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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.

“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).

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.

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.

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.

“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!

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 5.33.38 PM

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


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.



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.


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.



For those of you who missed it, I just completed a challenge to promote and raise funds for the nonprofit (and fantastic) Tupelo Press. They have archived the poems by my fellow “January 2014 30/30 Poetry Challenge” poets here.   But if you’re interested, a new group of poets have taken charge of writing new poems for February. Read their poems and support their efforts, too, by going here.  Need added incentive? This month has an erotic undertone to the poets’ work (they all published work in Tupelo Press’s erotic anthology.)

Special thank-you offer for those who donate to Tupelo Press for the 30/30 Challenge: Anyone who donates $250 or more to support this 30/30 poetry challenge this month may choose either of TP’s gorgeous broadsides, one of Ilya Kaminsky’s “Author’s Prayer,” the other of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “The Ghost-Fish Postcards.” Both may be seen here.  Please indicate which one you would like by writing “Aimee” or “Ilya” in the same space on the donation form (where you may also indicate that your gift is made in support of my part of the 30/30 poetry challenge.)

On Discovering a Crack in the Cornerite

A long slim crack runs down like a dark drip of dried paint
In the corner of my bedroom, where two cream-colored walls meet
Ninety degree angles to frame the southwest border—in feng shui,
Activate the love in your life by attracting yang chi, a golden phoenix,
Mandarin ducks, or dragons (I have frogs and mermaids, silly me).

Five years ago, there weren’t any flaws in the plaster, at least
My eyes did not detect a weak spot; storms and shifty energy
Pulled the big pieces apart, slowly, over time, and I just noticed
The definite divide in white; it’s probably brought on lethargy,
An indicator of “bad” feng shui, cracks challenge intimacy.

I dreamt of Stephen King’s Langoliers last night; they’d come
To eat my memories. I seek safety in my best nightmares
At my grandparents’ house, usually the attic; but feral cat-like
Fur-balls with big eyes and teeth slunk out of the barn, where
Grampa kept electric drill presses; these protect me in dreams.

Such cracks in plaster, and prevention, stirred interest among
Architects in the 1920s; they studied the upward phenomenon,
The movement of the outer edge (take note: the order of walls)
Which partitioned the structure, created the stressors of some
Peeled the papery lime layers away from the cornerite’s seam.

At my first improvisational comedy class, I was late; street
Side parking a bit more complicated than expected. I joined
A semi-circle of sock-footed participants, the meet-and-greet,
Each talking about their “edge,” whether lost or found, they coined
The term in a way I didn’t bet: it meant the margin of vulnerability.

My usual reaction, make a joke (but this wasn’t comedy, not yet)
I live at the edge of a lake, well, not technically; I’m in the ecotone.
Sprawled across my bed today, my focus switched, it re-directed
Attention toward that crevice; it reinforced a conclusion, one
I’d reached on the drive home—this device, my “edge,” had pre-sets
Too narrow, no room for cuts, bleeds or formatting errors—

All human, on and off the page.

– Leah C. Stetson  TP Donate

Oh, boy. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m already writing under the influence. We begin 2014 under the influence of the “Supermoon,” a New Moon in Capricorn on Jan. 1st. It’s the first of two Supermoons (and two New Moons) in January, which is pretty awesome. I say, “awesome,” because the moon will be super close and its effects, tidal –lunar, emotional, what-have-you, will be awe-inspiring for many.

Tomorrow I join eight other poets from around the country (globe?) to write 30 poems in 30 days of January as part of Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Challenge. The challenge is twofold: 1) it pushes the poets to write a poem each day for a month, marathon-style, and 2) it engages readers of poetry (and those newish to poetry) in a variety of styles and voices–with the goal of prompting readers to support the literary wonder, Tupelo Press, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in California. Readers can support the poets, including me, by doing one of two things: 1) donate to Tupelo Press or 2) subscribe to one of its fine publications. There is a whole catalog of poetry journals. Think of it like community-supported agriculture since poetry is organic–grown from the fruits of our labors. (Was that terrible? I’ve been problematically punny this week.) Well, some of you have run marathons, biked/hiked/paddled/stroked through triathlons, and I have marveled at your feats. I’m not built for speed but I will endeavor to create a new freshly “baked” poem each day in January for this cause. Please support my fellow poets, whose work will appear, along with mine, at this blog:  (30/30 Project). I will post my updates on Twitter @StrangeWetlands and the daily poem here on my blog, too. Thank you for your support. Please cheer me on if I get cranky and hit writer’s block. Blame it on the moon.


Designing an Info-graphic

My latest wetland wordle

I like that it makes an accidental poem:

Blue poet teaching
Bog ecology, natural
Rivers written, surface
Fish, fens–emergent:
I guide the swamp,
Swim the freshwater life
Write mucky wetland poems
Birth marsh animals–
Heron, eels, fish
Water lilies, plants
The nature of lakes
Aquatic biology
Human streams.

