Experimenting with the new block editor and am re-blogging this with a few updates!

The Adventures of Fen Fatale ~ Ecoheroine

The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy. Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing…

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Come write flash nonfiction with me this winter (January 2021) in this unusual hybrid-genres workshop series hosted by Westbrook Adult Education (Maine). We’ll dip our toes in the literary works of the Lake Poets but we’ll really electrify our brains (and imaginations) looking at elements of dark Romanticism and life writing in the literary lives, loves, and works by Romantic women writers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.

Experiment with hybrid genre in this online workshop with Leah Stetson

Write by the flash of lightning–or candlelight, or the flicker of your woodstove fire, –or your desk lamp, and respond to writing prompts that come directly out of dark Romanticism. If you are the sort of person who likes to forage moss in the fall to make a moss garden (for the home and kitchen, or your writing room), why not think about moss as a writing prompt? Moss grows on the walls of castles in dark Romantic fiction that we’ll read in this workshop series.

Blarney Castle grounds, Co. Cork, Ireland. Stetson photo

There’s just something about Mary. But it’s not just about one writer. My love for all things darkly Romantic goes back to my childhood obsession with castles–medieval castles for the most part–and those are a distinctly Gothic element in dark Romanticism, especially in works like Ann Radcliffe’s novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho. (Click on the link at left to see a brief preview of the course content.) Have you ever seen a castle? I grew up next door to a castle in coastal Maine. But last summer, I traveled to Co. Cork, Ireland, where Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her first novel, Mary, A Fiction, one of the short novels we’ll read in this workshop–and I visited Blarney Castle. Personally, I loved the gardens, the grounds, and the mossy, secret tunnels and hiding places outside of the castle like in the photo I took (shown above) on the Blarney Castle grounds near its fern garden. This is the kind of thing that inspires my writing. What about you? Do you like castles? Gothic motifs? Then this workshop is right up your alley.

My Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster-themed jack-o-lantern (a previous Halloween) Stetson photo

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has captured my imagination since I first read her 1818 novel–a work of Dark Romanticism, the combined or hybrid genre of Gothic Romanticism, in high school. I’m not alone. Many other writers, like Kiersten White, who wrote the contemporary retelling of Frankenstein, the New York Times bestseller, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (2015), which I really enjoyed. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of the heroine, Elizabeth Lavenza, for decades, the idea –which Mary Shelley’s various heroes–the Monster and Victor Frankenstein–discuss and debate–of a theoretical “mate” or “bride” for the Monster. My imagination twirled into the idea of “what ifs?” and I wrote the feminist tribute to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (last year), “The Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster, on the Eve of Her Wedding,” which was published in BONED Literary Magazine (and their editor, Nate Ragolia, included my poem in the 2019 Anthology — Boned Every Which Way. But what has truly electrified my imagination has been my research into the literary lives, loves and works of Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and Ann Radcliffe. I’ve noticed elements of their “life writing” in their works–even “fictionalized memoir.” Could Frankenstein have been partly fictionalized memoir?

A sneak preview of this workshop

Did you know that Maine’s first novelist was a woman and that she wrote gothic novels? Yes! Sarah “Sally” Sayward Wood wrote works of dark Romanticism, too, and her first Gothic novel, Julia and the Illuminated Baron (1800) has been compared to Dan Brown novels. How unexpected! Sally Wood is my ancestor by way of marriage to my great-great-great-great grandfather, General Abiel Wood, who was her husband. Like Mary Wollstonecraft, Sally Wood was a pioneer of early feminism in Maine at the turn of the century. She and a friend started the oldest women’s organization in the country–the Wiscasset Female Charitable Society (of Maine) of which I am a member. In fact, I grew up in the same house where she lived and wrote (for part of her life). She lived in Lincoln and York Counties, Maine (even before Maine became a state). I want us to look at her novel Julia and the Illuminated Baron, or her novel, Tales of the Night, in this workshop, if participants are interested. Wood’s sentimental Gothic style might very well be in alignment with themes and motifs we find in British Romantic-Gothic novels, like those by Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft, who pioneered early feminism in the 1790s.

