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In Mary Wollstonecraft’s first novel, Mary, A Fiction,
which is really truly a hybrid memoir,
she writes of her own love for her friends,
and fleeting happiness.

“I follow a fleeting good, an ignis fatuus; but this chase, these struggles
prepare me for eternitywhen I no longer see through a glass darkly
I shall not reason about, but feel in what happiness consists.”
(-Wollstonecraft, from Mary, a Fiction)

And from her unfinished novel, Maria, Or, the Wrongs of Woman,
which she was writing at the time of her death, ten days after
giving birth to her daughter, Mary (Godwin) Wollstonecraft Shelley
in 1797. In this unfinished novel, the heroine, Maria, is a woman kept
in an asylum because her husband had her committed
for hysteria.

A magic lamp now seemed to be suspended in Maria’s prison,
and fairy landscapes flitted round the gloomy walls, late so blank.
Rushing from the depth of despair, on the seraph wing of hope,
she found herself happy.
            —She was beloved, and every emotion was rapturous.”

(Wollstonecraft, from Maria, Or the Wrongs of Woman)

Today is May Day, and so I feel hopeful: my dachshund-pointer,
Sophie-Bea turns 13 years old sometime this month, or the next.
I watched her sitting in the backyard today and wrote this poem.
It may seem like a strange combination or association, but Mary
Wollstonecraft was a double-Taurus, and we are now in the
“season of Taurus,” and my dog is Taurean, and I, like Mary
Wollstonecraft, and my dog, were all born in what is known
as the “Third Lunar Mansion” with the moon in Taurus. I used
all of the words from the two quotes from Wollstonecraft to
help me articulate my emotions around my love for Sophie-Bea.

A  magic(-ical) moon in Taurus,
       at that degree between Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft,
I share their possessive tendencies

     toward appreciating good and beautiful things. We were born
in the third lunar mansion

      as though we possessed a genie’s good will
and an instinct to follow a glowing lamp

           lit us up             led us along        that path of the will o’ the wisp,    
now     it’s    fleeting,
      this good fortune           and not one of us   (well, maybe Rousseau)     
languished in its light.           I tend to think that the little pleasures      
birdsong, a lake swim, hearing the foxes in the woods
under a full moon, or the heart-wrenching call of the loons,
or watching my beloved dachshund-pointer recline in the grass,
her hind legs splayed frog-like,
       sniffing the spring air,
all seemed so good for a few years.

We hiked and swam, romped through meadows;
she followed butterflies and splashed into the waves
at the ocean. But these days, these perfect days
of joy and unrelenting freedom, at times of crisis, or illness,

              I now realize they turned out to be an ignis fatuus          
a meandering marsh fairy leading me along a lovely
sunlight dappled forested path to an unknown meadow, or glade.

      My dog is equally enchanted,
and we just keep going, no intentions of
ever returning to the car

                 or wherever we have to be.          
It started with a funny cough. But this  

merely     suspended our runs through the land trust preserve,
and brisk beach walks in November.

   She fainted once, then in the fall,
her lungs filled with fluid; she went into congestive heart failure.

            In delirious optimism, or denial, we chased
remedies and recipes for low-sodium diet for her.  

        I started cooking for my dog. Sweet potatoes,
chicken (no salt), grilled asparagus, turkey, salmon fillets,
and kale—surprisingly, she loves green vegetables,
and cucumber slices (and fish).

         In the summer heat of a Maine heat wave,
I filled the kiddie pools in the yard, and she waded.

We visited my mother by the river, and Sophie-Bea
lounged in the marsh, a healthy curve to her back,
  she reclined like an empress in a salty breeze
while I swam. She watched me

From the riverbank, occasionally wading into the water
herself to cool her round belly.

