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Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Chaffin Pond, Stetson Photo

Walking around Chaffin Pond today in North Windham with my dog, Sophie-Bea, we kept our ears pricked for peepers, or wood frogs, but didn’t hear them. I anticipate that after today’s afternoon showers, together with this eerily warm spell, the wood frogs and salamanders will make their annual journey back to vernal pools to spawn. I have a vernal pool in my woods at Nixie’s Vale and like to listen to the wood frogs in April. By May, they hop through my woods and over my yard, heading for uplands. At Chaffin Pond, a 13-acre freshwater pond that’s part of the 123-acre Windham Parks and Recreation Donnabeth Lippman Park, there are two identified vernal pools and an educational sign for visitors, explaining the significance of vernal pools. See a map of the pond and park here.  Right now, it’s clear that the local Conservation Corps volunteers are implementing some erosion control measures. Wetlands act as natural “controls” for protecting roads and dry land from run-off and for controlling erosion, however, during heavy rains, the pond’s water can get quite high and overflow onto the trails very easily. Thus it seems prudent for the use of man-made erosion control barriers to protect fish habitat from sediment intrusion, especially during such projects as replanting grass in the park recreation areas.

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Erosion control at Chaffin Pond. Stetson photo

Today’s walk was a little muddy in places, so I recommend wearing the right boots, and staying on the trails, rather than trying to go around certain muddy spots. The 20160401_123203Conservation Corps volunteers built and installed beautiful bridges that cross some of the wetter areas, brooks, including Hyde and Outlet Brook, and crossing through some of the areas that include vernal pools. These pools look shallow but would be deep enough for someone wearing hip-waders to feel that cool water creep into their pant legs. I know the feeling all-too well: several years ago, in 2010, I waded into vernal pools throughout parts of Windham, Maine, as part of a vernal pool mapping and monitoring project with University of Maine, Orono. Along with my monitoring partner, a land conservation colleague, I waded into vernal pools, counted wood frogs and salamander eggs, and took photographs for the projects data collection. (I previously blogged about that experience on Strange Wetlands.)

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.52.11 PM

Maine’s Beginning with Habitat program has mapped the wetlands of Windham, including those adjacent to Chaffin Pond, including Boody Meadow. I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s something mysterious and irresistible about wetlands. These maps, while informative, don’t take any of that mystery or lush

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

Beginning with Habitat Map of Wetlands, Windham, ME (close-up of Chaffin Pond areas)

meaning away from these special places, at least for me. Instead, maps serve to identify, aid in the planning, sometimes for conservation purposes, or to show connectivity between waters. While walking around in the woods, it’s sometimes hard to imagine from a bird’s eye view how all of these much smaller waters connect and eventually feed Sebago Lake, an incredibly important drinking water source for most of southern Maine!

Map legends, below, show the various types and functions of the wetlands shown in the map of the Chaffin Pond preserve (at right).

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

Beginning with Habitat wetland map legend, Windham, ME

 

Light green highlighted areas indicate an aquatic bed with submerged aquatic vegetation. Red highlighted areas indicate emergent wetlands, classified as having erect, rooted hydrophytes and usually dominated by perennials. You won’t typically see mosses and lichens in those areas. The dark green highlighted areas are forested or shrub-scrub wetlands. Orange highlighted areas indicate shrub-scrub wetlands, or woody vegetation less than 20 feet tall. These include smaller, young or stunted trees and shrubs. Grey highlighted areas identify rocky shorelines or bottom.

Sophie-Bea noticed some movement in the woods in the preserve by the pond, pointing as she does, when the 50% of her that’s pointer is active. (She’s half dachshund.) We passed a young man fishing for trout and largemouth bass. The

Sophie-Bea points

Sophie-Bea points

pond’s submerged vegetation and shallows along the shoreline make ideal habitat for largemouth bass. There’s no boat launch, however, it’s an ideal spot to put in a kayak or a canoe. (I found the story of a father and son’s fishing experience on Chaffin Pond out of their canoe on the Amazing Fish-a-Metric blog.) What’s interesting to me is how this pond changes from one season to the next. Later in spring, a large area of the preserve will come alive with beautiful green ferns and I like to follow a trail that goes past Boody Meadow, a wetland that filters water that drains into Sebago Lake via Outlet Brook and other unnamed tributaries. Today the brook was running fast and I imagine after this afternoon’s rainstorm, it’s rushing like river rapids on a much smaller scale.

April1ChaffinPond

We love walking there year-round, regardless of mud on the trails. In January, we tromped through slush and last summer, we sauntered through the ferns alongside Boody Meadow, imagining moose and muskrat moving through the wet meadow, unseen, undiscovered, perhaps watching us.

Pretty soon, we’ll return and hear the peepers, after their “Big Night,” a series of rainy nights in early April, when the wood frogs return to the vernal pools by Chaffin Pond, and spawn. These small endangered creatures are vital to Maine’s fish and wildlife ecosystems. Keep that in mind when you’re driving home late at night and see dozens of frogs leaping across the road–something so bizarre it seems straight out of an “X-Files” episode–but as fantastic as it seems, it’s part of real spring in Maine.