A Scene from Mary Shelley’s novel, Mathilda. Watercolor painting by Leah Stetson

Currently, I am a graduate student in a tenacious pursuit of dark, Romantic ecology of water and wetlands at University of Maine. I’m studying remotely and that’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to offer this workshop online (for participants, who like me, have been practicing social distancing.) Additionally, I taught college-level English classes for Southern Maine Community College 2007-2017, and in that class, I taught literary analysis; some of the students chose to read Frankenstein, and so I can say that I’ve taught classes on elements of Romanticism in the past. I’ve also led creative nonfiction workshops at several public libraries including Walker Memorial (Westbrook, Maine) and Windham Public Library (Windham, Maine), and a blog-based writing workshop at Raymond Village Library (Raymond, Maine). I belong to the Lakes Region Writers Guild in the Sebago Lake Region of southern Maine. I’m really excited to offer this workshop and I hope you can join me to experiment with hybrid genres and read excerpts and works by Ann Radcliffe, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sally Wood, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. This class starts in January 2021. Visit Westbrook Adult Education’s website to register.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out this short preview video in which I discuss Mary Wollstonecraft’s novel, Mary, A Fiction, which she wrote while living in Co. Cork, Ireland in the mid-to-late 1780s. (It was published in 1788.) I hope the short video gives you an idea of the kind of course content offered in this course.)

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
painted by Samuel John Stump
oil on canvas, 1831 (National Portrait Gallery)
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I am “Lady of the Lake”

One of the few helpful aspects of social distancing and self-isolation during this horrible time of the COVID-19 has been taking the time, in solitude, to read, write, organize, create, sketch, and to revisit old favorite hobbies, and passions, like art. Back in March, when my university transitioned to online courses, and my state governor issued a Stay-at-Home order, I felt reasonably “ok” with that, since I felt it was a good time to focus on my graduate study, which requires a lot of reading and writing. Last fall, two of my faculty advisors asked me a difficult philosophical question about why researching the topics I’d proposed was important to me–personally--and my answers then seemed flaky, e.g. “I am Lady of the Lake!” So, I have been thinking about how to answer those questions. It seems like I should be prepared to answer thoughtfully.

In May, I received Honorable Mention for my poem, “My Glacial Erratic,” in the 2020 Fish Poetry Prize, judged and selected by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. My poem will appear in the 2020 Fish Anthology, coming out later this summer. (That’s with Fish Publishing, which holds a number of writing contests each year, based in Ireland.) Since then, I’ve written new poetry, and started drawing images that go with my poetry, and some of it is inspired by recent coursework. Selkies, mermaids, the Irish merrow, bog-women, the Lady of the Lake, and other supernatural female figures in literature (Romanticism as well as other periods, particularly Gothic literature and Arthurian lit) have captured my imagination.

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“Irish Merrow” – one of my watercolors

Enter art journaling. To work through some of my ideas, I’ve started art journaling. It’s now summer, and I’m still self-isolating, and spending a great deal of time at home, on my own, creating. I’ve started working in a blank canvas art journal (Jane Davenport’s supplies).

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Painting on my deck. This piece is one of my mermaid characters from my “Blue Dog and the Sea Fan” series.

It never occurred to me to use my art (and poetry) to think critically about my proposed research, or to answer philosophical questions about my interdisciplinary research. I’d been approaching it methodically, seriously–with critical annotations, a working bibliography, term papers as building blocks, outlines. Now I’m approaching it differently, and I’ve got images of mermaids, selkies, bog-women, and memories of Ireland in my head.

Painting in my art journal– a scene from my trip to Co. Cork, Ireland in 2019

Part of that’s influenced by the research I did on Traditional Ecological Knowledge of seaweed harvesting in Ireland for a term paper. Part of it’s inspired by a Celtic Studies class I’m taking led by Dr. Sharon Blackie. I read her book, Foxfire, Wolfskin, and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women (September Publishing, 2019) which I loved.

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I loved this book by Sharon Blackie!

There’s something very liberating about making art. And it’s a good exercise to pick up a different tool–any tool–whether it’s a paint brush or fountain pen–but a physical tool, one that can be held in the hand to transmit ideas from the mind to the page. I love color. I’ve always responded emotionally to color. As a kid, the gift of a set of colored pens delighted me more than dolls or toys. I still love art supplies and colored pens. Recently, I’ve become quite smitten with art supplies by Jane Davenport, an Australian artist and designer, known as an “Artomologist,” a play on her nature photography, and particularly her love for ladybugs, and other insects. I’ve also really enjoyed her books, such as Marvelous Mermaids. Jane Davenport has a series of art tutorials on Youtube, and I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering my love for making art, partly inspired by her wonderful books, tutorials, and using some of her supplies. The “Mermaid Markers” are some of my favorite supplies, a water-reactive brush pen, like a watercolor alternative, that’s been fun to use. But my absolute favorite thing of hers is the fountain pen, an INKredible pen.