      Perfect days like this I find myself singing to myself,
“How do you solve a problem like Maria’s?” 
All of my favorite things—and my lovely little dog

     In one place: the river, the seaweed,
the hummingbirds swooping as I rinse off in the shower—

And she seems comfortable, breathing easy,
meanders like a four-legged elf along the shore,

  Her black spots on her white body almost resemble
a longer version of a cartoon “Snoopy,”

     But with an elegant Elizabeth Taylor
from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” feminine self-assurance

She knows where’s she’s going, and what she wants to do.
These small pleasures I cherish
  watching her. In winter, I know, it will be the opposite:
the freezing cold temperatures and storms,

   the storms I used to love for all of their dramatic appeal—
the warmth of the woodstove — Instead, these stormy
wintry nights feel like an exhausting prison. I turn on the humidifier,

  I make the air as breathable as possible for her. She struggles.
I worry and prepare for the worst.

       February, my favorite month, becomes a nightmare of sorts,
and I think I’ve lost her. But, like the forest, this heart disease
of hers is a weird unpredictable experience. She tells me,

          “I’m happy.” She flits about the house, playful with her toys,
interested in new foods, and charming new side of her emerges
nearly like a marsh fairy.    Suddenly, my dachshund-pointer
is cheery again, the worst is over: it’s spring again; she’s pointing.

     She’s in the yard, looking for birds, or squirrels,
but not chasing anything.
She walks calmly.

She traverses the woods    
soft-stepped, a sure-footing,
and doesn’t take her chances

with more than a trot through the yard in the rain.
This rare time of year we see the pond

    through the trees, and feel grateful for these warm,
sunny landscapes – patches of blue buds of green and
red on the trees.   My dog is nearly thirteen-years-old,
either this May or June—

(hard to say because she was a rescue)
but she was definitely born under the influence of Taurus!

   One of her most defining characteristics,
besides strong neck and shoulders, her independence!

         When not on her 50’ long “training leash” in the yard
(a precaution, post-diagnosis)

  She flitted through the woods like a wood frog or songbird,
or fairy. She’d disappear, and reappear

      with black legs—evidence of her visit to the Bog of Eternal Stench
in the black ash seep just beyond Fern Gully here at Nixie’s Vale.
I forgave the eternity of bog aroma because I love her—
and lavender coat conditioner works quite nicely.

When we swam out deep

    Together, that first August of 2009,
in the lake I knew like the back of my own thigh, I knew

            She was a keeper—my soulmate,
the kind of dog with a pointy-dachshund face and a round
curvy torso, wagging full-bodied, and could jump six feet into the air
from a standing position—

  Unusual and completely unexpected.
I had known the gloomy days of post-traumatic stress, months,
no, years of the gloom I could not quite pierce (even with my herbal remedies)
Until I found my dog. No, I don’t think my dog was a “crutch,”
as one psychologist suggested.

    We found our footing together;
she was recovering from whatever horrible trauma in Arkansas,

     I think she was a recovering model for Purina,
or a hunting school failure, abandoned
on a highway in Hot Springs. Together, in my house in the vale,
our walls came down. Some nights, she slept-walked into the closet,
and climbed into my laundry basket,

I’d go and turn the light on, and wake her; she’d look around,
disoriented. The longer she

    She’d go without sleep-walking, for months—
this happened late at night, she did so without
ever once making a noise—not a bark, not a yip,
no sound uttered from her throat.

   It was as if her ululative instincts were inhibited,
or dysfunctional; she could not ululate.

We formed a language in other ways;
I made hand gestures, and she mouthed my hand

   While we walked side-by-side. In the night,
she began making little sniffy noises, huffs, and sighs
until a year had gone by, and she finally, for the first time, barked!
And then it was as if a window had opened.
Her personality shined through in the second year—so see-through

   We were transparent to one another.
She knew my secrets, and I knew hers.
Her expressions

        Just a look and I could read her eyes;
we talked a myriad of miscellaneous trivia her news of the woods

The kinds of conversations you can only have
with a dog who already knows your past
by smelling all that permeates your skin
your bedsheets your clothing and your wall is blank glass

