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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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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

My Woods In Winter

When I settled at Nixie’s Vale, a nod to Tennyson,
A small cape at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain,
Rare blue butterflies flit from a black ash seep,
An ecosystem valued by the Wabanaki people
For the basket-grade texture of the trees’ bark;
I studied economic botany in college, but then
Distracted myself with conservation plans,
Policies and “best management practices,”
And the accompanying fact sheets, which
I posted online (to save paper).

In winter, without leaves, most of my trees
Lean in white arches, doors to other worlds,
Witches’ brooms at an imaginary threshold,
Or so I liked to believe, as a child of whimsy.
Since living here beside a freshwater pond,
I’ve learned about the vortex, a crossway
For the spirits of warriors and healers.
A perennial stream carries rainwater down
Off the mountain, through underground
Tributaries intersecting in a fern-filled gully
Spilling into what was once known
As “Little Rattlesnake Lake.”

Like my trees, I am a pioneer, and thrive
Even in disturbed areas, and I somehow
Hold the sunken soils together and live
Protected from storms, my curly crown
Golden-rust-colored and silky, hairy tips
And tapered branchlets like fingers run
Over pale conspicuous scars, ripened cups
Whorled and heart-shaped shields, sun
Dried, revealing the broken-off ends
That once supplied water to downy buds.

I am broad and thornless, a windbreaker
My father raised me to nibble wintergreen
And build lean-tos; I cool the temperature
Dangle catkins, a snowy, pine-needled scene;
Write a ragged understory, which needs cutting:
It’s taking seed—overgrown, too pendulous,
In the pithy soft inner core of me, all foreseen,
Long foretold in pages I once loved to read—this
Sturdy soul’s rooted in Hawthorne’s hometown.

-Leah C. Stetson

Poet’s note: This poem is part of a 30/30 Poetry Challenge in support of the Tupelo Press. Please consider making a donation or subscribing to one of their fine publications. TP Subscribe

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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