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“The Invocation of Mary Shelley”

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

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

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

At the lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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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12088189_10207329637140552_1098530624650961937_nUnder the influence of heady salt flats, I languished in the discovery of untrammeled beach, where I spread out my blue sarapi on the sand, an old copy of Peter Benchley’s novelette, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982) with its turquoise paper book jacket as faded as my cut-offs. I’m re-reading the coming-of-age story, remembering when I first read it in the 6th grade while I was living in Wiscasset. Back then, I swam off of my family’s little White’s Island in Sheepscot Harbor, and pictured the “manta diablo” appearing out of the murky green darkness of the Sheepscot River. It never happened, of course, but my sense of wonder never retreated with the tides.

This summer, I’m in southern Maine. Wearing my cowboy hat, my hips level, I shimmied down to the shore–quite a ways out, since it was low tide, in my nefarious string bikini, a pastel cloud-print one from Victoria’s Secret. It was hardly appropriate for wearing in public–but then, I’m a mer~sexual. I’m drawn to all-things from the sea. I’m 38 years old and this summer is my return to Kettle Cove, a state park overlooking Casco Bay in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. But I came here every summer in my toddler years, from the time I was a baby to the summer I was five. I can’t remember those summers–but I feel as though I must remember, somewhere, deeply embedded in my nervous system. I feel the memories, like muscle memory, that connect me to a life source, an energy here in this cove. When other people have an identity crisis, they’ve forgotten who they are; I feel as though I’ve just remembered! I am the Girl of Kettle Cove. I am the Girl by the Sheepscot River. I am not just just “the one who swims in the lakes,” but an open-water swimmer. I am the Girl of the Gulf of Maine. It felt like an epiphany.

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Swimming at Kettle Cove

Swimming through the eel grass in Kettle Cove, a nursery for sea life, and the “paddling pool” of my infancy, where my mother brought me as a baby, I must remember this cove, I think to myself the labyrinth of rocks and tide pools, paths through the meadow of floating milkweed, and wet mounds of silky strands of rockweed. Crawling through the thick eel grass bed, something in my body remembered toddling along the shore in the late ’70s, chasing sandpipers, free of the fears that would later inhibit me.

Long fronds of eel grass coiled around my wrists and forearms with every heart-shaped stroke, like a bellydancer’s bracelets that display her self-worth, her going rate–as I swim, I am richly adorned, self-satisfied and yet…grateful. I ask for nothing more than this water, this wave, this tidal current. I push out from my heart chakra, flex and relax my abdominals, imagining a balloon slowly inflate, filling my lungs with sea air, my belly with self-love and, elated, I channel that Neptune energy. Terns swoop and dive all around me; I float on my back and watch the cotillion as they turn and perform their acrobatics, fishing in pairs. Every wave that submerges my ears, momentarily stops all other noise and lets me exhale, just a breath, not a word, but a mantra nonetheless. I tip my head back and dip my hair, then put my hat back on over my wet Medusa-like head of curls, as oversized drops of saltwater drip from the straw brim. I love it here. So I will swim again tomorrow.

As kids, we skated across
Iridescent, frozen ponds
And pretty Sherman Lake,
All 200 acres, two miles long.
We’d pack a canvas tote bag,
Bring hot thermoses of cocoa,
Join other families, play tag,
Crack-the-whip, or skate solo.

My dad pulled my little brother, Tad,
In a sled, while I attempted figure eights,
Even though I was only seven, I felt agile
And athletic in my ice skates. I’d graduate
To wearing Velcro pond-skates by thirteen.
One year an older boy fell through the ice
(It wasn’t deep) After his family saved him,
Everyone else kept skating, just avoid the hole
And warnings of thin ice near the dam.

I glided over deep, vertical cracks;
Didn’t linger long to peer down and react,
But dared myself to push into the unknown,
My cheeks flamed magenta from frostbite.
I’d picture the Olympic figure skaters glittery gowns
When they jumped into a spin and danced around,
As I made “Ls” to pivot and propel my purple parka
Into loose, wobbly turns, tilting my curly head back
To see the cold, boundless winter sky, ‘til I got dizzy,
Dug my toe-pick in a nick to regain my balance,
But tripped anyway, then got back up again,
Mitten-to-elbow-to-knee, bruised but not broken.

Twenty years later, a rogue tidal surge
Took the dam out by force; then a team
Of civil engineers, and road crews, merged
The river with the marsh, so the lake emptied
Into the ocean for the first time in 71 years.
The sudden shift in the landscape ricocheted,
Shocking locals, whose lake they knew,
Where they’d put in canoes, and fished—
For decades, had been restored
To a saltmarsh, naturally; it just
Reverted to that system eventually.