       The two of you together—dog and woman—
might as well be mother and daughter,

Or confidantes, or two lovers, as weird as that may sound—
at least, two souls darkly
Aware of one another’s dreams and nightmares;
we wake the other up when the images

Come rushing in the night like a thunderstorm, or howling wind. 
I guess she is a part of me from every vulnerability   
and the parts that we cannot eat, or climb under to make a den,

Or swim through to cool our bellies, we shall make do with,          
she and I know the depths

   We go to avoid death. Of more than one occasion,
this dog has simply saved my life, and then

Saved the lives of others, who never knew her name,
or cared. She also helped small children

  Overcome their cynophobia (and their parents,
delighted, stood back and let them pet her)

Sophie-Bea took this responsibility very seriously—
on her back, motionless, full submission

 Not to interfere, I stepped aside to let her shine.
She thrives in the company of admirers.
    In solitude, during isolation, we do not despair.
We take solace in the slope of the yard,

      The birdsong and sunshine, a reason for living—
she reclines on the deck.

A phoebe swoops and lands on the back of my chair.
Up close, I make eye contact, and wish

      This is an on omen. Sophie-Bea glances over briefly,
the seraph-like bird flexes her little wings

         And is off again. I sip my tea and make a wish
about this day, but of course I know

I can only hope she will still feel content
and comfortable tomorrow and in the days that follow.
     Today I found out she will not eat liver
(another thing we have in common)

        What she will eat, and when, is a mood-dependent lunar thing.
She knows herself.

Now that the sun and the planets are in the sign of Taurus,
I feel happy, and hopeful.
  She is breathing easy tonight, this May Day,
and was able to walk about her beloved yard.

    And inspect the perimeter of every corner of her territory.
These small victories

Conjure an emotion in me that stir that magical lamp
and I again call upon the genie, if he, or she,

   Might still be listening, and if the genie was willing to make note:
my list consists of her happiness

  All these spring afternoons, for her,
I wish for easy breathing, birdsong, and breeze-sniffing:
and dreaming butterfly meadows
and grassy beds on the riverbank rapturous.  

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.

 

In 2007, I joined the adjunct faculty at Southern Maine Community College in the English Department. Prior to that, I led creative

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At Willard Beach, SMCC

writing workshops and taught Adult Education classes. Over the years, I have developed some course materials and ways of teaching the building blocks of essays, and have geared these lessons for college freshmen. My students tell me that they haven’t learned this material in their high school English classes.  While I am sure that their capable high school teachers introduced rhetorical modes such as “cause and effect,” “defining a term,” “process analysis,” “description with figurative language,” and “literary analysis,” I package these a little differently. I enjoy teaching young writers the craft of creative nonfiction–and that is how I put it to them: they are writing personal narrative essays, rather than “homework” or “college papers.” It seems to fly.

 

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Grading papers by the pond

Since I’m an adjunct professor, and I don’t have an office on campus, I meet with my students in local delis, public libraries and the Adult Education office at the high school. I give my students the option of meeting with me outside of class to go over their drafts, discuss revisions and research papers. I grade papers outside on the patio, on a picnic table by the pond, and at my dining room table–an ongoing project all semester. Sometimes my dog serves as my T.A. On several occasions this fall, it has been so warm and lovely out, Sophie-Bea and I walked at Chaffin Pond in Windham, Maine, and took my students’ papers to grade at one of the picnic tables in the preserve.

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Sophie-Bea watches the ducks while I grade papers

I started the semester by assigning my students a “sense of place” essay that uses descriptive writing. At first, my students struggled with the very concept of “description.” I asked them to describe camping in the Maine woods. One student suggested, “bears.” I asked for more details. The same student said, “I’ve got nothin’.” The rest of the class remained silent, perhaps horror-stricken. For all of the Facebook and Twitter and Instagram posts with emoticons, which do the work of describing their emotions and experiences for them, my students had either lost or forgotten how to describe something with adjectives. And forget about figurative language! I had my work cut out for me.

