The Woman Who Orders a Dark & Stormy

Sitting at the bar,
A muscular woman,
Silvery armbands
Long multi-colored
Hair, washes down
Black rum, looks
Around, warns
the locals.

Stormy, hot and steamy
Calypso-tempered, I get
Mad and wet and dreamy
You wouldn’t want to bet
On calming me down
Like that, not like that.
Say “relax” and regret.
Rain turns torrential
Apologize, blinking
Or bow out, an email
Better wear something
Waterproof, Gortex,
Protective gear,
Latex.

If someone got to you,
(She sounded phlegmy)
I make a fierce avenger,
Stronger than a lover, who
Unknowing, embraces fear
Sets sail, gets underway
He’ll soon be far, far away.

But be a ballsy storm chaser,
Study the swirling skies,
Dark blue-glazed, my Piscean eyes,
I’m not the female force of nature
One comes to expect surprise
Wandering loose, around here,
I tend to stay out of the cities.

I confided in her.

What little water nixie
Might live beside me
Mixing drinks, stirring
Rare weather patterns
Underground caverns
Stream-fed, unfound
Strange-smelling seeps
Black ash wetlands.

Driven inland, she’s meager
Silence becomes a sound,
All she cried a vale of tears
Lonely for an echo, echo
Thunder rolls over a pond
Snow falls. No flash, no
Spiritual enlightening.

That is the sum of it:
I am passionate
Wavy spectacle of
Cloud crashes,
Squalls. Or else
Try kite-surfing
with no wind at all.

You will need
The latest equipment
GPS at the very least
Find my predicament
Attracted by radon,
Lakes, ledges of granite
I strike the same place
Often.

Bring your lightning rod.

-LCS

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For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been taking a course to further my journey toward becoming a certified English teacher. “Methods of Teaching Secondary English” is a required course for teachers in Maine. For the class final project, we were assigned to design a lesson plan that is “original, inspired (or inspiring) and presented using some type of technology, which might be out of the comfort zone of the author.” I am not accustomed to making videos or movies of myself using iMovie or Youtube, other than the occasional cat video that I make in my living room. (Note: I never subject others to these little movies about whatever funny thing my cat did. I think the Internet has plenty of these gems without my contribution.)

First, I had to learn how to use iMovie. I started by calling my best friend, who seems to know all things related to whatever issue I’m having on my Mac. Then, I watched tutorials on Youtube, started practice filming for a different assignment earlier on in the course. I made the dorkiest iMovie, trust me, including action shot of me, weeding my garden as a metaphor for how English teachers have to cultivate the “constant gardener,” or “constant writer,” in their classrooms. Then I set up a Vimeo account, which was fairly easy. I may be the last person to do this (have you done this yet?) Next, I had to edit my iMovie, patching together many, many pieces of footage, or “clips,” and record voice-overs for certain parts, attempting to sound professional without sounding like the authoritative Catholic school nun from the 1980 “Blues Brothers,” scolding my audience, well, without the ruler.

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Here’s the video I made for my final project. I designed an original lesson plan called, “The Writers Cafe.” I have revised it a little but exceeded the limit on my Vimeo account for uploading videos. Also, I had to do a rain-dance in my dining room, wait patiently for 22 hours while the video uploaded to Vimeo and “converted,” whatever that meant. It was such a long wait that I thought I had done something wrong. And I had selected the “high” quality resolution but not the best quality/professional resolution. I made it with the recent-most version of iMovie on my MacBook Pro. So far I have received some great feedback from my instructor and classmates on my lesson plan. But I welcome other suggestions, feedback on the ideas presented, or tips on iMovie, Vimeo or teaching tools that might work better than the programs I used. Thanks!

In 2011, my family lost my step-dad, Michael, on this day, July 10. I thought of him the other day when I passed a vintage Volvo, a man driving it through South Portland with a very long piece of lumber tied on top to the roof rack. Orange flags trailed in the wind. It reminded me of my step-dad, who drove a vintage Volvo when he first came into our lives (and I later adopted one 1986 Volvo, which had belonged to his grandparents). Michael, a Scorpio, and a self-taught Buddhist, who shared my love of swimming in the lakes and ocean, loved to paint and draw, play guitar and piano, and sing in his band. While he was a respected regulatory lawyer, his first love was probably the ocean and boats. I wrote this poem in memory of him, just after he passed away July 2011.