There is something exotic about the swamps and savannah of the South. Maybe it’s because I live in the northeast and don’t often wade through wetlands thick with gators.  Instead, I wade through the pages of swampy southern fiction.  Some of the wetland fiction I have enjoyed includes these authors and titles:

  • Karen Russell’s Swamplandia and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
  • The Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris
  • The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk KiddMermaidChairBookCov
  • Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen (and several of his books)

Now I am reading the first of the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. On my birthday, I went to see the “Beautiful Creatures” movie with a friend. The story is a dark fairy-tale that takes place in the swamps and savannahs of a small South Carolina town. It’s been compared to the “True Blood” series, though I think those looking for a vampire/werewolf tale will be surprised to learn that this is not a vampire story. It’s a story about a family of casters, another name for witches.  In the movie, Jeremy Irons is terrific as the protective, eccentric and magical uncle–dressed in white suits, a startling contrast against the backdrop of a vine-covered dark mansion set in a dismal swamp.

Beautiful CreaturesWhile the book paints a more intricate composite of complex characters–more characters are named and active in the book than in the film adaptation–the movie conjures a swirl of supernatural effects, plot twists and action, albeit too many make-out scenes. The movie is clearly targeted toward teens. Nonetheless, it appeals to adults as well thanks to Emma Thompson’s and Jeremy Irons’ onscreen electricity– a mismash of many strong performances, even if in short bursts.  The most entertaining make-out scene took place on a floating raft in a creek (Emmy Rossum as the villainous Ridley). Alligators cruised through the dark water, swishing serpentine tails. Jeremy Irons Macon

One detail that bugged me – a reference to cards and card reading, also known as cartomancy. In the book, the character Amma is a “seer” and a card-reader. She’s inherited this gift from her ancestors.  In one conversation (book version, not movie), someone asks her if she uses Tarot cards and Amma replies, “What other kinds of cards are there?”  The protagonist, a teen-aged boy, Ethan, suggests playing cards, greeting cards, etc.  A real card-reader, whatever her traditions or beliefs, knows that everyday playing cards were invented 600+ years ago for the purposes of divination. They came hundreds of years before the creation of Tarot cards, which are certainly used in entertainment circles (psychic fairs, tourist shops, movies, etc.) When King Henry VIII was on the throne in England, his court had a cartomancer and an astrologer on the payroll, and occasionally, his Queens read playing cards.  If you’ve seen “The Tudors” on Showtime, there are a few scenes when his Queens are playing what looks like Solitaire, but are indeed reading a spread of cards. (Anne Boleyn learns of a prophecy of her death during one such card reading.)  I wish that the authors of the Beautiful Creatures series had Amma refer to playing cards, rather than Tarot, for authenticity. As I understand it, seers in South Carolina have been using cartomancy, tasseography (tea leaf reading), scrying or hydromancy (use of water to divine) and other fortune-telling methods for centuries. Some use Tarot cards, but Tarot is not as old as cartomancy, and the Seer in the Beautiful Creatures series refers to a very long, even ancient tradition of keeping the archives of the casters, implying a time that came long before Tarot. Still, I love the “librarian of the spellcaster library” twist. LindaBeastThe library of the casters in the movie reminded me of Linda Hamilton and the Beast in the 1980s’ “Beauty and the Beast” TV series, which placed several characters in an underground library of sorts, complete with spiral staircases and sewers.

Poetry fans will delight in the many poetry references, especially to Charles Bukowski, whose words tip-toe into the dialogue between the two teens. It’s a nice touch–and perhaps English teachers will rejoice.  (But poets/readers might roll their eyes at some of the forced references.) Ethan Wate, who narrates the book and the movie, takes on a wannabe Bukowskiesque persona, if only to impress the girl, Lena. The boy wears what I can only imagine are called “personality glasses,” a trend among hipster teens (fake glasses, frame too big for the face to resemble the style of great writers/thinkers.) The character idolizes his favorite writers, including Kerouac, so he wears these glasses to emulate him, or at least that’s the wink of it.  I liked the magical poetry abilities that Lena possessed. Every teen-aged girl should be able to draw her favorite lines of poetry onto the bedroom ceiling–in telekinetic-electric magic marker.

Strunk and WhiteI first thumbed a dog-eared copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style in middle school. It was not an assigned text but something I found in my mother’s office, where I typed my homework papers on her electronic word processor. (We didn’t have a computer until later; this was in the mid-1980s.) My middle school text books didn’t make an impression, unless I found a grammatical error or typo in the text, — great fun to point out to the teacher.  The Elements of Style, and later, Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, which I got in 1992, became my bibles.  Two decades later, I would refer to Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference in a writing class I taught for a local college, and I recently gave a copy of Elements of Style to a college freshman who would like to be a writer. These are the best books to give a college student, if you’re reading this and planning to send a care package to someone in school. One other book inspired me to the point of it becoming a sort of reference book, at least in the way I read it more than twice, and referred to it the way my friends quoted TV show characters.