 

 

Yesterday, I took Sophie-Bea on a walk along the Great Pond Trail in Cape Elizabeth. I was a little confused 11219090_10206785449736207_536050441539610155_nabout the parking situation but learned that it’s not appropriate to park in the neighborhood next to the trail head–and in the summertime, it’s not permitted to park at the lot in front of the neat little cafe and ice cream stand with the mermaids painted on the side of the building. So I goofed. I parked in the wrong spot and I was reprimanded. Lesson learned! In the meantime, we did have fun exploring the maze of trails that travel along the edge of Great Pond, the largest wetland in Cape Elizabeth. Sophie-Bea bush-wacked through the tall grass like she was Crocodile Dundee. By the end of our walk, her white legs had turned to black stockings from the mud.

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Possible gnome footprints

Sophie-Bea and I walked at Morgan Meadow again today. It was easy-going, since other walkers, cross-country skiiers, hikers on snowshoe and snow-machines had packed the snow down solid. It felt like walking on tundra. We didn’t see any wildlife but we followed some interesting tracks here and there. Mostly deer. It’s 36°F and feels good in the lungs. Spotted a few tree trunks perfect for building gnome homes, although, it’s possible someone was already living there.

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Sophie-Bea on Morgan Meadow Trail

My pointer-dachshund bounded down the trail…elated to be out of the house and somewhere other than the woods at Nixie’s Vale. We’re both restless. I love seeing her so happy.

HappyEars

Happy ears, happy dog

Morgan Meadow, a wildlife preserve that’s a combination of wetland and upland (1,081 acres), is managed by the State of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department and the Town of Raymond. The Raymond Conservation Commission played a strong role in the project several years ago. For information and a map of this preserve, click here. 

Return to-and-from Morgan Meadow

“Isn’t this nice?” I breathed cool misty fog
Just like my mother would say on an island,
But I was talking to my curvy hot dog dog,
A pointer-dachshund, who isn’t that reliable
When I let her run off-leash; the meadow

Seemed deserted, a 500-acre preserve,
No one else parked in the lot so I got risky,
Let the dog romp loose; lessons learned:
Once, she bounded unleashed into the woods
During our tour with the Inland Fisheries
Wildlife Biologist, and his great dane, Gus, rescued
Sophie-Bea. She trotted beneath his elegant body
As he galloped; it’s fleeting, the love lives
Of dogs, or so I have observed.

We tromped through unpredictable snow,
Followed deer tracks, boot holes and paths
Of snow-machines, a sort of broken treadmill
With trap doors for every third or fourth
Footfall, suddenly ankle-and-shin deep,
Crust-cutting and gator-bruising (I should
Have worn knee-pads). We trekked

A mile or more, then turned back, a hard
Walk (The dog snorted cold air and I panted
“Wait for me,” not a command she obeys.)
I felt somehow dismayed not to have
Seen wildlife, though there were signs:
Scat and smells the dog investigated.

At home, we guzzled water and cracked
Open some windows to let 40 degree
Fresh air fill the house; after that,
The dog tore through the upstairs
Screen, over the bulkhead, diving
Head-first, paws out, as if to jump!

There, by the lilac, where I’d tossed
Soft apples for squirrel and deer,
A small grey opossum rummaged
Around, not showing any fear
While my dog bashed herself
Against the window panes.

Oh, the pointless hysterics,
As I searched, half-naked,
Mid-dressing, for the camera
To take its picture.

I went out in mismatched PJ pieces
Breakfast slippers like an old man
Inching toward this bizarre species
That really belongs in Arkansas—
Just look at the headlines: “Recipe
Time: Eat Possum,” “Opossum
Found at Courthouse,” “Officials
Say ‘unlikely culprit’ raided Scout
Troups’ snack tray,” “Possum Tails:
How to Care for Your Pet.”

oppossum

Leah Stetson photo

Seeing this nonnative creature waddle
Through my little Maine wooded seep
Makes me wonder about the weirdos
Who save orphaned opossums, keep
Them as pets and make home videos
Of their marsupials doing pig-tricks.