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Inkredible ink fountain pen by Jane Davenport and one of my journals

Twenty years ago, I took a watercolor painting class at College of the Atlantic. Prior to that, I was a writing-art double major (or English major, art minor) at St. Lawrence University. For at least ten years, from high school through college, at four different schools, I loved making art. I incorporated art visuals into my poetry projects and liked making books. Then, in 2004, while in grad school at COA, I was living in a small cottage with a 15-year-old water heater, which leaked badly, flooding my little home, and saturating all of my possessions. My draft master’s thesis, which I’d meticulously organized into piles and chapters, along with my notes and data on my living room floor, floated in ankle-deep water on a soggy shag carpet. Even my old Dell laptop was submerged. One of the fatal losses that really crushed me at the time, three full art portfolios containing all of my art from more than four years in studio art classes–drawings, paintings, photography, self-portraits, watercolors, some of which I’d planned to frame someday (when not working on my master’s thesis). All of my art disintegrated. It was so shocking and sad, I focused on other things, like completing my master’s degree, and moved forward with other projects, and left my ruined art and love for making art, in the past.

In recent years, I’ve rediscovered my love for Kettle Cove State Park (southern Maine), and I have been lucky enough to swim in that small cove over an eelgrass meadow, where I swam and toddled around as a baby more than thirty-five years ago.  Recently, I swam at high tide, in the wake of the New Moon Solar Eclipse in Cancer this June.

Kettle Cove State Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Stetson photo

Every time I swim there, I am flooded with sensations, poems, ideas, and epiphanies. I’m rediscovering myself. I’m reinventing myself. Below is a weird “inner self-” portrait I painted, using watercolors and real Maine eelgrass, which coiled and wrapped around my neck and arms as I swam at Kettle Cove in June.

I collected a few blades of eelgrass, which was floating in the water, and coiled around my wrists as I swam to shore. It also washes ashore along with rockweed, so it’s easy to find there. I incorporated the eelgrass into my art journal.

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“Inner self-” portrait,  multimedia,  “Lass in the Eelgrass” LCS  June 2020

Now, twenty years after my watercolor class in spring 2000 at COA, I’ve picked up my paint brushes again. I’ve started making art again, almost on a daily basis, for the past month. At some point, during the process of social distancing, self-isolating at my home in the Lakes Region of Maine, I felt inspired to start sketching some drawings of symbols and seaweed as part of projects, like the one I did for Folklore and Environmental Policy class. Then, I started sketching ideas for other aspects (inspired by literary works by Romanticism-era writers like Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft) while I organized a strategy for doing my graduate research. That led to the idea of starting an art journal that’s connected to the research I’ve been doing as a student in the Interdisciplinary PhD program. I’m a poet and “ecoheroine,” researching the Eco-Gothic and Arthurian lit in a tenacious pursuit of deep Romantic ecology of wetlands.

All of these images and photos are mine. Please don’t share my images. My art is work-in-progress. Thank you!

“The Invocation of Mary Shelley”

I contemplated the lake: tempted to swim, I stood on the shore in pitchy moonlight, a cascade of shadows in shapes of trees that tricked the eye into seeing some gigantic being, a monster from my past. To escape that memory of hell, I dropped my cloak, and retreating like an innocent-accused into her prison cell, I plunged into the calm, cool water. Whispering a poem as though it were prayer, it seemed that a fallen angel was quick to answer me. Bright flashes of lightning suddenly revealed clouds previously invisible in a black sky; the quiet storm illuminated the lake for several minutes until a dark, lacy veil descended like the faint sketches of an artist, crossing out first lines and drawing a new design, a pentimento of seasons. Summer rains had ceased; the cold miserable fall torrents replaced them, and my placid heart became agitated and weary. Wind licked waves and levitated them from their usual occupation. To my horror, a few curled into dorsal fins, a beast of prey in a troubled sea; I swam away, and slunk ashore, breathless with the thrill, and afraid.