If you’d been a fly on the wall,
Heard the talk at the town hall,
You’d have believed it was a disaster.
But it’s the destiny of waters to change,
To transform over time from one
Body to the next, from wetland to pond
To lake, then to marsh again,
Shape the wet soils,
Crackle the saltgrass
Along shallow creeks,
Flow through channels
Fifteen feet deep,
Smallmouth bass, splake
And minnow
Play hide and seek, flash
Rays of sunlight
Calling the eagles
Back to the pines
To build their nest
And raise their chicks.

LCS

I’m experimenting with a poem that I didn’t like and sitting with it for a bit.

Kelp Nets

Sea otters dream in the dark tide,
Curl up in kelp streamers to hide,
Disguise their pups when tired
In between swimming lessons.

My mate studies the path of water,
It carves canyons and shapes streambeds.
I am resilient and cope with pressure
But susceptible—too easily contaminated.
He seeks to define the limits of my aquifer,
A leaky bucket of beach sand & sea glass,
Tumultuously tipped by man’s hand.

I am ninety percent like the otter
Made of fur and snout and salt water,
Swimming five months in the rivers;
Beneath my coat, I am a nymph
Mending the kelp nets torn from tillers.
Fins side out, I am a fish instead
Darting hyper-vigilant,
Then drifting half-dead
In the churn of sediments
the mouth delivers.

Granite bones
Inside this squishy island figure,
Curved by glaciers and hormones,
The Gulf Stream—tempt his geological
Urge to measure the reversible current
Push-pulling me along a coast
Without houses I dream.

LCS

HeartShapedFaceLately I have been waking up with a poem in mind. It’s been months since this happened. Unfortunately, my spacebarisbroken. I hope I don’t become one of those dreadful streamofconsciousness poets in the process, for lackof a workingspacebar. The poem below, while it’s about a stream, is not meant to be a play on stream-of-consciousness poetry. Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for a 30/30 poetry marathon that will be part of a fundraising event for Tupelo Press in California. Along with a few other poets, I will write 30 poems in 30 days. I’m flexing my metaphorical muscles now…

Tonight is the New Moon and I definitely feel like a new chapter, or verse, is about to begin.

New poem I’m working on (full poem not included):

Evolution of a Stream

Red maple leaves spin, skate and skirt
‘Round rocks like bumper cars
Hurdling down a stream
At an amusing rate.

To the casual observer, this water moves fast
Hurries over obstacles toward some indefinite
Destination. At least, this is how you see it
On the surface.

A hydrologist plots the analysis
Upon closer study, sees the millions
Of sediments of silt and sand,
Mica and minerals carried along
Curved and suspended:
They lift and settle;
They shift and settle,
Gradually shaping and
Reshaping this streambed.

{…}

                   For G.

-LCS

In the mid-1980s, a local activist group in Wiscasset, Maine started the “Undump” campaign to promote the idea of recycling. I don’t think “Undump” was unique to coastal Maine towns. I remember wearing an “Undump” button and standing along side my aunt and mother at a local  information forum. I was in the 6th grade. Back then, they were called “protests.” That same year, we were assigned to design T-shirts as part of an anthology project at school. I chose “underwater exploration” as a theme. (Most of the other kids picked gruesome topics, e.g. suicide, teen suicide, drug addiction, crimes.) I designed some graphics then with a “protect water” theme.

The “Undump” thing died. Out of its ashes rose “Reuse. Reduce. Recycle.” with the classic circle of arrows.

Along those lines, “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) has been used to such an extent as to nullify the rationale behind its original intent. The people who use that argument, say, against the transportation of oil sands through the U.S. (a.k.a. “tar sands,” diluted bitumen) have been hammering decision-makers with the NIMBY reasoning. In my community, that argument just didn’t fly. I have grown tired of hearing it myself. I propose an alternative.

How about “Not On My Planet” (NOMP) and “Over My Dead Water Body” (OMDWB) as two possible catchy slogans to use instead of NIMBY?

“Over My Dead Water Body (OMDWB)” is especially relevant today in light of the recent national assessment of our streams and rivers in the U.S. Wetlands are against the ropes, too. I can see this on T-shirts, I don’t know about you. I’m going to work on some graphics for this. Back in 6th grade, our “Reading” teacher assigned us to design a T-shirt for a favorite book. For this, I illustrated an imagined scene loosely based on Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier–an image of a drowned Rebecca with eel grass ensnared in her legs and lingerie. (As it turned out, I was just as morbid as the other kids.) Somewhere, I still have that faded T-shirt, and the original drawing, too. If you have ideas about a graphic for OMDWB, leave a comment, please.

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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