Now bobcats and red foxes, moose
And coyotes, hell, local legends
Of wild dogs (they’re suspicious)
Run ‘round Morgan Meadow’s
Marshland and forested wetlands,
But the possum is a new-comer.

Its population won’t sky-rocket;
The possum’s plight is pathetic.
It doesn’t survive under pressure
(Tires, mainly, the kill’s automatic)
On my drive up the Hill of Doom,
I swerved to avoid a dead one,
Quite possibly the same possum
That drove my dog nuts.

She’s from Arkansas, too.

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Poet’s note: I woke up yesterday morning with a pinched nerve or some kind of painful back spasm. I’m not one for pain medication, so I have been stretching and soaking, rolling around on tennis balls and walking like Carrie Bradshaw in the episode with Charlotte’s 2nd wedding. Yeah, that bad.

A January To-Do List

Nurse coconut mango tea with dandelion root and bitters
Feed the cats and dead-head the dish garden; water the moss
Pluck juicy sections of pink grapefruit and bag up the litter
Clear off the dining table I inherited from my grandparents
Read the Human Ecology Review and sort the harmless mail
Let the dog out, then in again, patiently listen to her vent
Work up the motivation to vacuum the living room
Dig out my most conservative swimsuit for the lap pool
Roll tennis balls beneath the origin of my back spasms
Debate what to wear to burlesque dance classes;
Squeeze into inappropriate ensembles (as practice)
Call the Department of Labor to obtain a password;
Hear bad ‘hold music’ on the phone for 45 minutes
Ask a local guy to sand my long luge of a driveway
Strap on Nana’s “cramp-ons” to walk on the ice
Forage for birch bark blown down in the wind;
Write checks, a new poem and thank-you notes
Lug firewood and put the clean dishes away
Build a fire in the woodstove, sustain the heat
Curl up with Daphne du Maurier’s lost stories
Hold a warm mug of spicy chai with milky oats
Spoil the dog; rub her belly and give her treats.
Listen to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me;” get cozy,
Soak in the tub with lavender and chamomile;
I don’t have to do anything for a while.

~Leah

Around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, I finally shut off the tablet and the light to go to sleep, when –as if on cue, an otherworldly howl shuddered through the woods. It was a lonely howl, unanswered. Usually the dogs of the neighborhood call to one another late at night. I worry about them since it’s getting colder and I wonder why their owners let (or make) their dogs stay outside all night. But this particular howl wasn’t dog-like, or wolf-like, or like any coyote I’d ever heard either. It was a mix of canine and human-like cries. Logically, I told myself it could be an animal in the throes of death, in the clutches of another animal, and those encounters can bring about strangely horrific sounds. Deer also make strange noises during rutting season – but it’s not the right time of year and it was only one howl, not likely a deer. I ruled out fisher, too, since it didn’t sound like a woman being murdered.

MTV’s Teen Wolf

My mind was full of inventive possibilities since I’d just finished watching the first season of MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” which is excellent. Season 2 is terrific, too, and I look forward to the third installment of the series, which is supposed to have 24 episodes. I liked the mix of settings from the woods to the lacrosse field to the classroom. It picks up on the same premise as the 1980s classic with Michael J. Fox, a movie I adored as a kid, but MTV put a slick modern spin on the story line: hunters, ancient mythology, werewolf packs. As much as I respect a girl who knows how to use a cross-bow, I had to hand it to Holland Roden, the actress who plays Lydia Martin, a redheaded popular girl, who is highly intelligent (perfect grades, leadership skills, on the path to winning a Fields Medal someday) teen-ager who plays dumb strategically. Roden’s portrayal of that complex character is refreshingly original. She’s sort of like a “Mean Girl” who gets a supernatural makeover and reveals herself to be much deeper than anyone guessed.