At eighteen, as a freshman at St. Lawrence University, I participated in a first-year program called “Exploring Language.” My classmates thought of this as college orientation, a requirement. For me, a girl who had invented a planned language in high school akin to Esperanto, though with far fewer speakers (okay, I admit, only one), this first-year program on language rocked my world. I took the initiative to stock up on books in addition to the required texts to gain a foothold on a favorite topic: linguistics and how language works in the brain. Steven Pinker’s book, The Language Instinct, fascinated me. I suppose I got a bit of an intellectual crush on Dr. Pinker, a professor at Harvard. In The Language Instinct, I was most struck by the examples he provides on aphasia, loss of language, and children who lacked language ability.   I also enjoyed the edition of  The Best American Science & Nature Writing (2004) edited by Pinker, who wrote the introduction, and The Blank Slate is also excellent. Words and Rules: the Ingredients of Language is on my wishlist to read. PinkerBook

In this blog, I have written about my love and respect for other science writers. Lately, perhaps because I am knee-deep in Lost Woods: the Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, I have been reflecting on the writers who inspired me 15-20 years ago.  Steven Pinker is definitely one of the best science writers I have had the pleasure of reading.

Last fall, Dr. Pinker gave a lecture to MIT students on “Communicating Science and Technology in the 21st Century.” He emphasizes the importance of writing as a skill for those working in science. I’ve taught writing classes, and enjoy teaching environmental science and nature writing in particular. It’s exciting when students suddenly awaken to discover new wonders of science and nature, then write about those newfound discoveries.  I love the writing advice that Steven Pinker passes along to students in that video.

My little green pok-a-dot slip-ons squished through emerald moss as I walked my dog, Sophie-Bea, down through the field at Hacker’s Hill. Usually the grass is tall and provides a hiding place, my favorite sitting spot, on a flat granite ledge.  But today the grass was cropped short, freshly mowed this spring, and everything was wet and smelled earthy. Little brown mud spots speckled my bare calves, adding to my freckles. I wore a dark green cotton dress that came down to my knees with three-quarter sleeves, something that looks like a more figure-flattering version of what my Gramma used to wear around the house on days when she didn’t plan on going anywhere. Anyway, it’s comfortable. We got to the ledge and I un-hooked my dog’s leash so she could sniff around while I perched on the warm flat rock in the sunshine. It was a mild afternoon — 66 degrees F — sunny with a breeze. The panoramic view of the lakes region is pretty in a few directions, except for the three cell phone towers up there, so I like to face the side that opens up in a valley between two mountains. Sophie-Bea stayed close by but sniffed around, hopping through the wet meadow as if she didn’t want her feet to get soiled (hardly her M.O. in reality) until she caught the scent of turkeys. Luckily, we didn’t see any, but the highlight of her day was finding some turkey scat, and rolling in it. Ahh, for the love of dogs. 

 We left Hacker’s Hill and drove the long way home, stopping at a little beach on Crescent Lake, where another couple were throwing a stick for a very large black lab named Ben. I got out and asked, “My dog’s friendly, is your dog friendly, too?” They said, “Too friendly!” They were right. Sophie-Bea and Ben chased each other and played. He nosed her rear and got frisky, and she didn’t exactly snip at him. (Both dogs are spayed/neutered. It was all just for show.) The two dogs waded and splashed in the chilly lake. I was glad to see this because my dog is still getting over a fear of swimming with other dogs since that traumatic incident with the other dog summer 2010, when she nearly drowned under the weight of the other dog. Last summer, 2011, she improved but was still not crazy about swimming with other dogs, and certainly not black labs. So I consider this wonderful progress. 


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

Past Posts

Raecine Ardis Wilkinson

Sessions and healings by intuitive reader and priestess, Raecine Ardis Wilkinson

claire houston | p h o t o g r a p h e r

a collection of single images

Truly Teach Me Tarot

The Art of Holistic Tarot Therapy

Confessions from a Homecoming Queen

Just another weblog

Tupelo Press

Live from the Loft

Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

Lezlie Moore

Always leave them wanting Moore

Miss Modernist

Written Word of the Modern Era

The Daily Coyote

Musings of a Maine lake dweller

The Ark of Identity

Laura M Kaminski's poetry practice and links


Just another site

Catherine Evans Latta

Poems for Everyone


Public relations issues and trends

Natural History Wanderings

Sandy Steinman's Blog

Mixed Waters

A look at the conditions and events surrounding estuaries, wetlands and coastal waters

Charles P. Martin-Shields

Comparative Politics | Development & Migration | Technology & Media