Sallow, Sailing

Michael Julian at lake

Michael and my brother at the lake

The Buddhist believed, as Michael read,
The willow extended compassion. And
Shakespeare spared the sallow
To symbolize loved ones parted.

Leaning, a big umbrella over our little beach,
A weeping willow’s silky leaves tickled us
As it hovered and hugged when we ducked
Beneath soft slender branches, air mattresses
Tucked under our arms as kids at the lake.

Willows wear watery bark, tolerant swimming trunks;
Ancient Greeks believed the tree remedied aches—
A precursor to aspirin, but more likely, ours stabilized
The ground, holding us together with tough tenacious
Roots unseen while we looked upon a dreamy canopy
Of green all summer: our windbreaker, shade-maker,
Father to our shores, a crown of butterflies.

Long after someone felled the willow,
Michael backed the Volvo into the grove
Trailing a sunfish he launched at Little Sebago.
He loved the ceremony of boat maintenance: standing
On principle waist-deep, wrapping rope, tacking
And teaching his son to sail at sunset,
The art of swerving tall torsos
Tango straight-backed
Timed to the boom.

Hot pink blooms on the breeze
Danced chaotically into pines,
Maples and oak trees, their
Backward leaves flipped
By a sudden change
Held like hands
To a face.

Two brothers sailed in bright
Sun & Michael’s windy voice;
We talked while treading water,
Pausing for the faded
Break on the beach,
a wave’s echo.

                 In loving memory of Michael

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.

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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.

 

Literary analysis and figurative language are among my favorite subjects to teach my students in English Composition. While other teachers might find these akin to “pulling teeth,” I thrive on the challenge. I like to create original hand-outs for my students for each assignment, or in some cases, multiple worksheets. My teaching persona might be considered “the Hand-out Queen,” if there are such things. (What’s your teaching style? Aren’t there quizzes in magazines for this?)

Literary analysis, also known as literary criticism, is a tool that writers use to examine elements in fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry. When a writer uses this tool, the objectives of the essay might include answering some of these questions about the literature:

  • What is the story or book (or collection) about? (this does not mean that you write full plot summary or a book report)
  • What is the problem or conflict in the story, book or poem?
  • What points is the author or poet trying to make about society, love, religion, war, culture, or some other important topic?
  • What’s the main idea of the poem or story?
  • What symbolism is used? Analogies, central themes?
  • What lies beneath the surface? Is there an underlying tension?
  • What kinds of emotional response does this piece of lit. bring about for the reader? Does it bother you? Did it affect you in any way? Any elements of surprise, suspense?

The above list is just the beginning. Of course, I start with the basics, including an understanding of metaphor, point of view, character development and how to write a thesis statement. But my students still appreciate seeing some additional examples that dig a little deeper. I offered this lesson to be helpful. Maybe others will find this useful, too.

Revising & Strengthening Literary Analysis Essays

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My dining table has become the “grading station”

  • Make sure to have a clear thesis statement in your first paragraph (or the opening sentence of second paragraph). This thesis statement will direct the essay.
  • Make sure to have quotes from the literature you’re analyzing (quotes from the text) —These quotes will range the gamut from short phrases to longer “block quotes,” which you must indent & center (and format single-spaced).
  • Make sure to correctly identify whether it is a novel (fiction)—and identify which genre, e.g. detective/crime story, suspense/thriller, Victorian gothic, science fiction fantasy, novelette, which is a short novel, such as Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle); or a creative nonfiction book such as a memoir, travel narrative such as Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, science and nature memoir, such as Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; or short story, such as “The Open Window;” or an essay.
  • Make sure that you have correctly identified the type of narrator (e.g. omniscient (all-knowing), a named character in a novel (whether a protagonist or minor character), the author (if memoir), and kept that distinct throughout your essay. Be careful not to confuse these.

If you have selected to analyze an entire book, for example, a memoir—imgres-1let’s say, John Berendt’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated creative nonfiction book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1995), there is a LOT to analyze in a full book. However, in a short literary analysis essay, you’d be wise to focus your thesis statement on one concept or two themes, and dig into that idea, or parallel ideas, from a multitude of angles. For example, you might notice a lot of scenes, conversations between people in the book and references to “house-proud Savannah” and the pride of the residents in the Georgia city. You might also notice how Berendt uses contrast to depict envy among the same people. As a reader, you could step back and look at “pride” as a positive and “envy” as a negative; go further, and we look at “good and evil” as “pride and envy.” Or, as another example, you might be more interested in the theme of what it means to be “a true Savannahian.” Whatever grabs your interest is likely to work well in an essay that you craft.

