When your retirement plan is to retire to the other part of your massive property, you know you’re doing well. This is Shelter co-founder Pat Hennin’s farm, 150 acres of hay pastures, barns and a wooded point that overlooks the Kennebec river and marshes.
For us city folk, that’s roughly 24 square city blocks. It’s huge. He and his wife bought it in the 70s when they started Shelter Institute. His 1860s farm house sits on the top by the road and looks over the entire rolling plot.
Pat got his tractor fired up, had a few students line it with hay that he tossed from the hay loft and carted us out to the point where we had a campfire and BBQ overlooking the marshes and river.
Over burgers and corn, I rapped a bit with my fellow students like 16 year-old Thor about how we’ve both accidentally killed birds; me with Alkaseltzer in 8th grade, him with a dart soaked in homemade chloroform (he thought it was going to put it to sleep). He and his friends also “found and restored” an old golf cart and now bomb around Guam in it, where he lives. He’s a good kid, an Eagle Scout.
Eventually, I had to talk more with the most fascinating dude on earth, Pat Hennin, possibly the hippy equivalent of the Dos Equis man. He has built this empire of sorts up here and created an entire family business and community out of it, doing what it is he loves to do and then teaching others to do the same.
Family is definitely the center of what goes on here, the farm is host to massive reunions of over a hundred people. There’s tent platforms and little houses tucked in all over the property.
He took a break during the cookout to jump in the water with two of his grandkids and fling mud around. When asked where his bathing suit was he said “I was born in it!” and then jumped in just in his green skivvies.
His wife passed away 7 years ago from cancer, a week after his dog died. He told me his dog knew she was sick instantly and refused to leave her side. His son and daughter, both instructors at Shelter live on or near their property with their families and they all seem to be some of the nicest, happiest people on earth.
He’s got stories for days about times with his wife, infiltrating various government boards and committees, suing large corporations for being “hugely dishonest” and as my pal Rob might say “being a general shit disturber.”
One of his favorite stunts was going to parties at other people’s homes and removing their toilets. This is a great man. There’s a really sweet picture of Pat and his wife hanging in the class bathroom that kind of says it all:
I walked the winding dirt road all the way across his property back to my car taking in the sounds of the birds and bugs and that sweet smell of hey mixed with tidal flats. If I could do 1/8 as well at life as Pat’s done I’d be a pretty happy dude.