 to 30 mph.

"Mother liked to save gas by coasting down the mountains," Haase says. "The brakes were inadequate. I pulled on the hand break with all my power. We careened out of the mountains with my brother hiding under the blankets." It didn't help that the 5-foot-tall driver could barely see over the steering wheel.

In the summer of 1932 they camped in Yellowstone National Park, spending two weeks without seeing another camper. The next summer the trio headed east via Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. When the younger son cut himself, they looked for a doctor, and ended up calling on Dr. Allan Roy Defoe in the town of Callander. A year later he achieved instant fame as the physician who delivered the Dionne Quints.

The Haases continued their journey. Niagara Falls served up a memorable triple-dipped cone for five cents. They caught their first sight of the Atlantic Ocean in Kittery, Maine. On the way home they stopped in Boston, New York, Detroit, and Chicago.

Black Mountain

Haase attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina for three years. In the spring of 1938 he was taken to visit the facility by his uncle - a conscientious objector during World War I.

"It was almost treason," recalls Haase. "He was given 20 years."

The well-educated man was assigned the task of teaching other inmates at his first place of incarceration. While he was at it, he radicalized them. For his extra efforts, he was transferred to the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island.

"It was the most secure place for the most violent offenders," says Haase. The opinionated prisoner was assigned kitchen duty. After two years, President Harding commuted the sentences of all the objectors, giving them an immediate release. This same uncle founded Federation Press. Haase well remembers stuffing envelopes for the pro-union operation.

The lakeside Black Mountain College was surrounded by nature's beauty. On the down side, it was cold. Originally a YMCA retreat, the college was built for summers. The students studied in the morning and worked in the afternoon. Haase was among those who built a new school across the valley. At the 50-year reunion, he was delighted to see his foundation stone work had stood the test of time.

Sailing with Albert Einstein

His physics professor was none other than Albert Einstein. The busy man was rarely on campus, so the task of educating fell to his young assistant, Peter Bergmann, who also made a name for himself. On one of his rare visits, Einstein wistfully looked out at a sailboat, barely big enough to accommodate two people. When he asked if he might go sailing, the boat's owner, 19-year-old Haase, was summoned.

Upon their return to shore, students were curious as to what in the world the two discussed. "We talked about sailing," Haase says. "He had a boat that was quite similar in Berlin." Some time later, the student was surprised to receive an envelope from Einstein's photographer. It held a photo of the great physicist sailing in his own modest boat.

In 1942, Haase was hired for the summer at a camp on Alamoosook Island, Maine. His main duty was keeping a watchful eye on Jon Lindbergh, son of the famous aviator Charles. The boy's elder brother had been kidnapped and murdered. "I never let my eyes off him," he says.

Haase studied naval architecture at the University of Michigan, and then joined the U.S. Navy. He served in Japan, Hawaii, and on the West coast, then went on inactive duty in June 1946. The following summer he returned to Alamoosook Island as mate of the camp's new 45-foot schooner. They explored the coast of Maine and ventured as far away as Digby, where Haase first set foot on Nova Scotian soil.

Sight unseen, he bid on a 38-foot surplus Coast Guard vessel, and was rewarded for his nerve. He named her Seamaras and converted her to a cruiser. In 1948, at the University of Wisconsin, he met his future wife, Mickie. She was among friends and family who joined him on Seamaras' first voyage. In Boston, he sold the vessel as a YMCA service boat.

Pete Seeger

In 1949, the couple bought the Diablesse, a wooden ketch, from its designer-owner, and took a honeymoon cruise on their purchase. Fifty years later they would celebrate their golden anniversary aboard the vessel.

The couple's chartered cruise business kept them on the waters during the summer. Passengers included notables such as musician and activist Pete Seeger, and U.S. astronaut Rusty Schweikart.

Helen & Scott Nearimg

Off-season, they lived in Belmont, Maine, where Haase launched Wellington Books as its publisher, and also wrote magazine articles.

The couple became active in the peace movement. Haase resigned his naval commission as a protest against the Korean War, and later became one of the first American Vietnam War protesters, which eventually led to a move north of the border.

In the early 1950s, Haase reconnected with Helen and Scott Nearing - the pacifist vegetarians widely recognized as founders of the back-to-the-land movement. Twenty years earlier, at the age of 11, he had been introduced to the Nearings by his uncle.

The Nearings left Vermont and bought an old farm in Maine. Haase, living just a few miles away, was invited to become a founding board member of their Social Science Institute. Scott Nearing died at age 100.

"He was in as good shape at 99 as I am now at 82," says Haase with admiration. "He was still hand cutting and splitting all his firewood."

Saving natural growth forests

Haase founded Friends of Nature in 1954 to save Maine's McGlathery Island from being clearcut. McGlathery became the state's first island wilderness sanctuary. Friends of Nature remains active on both sides of the border. The 100 percent volunteer organization is committed to saving natural growth forests from the destructive swath of mono-cultured plantations.

"They're turning the forest into agriculture," Haase says. "It's mowed every 30 years instead of once a year, but they're the same principles."

Plantations are better than no growth at all, he acknowledges, but spraying programs negate any benefits. "For pure air and water, and wildlife, natural forests are essential. The climate change is global - as is the forest destruction. That's why Haiti is such a desperate country. Once its mountains were covered with forests, now they're bare. Forests are the great, modifying influence of the earth's climate."

Man of the Trees

In the fall of 1961, the Haase family - then numbering four - traveled around the world by train and ship. They spent five months in New Zealand with Richard St. Barbe Baker and his wife, Catriona. He was known as Man of the Trees. A long-lasting friendship developed between the two environmentalists, with Haase becoming the North American publisher of several of his books. "My life," he muses, "was most influenced by Black Mountain College, Scott and Helen Nearing, and Richard St. Barbe Baker."

Boat building in Nova Scotia

In 1967, Haase, Mickie, and their three sons moved to Nova Scotia as landed immigrants. By secret ballot, the family chose settling in East Chester rather than Cape Breton. A boatyard was right across the road from their South Shore home. Haase had much sailing expertise, so he bought the shop from John Barkhouse.

"I acquired his two sons, topnotch shipwrights. We turned out a yacht a year for 20 years. I did some of the finishing and all of the rigging."

In 1970, the couple and others founded the Chester Educational Foundation, which operated Chester Country Day School until 1976.

Citizens Against Uranium Mining

Haase was also chairman of Citizens Against Uranium Mining for more than a decade. He has been on the boards of the Ecology Action Centre, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.

After five years in Canada, the parents diligently prepared to become citizens. Haase studied Canadian history with a passion, but, to his disappointment, was asked just one simple question: "Who's the prime minister of Canada?"

Nature Conservation Award

In 2004, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust honored Haase with the Nature Conservation Award. He was the first landowner to donate a conservation easement to the trust, a significant tract of land on the Bras d'Or Lakes in Cape Breton. He has since donated a second conservation easement on the Eastern Shore, protecting four spectacular islands.

In the words of Bob Waldon, a past Nature Trust board member, "He is a person of considerable conviction and principle, but he also turns those convictions and principles into concrete action." What else would you expect from such a fine stonesmith?

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