Update: Tonight on my way home from the grocery store, a dozen or so frogs leapt across the road –their familiar silhouettes illuminated in the beam of the headlights. I slowed down and smiled.

 

FeetWetLake

At the lake I love

After years of telling myself I would “never teach,” I began teaching college students in 2008.  A community college hired me to teach English Composition to college freshman. At the same time, a local Adult Education Program, in concert with the college, asked me to create a new curriculum for a college transitions class called “Success in College.” Through teaching both classes for a few years, I mentored fire science technicians and education majors, marine biology students and nurses, as well as nontraditional students, who wanted to change careers. They gained confidence in their writing and their ability to communicate–two skills in high demand for any job, no matter the field. A trend I’ve noticed among recent college graduates is a lack of patience in approaching the job market. In our fast-paced social networking-driven society, it’s easy to get impatient.  Searching for a job is more like casting a line over the water.  You try different bait. You move around to different spots. You get your feet wet.  You relax. You have to be patient.

My cousin, Owen, a Pisces like me, loves to fish at Little Sebago Lake, where we all grew up swimming.  About six months ago, I encouraged my cousin, a civil engineering student at University of Maine, to create a LinkedIn profile for himself. At first, he wasn’t sure if that sounded like something he needed to do, but he mentioned a friend of his who had gotten a job, or learned of a job, through LinkedIn. My cousin created a profile on LinkedIn, added his work experience (a local hardware store) and his skills, including transportation, geotechnical engineering, groundwater modeling, surface water hydrology and hydrology, flood control and civil engineering. I’m super proud of my cousin, Owen, for receiving an offer for a job at a widely known engineering firm, and for all of his accomplishments. While in college, he joined the American Society of Civil Engineering.  I’m sure that helped broaden his network, too. He attains his Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering this spring.

When I graduated from College of the Atlantic with my Bachelor’s in Human Ecology in 2001, I researched organizations where I wanted to work, then approached them. I didn’t take a wait-and-see approach. I took a pro-active approach.  My first post-college job was a year-long position as a Lands Protection and Administrative Assistant at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a state-wide land trust. Part internship, part professional position, the job allowed me to get my feet wet in conservation. Several of the conservation and lands protection directors at MCHT mentored me; one served on my graduate thesis committee, while I researched land trust collaboration as part of my master’s degree work in conservation and sustainable business at College of the Atlantic. My job at MCHT had not been advertised–it wasn’t a position they were looking to fill. I expressed interest during an informational interview and they created a position for me. The position blossomed into a full-time professional responsibility (May 2001-July/August 2002).

Squaretop Mtn WY

Squaretop Mtn., Green River Valley, WY

In July 2002, I traveled west to Wyoming, to meet my cousins. I also interviewed ranchers and land trust professionals about western approaches to land conservation. It opened my eyes. Wide. That trip–including an experience riding two rodeo horses at a ropin’ event in Big Piney, WY, broadened my horizons. It also helped me conquer fears of failing.  Or, at least, it quelled my fears of falling off a horse that dives and darts, charging toward the corriente steer at the end of an arena.

Energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to step into a role with a high learning curve are all “must-have” qualities in a green–or “entry level”–college graduate today. The next two jobs I held while a graduate student, in similarly unconventional ways, were not positions that my employers had advertised. One opportunity led to a two-year contract as a park ranger and multi-faceted position at Acadia National Park, where the position was unique to me. No one had held the position prior to me; no one replaced me, since it was a special project. I loved working at Acadia NP and gained valuable experience in conservation, communications & marketing, management and graphic design. And I earned an award for it, a nice little feather in my cap. The program I started in 2003 is ongoing.  That’s my idea of success.

Today’s college graduates seem unsure of the job market.  I belong to several listservs, such as Ecolog-L, and I’ve noticed the countless emails that college graduates have submitted to listservs in the hope that someone will bite. They want a job. They want advice. They have an opportunity to approach the job market in new and different ways than that of previous generations. For one thing, LinkedIn did not exist when I graduated from college. I had to use old fashioned networking–knocking on doors, asking for informational interviews or meetings. There is nothing wrong with asking for an informational interview at a company/firm/organization, where a college graduate would like to work. Ask someone who works in your dream profession–“what projects are you working on now?” Find out if those projects are collaborative in nature–do they involve partner organizations? Do any of those partners have volunteer or internship opportunities? Is there a way you can volunteer on a short-term project to get experience?

Northeast Creek pic by French Hill Pond

Northeast Creek Watershed. French Hill Pond photo

Look locally.  Serving on a local planning board or conservation commission may help to gain a foothold in a network that leads to an environmental job in a field that excites you. Even local government boards, such as conservation commissions, sometimes tap into regional, state-wide or national networks. When I was in graduate school, I volunteered on a groundwater study conducted by USGS hydrologists. My GIS class offered me a way to contribute mapping work to the larger study, commissioned by the Town of Bar Harbor. Sure, it wasn’t paid.  And it took me a year to create the maps analyzing wetlands and development patterns in the Northeast Creek watershed. And I embarrassed myself by storing two maps in the trunk of my ’86 Volvo, which filled up with freezing rain during a nor’easter–effectively turning my trunk into an ice block with the maps inside. When the ice melted, the maps disintegrated. And I had to redo them. A lesson learned!