Then we can skim through the book, and hopefully you have thought to annotate the text with sticky notes to color-code your favorite quotes. If not, you’ll have to go through the text again and find passages in the book that mention “jealousy,” “envy,” “pride” or “proud” (or “house-proud,”) or any characterizations that speak to these concepts. Select 4-10 quotes. You want a combination of short phrases, any special terms coined by the author or a character, location-specific phrases that are relevant to your analysis/thesis statement, a longer quote that you will indent to create a block quote. See below for a few examples of a phrase, a sentence quoted in the body of your paragraph an indented block quote. If you have a long quote and you want to use only parts of it but to keep it mainly in tact, use a […] << like that within the quote and within the body of your paragraph. This keeps it sleek. Nothing in quotes should appear in your essay unless it is a direct quote from the text. In other words, don’t put something in quotes if it is from your brain; it will confuse the reader.

An exception to the quote rule: if you’re quoting a literary critic, who has made a comment on the text that you’re analyzing, in which case you’re quoting that critic AND you must then cite that source and attribute that concept to the literary critic. Hot tip: if you quote a literary critic, keep that reference to a minimum and put it in one paragraph. You don’t want to confuse your reader and have quotes from literary critic(s) mixed in with quotes from the narrator and quotes from the characters or real people in the text.

Here is my example.  This is a snippet of a literary analysis essay I wrote about John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil:

In “house-proud Savannah,” the reader quickly sees the lush lawns and elaborate porches of the prominent homes “north of Gaston” (Berendt, 48). But what most visitors may not realize is that there are rules in Savannah. These rules dictate socially acceptable behavior for a “true Savannahian.” We know that the narrator and author, John Berendt, is a writer from New York, not a native to Georgia. He meets Joe, who explains the rules of Savannah living. Joe says, “Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. […] That’s when you find out everything you want to know.” Throughout the story, John attends a number of cocktail and dinner parties, and he engages in lively conversations with colorful characters—all real people living in Savannah. One thing he learns: locals are more forthcoming with him after he has earned their trust and they have had a few drinks together. It is during one of these parties that he sees the shadow-side of a prominent figure in the community and learns the truth about a crime, a murder.

Joe’s discussion of “the Rules” continues— “Rule number two: Never go south of Gaston Street. A true Savannahian is a NOG. ‘NOG’ means ‘North of Gaston.’ We stay in the old part of town.” The reader is permitted entrance into this tightly-knit, exclusive community—Savannah—and through Berendt’s writing, gains the privilege of learning these local secrets, or rules, for society, or at least, for Savannah. We learn what it means to be a “true Savannahian,” one who sticks around for one more drink, stays “north of Gaston,” and finally, “observes the high holidays,” such as St. Patrick’s Day and the annual football game (Berendt, pg. 48). We later learn that there are consequences for breaking the rules of Savannah living, or repercussions for failing to be “a true Savannahian.”                                                                         ~LCS

The GirlAnother example. Fiction.  Looking at “coming of age” and peace/purity versus darkness/devil (or fear v. wonder) themes in Peter Benchley’s short novel, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982). Notice the use of an indented block quote in an excerpt of my essay:

Peter Benchley’s novelette is a magical story with elements of suspense, not unlike his famous novels, Jaws and The Deep. However, unlike those other full-length novels, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is a coming-of-age story. Paloma is a girl of sixteen, whose name means “dove,” a symbol of peace, purity and of “the Holy Spirit.” She lives in a village beside the Sea of Cortez and thrives on her saltwater swims and boating expeditions into her own world of magic and sea life. By 16, Paloma has encountered many sea creatures, including sharks and barracuda, and she has indigenous knowledge—partly taught by her late father and partly by her brother, Jobim, also known as Jo. Her brother’s knowledge of geology and marine life had come from his elders; Paloma prefers to learn by observation and first-hand experience. She embraces fear and curiosity equally—but above all, maintains a sense of wonder about the sea world.