Holland Roden as Lydia

I think what I like best about Lydia’s character is that she reminds me of my friend, Jodie, in appearance and creative style. Jodie and I have the same birthday, and as Pisceans, we’re idealists. Lydia seems like an idealist, too, and romanticizes her relationship with her beau, Jackson, who goes through a bit of a monstrous metamorphosis, with many, many manifestations. Good thing Lydia knows archaic Latin and sees his true colors (even though he is a snake at times, quite literally!) The show is great -but if you can’t handle suspense or supernatural horror/violence, then pass on this one. This show beats the Twilight series in a number of categories, one being werewolf fights. Well choreographed! The plot is 10x more compelling in “Teen Wolf” than in many other supernatural series on screen today. Two thumbs up!

Then this morning around 6 a.m., a large dark animal crept over the stone wall in my backyard. It moved stealthily. It was bigger than a dog, even the German Shepherds on either side of my house, and stayed low to the stone wall, creeping like a cat. My dog went bananas, throwing herself at the door. My cats peered out the window. Everyone seemed to buzz with excitement. I guessed it to be the bobcat that shows up in my backyard every winter–only this year she/he is early. My cats seemed to run from window to window, taunting my dog: “the bobcat’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble, hey now, hey now, the bobcat’s back!” I waited a while before I took my dog out on her leash so she could sniff around. I could tell by my dog’s tail that the bobcat was long gone.

Tonight on my way home, after dark, the headlights of the Subaru flashed a pair of glowing eyes in a dark shape moving across the road. It looked like a very big black dog. It didn’t have a collar – at least not one that was visible – and it walked in an awkward way, its shoulders pronounced and protruding above and behind its head. It stopped on the side of the road and turned to face my car, as I slowly drove past, thinking it was a neighbor’s dog out too late, unattended. No houses or people walking nearby, no driveways around. I hope–if it was someone’s dog–that it got home alright. On the other hand, a part of me wondered if it was a stray, a lost dog or a wild dog. This area has been known for wild dogs for over 60 years, though there hasn’t been a large pack since the 1950s, according to the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife guys I asked two years ago. Around here, there is an unspoken understanding among hunters, too, that if they see an animal they believe is a “wild dog,” they’re allowed to shoot it, even if it turns out to be someone’s pet. That’s the part of the culture and deeply-embedded mythology of this place that’s real, not fiction. It’s what people believe, and what their fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, told them as children to believe. There may not be werewolves around here, but the hunters believe in wild dogs. And they walk right through my woods at Nixie’s Vale.

After reading a blog today about someone’s plan to buy/adopt a puppy at a pet store, I remembered how happy I was to adopt an adult dog from a rescue organization in August 2009. Earlier that summer I had moved into my new home, Nixie’s Vale, which I had chosen with the big yard, long driveway and nearby walking trails all in mind…for a dog. I had volunteered in animal shelters in upstate NY back in college–and promised a bunch of cats and dogs, including a one-eyed, one-legged dog, that I would one day adopt an adult dog, rather than get a puppy. I waited 12 years to honor that promise. This is my first-ever dog owning experience.

Rescue dogs, or shelter dogs, can have special needs. A vet will tell you that some rescue dogs have been abused, abandoned or neglected, or mistreated by their previous owners. (Kids, in particular, can be cruel, and few adults  like to admit their little kids were mean to the family dog.) Keeping this in mind, adopting a rescue dog often conjures up images of dogs that bite, act possessively or high strung around strangers. I’ve met people with rescue dogs at the beach–and for the most part, the dogs got along well with my rescue dog, and there weren’t any problems. One out of every 10 rescue dogs I meet, however, have owners with “issues” about their choice in dog, or at least, some negative feelings (regret, nervousness, disappointment) in their risky rescue experience not going as smoothly as they had dreamed.

