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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.

Sophie-BeaMorganTrl

Sophie-Bea on Morgan Meadow Trail

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

HappyEars

Happy ears, happy dog

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

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.

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

MTV’s Teen Wolf

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

Holland Roden as Lydia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga

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

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

Team effort

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

Fast friends

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

Dream analysis

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

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

Fern Gully in early spring

A few years ago, I bought a cottage on a small lot of land near a pond. It looked like a good place to live and write. I was 32 and writing about wetlands for a nonprofit organization. During my first few months, a rainy Maine summer, I fell deeply in love with my new environment. Ferns unfurled, like fingers from clenched fists, and everything gave sway to the unrelenting rains. My little four-acre refuge soaked up the water without flooding my basement. It did a job: the land, freckled with ferny wetlands—a seep, a vernal pool and a perennial stream flowed into the pond, all diverting the floodwaters. Sunlight reflected off the pond in the mornings, bouncing through the trees and in through my windows. Rays off the pond showered mirrors and walls with shapes of light like sunfish swimming from one room to another. This seemed magical to me since I didn’t have a water view or access to the pond from my property directly, but the water still made its way to me. From my upstairs windows, I looked down into a woodsy glen, a bird-haunted haven for deer, fox and porcupine. Though I’ve never been much of a fan of amphibians, I became intimately connected with the daily lives of endangered wood frogs, crawling out of the vernal pool in my woods each spring, passing by the gang of poisonous toads that lived under my deck. Their transformative life cycles and dark-throated hunger for resilience impressed me—I became obsessed and passionate about their survival. I also swam with loons here—on a regular basis, to the point where I became known as a “loon lady” in the neighborhood. I discovered rare butterflies and hummingbirds also thrived here—as would I.

Virginia Woolf’s line, “Five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate…a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself,” resonates with me. I come from a long line of women’s suffrage and a firm belief in female empowerment.  Many of my literary heroines, Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter, for example, wrote at a time when women were not encouraged to think for themselves, let alone express their ideas in writing.  I grew up in a Victorian family a century after-the-fact; I came of age in Victorian homes, and quite literally, one of my childhood bedrooms was in a tower. My perception of what I could do and could not do as a girl was not metaphorical; I sometimes locked myself in a walk-in closet for some privacy to write in my journal and there was nothing proverbial about having a tower bedroom as a pre-teen girl with long blond hair. A locket of my grandmother’s, that I wear around my neck, her initials dented into the back of it, reminds me of my ancestry, my heritage. I was born into the oldest women’s organization in the country: the Female Charitable Society provided education funds to young women. (I’m also a descendant of Erastus Foote, Maine’s first attorney general, born 200 years before me, and I grew up in his house, the Wood-Foote House in Wiscasset, where the FCS formed its first chapter and held its meetings at my grandmother’s house.)

The Wood-Foote House belonged to my family for 200 years

In my thirties, I mentored young women, twenty-somethings who wanted to go to college. I designed a college transitions class and inspired “success stories” among my students, helping them to build self-confidence and to see their own potential. I think I inherited that trait—to help others come out of their shell—from my grandmother.

The power to think for oneself strengthens a woman’s ability to listen to her own voice, her intuition and to trust that her memory is valid. It takes courage to see the truth and relevance in one’s own perception without constantly having to temper that narrative in a socially correct way based on outside influences—parents, employers, teachers and authority figures. For me, the power to think for oneself drives the ambition to command my voice, rather than to quiet it. This power to think for myself is a motivating force, a true north by which I navigate with an inner compass and conquer private fears of getting lost in a wilderness of my own making.

Nixie’s Vale

Mist rolls off the pond like tumbleweed. Over Columbus Day weekend, I swam in the lake with a juvenile loon, listening to its creaky voice. A flock of geese flew in a V across a sunset hazy sky. They squawked. Alone in the water, I pushed through hydrilla and slippery reeds, coiled ‘round my wrists like odd bracelets. Back home, thumps and thuds clamor through the woods. It’s just deer and moose. A murmuration of starlings explodes suddenly from trees and even the woodpeckers pause their pecking on a rotten birch. My black ash seep, Fern Gully, smells of sweet fern and wild grapes, a strange brew of grape and goldenrod. A perennial stream trickles through the woods and flows into the pond.

Woodpecker in the V branch of a birch

A neighbor told me something eerie about the land—that’s mostly forested wetlands and uplands. We live next to a pond previously called Little Rattlesnake Lake.  It was known as a sacred place. A legend told of a healing energy and spiritual protection over all who lived there. I’ve noticed that a number of healers, and others who work in the health profession, live in the neighborhood. My neighbor retold stories about ghosts and spirits, which she had believed to have seen in the woods between our houses. She thought the land was haunted. A hydromancer came with a dowsing rod and he identified several places where water was hidden underground, matching my neighbor’s maps showing the location of pipes and springs. He also confirmed her suspicion—but clarified that the area was charged with a kind of water force and spirits, and they held positive sway over the land. I listened to all of this with great curiosity because I, too, had felt good vibes. When I first moved here, I named my new home “Nixie’s Vale,” with a nod to Tennyson and to water spirits.