“Paloma looked up. One behind another, a procession of hammerhead sharks passed overhead in a parade. Their silver-gray bodies were as sleek as bullets and the sunlight touched the ripples of moving muscle and made them sparkle. Paloma loved the hammerheads, for they seemed somehow to focus her thoughts about God and nature.” (Benchley, 26)

                     Paloma considers that if there were any animal that were “particularly blessed,” it would be the hammerhead shark. Sharks had been “critical to the island’s survival” and yet, the hammerhead species had survived there for millions of years. (Benchley, 26) Most 16-year-olds would be terrified to swim with hammerhead sharks, which are known to attack divers in other parts of the world. But Paloma understands the sharks. She admires them. She understands them. She uses her fear as a tool, as she might a fishing knife or piece of rope within her diving bag. By contrast, when she encounters a giant manta ray for the first time, she faces a new type of fear and must conquer that fear. The manta ray, known locally as a “Manta Diablo,” or “black devil fish,” symbolizes the very antithesis, or opposite, of the young pure-of-heart Paloma.

As the story develops, Paloma explores the Sea of Cortez, puts herself in close proximity with the “Manta Diablo” and compels herself to conquer her fear. She finds a deep resolve within herself and gains a profound understanding for the nature of things, and more importantly, her identity as she becomes a woman. Benchley illustrates her sea adventures as if each one were a rite of passage, which Paloma herself has invented. No one is telling her to seek out the “black devil-fish,” let alone ride on top of the ray, in fact, her brother and the others warn her to stay away from the mysterious creature, a thing of myth and mystery. Despite those warnings, Paloma swims with the manta ray and rides on its back. She conquers her fear, comes to know herself more confidently and enriches the local knowledge and understanding of the manta ray’s behavior and biology through her observations. ~ LCS

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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12088189_10207329637140552_1098530624650961937_nUnder the influence of heady salt flats, I languished in the discovery of untrammeled beach, where I spread out my blue sarapi on the sand, an old copy of Peter Benchley’s novelette, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (1982) with its turquoise paper book jacket as faded as my cut-offs. I’m re-reading the coming-of-age story, remembering when I first read it in the 6th grade while I was living in Wiscasset. Back then, I swam off of my family’s little White’s Island in Sheepscot Harbor, and pictured the “manta diablo” appearing out of the murky green darkness of the Sheepscot River. It never happened, of course, but my sense of wonder never retreated with the tides.

This summer, I’m in southern Maine. Wearing my cowboy hat, my hips level, I shimmied down to the shore–quite a ways out, since it was low tide, in my nefarious string bikini, a pastel cloud-print one from Victoria’s Secret. It was hardly appropriate for wearing in public–but then, I’m a mer~sexual. I’m drawn to all-things from the sea. I’m 38 years old and this summer is my return to Kettle Cove, a state park overlooking Casco Bay in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. But I came here every summer in my toddler years, from the time I was a baby to the summer I was five. I can’t remember those summers–but I feel as though I must remember, somewhere, deeply embedded in my nervous system. I feel the memories, like muscle memory, that connect me to a life source, an energy here in this cove. When other people have an identity crisis, they’ve forgotten who they are; I feel as though I’ve just remembered! I am the Girl of Kettle Cove. I am the Girl by the Sheepscot River. I am not just just “the one who swims in the lakes,” but an open-water swimmer. I am the Girl of the Gulf of Maine. It felt like an epiphany.

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Swimming at Kettle Cove

Swimming through the eel grass in Kettle Cove, a nursery for sea life, and the “paddling pool” of my infancy, where my mother brought me as a baby, I must remember this cove, I think to myself the labyrinth of rocks and tide pools, paths through the meadow of floating milkweed, and wet mounds of silky strands of rockweed. Crawling through the thick eel grass bed, something in my body remembered toddling along the shore in the late ’70s, chasing sandpipers, free of the fears that would later inhibit me.

Long fronds of eel grass coiled around my wrists and forearms with every heart-shaped stroke, like a bellydancer’s bracelets that display her self-worth, her going rate–as I swim, I am richly adorned, self-satisfied and yet…grateful. I ask for nothing more than this water, this wave, this tidal current. I push out from my heart chakra, flex and relax my abdominals, imagining a balloon slowly inflate, filling my lungs with sea air, my belly with self-love and, elated, I channel that Neptune energy. Terns swoop and dive all around me; I float on my back and watch the cotillion as they turn and perform their acrobatics, fishing in pairs. Every wave that submerges my ears, momentarily stops all other noise and lets me exhale, just a breath, not a word, but a mantra nonetheless. I tip my head back and dip my hair, then put my hat back on over my wet Medusa-like head of curls, as oversized drops of saltwater drip from the straw brim. I love it here. So I will swim again tomorrow.

