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My workout today:

After a couple of hours spent stacking wood, I had barely made a dent in the pile. My trusty pointer-dachshund hunted for chipmunks, which have been hiding in the woodpile for the past month. Stacking a cord of wood by myself is a labor of love. I say that because I love the warmth of a fire in my woodstove, which is very efficient–and brings my upstairs rooms to a toasty 80 degrees on a cold wintry night. Sophie-Bea and I took a lunch break and then got back to work on the pile. I’m stacking some of it inside my garage but most of it goes under the shed roof. An aggressive army of wasps had constructed a formidable paper nest with six levels–about the diameter of half a tennis racket but overall, slightly smaller than a football. I had to wait until a chilly night to move the nest to another location on my land, far away from the wood pile, after getting stung a few times.

Progress…

Yesterday we followed the sound of a loud buzz saw down to the pond. I figured someone was  cutting firewood only to find it was not a chainsaw but a remote control speed boat racing around like something out of “The Rescuers.” My first thought: “Evinrude,” the dragonfly that transported the mice, Bernard and Bianca, through the swamp; it’s also the brand of outboard motor on my grandfather’s boat at the lake. I could see the red toy speedboat zipping around the otherwise quiet pond. Its battery-operated motor emitted an annoying high pitch noise like a swarm of insects. I like dragonflies…but not mosquitoes.

On the causeway

Before I could visually match the buzz to the little boat, I was nervous about what I was walking into–locusts? Usually the pond is a scene of serenity, not fecundity. I walked with the dog, who looked bothered by the buzzing boat, and finally spotted a grown man standing on his dock, operating a remote-control device.  Not a kid. An adult. I walked down to the causeway that connects a tiny two-acre island to the mainland and sat down on the edge, where I had a clear view of the toy speedboat. It did laps. It circled around at warp speed. Fish jumped. I half expected to see a bass take it down–a comical reverse “Jaws” scene, or again, something out of “The Rescuers,” maybe an alligator.

When my brother and I were little, we had “The Rescuers” board game (1977). Players moved around the board, decorated like a swamp, and faced off the villains: two alligators, a hip-swiveling southern woman named Medusa, and her nerdy spectacled-sidekick Mr. Spooks. Tad and I turned over cards to see which villain crossed our path as we embarked on an imaginary adventure as two heroic mice. I LOVED this game. Of course, we had the books, the game, the record. Long before we had movies on VHS, we listened to stories on the record player.

The battery on the toy speedboat died suddenly, lurching the little boat to a stop in the middle of the pond. My dog watched with concern. A slow-moving paddleboat turned toward the direction of the now-sinking red remote-control boat. Its operator paddled over in a kayak and met up with the people on the paddleboat–and the three of them talked about their collections of toy speedboats, ideal rechargeable batteries and other dilemmas. I thought, “this is a thing?” I guess this is a thing.

Today the pond, serene as usual, smelled of crisp fall leaves. Orange, red and yellow leaves floated as if on a current, racing under the causeway bridge. Yesterday I watched dozens of little fish swimming and jumping–but today I saw none. Evinrude and the Rescue Aid Society must have been charging through the marshgrass somewhere. No sign of them today.

Living next a pond–even though I don’t have direct water access–feels rejuvenating. I really feel blessed getting to drink all of this in, metaphorically speaking.

The pond beyond my backyard

I am glad I don’t suffer bufonophobia, a fear of toads, because a gang of American toads (Bufo americanus)  live under my deck. They come out at night and sit, fat as golfballs, one of them the size of a baseball, in the moonlight. Their posturing reminds me of the T-birds and the Pink Ladies in “Grease” at the drive-in.

Careful not to step on them when I stand in the yard, I let my dog enjoy a few minutes of midnight sounds, smells and shadows, with caution. The toads barely budge if she sniffs their bumpy bodies. She doesn’t like toads, luckily. I’m nervous about taking a step, worried I might squish one, anticipating the inevitable movement—but a toad’s test of wills (or staying power) beats mine every time. 