I found my pointer-dachshund, Sophie-Bea, on Petfinder.com. She was named “Bea” then and listed with an organization called Paws n’ Claws, based in Maine. But…as it turned out, she was not in Maine but in Arkansas! Hmmm. I read her little story about having been rescued off the side of a highway in Hot Springs and that she needed a  home. (She and her heinous sister had been abandoned together and the ugly wiry sister got adopted right away.)  They guessed “Bea” to be somewhere between 1-2 years, and my vet later reviewed the paperwork and said she was a little over a year by the time I adopted her. (That means she’s now about 4. )  The Petfinder.com description left out that she was part dachshund. It said “pointer mix,” which I falsely assumed to mean pointer-English pointer, some mix of two types of pointer. Once I arranged for her transport to Maine, the paperwork forwarded by the Arkansas vet indicated a good reason for why she didn’t look like a typical pointer.  Nevertheless, when she swam in the lake with me for the first time, jumping off the end of the dock and swimming out deep to join me, I fell in love and knew she was the right dog, despite her weird & unexpected mix.

Yoga

This odd mix gives her the personality of a female Snoopy but without the beagle traits. Her pretty “hot dog dog” face and long body are hard to shop for (practically speaking, orange hunting vests, not Halloween costumes) since she’s only 37 pounds but tall like a gundog. It’s her dachshund side that’s her “bad girl” side. As I type this, she hopped up next to me on the couch and I had to ask, “why does your breath smell like poo?” Argh.

Such is the life of a dog owner. (Now my dog is rolling onto her back, insisting that I pet her belly, and kicking like a four-year-old kid.) For the most part, I think she’s well-behaved. When I take her places, to swim, to walk, to play with other dogs (or kids), I feel proud when I hear people (strangers!) say out loud, “wow, that dog is so gentle with the kids,” or “I wish our dog was like that. This dog is so sweet, so well-behaved.” They don’t see her stealing the kindling from the stock by the woodstove and making a mess of sticks in her doggie bed or stealing a turkey carcass off the family’s kitchen counter on leftover day.

Team effort

Hey, it wasn’t JUST her. My brother’s dog was in on it. But my dog was most likely the instigator. She’s the master of invention when it comes to breaking the rules. Once, when a porcupine was in the yard, I figured all was well since my dog was inside. Not so. My dog rocket-launched herself through a window to dispatch the porcupine, and got 30 quills in the face for her trouble. That required a midnight trip to the vet for sedation and extraction…but she learned. The next time the porcupine was in the yard, and Sophie-Bea saw it (outside this time), she growled at the porcupine and came running back to me in a tizzy. I guess she was wearing her smart hat that day. And I managed to scope out the big hulking porcupine–climbing a tree like an ape.

Fast friends

Since adopting Sophie-Bea, I’ve learned that personality of a dog is the most important factor in choosing the right dog for a household. I’ve seen people adopt the wrong breeds/personalities for their lifestyle and it’s a sorry situation for the dog. I used to daydream about one day adopting a husky mix but my vet convinced me that wasn’t the right breed for my personality. Now I can agree with her…but there was a time when I argued in favor of a husky. They are beautiful dogs. But I lucked out with this funny pointer-dachshund, and I have to admit that I never would have considered her had I known about the dachshund part. It’s the side that makes her affectionate, persistent, sneaky …and clever. And able to jump 8 feet into the air and flip like a circus performer.

Dream analysis

It all comes down to the doggie basics: what she likes to do, what she needs, and what I can provide for her:  exercise, nutritious meals, rewards, love, shelter, companionship, discipline, er, I mean, routine, heck, a relatively diverse set of activities.  She makes friends easily. She likes to nap and daydream (and look things up her dream dictionary). She likes to dig, hunt and run. She works well with others.

