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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.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.52.11 PM

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.

 

Sweet fern

Sweet fern, not a true fern

Last week in the midst of meetings and deadlines, I slowed down long enough to learn how to identify northeastern wetland ferns. I participated in a Swamp School webinar and after the training, I earned a certificate. Since I’ve written about ferns a few times for my Strange Wetlands series, I thought I better check myself, before I made a fern faux pas. And as it happens, I was wrong about one plant: sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina)  is a member of the heath family, not a true fern.

The “Swamp Seminar” on wetland ferns started with the parts of a fern. Prior to this class, I knew to refer to the fern frond, which is the whole fern leaf, and I knew that rhizomes are the roots, but the rest of a fern’s morphology–well, that was new to me. It was fascinating to learn that a fern might be identified based on whether it is once, twice or thrice pinnate–meaning, the number of cuts on the pinna, or leaflet. Lady Fern, a common fern that grows in my “Fern Gully” at Nixie’s Vale, is three-times pinnate with a rough-edged leaflet, making it look lacy – the Victoria’s Secret brand of ferns. Other ferns have similarly feminine names like Venus Hair Fern (Adiantum capillus‐veneris) and Northern Maiden-Hair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), or Maiden-Hair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), which grows near waterfalls.  How lovely.

North Maid Hair Fern

Northern Maiden-Hair Fern

For wetland professionals, the training also addressed whether each fern is an Obligate Wetland species, meaning that it always occurs in a wetland, also known as a hydrophyte (loves water); a Facultative Wetland species, which means that the fern usually shows up in a wetland, but can also be found in upland areas; or, thirdly, it may be a Facultative species, commonly occuring in both wetland and upland areas. Ferns that fit this last category–facultative, are still important to know because they may help someone identify the edge of a wetland. Identifying wetland plants is fairly complex. See this USDA page on wetland indicator information, if you are curious. If by any chance, you’re a real wetland plant enthusiast, I encourage you to check out this presentation on the newly revised national wetland plant list, which is run by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

 

NWPL

National Wetland Plant List

Among the many types covered in the training, I learned how to identify Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis) and Interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana), which I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted in Fern Gully. I have my notes to take into the field this spring when the fronds unfurl like fiddleheads and I can go on a fern ID scavenger hunt. The Swamp School webinar included access to an online tool kit, which allows me to reference handouts–and to get my certificate. I found the website and webinar training well-organized and jam-packed with knowledge and inspiration. I really enjoyed this class.

For those who are interested, Swamp School also offers classes on wetland delineation–in both classroom, field and webinar formats with live, interactive training. Marc Seelinger is the founder–and he’s a terrific instructor, too.  Right now he’s got a series of wetland delineation classes posted on the SwampSchool.org website, but there are also webinars and workshops on occasion. After all, inspiring minds want to know.

This past weekend we had a mini ice storm in the mountains of western Maine where I live. My dog and cat snuggled by the fire as I worked on “Wetland Breaking News” and a Water Resources Protection Ordinance draft.

As ice crackled in the trees, I listened to Prairie Home Companion, broadcast from New York City, on the radio. Garrison Keillor relayed the News from Lake Wobegon, including a climate change skeptic’s love story that was really charming. I find climate change skepticism akin to astrological skepticism – as astrology is based on science, the same physics used in astronomy, according to my astronomy professor at St. Lawrence University. I try to avoid arguments with people who are skeptical of climate change…or astrology for that matter. In looking back, I found the predictions for the Chinese “Water Dam” year uncanny in their relevance to what we’ve seen for natural disasters this year in the U.S.

Last winter in a February Strange Wetlands blog post, I wrote about 2012 as the “Black Water Dragon” or “Water Dam” year in the Chinese calendar. Astrologers predicted a focus on dams, water, levees and floodplains management, under a strong stormy and dark water influence, including a storm or heavy flooding event in late 2012. Water problems, including dramatic changes in water levels, were also predicted for the “Water Dam” year. In a recent Compleat Wetlander post, my boss, Jeanne, noted that the last time the Mississippi River levels were at a record low was 1940, also a dragon year. The last time we had a “water dragon” year was 60 years ago, when my mother was born in 1952, a year when all of the named storms attained “hurricane” status. Among the six hurricanes that year, Hurricane Fox (Oct. 20-28, 1952) a Category 4, killed 40 people and wrought $10 million in damages (that’s in 1952; in 2012 that would be equivalent to $87.5 million in damages). It was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. …until this most recent hybrid storm, Sandy, in October 2012.