My imagination takes me back to Wind in the Willows, Toad and Frog, and the Riverbottom Nightmare Gang.  The child in me imagines Toad and Frog riding around in their small motorcar. The ecologist in me wants to set up candid cameras under the deck and film the toads’ daytime activities.  This is their breeding time (March-July), when they emerge from their burrows to eat at night and mate. It is more likely that the underside of my short deck is dull by day and hoppin’ at night. I’ve been kneeling down beside my deck and nervously extending my arms beneath the deck, which is less than a foot height-wise, and very dark, trying to take snapshots with my camera.  No success.  Along patches of my seep, nicknamed “Fern Gully,” I’ve observed toadlets, baby toads, crawling along the muddy wooded floor. They are small, about an inch long in body, not counting legs. What’s amazing to me is that toad eggs can hatch in a matter of days (3-13 days) and the toadlets grow to adulthood in about a month. I’ve become so obsessed with the toads beneath my deck that I’ve felt compelled to write a little poem, a work in progress, below is an excerpt.

Echoed in the cricket sound effect
Chirp of your message on my cell
Toads crawl out from under the deck
Hypnotize females fat as golf balls.
Music producers of Nature’s studio,
they mix melodic tunes, as you do;
stuck close to a crew of black tadpoles
when younger, then tripled in mass,
that dark-throated hunger
and explosive mating instinct
unique to the plight of your kind.

Just got the full poem accepted into an international lit mag and so I’ve taken down the poem in full here.

-LCS

See my Guest Post: It’s Dating Season for Toads on the Familiar Wilderness’ series, In Your Backyard here.

Last night I read my Pisces February 2012 horoscope by Susan Miller  – my new favorite astrologer – and I was thrilled to read that as of February 3rd, Neptune has moved into the sign of Pisces (my sun sign) for the first time in 165 years. The last time was during the Victorian age, when the Romantics were popular in art, literature, poetry and culture. I blogged about the Romantics in my Strange Wetlands post about Romantic Ecology, with which I have always identified. I grew up reading the Romantics and Victorian gothic literature–often reading 1st or 2nd editions I found in the  libraries of my family’s great homes in Wiscasset, Maine. Some of them were on the “museum” circuit, and historical sites of interest, so we had tourists coming through, sometimes sneaking into my bedroom when I was a teen-ager. I often lounged on a chaise in my bedroom and swept off into a dreamland of Shelley, Bramstoker, Blake or Wordsworth. That is, until I discovered Millay, Carson and the Confessional Poets.

According to Susan Miller’s astrological interpretations, now that Neptune is “at home” in Pisces, I will feel more comfortable with things in life, too, since  “all things Piscean” will influence art, lit, poetry, fashion and culture for the next 14 years. What bliss! Thank you, Susan Miller, for illustrating this bright spot in my horoscope. It’s refreshing to think about–that the next 14 years will be “delicious” as she calls it. I could really use even ONE year let alone 14 years of anything delicious, as the last handful of years has been rather dim and disappointing, with the exception of 2009, when I bought my adorable house and adopted my dog (two very good decisions). I love the idea that we’re entering into a reinvention of a Romantic or Victorian age –with a 21st century spin on it. I wonder what it will look like.

