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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.)

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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.

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.

 

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. 

This past weekend we had a mini ice storm in the mountains of western Maine where I live. My dog and cat snuggled by the fire as I worked on “Wetland Breaking News” and a Water Resources Protection Ordinance draft.

As ice crackled in the trees, I listened to Prairie Home Companion, broadcast from New York City, on the radio. Garrison Keillor relayed the News from Lake Wobegon, including a climate change skeptic’s love story that was really charming. I find climate change skepticism akin to astrological skepticism – as astrology is based on science, the same physics used in astronomy, according to my astronomy professor at St. Lawrence University. I try to avoid arguments with people who are skeptical of climate change…or astrology for that matter. In looking back, I found the predictions for the Chinese “Water Dam” year uncanny in their relevance to what we’ve seen for natural disasters this year in the U.S.

Last winter in a February Strange Wetlands blog post, I wrote about 2012 as the “Black Water Dragon” or “Water Dam” year in the Chinese calendar. Astrologers predicted a focus on dams, water, levees and floodplains management, under a strong stormy and dark water influence, including a storm or heavy flooding event in late 2012. Water problems, including dramatic changes in water levels, were also predicted for the “Water Dam” year. In a recent Compleat Wetlander post, my boss, Jeanne, noted that the last time the Mississippi River levels were at a record low was 1940, also a dragon year. The last time we had a “water dragon” year was 60 years ago, when my mother was born in 1952, a year when all of the named storms attained “hurricane” status. Among the six hurricanes that year, Hurricane Fox (Oct. 20-28, 1952) a Category 4, killed 40 people and wrought $10 million in damages (that’s in 1952; in 2012 that would be equivalent to $87.5 million in damages). It was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. …until this most recent hybrid storm, Sandy, in October 2012.

At my job at ASWM, I’ve been responsible for developing content for the Climate Change resources section of the aswm.org website. In response to Hurricane Sandy, I post news, analyses and reports related to the storm and her impact on wetlands, as well as the relationship between hurricanes and wetlands on a new section of the website. See Hurricane Sandy news here.  If you’re looking for information on particular sea level rise tools, pilot studies and storm surge analysis, visit ASWM’s Sea Level Rise page that I put together.  There are some really terrific storm surge and sea level rise tools!

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.

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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