Growing up in haunted houses in coastal Maine, I was no stranger to ghost hunters. My family lived in a home that was featured on the TV show, “Unsolved Mysteries,” for one thing, and tourists wandered in through the parlors when I was a teen-ager.  We lived on top of Tucker’s Hill, beside the famed Castle Tucker, overlooking the Sheepscot River estuary. I loved to sneak down there in the moonlight and pad over the two footbridges to my family’s little one-acre island, named after my grandmother’s family – White’s Island. A circle of seven trees, which I thought of as a coven of witches, stood around a sunken hole, where the tree roots of one tree flipped backward underground, causing an abnormally large rounded dent. There was something spooky about it. Upon approaching it from afar, a person couldn’t tell there was a hole, since tall grass grew all around it. The result was a sort of concave grassy knoll that tripped runners and captured them like an island-sized Venus flytrap. As far as I knew, the island was haunted only by the family’s dogs, buried on the island. Gramma’s dogs, Brownie and Freda, loved the island, so we always pictured their spirited tails wagging in the eel grass as they hunted for things that moved in the rockweed. I like to think that they continue to guard the end of the second footbridge. I can never go back there, this much is true.

Islands and wetlands, especially bogs, moors, swamps, meadows and seashores, set the scene for a good ghost story. In classic literature, wetlands represented something dark and mysterious. In modern fiction, wetlands are still a preferred setting. Read a short story called, “Phantom Lovers of Dismal Swamp,” by S.E. Schlosser or the famed Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, set in a rural swampy Louisiana parish with quirky stories of the undead.

If you prefer to curl up with a book of wetland ghost stories, try Ghosthunting North Carolina by Kate Ambrose. Most of the book is set in coastal wetlands. For more wetland “ghost stories,” see my other post. 

Every now and then I catch a NATURE special featuring the weird mating rituals of some animal, like the koala in “Cracking the Koala Code” or mountain lions or prairie voles. I’ve already written plenty (far too much) about prairie voles, and that whole chemistry topic is nothing new. What I’m interested in is this topic of “dating down” that I keep seeing in blogs, or *gasp* crappy dating advice from over-eager dating coaches, who even encourage this twirpy and negative spin on dating. We all know what “dating down” means…in the usual context, it makes me think of some line from “Dirty Dancing” when the arrogant waiter tells Baby it’s okay if she’s “slummin’ it. We all do that sometimes, Baby.” (She was in love, dammit! And Johnny Castle aka Patrick Swayze was a stand-up guy.)

Osprey at Wolf’s Neck Farm. Terry Chick photo.

But I got thinking of another way to read the “dating down” concept:  what if it’s down to the bones of the dating rituals, or more accurately, the mating rituals. What it’s really about is dating down to the animal within us. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that I was part fish and part otter, full of fur and snout and salt water. (My mother affectionately referred to me as her little raccoon, or otter, because I washed my seafood before eating it.) My dad’s a Grizzly Adams-Dirty Harry cross, and in my dreams, he sometimes appeared beside a bear, or AS a bear himself. I realized I was raised by some kind of bear-man, who identified himself as a lone wolf, and now I see him as part-wolf, part-bear, and still part Dirty Harry. My mother always said that the osprey was her totem animal, and she was always a bird-mom, in the best and worst possible ways, feeding us hors d’oeuvres and making nests for us, wherever we moved, which was often, circling in the same general territory, never straying too far from the Sheepscot River in midcoast Maine.  Our family land, now a Chewonki Preserve, has had an eagle’s nest for many years, along with osprey nests, and I grew up with a strong sense of responsibility in protecting our heritage and the wild things that depended on our land ethic.

One day when I was a teen-ager, a mountain lion showed up in our backyard, close to the Sheepscot River. I made sure that my cat was inside the house and together, my cat and I watched the mountain lion creep over the stone wall terraces like a duchess descending a grand staircase. She was well-camouflaged against a meadow of lilies, a strong tawny blonde, and purposeful in her movements. I never forgot her. Over the years, I have grown to accept that I transformed, at puberty, from part-otter part-fish girl into a part-otter part-mountain-lioness and as daughter of an osprey-woman and a wolf-man, I have those animal traits, too. (If you’ve seen “LadyHawke,” then you can picture what I’m talking about.) I am protective and territorial of the land that I nurture and call home; I move through each day with purpose but I don’t show off, surrounded by the lakes and natural beauty. Yet I am still playful and never lose my sense of wonder, or love for the water.  

A female mountain lioness stakes out her territory, and then allows some males to approach. Most of the males are chased away, mauled and intimidated into submission, but a couple will remain, to tough it out. They compete for her affections, but it’s really more about chemistry—as she picks the mate no matter who wins the battle for dominance between the toms. It’s up to her, ultimately. Then after she mates with the tom, he’s allowed to stick around. This is a pretty big deal since mountain lions are not like lions in Africa—with a whole pride. And dare I mention kinky otter sex? That’s probably better left up to the imagination. Otter sex is not for the faint-of-heart, lemme tell you. Only Scorpios could really even imagine going there as it’s worse than shark BDSM. Ask a marine biologist. I’m not at liberty to say.