Lately I’ve read in magazines that the things that I’ve tried to change about myself–my curly hair or my curvy figure–and the things that I’ve always loved about myself–my mermaid spirit and my imagination–are the very things that are now “in style.” At the hair salon, while getting a trim, I picked up a magazine that had captions like, “perfectly smooth straight hair is OUT! Messy curls and wild texture is IN!” (Ace in the hole there.)  Mermaid-inspired fashion, hair styles and make-up are also making their way onto the runways and into magazines…no doubt thanks to this move of Neptune into Pisces (and out of airy cool & detached do-gooder Aquarius). Pisces is a rebel, a poet and psychic. People who are cool with things being a bit nebulous and dreamy will feel like finally, the world is making sense, whereas the steadfast hardcore just-the-facts-ma’am types and in-your-face-firey-my-way-or-the-highway types will probably see things not going their way for this 14 year Romantic period. As a poet, psychic and rebel, and a dreamy Pisces, true to form, I am more than OKAY with this change, this reinvention of Romantics and/or Victorian age.  After visiting the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine with my aunt just before the new year, I realized I was more at home in that Victorian museum than I am in most buildings. I love my 1990s home but it feels extremely modern, at least externally (vinyl siding) so I fill it with vintage furniture to feel more “at home.” Here’s to a new Romantic age, however it takes shape in the coming decade and beyond.

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.

Nixie’s Vale ~ Lakes Region, Southern Maine

When I first bought my house in Maine, I fell in love with the land around it–just a few acres beside a pond. It seemed magical to me, something out the Chronicles of Narnia, blessed by water spirits. I named my home, Nixie’s Vale. This is what I imagined of my new surroundings.

Because a beautiful Water Nixie lived near the pond, the water was pure. The streams, wells and vernal pools nearby were also part of her domain. At only the height of a grass-blade, the little Nixie would be very hard to spot. Dressed in a light gown that veiled her fishtail, she sometimes emerged from the waters and perched herself upon the stream bank in the shady glen, where she fastened wildflowers to her spaghetti reed straps atop her shoulders, or braided her long wet hair, or coaxed wood frogs and salamanders from their winter hidey-holes. Her dark green eyes matched the reeds that held up her gown and dangled down over her lithe arms. Beneath the gown, her fish tail shimmered in pale green, gray and white scales that matched the white perch, trout and bass in the lake, and her skin was freckled with orange flecks like the pumpkinseed sunfish that danced with her in the pond. Her fingertips wove rivulets of spun water in flashes that might as well have been minnow splashing in schools.

The Nixie symbolizes the soul, femininity and rescue, as well as reinvention and reorganization. She purifies water, and in doing so, has the same effect on the spirits of all beings that come into contact with the water from her pond, streams and wells.

In an old story of one particularly disobedient water nixie, the Queen of Oceans banished the nixie to live inside a single tear. The legend says that we cry salty tears because the little disobedient sea-born nixie had lived for so long inside our tears as part of her punishment, before finally being released and allowed to live in wooded glades, streams, ancient wells and small bodies of water, never again to return to the ocean.

When one refers to a “vale of tears,” we make reference to the earthly sorrows left behind after someone enters heaven. Other definitions to follow ~

Vale. -noun. A valley. The world. A valley often coursed by a stream; a dale. Farewell. To be strong or well. Low ground, marshy meadow. “Vale of years” means old age (Othello).

“Make me a cottage in the vale.” –Tennyson. (“The Palace of Art”) Furthermore, water nixies show up in this verse from the Vale of Tempe by Madison Cawein, 1911:

“It was last Midsummer Night,
In the moon’s uncertain light,
That I stood among the flowers,
And in language unlike ours
Heard them speaking of the Pixies,
Trolls and Gnomes and Water-Nixies.”

Considering how often I meet trolls in life, I suppose it’s a good thing to have some nixie back-up. In some ways, I relate to the water nixie, a lesser-known nymph, who, upon screwing up in her former life as an ocean-dwelling mermaid, retreated inland to small bodies of water: ponds, streams, wells and pools with the job of purifying her element. Like the water nixie, I have missed the ocean, the coastal estuaries and salty rivers of my youth, especially the Sheepscot River in mid-coast Maine, Somes Sound and the rocky shores of Acadia. I am an island girl at heart and my soul has always felt freest surrounded by salt water…how could I possibly live among the lakes like landlocked salmon? It’s requiring a much longer period of adjustment than I had anticipated, but it’s not without its sense of rescue and rejuvenation.

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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