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I am “Lady of the Lake”

One of the few helpful aspects of social distancing and self-isolation during this horrible time of the COVID-19 has been taking the time, in solitude, to read, write, organize, create, sketch, and to revisit old favorite hobbies, and passions, like art. Back in March, when my university transitioned to online courses, and my state governor issued a Stay-at-Home order, I felt reasonably “ok” with that, since I felt it was a good time to focus on my graduate study, which requires a lot of reading and writing. Last fall, two of my faculty advisors asked me a difficult philosophical question about why researching the topics I’d proposed was important to me–personally--and my answers then seemed flaky, e.g. “I am Lady of the Lake!” So, I have been thinking about how to answer those questions. It seems like I should be prepared to answer thoughtfully.

In May, I received Honorable Mention for my poem, “My Glacial Erratic,” in the 2020 Fish Poetry Prize, judged and selected by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. My poem will appear in the 2020 Fish Anthology, coming out later this summer. (That’s with Fish Publishing, which holds a number of writing contests each year, based in Ireland.) Since then, I’ve written new poetry, and started drawing images that go with my poetry, and some of it is inspired by recent coursework. Selkies, mermaids, the Irish merrow, bog-women, the Lady of the Lake, and other supernatural female figures in literature (Romanticism as well as other periods, particularly Gothic literature and Arthurian lit) have captured my imagination.

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“Irish Merrow” – one of my watercolors

Enter art journaling. To work through some of my ideas, I’ve started art journaling. It’s now summer, and I’m still self-isolating, and spending a great deal of time at home, on my own, creating. I’ve started working in a blank canvas art journal (Jane Davenport’s supplies).

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Painting on my deck. This piece is one of my mermaid characters from my “Blue Dog and the Sea Fan” series.

It never occurred to me to use my art (and poetry) to think critically about my proposed research, or to answer philosophical questions about my interdisciplinary research. I’d been approaching it methodically, seriously–with critical annotations, a working bibliography, term papers as building blocks, outlines. Now I’m approaching it differently, and I’ve got images of mermaids, selkies, bog-women, and memories of Ireland in my head.

Painting in my art journal– a scene from my trip to Co. Cork, Ireland in 2019

Part of that’s influenced by the research I did on Traditional Ecological Knowledge of seaweed harvesting in Ireland for a term paper. Part of it’s inspired by a Celtic Studies class I’m taking led by Dr. Sharon Blackie. I read her book, Foxfire, Wolfskin, and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women (September Publishing, 2019) which I loved.

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I loved this book by Sharon Blackie!

There’s something very liberating about making art. And it’s a good exercise to pick up a different tool–any tool–whether it’s a paint brush or fountain pen–but a physical tool, one that can be held in the hand to transmit ideas from the mind to the page. I love color. I’ve always responded emotionally to color. As a kid, the gift of a set of colored pens delighted me more than dolls or toys. I still love art supplies and colored pens. Recently, I’ve become quite smitten with art supplies by Jane Davenport, an Australian artist and designer, known as an “Artomologist,” a play on her nature photography, and particularly her love for ladybugs, and other insects. I’ve also really enjoyed her books, such as Marvelous Mermaids. Jane Davenport has a series of art tutorials on Youtube, and I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering my love for making art, partly inspired by her wonderful books, tutorials, and using some of her supplies. The “Mermaid Markers” are some of my favorite supplies, a water-reactive brush pen, like a watercolor alternative, that’s been fun to use. But my absolute favorite thing of hers is the fountain pen, an INKredible pen.

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Inkredible ink fountain pen by Jane Davenport and one of my journals

Twenty years ago, I took a watercolor painting class at College of the Atlantic. Prior to that, I was a writing-art double major (or English major, art minor) at St. Lawrence University. For at least ten years, from high school through college, at four different schools, I loved making art. I incorporated art visuals into my poetry projects and liked making books. Then, in 2004, while in grad school at COA, I was living in a small cottage with a 15-year-old water heater, which leaked badly, flooding my little home, and saturating all of my possessions. My draft master’s thesis, which I’d meticulously organized into piles and chapters, along with my notes and data on my living room floor, floated in ankle-deep water on a soggy shag carpet. Even my old Dell laptop was submerged. One of the fatal losses that really crushed me at the time, three full art portfolios containing all of my art from more than four years in studio art classes–drawings, paintings, photography, self-portraits, watercolors, some of which I’d planned to frame someday (when not working on my master’s thesis). All of my art disintegrated. It was so shocking and sad, I focused on other things, like completing my master’s degree, and moved forward with other projects, and left my ruined art and love for making art, in the past.

In recent years, I’ve rediscovered my love for Kettle Cove State Park (southern Maine), and I have been lucky enough to swim in that small cove over an eelgrass meadow, where I swam and toddled around as a baby more than thirty-five years ago.  Recently, I swam at high tide, in the wake of the New Moon Solar Eclipse in Cancer this June.

Kettle Cove State Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Stetson photo

Every time I swim there, I am flooded with sensations, poems, ideas, and epiphanies. I’m rediscovering myself. I’m reinventing myself. Below is a weird “inner self-” portrait I painted, using watercolors and real Maine eelgrass, which coiled and wrapped around my neck and arms as I swam at Kettle Cove in June.

I collected a few blades of eelgrass, which was floating in the water, and coiled around my wrists as I swam to shore. It also washes ashore along with rockweed, so it’s easy to find there. I incorporated the eelgrass into my art journal.

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“Inner self-” portrait,  multimedia,  “Lass in the Eelgrass” LCS  June 2020

Now, twenty years after my watercolor class in spring 2000 at COA, I’ve picked up my paint brushes again. I’ve started making art again, almost on a daily basis, for the past month. At some point, during the process of social distancing, self-isolating at my home in the Lakes Region of Maine, I felt inspired to start sketching some drawings of symbols and seaweed as part of projects, like the one I did for Folklore and Environmental Policy class. Then, I started sketching ideas for other aspects (inspired by literary works by Romanticism-era writers like Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft) while I organized a strategy for doing my graduate research. That led to the idea of starting an art journal that’s connected to the research I’ve been doing as a student in the Interdisciplinary PhD program. I’m a poet and “ecoheroine,” researching the Eco-Gothic and Arthurian lit in a tenacious pursuit of deep Romantic ecology of wetlands.

All of these images and photos are mine. Please don’t share my images. My art is work-in-progress. Thank you!

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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