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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.

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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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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.

Late May at Nixie’s Vale is lovely. I lucked out in the fly-catcher department: phoebes swoop, dragonflies buzz around (by June) and nocturnal toads set up camp beneath my deck. It has been a few summers since I’ve spotted a bat, sadly, but my woods are a sanctuary for birds. It was sunny today, and I went to the seamstress to pick up a few items that she transformed for me: It’s like getting a whole new wardrobe of clothes that I already love. I’ve gone from a size 16 to an 8-10, down to 162lbs., with a 29 and a half inch waist, having lost forty pounds over the past year. I’m just getting back to my natural shape and feel like myself again. Hurrah! My best friend from high school said I look “high school skinny.” Well, I’m wearing the old blue jeans I got in Wyoming with my cousin, Tara, in summer 2002 when I was 26! (I’m now 38, so this feels like a magic trick.) Besides feeling fit again, I feel inspired.

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Almost every day, I walk my dog through a wetland or along the road by the pond and back, swim in the lake (it’s warming up!) and do a little housework. Today I cleaned the kitchen, made a delicious lunch, which I ate while sitting on a bed of moss in my yard, overlooking the grove in my woods. I love the woods. But my new indulgence, thanks due in part to Matt’s handy work, is my hammock. It hangs between two trees at the base of a mossy slope at the far end of the yard. It’s the quilted kind of hammock designed for two people but I fit perfectly along with a notebook, water bottle–and sometimes the dog will join me and sprawl across my legs. A lush breeze sneaks through the trees from Raymond Pond and I look up at the silhouettes of tree branches, patches of blue sky beyond. Rays of sunlight pour through and fill me with optimism, hope and appreciation. 20150802_152908I feel so blessed to live here, to call this little piece of land my home. I call it “Nixie’s Vale,” but in truth, I’m just a temporary steward of the land. This spring I planted a garden with my father and I will tend it this summer, hopefully producing some vegetables. In between swims, gardening and hammock naps, I barely have time to write. Admittedly, I keep thinking of lines of poetry; I might sketch them in my notebook, but then feel more motivated to swim-walk-hike-weed-swim-cook-walk and make iced tea.

The trees at Nixie's Vale

The trees at Nixie’s Vale

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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.

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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. 

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

SaintStatueLately it seems that I’ve been doing far more editing and texting than I have been writing. Not good. I’ve taken photos, collected snippets and story ideas over the past several months. In between blog posts, I usually write in my journal and let ideas percolate.  This has been a big trend in September (letting things percolate). Since the air has turned unseasonably cool prematurely, I haven’t been swimming either, not since early in September. Instead, I’ve hiked a mountain a few times, explored a sunken garden and prayed at the feet of a pregnant statue of Saint Guadalupe. More on this subject later (there’s a story behind this.)

I’m on deadline with the National Wetlands Newsletter but wanted to post something here to mark this period of …”busy work” – and the need to make up for it later. If you’re a writer and reading this, how do you make time to write? What have you found that really works?  In the meantime, I’m pretty happy. Work is keeping me on my toes, I’ve had new French doors installed for the patio entrance and I’ve gotten to spend time with close friends, including a trip to Simsbury, CT for my best friend’s baby shower. (Perhaps there was something in that wish and prayer I made on the statue of the pregnant saint! My friend certainly made out like a bandit at the shower.)

A new dress that my birthday twin gave me.

A new dress that my birthday twin gave me.

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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