So what’s the take-away from this post? Date down, you might be disappointed. Date down to the animal, you might find the right mate, someone who echoes your instincts and brand of wildness. Or you might get mauled.

During my first summer at Nixie’s Vale, a small cottage in the lakes region of southern Maine, I hardly cared that it rained for two months. 

Rains enlivened the trees in a seep I nicknamed, “Fern Gully,” which looked and sounded like a lush rainforest—flooded with bird song and drizzled with a syrupy-sweet odor of moss and a black ash swamp that soaked up all the rains and kept my basement dry. I sprawled on a futon in my living room, feeling the slight breeze of a spinning fan high above me on a Cathedral ceiling, and peered out five windows, an almost panoramic view of my new backyard. It poured. I didn’t realize that my new town attracted more thunderstorms because of the high levels of radon in the granite here—after all, I grew up in Maine, a state with a lot of granite, and never in my life had I experienced this frequency and intensity of lightning. I told my friends I’d moved to “Thunder Town” and that it was a “good thing I liked thunderstorms.”

The cats hid under the bed for the eight weeks of loud crashes and booms, flashes and downpour. I felt happy—no, I felt elated, for the first time in a very long time, like a ridiculously giddy couple of newlyweds on their honeymoon in Acadia National Park, where I’d worked as a park ranger and seen plenty of newlyweds. Those who laughed at the rain and swept themselves away to hike and swim and play and kiss despite the unpredictable weather, I sensed their permanence, their solidity. Those whose faces betrayed their utter disappointment at the fog pressing Cadillac Mountain the one afternoon they drove up to see the view, well, I didn’t have high hopes for them as a couple. Here I was four hours from Acadia and Mount Desert Island, where I had lived for eight years, and although I missed the ocean and beach rose and the national park and my friends, I felt a release of that same kind of stupid bliss I saw in those newlyweds who didn’t mind the damp weather, who didn’t mind getting stuck in a storm on their honeymoon. I wasn’t a newlywed at all but I did feel that burgeoning sense of a new start. I felt triumphant and ready for this commitment to myself, to a property, to doing it by myself—not waiting for someone to sweep me off, umbrella or no umbrella, and weather the storm with me. 

My mother had a glass of wine in her hand as she shrilled into the phone midsip, “What will you do if the bobcat comes to your door?”

“What do you mean, if he comes to my door? I don’t think I’ll invite him in, Mom. And I highly doubt he’ll come knocking on my door. They’re shy.”

“Right. But what’s your plan if that does happen? You have to think about these things, Leah.”

“Mom, I’m not worried about the bobcat that passed through my woods on Saturday. I’d be more worried about the vagrants. Men I see wandering up and down the road, ducking into little shacks.”

“It’s the economy. Everyone’s struggling, Leah. Are you really worried about men knocking on your door?”

“Not this time of year, Mom. But in the summertime, when I’m standing in my yard at 2a.m. in my nightgown to let the dog out, I look into the dark woods and wonder if anyone is out there, meandering through my land, watching me.”

“You watch too many scary movies, Leah. You’re paranoid.”

“Mom, you’ve called me asking what I’m to do if the bobcat comes to my door. Some people have suggested I get a shotgun. Of course I’d have to take a safety class first. My boss’s husband, the retired homicide detective, said the sound of a shotgun being cocked in the night is enough to scare off anyone lurking in my living room.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant, just brilliant. Good plan. The whole country is gun-crazy. Get on that bandwagon, will you,” she sniped, sipping again. “I meant mace or pepper spray,” she went on.

“This is an asinine argument, Mom,” I said, raising my voice, “I’m not getting a gun and the bobcat is not knocking on my door. I don’t watch scary movies. And I’m not getting close enough to a bobcat to spray it with mace.”

“Leah, you need to relax,” she said.

After I ended the call, I snapped the cell phone shut and tried to relax. I was relaxed, before. The fire licked the window pane of the woodstove and the funny musical comedy program chimed in the background. The dog snored and kicked her feet a little on the opposite couch. A fat cat slept in the small space between the back of the sofa and my leg. I got up and looked out the back French doors, tall panes of cold glass that let in the bitter January night air. The moon’s bright and full, I thought. It’s the kind of night for wishing, wanting. I peered into the dark woods, searching for any sign, any movement. No breeze swept through the branches of my magic trees that dance all summer. The blizzards and nor’easter had rocked them and knocked them, but none fell. Seeing the bobcat creep over the stone wall at the back of my yard had surprised me—and the dog went bananas—but I never even found its tracks. Its charcoal gray feline form moved like a panther, or my little cat, Narnia, when she sneaks past the sleeping dog. This is my life in the shadows of the western mountains of rural Maine.

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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Strange Wetlands Blog: Strange Wetlands™

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Lezlie Moore

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