by Joan Rockwell ’65
After Colby, I finished my medical technology training in DC. It was an exciting place to live during the 1960’s. My husband was finishing up a masters in clinical psychology as I worked in Childrens Hospital doing iron deficiency research and clinical work ups on children with leukemia.
With our combined interest and skills and a tug to move out in to the world, we joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years on the beautiful island of Ponape in Micronesia. My work was consumed with starting a blood bank and blood chemistry unit in an old Japanese elementary school.
We traveled back and forth to work in our sailing outrigger dodging mangrove swamps, cargo ships and all other forms of water craft. Our neighbors helped us build our small two room house that was made of palm fronds and woven reeds. I didn’t know it at the time, but my love of design of the built and natural environment was slowly emerging.
Upon returning from the Peace Corps, we settled in Boulder, Colorado where our two children, Pia and Nicholas, were born. We loved Boulder but yearned for New England where we grew up. We also wanted our children to be closer to family. So, we relocated and settled in Amherst, Mass., where my husband taught at Amherst College.
My Medical Technology education at Colby and my experiences in DC and Micronesia were very compelling. However, I wanted to do more with my education. So, I applied to a handful of physician assistant programs. I was not accepted at any of them. As stressful as this was, I did a lot of soul searching and strongly believed, that I was missing something. One of the sources I relied on was What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles. I poured over this book, doing every exercise and digging deep in to what interested me, what would I be good at, and where were my passions. In the end, a new, bright, engaging, spot-on field of interest emerged…. environmental design.
Five years later, I graduated with a masters degree in Landscape Architecture and Planning from the University of Massachusetts. In my post graduate years, I blossomed. Though science was always part of my life with a grandfather and father both engineer graduates from Yale, so was landscape design.
All my summers growing up were spent on the coast of Maine. My eyes would settle on the soft as well as rugged connections between the fields, woods and shore. The natural beauty never ceased to inspire and encourage me.
I come from a family of artists and engineers. I have always been comfortable in both worlds. In my work as a landscape architect, I have strived to bring the built and natural environment together; to work towards living environments that are comfortable, supportive and beautiful.
In the late 80’s, while working on a co-housing project, I met my second husband, architect Bill Austin. Throughout the ensuing years, though we have our own businesses, we both have worked together on many projects.
During the month of May 2013, we started building our own house in Mid-coast Maine. It is sited on land that has been in my family for over 100 years. Our goal was to build a simple, small, efficient main building that blended in to the natural landscape of the Maine Coast. When our project started, we had already relocated a small “bath house” that later became a tiny guest house. Not much landscaping was needed as the site has an abundance of rock outcroppings, wild blueberries, black spruce, oak and birch.
Over the ensuing years, we have added an “annex” and renovated an existing small cottage near the ocean. All in all, we have created what we had always wanted, a family compound where our large extended family can come any time of the year and enjoy this beautiful place. In the Spring of 2021, Maine Home + Design featured our house and told our story.
Photo credit: Francois Gagne