Thunder erupted. Exhilarated, I pulled my shawl around my shoulders and watched the storm bestow a sublime, terrific power. Was I the only thing that beheld this beautiful scene? The frogs, I imagined, long had buried themselves with the worms in the earth. A loon wailed like a banshee. Once my eye recovered from the repeated flashes of lightning, I again retraced my path to the cottage where I took refuge in the most perfect solitude. Upon that vindication I sought from the judge, who bore witness to the depraved deeds of that dæmon, I passed whole days on the lake, often alone, or with a friend, listening to the loons, writing letters and allowing nature to restore me. On many an afternoon, I have seen this lake writhe and turn with the heart of a tempest, reflecting in some manner, the true passions of my nature, the fury and fears of a woman, whose airy singular voice, overwhelmed by danger, could not conquer violence, nor any nightmare, amid the crash and hollow cries of the nightly winds through tall pines.

It was a dreary day in November, many years later, when I tore up the papers that beheld his handwriting—that wretch who loomed like a hangman behind my back, transforming every staircase into a scaffold. I’d discovered the papers in a basket, and accordingly destroyed them, and placed them in the woodstove. I assembled some small branches and built a fire in the stove, watching the flames consume the haunted remnants of that evil spirit. Let those be the last words that fixed my fate to ruin. Here, in this bright cottage in a vale, I became my own protectress. This little wood became my hiding-place. In a nearby land preserve, I walked with my dog in meadows full of white flowers, alive with butterflies and wildness, that radiant sister to innocence. I became an advocate for Nature. It may seem a trifling service, lest I accomplish any small thing to prove myself worthy, at least I will be kind to my fellow creatures, and delight in every fortunate chance to row my little boat upon that lovely lake, or to swim in those glistening afternoons. To its powers of restoration, I owe my happiness. In spring, the ice melts, and a cool mist rises from the lake and flits about the forest; the sun sparkles on the lake, flickering through bare trees, allowing a glimpse of the water from my kitchen window. By late May, rains drench a lush green canopy. It bursts into birdsong. The woods become a fairy-land—rich in berries and nuts for the sparrow, wood frog and deer. -LCS

At the lake

In the flash fiction experiment above, I was drawn to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s sublime imagery in her 1818 novel, Frankenstein, and her metaphor of the lake. When her hero/protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, rows across the lake, he sees his beautiful native land of Geneva, and he’s filled with a sense of relief–until he suddenly sees the gigantic creature, climbing a mountain in the distance, and Victor is again consumed by conflicted feelings of guilt, horror, fear, regret, and self-loathing. The lake seems to reflect his best and worst feelings about himself. I borrowed the lines, “I contemplated the lake,” “I took refuge in the most perfect solitude,” and “I passed whole days on the lake,” directly from Shelley’s novel, and kept those particular lines in mind as I wrote this flash fiction piece about a time, a dozen or so years ago, when I took refuge on a lake in Maine. There was in fact a “monster” of sorts, but not the kind that Victor reanimates in his apartment.  The rest of my flash fiction piece is my own writing although I did experiment with a writing style that aspires to invoke the spirit of Mary Shelley, and a bit of her mother, too, Mary Wollstonecraft, especially in the line, “I became my own protectress,” even though neither Wollstonecraft nor Shelley ever penned that line. Both advocated for the idea of women becoming a “protectress” rather than looking to a man to fulfill that role. (See Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792)

Water is a strong element in Mary Shelley’s writing; she seems to use the water element–whether mist, ice, snow, rain, lakes and the river–to convey human emotion. The type of water she uses and the condition of the weather seems to match the emotional condition of her characters.

Romantic Women Class PostUpdate: Due to the pandemic and school closings and schools’ switch to online learning, this workshop was postponed. Hopefully I may be able to teach this in the fall of 2020, but it’s not definite yet.

I’m hoping to offer this in fall of 2020:  I have been asked to lead a workshop series for Westbrook Adult Education (Westbrook, ME) with the theme of women writers of the Romanticism period, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley.