At my job at ASWM, I’ve been responsible for developing content for the Climate Change resources section of the aswm.org website. In response to Hurricane Sandy, I post news, analyses and reports related to the storm and her impact on wetlands, as well as the relationship between hurricanes and wetlands on a new section of the website. See Hurricane Sandy news here.  If you’re looking for information on particular sea level rise tools, pilot studies and storm surge analysis, visit ASWM’s Sea Level Rise page that I put together.  There are some really terrific storm surge and sea level rise tools!

Playing Swamp Maiden by the Sheepscot. Margaret Stewart photo.

My love for the water spawned at the mouth of the Sheepscot River in midcoast Maine. But like the eels and salmon, I swam upstream and came of age in not one, but two watersheds. One, an estuary in Wiscasset Harbor, nourished by the Sheepscot, swallowed incoming tides from the Gulf of Maine. My family owned a half-acre island, White’s Island, at the center of this estuary, where I waded and swam through eel grass, sharp as steak knives turned on their edges. I wore petticoats of rockweed and floated in hot black inner tubes. The current raced beneath the first footbridge to the island threatening to take a swimmer under the trestle bridge of the railroad, where young swimmers weren’t supposed to go. The undertow was strong and there was always a risk of drowning. My paternal grandmother taught me how to save someone from drowning in that fast-moving current. She pretended to drown herself, sinking heavily to the muddy bottom. I dove down deep to rescue her. When I had done this successfully a few times, we crawled to the riverbank and she cackled with delight. Treading against that current took all my energy in frigid saltwater, even in summer. It required a combination of kicking and letting go—as I floated backward in fast-forward motion—then paddled again.

At White’s Island, 1987

Further inland, I learned to swim out deep in Little Sebago Lake. As a young girl, I swam with the eels at night and seduced them with my flashlight. My brother and I perched at the end of the dock, shining our lights down into the water, luring the eels to our beams. Their sinuous profiles cast shadows on the rippled sandy bottom like slithering heads of Medusa. Our maternal grandmother, whom we called Nana, let us swim at night. Sometimes we asked our grandfather to splash around and make the eels go away, but they came back. These American freshwater eels, which live in the ocean at the beginning and end—their silver stage of development—migrate to lakes, where they live for much of their lives. For my Strange Wetlands post about eels, see this post, in which I review James Prosek’s book, Eels–An Exploration from New Zealand to the Sargasso, the World’s Most Amazing & Mysterious Fish. 

Several towns surround this three-basin freshwater lake, including Windham, Gray and Raymond, Maine. The “Lakes Region” here refers to the Sebago Lake watershed, consisting of 360 square miles of lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands. Streams and tributaries, like the Crooked River, flow into Sebago Lake, an inflow of 450 million gallons per day. Sebago Lake is twelve miles long and over 300 feet deep, holding 995 billion gallons of water, providing the #1 source of clean drinking water for much of southern Maine, including the city of Portland.  Sebago is the deepest lake in New England—and glacially speaking, the bottom of the 14,000-year-old lake basin is 450 feet below the lake’s surface. The Portland Water District chronicled the origins of Sebago Lake in their summer 2012 newsletter. According to geological analysis of sediment samples, Sebago Lake has been a “clean and healthy lake for the past 400 years.” It’s one of the few water bodies in the U.S. that does not require filtration. It’s also home to salmon and trout fisheries.

I live in the land of “landlocked salmon,” or so says the welcome sign on Route 302, the main road through the Lakes Region. This land is a water world. Before you start picturing a post-apocalyptic movie with pirate ships, hold your breath: this is a freshwater-focused community. The economy, culture, traditions and values lay anchor in this watershed. Recently I started coordinating a new coalition of town conservation planners and those interested in the common goal of protecting the waters of the Lakes Region with special interest on the Sebago Lake watershed. I named it the Healthy Waters Coalition well aware of the dozens of other collaborative groups throughout the country engaged in water resources protection and outreach education by the same name. With so many land trusts, conservation groups and town conservation commissions and local nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations active in southern and western Maine, and throughout the Lakes Region, I wanted a name that was authentic to the common interest and shared goals, without alienating any one type of group. It’s a grassroots effort to inform and educate citizens in the region on issues pertinent to water resources protection and management in the Sebago Lake watershed. So far there are 30 members and a general consensus of our goals and mission going ahead. I’m happy to be involved in the spirit of collaboration ~ and will be sure to bring the role of wetlands into the conversation quite often.