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

A few years ago, I wrote a short story, which was an attempt at sci-fi fantasy. It failed miserably. But I loved the world I created in the story of Asrai, a mermaid, and Blue Dog, a shape-shifting surfer (who transformed into a mackerel shark at will). I’ve played with the themes in the story and some of them roll into my poems now and then. I started a “Sea Fan Girl” series with three poems, and these are a continuation of those poems, that I’ve just written this week. These might be failed experiments, too, but a failed experiment is sometimes necessary to get to the real work. Meanwhile I’m having some formatting problems with WordPress. Blame it on the rain.  -Leah

Asrai. IV

Some nights she didn’t swim but instead just stood on Scarborough Beach
In the full moon’s glow. She’d spread out a tattered cape on the cold sand,
Nibble urchin eggs and crab legs. Dragontails of sea kelp let her arms reach
Into upper inlets of a brook, where she’d left her purse, and came to understand
That the shark she’d been watching, the mackerel shark, was him, Blue Dog,
The same surfer who stared at her red spiraling hair underwater in the waves.
She studied the tidal pools through a lens of moonbeams like a lit scope or fog
Illuminating crevices full of colorful creatures—a sea anemone, a purple urchin
Its living needles supple & working as instruments to gather food; a hermit crab
Crawled along the bottom with its house on its back. She plucked a needle from
A dead urchin and began to repair her swimsuit, which was coming undone.
It was a drab-green kelp two-piece and a very last-minute choice.

Asrai V

Her mother hunted for treasure, before her, and took Asrai on great adventures
As a mermaele, when Sedna cared for her young. That was before her mother
Joined the band of the Lock-Breakers, who mapped man-made enclosures,
Sought to break the locks, the gates and tear apart fishing nets, alluring gear.
Asrai never met her father, although she often wondered if he was a kelpie.
Something in her blood longed for wide expanses of undersea meadows
And sand bars, where she could gallop and play. Sable Island had been
A favorite vacation spot and she enjoyed watching the horses canter
Along the strange ten mile sand dune in the North Atlantic.
It was said that the Arabian horses brought to Sable Island were,
In fact, kelpies that had lost their ability to swim into the sea.
She often wondered if one of them knew her father but never asked.
If a kelpie was startled, the endangered sea horse
Might drag a mermaid to death. So, she invented stories
An imagined history of her father, the “knight,” or “victor.”
Trouble was, there wasn’t any royalty in her bloodline,
Only conspiracy-theorists.

Asrai VI

Reproductively speaking, it didn’t make sense for a mermaid to put
All her eggs in one basket. The Sea Fan King encouraged diversity
And opposed fears of intermingling between species. You could not
Discriminate in the ocean. This was deep law. Or, a deep ecology.
Over the decades, she had fallen into the bad habit of fostering certain
Stereotypes about species—including her own. Despite the deep laws,
Asrai believed that most, if not all, dolphins were date-rapists; manatees—
Too needy; sharks liked to tag-team, and seals had bad breath. Walruses
Had a reputation no mermaid wanted them to prove. Her private fantasies
Revolved around the secretive, tragic narwhals, and one who was lost.

Asrai VII

This was all funny to her until she swam past a school of hourglass dolphins,
An omen of time. Her mother had shown her how to split her tail for make-shift
“Legs,” so she could scramble onto dry land in strategic treasure hunt missions.
Islands, sand bars and coastal inlets were the best places to lift rocks and sift
Through shell middens and find buried artifacts. More recently she sought
Sunken treasures of Marie Antoinette, whose ships were sent to Maine
In preparation for her escape from France. When the queen never arrived
In Wiscasset, Maine, her ships were looted; bejeweled things and mahogany
Went overboard in scuffles. Asrai was drawn to the mystery and felt alive,
Uncovering gems in the mudflats of the Sheepscot. When she didn’t find any,
She liked to slink ashore a tiny island and collect sea glass to tide her over.
Sucking on saltgrass, she breathed in the sea wind, however uncanny,
And strummed the byssal strings of her driftwood lute, inlaid with paua
Shell, her favorite violets and teals decorated the neck, a natural beauty.

LCS

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