Travel back in time 200 years to the Romanticism period (1780s-1820s) and explore the lives and literary works of at least three Romantic women writers, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Shelley. Pioneers of early feminism, Gothic literature, and the inventor of the famous “Frankenstein’s Monster,” these women writers influenced the work of other writers of their time, and for two centuries—as we still have books today on the New York Times Bestseller list that are contemporary retellings of Frankenstein, or that invoke the spirit of the Gothic, or 1790s botany with storytelling.  “Life writing,” known today as creative nonfiction, grew in popularity among women of the Romantic period. We will read from a selection of their works, discuss aspects of their “life writing,” and ask why it was important for women to tell their stories.

In this class, students will have an opportunity to write short memoir pieces in the form of short ‘experiments’ in life writing. There will be at least one in-class writing activity, and several take-home writing prompts. Genres may range from first-person narrative creative nonfiction, travel narrative, or short fiction. We will experiment with hybrid genres, such as short-form nonfiction, otherwise known as “flash nonfiction.”

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The short-form nonfiction essay form has been around for two centuries but became more popular in the mid-19th century.  We will look at examples of short-form nonfiction essays that offer a new approach to memoir writing from contemporary sources. We will also look at some of Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Mary Shelley’s travel writing, which contained personal life history (memoir). I’ve developed a unique writing exercise that’s inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein–but we will also experiment with other in-class writing prompts on occasion (probably only once per class session), or there will be a take-home writing prompt as an optional experiment. For our last class in May, we will choose a nice place to sit and share our writing pieces, once everyone has had a chance to write a piece they feel comfortable sharing with the group. We may hold our last session at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook, Maine. Times and dates TBD, but it will most likely be in fall 2020. Possibly online options.

Historically, classes focused on William Wordsworth and Percy B. Shelley, and this workshop won’t ignore the male Romantics; but we will focus our attention on the works by Romantic women writers from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We will read excerpts from Maine/New England women writers from the period, too, to notice how the works of the British writers influenced those living and writing here in the northeast.

This class is open to anyone who likes to read and is curious about these Romantic women writers; all genders and perspectives are welcome! This is ideal for those who have an interest in writing short creative nonfiction and/or short fiction in the theme of “life writing.” It is highly recommended that each participant bring a notebook, writing utensil(s), and if possible, a laptop. Participants, ideally, will have access to a computer to write and to read online materials, or to view the occasional short video. Dates: Thursdays, 6-745pm starting March 19th running through May 14th      

For more information and/or to register, please click here. Seating is limited to 8 participants. Please call to register, or register online.

 

0This past summer, July 2019, I had the honor of receiving “Honorable Mention” in the annual Fish Publishing prize for poetry; one of my poems, “Capes and Daggers,” was published in the Fish Anthology 2019. Poet Billy Collins judged the poetry contest in 2019; Collins will also judge the 2020 poetry contest. This is a huge honor and I was very grateful to be included.

To learn more about Fish Publishing’s future / upcoming poetry and short story and memoir contests, visit Fish Publishing’s website. They are based in Southwest Ireland in Co. Cork.  The book is also available on Amazon as a Kindle version.

In June 2019, I traveled to southwest Ireland, Co. Cork, to attend a conference at UCC, to explore nature preserves, to learn more about Ireland’s saltmarshes and intertidal zone. I participated in a traditional seaweed harvesting workshop and paddled a kayak on Lough Hyne, a rare saltwater lake. I also visited a saltmarsh in Kinsale, outside of the city of Cork. I learned a lot while I was there. Here’s a quick overview of Irish saltmarshes:

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Sorry about the typo above. This is a map showing the saltmarshes along the Irish coast (2017 data from Wetland Survey Ireland.

saltmarsh-wmi-2016_med  I went to a bird sanctuary in Kinsale. It’s a restored saltmarsh. The marsh is an artificial lagoon with restored saltmarsh habitat for conservation. This includes some rare species recorded in the 2007-2008 survey (of all saltmarshes, Ireland). Notable: changes in range, increase in Borrer’s saltmarsh grass (Puccinellia fasciculata) found here. It was a really windy day and the wind kept pushing my binoculars against my face as I watched egrets. 20190627_122955

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Cammogue Marsh Wildlife Marsh and Bird Sanctuary, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland (Stetson photo)

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been taking a course to further my journey toward becoming a certified English teacher. “Methods of Teaching Secondary English” is a required course for teachers in Maine. For the class final project, we were assigned to design a lesson plan that is “original, inspired (or inspiring) and presented using some type of technology, which might be out of the comfort zone of the author.” I am not accustomed to making videos or movies of myself using iMovie or Youtube, other than the occasional cat video that I make in my living room. (Note: I never subject others to these little movies about whatever funny thing my cat did. I think the Internet has plenty of these gems without my contribution.)