Many years later, I wrote articles about wetland mapping as part of a project for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I wasn’t new to wetland mapping since I’d had the experience of digitizing maps, plotting out wetlands and surveying land conservation areas in a watershed for various internships and volunteer projects after college. For those recent college graduates looking for work, I encourage them to CREATE positions for themselves, when they haven’t found a more traditional position immediately. It takes time. In the meantime, have fun exploring projects at the local, state-wide and national level. You don’t have to be a human ecologist to be multi-disciplinary. (My cousin, a civil engineering student, is multi-disciplinary in his approach. As a water-loving Pisces, it’s no surprise he was drawn to hydrology.)

Be open to unusual and unforeseen opportunities.  Step into a role that you (and a future employer) create just for you and your multi-disciplinary skills, talents and abilities. Offer a fresh perspective on a project that no one else wants to do and find that you can make a name for yourself, even while entering the job market. Create a sense of serendipity.

Grampa

Bob Chaplin

I grew up visiting my maternal grandparents in rural New Gloucester, Maine.  Their yellow farmhouse, barn and a hilly pastoral land, rich with streams, wetlands, meadows, fields and forest, was a wonderful place to play and explore.  As the eldest grandchild, I got to spend a lot of time there in (late ’70s-’90s). My grandfather tinkered in his barn and workshop, and when I was lucky, he built things I designed as a little girl, like a wooden key and lock for an imaginary mansion, a mossy ledge hidden in the woods beyond the upper field and vegetable gardens. (I still have this wooden lock and key.) He took my hand-drawn designs on scrap paper and made the wooden key and lock with his skill-saw, taking this sort of request seriously. Then I took this colorfully painted lock and key, and used it to enter magical worlds of moss and meadow. A perennial stream meandered between fields, along with vernal pools and a freshwater marsh, near land he later gave to his son (my favorite uncle) a little ways down the road. The 30+ acres beheld a wellspring for inspiration. (I’ll have to hunt for some photos of their land and add those later.)

A tall, athletic Scorpio, Grampa was a multi-talented Navy man and 32nd degree Mason. As an engineer, he wrote the book on metal removal technology. He was interviewed in Cutting Tool Engineering Magazine in 2005 about his book, Metal Removal Technology, which has since been integrated as a text book in mechanical engineering programs. I remember when I was in grade school, and my Grampa was drafting early versions of his book. He let me play with copies of his draft, thinking I’d be interested in drawing pictures on the blank side. To his surprise, I was far more interested in the side with charts, diagrams and formulas—all that he had devised for teaching employees at General Electric and engineering students in universities. I liked to take these “metal removal technology” spreadsheets on a clipboard with me to elementary school, where I told my classmates I was “working for my grandfather’s company,” and used a highlighter to “go over the numbers.” A few of my third-grade classmates asked me if he was hiring.  I shrugged and told them, “it depends on your qualifications.”

As a long-time musician, he encouraged all of his grandchildren to take up an instrument (or two). I fear I may have disappointed him, as I could never get the hang of the trombone, clarinet, piano or guitar. (Poetry turned out to be my instrument.) Long before I came into the picture, my grandfather led a band, the “Bob Chaplin Orchestra,” which performed throughout Massachusetts in the 1940s. He played lead clarinet. There wasn’t a musical instrument he couldn’t play, and he taught music for many years in Portland, Maine. Several of his students went onto join metropolitan philharmonic orchestras. He composed music in the jazz and Big Band Swing genres in the ’40s and later, composed chamber music for churches in Maine.

Bob Chaplin, or “Grampa,” as I called him, also served on his town’s planning board over the years (late 1960s-early 1990s).  In the 1980s and early ‘90s, he chaired the Comprehensive Plan Committee in New Gloucester, not far from where I live and work. The comprehensive plan cited the “single most important issue was the protection of brooks, streams, wetlands and groundwater,” based on surveys conducted in 1982. His committee’s emphasis on protecting water resources in the rural town only grew stronger in the decades that followed, and more of the town’s wetlands and floodplains were mapped. In this sense, he and his committee were visionaries.  As I become more involved with local projects for my town’s conservation commission, I’m realizing that this civic interest might be inherited. Aside from a passion for protecting wetlands, I also inherited my grandfather’s love for music. Earlier today I posted a piece on classical music, inspired in part by Suzanne Nance’s morning classical music program on Maine Public Radio.

As a side note, I was thrilled that Suzanne Nance mentioned my blog and ASWM this morning (Jan. 18, 2013) on her program. She dedicated this morning’s program to “Leah Stetson and her Strange Wetlands blog,” –and this morning’s theme on her radio show was “Warmer Temperatures and Wetlands.” She played several of the pieces that I wrote about in my blog post, including In the Fen Country, a symphonic impression composed by Ralph V. Williams (1935). See Strange Wetlands: Lutes & Lily Pads: Classical Music Inspired by Wetlands. 

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.

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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