And she’s not only a great companion, she’s grown more confident in the past three years, making her a competent guard dog. I named her “Sophie-Bea” after Sophie B. Hawkins, and my dog’s theme song was “Damn, I wish I was your guard dog.” Well, considering she lives between a German Shepherd named “Trooper,” and a state trooper’s dog (K-9 cop division), she’s too small to be considered a traditional guard dog. Somehow this doesn’t seem to cross her mind as an issue. She holds her own in the neighborhood. There’s no way I would have bonded with a puppy like this. Taking on a rescue dog does require a commitment and a certain openness to dealing with a dog’s special needs, when and if they arise. She loves the water, woods and wetlands, that’s for sure.

My workout today:

After a couple of hours spent stacking wood, I had barely made a dent in the pile. My trusty pointer-dachshund hunted for chipmunks, which have been hiding in the woodpile for the past month. Stacking a cord of wood by myself is a labor of love. I say that because I love the warmth of a fire in my woodstove, which is very efficient–and brings my upstairs rooms to a toasty 80 degrees on a cold wintry night. Sophie-Bea and I took a lunch break and then got back to work on the pile. I’m stacking some of it inside my garage but most of it goes under the shed roof. An aggressive army of wasps had constructed a formidable paper nest with six levels–about the diameter of half a tennis racket but overall, slightly smaller than a football. I had to wait until a chilly night to move the nest to another location on my land, far away from the wood pile, after getting stung a few times.

Progress…

Yesterday we followed the sound of a loud buzz saw down to the pond. I figured someone was  cutting firewood only to find it was not a chainsaw but a remote control speed boat racing around like something out of “The Rescuers.” My first thought: “Evinrude,” the dragonfly that transported the mice, Bernard and Bianca, through the swamp; it’s also the brand of outboard motor on my grandfather’s boat at the lake. I could see the red toy speedboat zipping around the otherwise quiet pond. Its battery-operated motor emitted an annoying high pitch noise like a swarm of insects. I like dragonflies…but not mosquitoes.

On the causeway

Before I could visually match the buzz to the little boat, I was nervous about what I was walking into–locusts? Usually the pond is a scene of serenity, not fecundity. I walked with the dog, who looked bothered by the buzzing boat, and finally spotted a grown man standing on his dock, operating a remote-control device.  Not a kid. An adult. I walked down to the causeway that connects a tiny two-acre island to the mainland and sat down on the edge, where I had a clear view of the toy speedboat. It did laps. It circled around at warp speed. Fish jumped. I half expected to see a bass take it down–a comical reverse “Jaws” scene, or again, something out of “The Rescuers,” maybe an alligator.

When my brother and I were little, we had “The Rescuers” board game (1977). Players moved around the board, decorated like a swamp, and faced off the villains: two alligators, a hip-swiveling southern woman named Medusa, and her nerdy spectacled-sidekick Mr. Spooks. Tad and I turned over cards to see which villain crossed our path as we embarked on an imaginary adventure as two heroic mice. I LOVED this game. Of course, we had the books, the game, the record. Long before we had movies on VHS, we listened to stories on the record player.

The battery on the toy speedboat died suddenly, lurching the little boat to a stop in the middle of the pond. My dog watched with concern. A slow-moving paddleboat turned toward the direction of the now-sinking red remote-control boat. Its operator paddled over in a kayak and met up with the people on the paddleboat–and the three of them talked about their collections of toy speedboats, ideal rechargeable batteries and other dilemmas. I thought, “this is a thing?” I guess this is a thing.

Today the pond, serene as usual, smelled of crisp fall leaves. Orange, red and yellow leaves floated as if on a current, racing under the causeway bridge. Yesterday I watched dozens of little fish swimming and jumping–but today I saw none. Evinrude and the Rescue Aid Society must have been charging through the marshgrass somewhere. No sign of them today.

Living next a pond–even though I don’t have direct water access–feels rejuvenating. I really feel blessed getting to drink all of this in, metaphorically speaking.

The pond beyond my backyard

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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