First, I had to learn how to use iMovie. I started by calling my best friend, who seems to know all things related to whatever issue I’m having on my Mac. Then, I watched tutorials on Youtube, started practice filming for a different assignment earlier on in the course. I made the dorkiest iMovie, trust me, including action shot of me, weeding my garden as a metaphor for how English teachers have to cultivate the “constant gardener,” or “constant writer,” in their classrooms. Then I set up a Vimeo account, which was fairly easy. I may be the last person to do this (have you done this yet?) Next, I had to edit my iMovie, patching together many, many pieces of footage, or “clips,” and record voice-overs for certain parts, attempting to sound professional without sounding like the authoritative Catholic school nun from the 1980 “Blues Brothers,” scolding my audience, well, without the ruler.

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I made a video for my final project. I designed an original lesson plan called, “The Writers Cafe.” Also, I had to do a rain-dance in my dining room, wait patiently for 22 hours while the video uploaded to Vimeo and “converted,” whatever that meant. It was such a long wait that I thought I had done something wrong. And I had selected the “high” quality resolution but not the best quality/professional resolution. I made it with the recent-most version of iMovie on my MacBook Pro. So far I have received some great feedback from my instructor and classmates on my lesson plan. The video is no longer available for viewing.

In 2011, my family lost my step-dad, Michael, on this day, July 10. I thought of him the other day when I passed a vintage Volvo, a man driving it through South Portland with a very long piece of lumber tied on top to the roof rack. Orange flags trailed in the wind. It reminded me of my step-dad, who drove a vintage Volvo when he first came into our lives (and I later adopted one 1986 Volvo, which had belonged to his grandparents). Michael, a Scorpio, and a self-taught Buddhist, who shared my love of swimming in the lakes and ocean, loved to paint and draw, play guitar and piano, and sing in his band. While he was a respected regulatory lawyer, his first love was probably the ocean and boats. I wrote this poem in memory of him, just after he passed away July 2011.

Sallow, Sailing

Michael Julian at lake

Michael and my brother at the lake

The Buddhist believed, as Michael read,
The willow extended compassion. And
Shakespeare spared the sallow
To symbolize loved ones parted.

Leaning, a big umbrella over our little beach,
A weeping willow’s silky leaves tickled us
As it hovered and hugged when we ducked
Beneath soft slender branches, air mattresses
Tucked under our arms as kids at the lake.

Willows wear watery bark, tolerant swimming trunks;
Ancient Greeks believed the tree remedied aches—
A precursor to aspirin, but more likely, ours stabilized
The ground, holding us together with tough tenacious
Roots unseen while we looked upon a dreamy canopy
Of green all summer: our windbreaker, shade-maker,
Father to our shores, a crown of butterflies.

Long after someone felled the willow,
Michael backed the Volvo into the grove
Trailing a sunfish he launched at Little Sebago.
He loved the ceremony of boat maintenance: standing
On principle waist-deep, wrapping rope, tacking
And teaching his son to sail at sunset,
The art of swerving tall torsos
Tango straight-backed
Timed to the boom.

Hot pink blooms on the breeze
Danced chaotically into pines,
Maples and oak trees, their
Backward leaves flipped
By a sudden change
Held like hands
To a face.

Two brothers sailed in bright
Sun & Michael’s windy voice;
We talked while treading water,
Pausing for the faded
Break on the beach,
a wave’s echo.

                 In loving memory of Michael

Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Walking around Chaffin Pond today in North Windham with my dog, Sophie-Bea, we kept our ears pricked for peepers, or wood frogs, but didn’t hear them. I anticipate that after today’s afternoon showers, together with this eerily warm spell, the wood frogs and salamanders will make their annual journey back to vernal pools to spawn. I have a vernal pool in my woods at Nixie’s Vale and like to listen to the wood frogs in April. By May, they hop through my woods and over my yard, heading for uplands. At Chaffin Pond, a 13-acre freshwater pond that’s part of the 123-acre Windham Parks and Recreation Donnabeth Lippman Park, there are two identified vernal pools and an educational sign for visitors, explaining the significance of vernal pools. See a map of the pond and park here.  Right now, it’s clear that the local Conservation Corps volunteers are implementing some erosion control measures. Wetlands act as natural “controls” for protecting roads and dry land from run-off and for controlling erosion, however, during heavy rains, the pond’s water can get quite high and overflow onto the trails very easily. Thus it seems prudent for the use of man-made erosion control barriers to protect fish habitat from sediment intrusion, especially during such projects as replanting grass in the park recreation areas.