Last night I read my Pisces February 2012 horoscope by Susan Miller  – my new favorite astrologer – and I was thrilled to read that as of February 3rd, Neptune has moved into the sign of Pisces (my sun sign) for the first time in 165 years. The last time was during the Victorian age, when the Romantics were popular in art, literature, poetry and culture. I blogged about the Romantics in my Strange Wetlands post about Romantic Ecology, with which I have always identified. I grew up reading the Romantics and Victorian gothic literature–often reading 1st or 2nd editions I found in the  libraries of my family’s great homes in Wiscasset, Maine. Some of them were on the “museum” circuit, and historical sites of interest, so we had tourists coming through, sometimes sneaking into my bedroom when I was a teen-ager. I often lounged on a chaise in my bedroom and swept off into a dreamland of Shelley, Bramstoker, Blake or Wordsworth. That is, until I discovered Millay, Carson and the Confessional Poets.

According to Susan Miller’s astrological interpretations, now that Neptune is “at home” in Pisces, I will feel more comfortable with things in life, too, since  “all things Piscean” will influence art, lit, poetry, fashion and culture for the next 14 years. What bliss! Thank you, Susan Miller, for illustrating this bright spot in my horoscope. It’s refreshing to think about–that the next 14 years will be “delicious” as she calls it. I could really use even ONE year let alone 14 years of anything delicious, as the last handful of years has been rather dim and disappointing, with the exception of 2009, when I bought my adorable house and adopted my dog (two very good decisions). I love the idea that we’re entering into a reinvention of a Romantic or Victorian age –with a 21st century spin on it. I wonder what it will look like.

Lately I’ve read in magazines that the things that I’ve tried to change about myself–my curly hair or my curvy figure–and the things that I’ve always loved about myself–my mermaid spirit and my imagination–are the very things that are now “in style.” At the hair salon, while getting a trim, I picked up a magazine that had captions like, “perfectly smooth straight hair is OUT! Messy curls and wild texture is IN!” (Ace in the hole there.)  Mermaid-inspired fashion, hair styles and make-up are also making their way onto the runways and into magazines…no doubt thanks to this move of Neptune into Pisces (and out of airy cool & detached do-gooder Aquarius). Pisces is a rebel, a poet and psychic. People who are cool with things being a bit nebulous and dreamy will feel like finally, the world is making sense, whereas the steadfast hardcore just-the-facts-ma’am types and in-your-face-firey-my-way-or-the-highway types will probably see things not going their way for this 14 year Romantic period. As a poet, psychic and rebel, and a dreamy Pisces, true to form, I am more than OKAY with this change, this reinvention of Romantics and/or Victorian age.  After visiting the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine with my aunt just before the new year, I realized I was more at home in that Victorian museum than I am in most buildings. I love my 1990s home but it feels extremely modern, at least externally (vinyl siding) so I fill it with vintage furniture to feel more “at home.” Here’s to a new Romantic age, however it takes shape in the coming decade and beyond.

A new dark mystery-drama set in the Amazon called “The River” premieres tonight on ABC.  I will probably watch it standing up with a blanket over my head, asking the dog, “Is she going to die?” or yelling, “Watch out for the snake!”  Since I live in the woods, and it’s very quiet, shows like this put me on the edge of my seat.  

The River looks eerie and suspenseful, and from what I’ve seen of the trailer, it reminds me of Peter Benchley’s 1999-2000 mini-series, “Amazon,” which beat the show “Lost” to the punch! Benchley’s story took place in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest, where a community of people were so isolated, they still spoke Elizabethan English and didn’t have modern conveniences—until a plane crashed, making for an intense, weird drama. (I liked it a lot, but then I am a big fan of all of Benchley’s stories. Just to get you hooked, watch Part 1 here.) As a loyal fan of Benchley’s stories, I will be a pretty tough judge of ABC’s “The River,” but it does look like intriguing…possibly addictive like HBO’s True Blood. I blogged about that and other wetland-themed TV shows at my Strange Wetlands blog.

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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