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Today’s walk was a little muddy in places, so I recommend wearing the right boots, and staying on the trails, rather than trying to go around certain muddy spots. The 20160401_123203Conservation Corps volunteers built and installed beautiful bridges that cross some of the wetter areas, brooks, including Hyde and Outlet Brook, and crossing through some of the areas that include vernal pools. These pools look shallow but would be deep enough for someone wearing hip-waders to feel that cool water creep into their pant legs. I know the feeling all-too well: several years ago, in 2010, I waded into vernal pools throughout parts of Windham, Maine, as part of a vernal pool mapping and monitoring project with University of Maine, Orono. Along with my monitoring partner, a land conservation colleague, I waded into vernal pools, counted wood frogs and salamander eggs, and took photographs for the projects data collection. (I previously blogged about that experience on Strange Wetlands.)

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Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program has mapped the wetlands of Windham, including those adjacent to Chaffin Pond, including Boody Meadow. I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s something mysterious and irresistible about wetlands. These maps, while informative, don’t take any of that mystery or lush

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

meaning away from these special places, at least for me. Instead, maps serve to identify, aid in the planning, sometimes for conservation purposes, or to show connectivity between waters. While walking around in the woods, it’s sometimes hard to imagine from a bird’s eye view how all of these much smaller waters connect and eventually feed Sebago Lake, an incredibly important drinking water source for most of southern Maine!

Map legends, below, show the various types and functions of the wetlands shown in the map of the Chaffin Pond preserve (at right).

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

 

Light green highlighted areas indicate an aquatic bed with submerged aquatic vegetation. Red highlighted areas indicate emergent wetlands, classified as having erect, rooted hydrophytes and usually dominated by perennials. You won’t typically see mosses and lichens in those areas. The dark green highlighted areas are forested or shrub-scrub wetlands. Orange highlighted areas indicate shrub-scrub wetlands, or woody vegetation less than 20 feet tall. These include smaller, young or stunted trees and shrubs. Grey highlighted areas identify rocky shorelines or bottom.

Sophie-Bea noticed some movement in the woods in the preserve by the pond, pointing as she does, when the 50% of her that’s pointer is active. (She’s half dachshund.) We passed a young man fishing for trout and largemouth bass. The

Sophie-Bea points

Sophie-Bea points

pond’s submerged vegetation and shallows along the shoreline make ideal habitat for largemouth bass. There’s no boat launch, however, it’s an ideal spot to put in a kayak or a canoe. (I found the story of a father and son’s fishing experience on Chaffin Pond out of their canoe on the Amazing Fish-a-Metric blog.) What’s interesting to me is how this pond changes from one season to the next. Later in spring, a large area of the preserve will come alive with beautiful green ferns and I like to follow a trail that goes past Boody Meadow, a wetland that filters water that drains into Sebago Lake via Outlet Brook and other unnamed tributaries. Today the brook was running fast and I imagine after this afternoon’s rainstorm, it’s rushing like river rapids on a much smaller scale.

April1ChaffinPond

We love walking there year-round, regardless of mud on the trails. In January, we tromped through slush and last summer, we sauntered through the ferns alongside Boody Meadow, imagining moose and muskrat moving through the wet meadow, unseen, undiscovered, perhaps watching us.

Pretty soon, we’ll return and hear the peepers, after their “Big Night,” a series of rainy nights in early April, when the wood frogs return to the vernal pools by Chaffin Pond, and spawn. These small endangered creatures are vital to Maine’s fish and wildlife ecosystems. Keep that in mind when you’re driving home late at night and see dozens of frogs leaping across the road–something so bizarre it seems straight out of an “X-Files” episode–but as fantastic as it seems, it’s part of real spring in Maine.

Update: Tonight on my way home from the grocery store, a dozen or so frogs leapt across the road –their familiar silhouettes illuminated in the beam of the headlights. I slowed down and smiled.

 

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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