The Lake

rootFor the fourth leg of my Casco Bay watershed run, I decided to delay exploring the middle of the Sebago to Sea trail and instead to complete an out and back on sections 1 and 2. Driving up to the lake, I spotted a parking lot on Rt. 237 with the now familiar Sebago to Sea trail kiosk. The lot planted me in between sections 1 and 2 so I’d be able to run out and back on each, with a water stop in between. I hit the trail, and found myself on what I thought was a smooth, easy running surface.  Ignoring my footing, I got about 10 strides in when my left toe caught a camouflaged root and I ditched it into the trail, cutting my right hand and jamming my right elbow hard into the dirt. Not willing to abandon the run, I wiped off the blood, cradled my elbow for a minute, then took off slowly down leg 2, away from the lake.

Other than the pesky root and one busy road crossing, the trails were great for 2.signage1running. There’s a network of side paths, but all were marked with clear signage. I quickly reached the end of the second section of the S2S network (an easy 1.2 miles), turned around, and ran back to the car. My arm was aching from the fall, but I was eager to to see the lake, so I  took off in the opposite direction on section 1.  Route 35 had some fast moving cars, but after crossing with care, Iroads S2S 1 entered the woods and took off down a trail blanketed with soft pine. This trail led to Pond Road, which runs alongside the lake to a final section of trail.

No TrespassingAs I neared the lake, I began to see fences with signs designed to keep people out. This seemed contradictory given that the lake functions as both a water supply and a recreation destination. According to the  history mapped out on the Portland Water District website, there’s long been tricky balance between these two functions of the lake, with cottages being removed as early as 1909 and boating and swimming rules being adjusted over the subsequent century. The PWD website points out that human activity is the greatest danger to the lake, from swimming near the water intake to using chemical treatments on lawns. Lawn chemicals can leach down into groundwater and enter lakes in the natural run off that occurs with rain. These pesticides and fertilizers are irrefutably dangerous to humans, animals, insects, and the environment, and though they create a dead ecosystem, the association of fluffy green grass with the idea of a well-maintained house has been slow to change. Sebago Lake is large enough that it remains relatively healthy in spite of these challenges. The PWD website points out that, “Sebago Lake is the deepest lake in New England and contains almost a trillion gallons of water.  This doesn’t mean it’s invincible, but it takes more effort to pollute that much water.” Human activity is taking a toll, but it’s happening slowly. There have long been debates about whether motorized boating should be allowed on the southern end of Sebago (currently, it’s only prohibited 3,000 feet from the water intakes), but the legislature hasn’t chosen to prohibit them at this point. As Portland’s primary water source, Sebago is a hard working lake, serving a quarter of a million people, essentially 25% of the Maine population. The watershed project has given me the opportunity to slow down time–to appreciate the lake, the river that flows from it, and to examine the ways that these natural resources intersect with human industry, domestic life, and recreation. 

After months of exploring the Presumpscot River, which leads from the lake to Casco Bay, I was eager to reach the lake itself. As I emerged from the woods, completing the final 2.8 mile stretch of trail (S2S, section 1), I emerged on a sandy beach, smiling at the grand blue expanse and the outline of New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the distance.

Sebago Lake

I explored the beach for a few minutes, splashed some water on my face, and retraced my steps to the car. I’d run 8 miles and my elbow and hand were pretty sore. I was ready for a few days of rest before taking on the final mid-section of the Presumpscot and then the circumference of the lake itself.

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Trail Stewards

fall reflections

The third leg of my Casco Bay watershed run was too long to do an out and back, so I  locked up my bike at the finish–the Westbrook Community Center–and drove back down to the trailhead at the Waste Management Plant on Forest Avenue. waste managementThis process actually gave me a better lay of the land, which was especially useful on the cycle back to the car when I was finished. When I had parked the car and slipped on my Mizuno Wave Riders, I promptly started running in the wrong direction. startIt took me a few minutes to figure out that I had to cross the bridge with traffic, turn the corner, then start the trail on the opposite side of the river. When I did find the proper trail head,  crew lumber I quickly came upon a crew of Portland Trails staff, hard at work on the trailbridges. I stopped to say hi, and was pleased to meet Daniel, the Trail Steward. This chance meeting gave me the opportunity to express my appreciation for their work and to share a bit about my project. After a few minutes of chatting, I trotted down the trail of hard packed dirt and worn grass, which eventually led down to the opaque green water, now reflecting impressionist dabs of orange and yellow. I was reminded that in order to finish the entire trail before winter, including the run around Sebago, I’d have to step up my pace!

pathsAfter a stretch of river-side running, the trail stopped abruptly at private land. trail seekingAfter poking around for a few minutes, I found that the trail re-entered the woods just up the power line clearcut. Following a stretch of trail alongside a tall wire fence I came out on the road that would lead me the remaining miles back to the community center and my bike. finish_bikeI cycled back to the start, feeling the excitement of the growing journey, eager to get back to the drawings-in-progress in my studio.backtotheroad_tothebike

The watershed drawings are now well underway–so far consisting of twelve 23″ x 23″ graphite and watercolor works on paper. As I run each new stretch of the watershed, the drawing installation expands and new visual and conceptual connections emerge. I’ll conclude this blog with one panel of the work-in-progress, with more to follow soon!

Watershed: Leg 2 (work-in-progress)

Watershed: Leg 2 (work-in-progress)

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Cosmic Cellar

graffiti

Leg 2 of the Casco Bay watershed project picked up where leg 1 left off, under a bridge on the Sebago to Sea trail as I continued my run up the Presumpscot river toward Sebago Lake.

trail 1

I cruised under the bridge and headed into the woods along a dirt path, distracted by the sound of rushing cars. The hilly trail was well worn from mountain bikes, and, enjoying the ups and downs, I was just beginning to lose myself in the run when I heard the unique pop of a golf club making contact with a ball. Over the next rise, I emerged alongside the Riverside Golf course, which eventually led out onto the street. golf courseAfter finding my way along the busy road to the next   trail entrance, I ran a fairly desolate path alongside a cyclone fence. to the roadAs I re-entered the dim woods, reconnecting with the river, I padded by a young couple kissing on the river’s edge.

cyclone fence

 

 

 

 

 

I meandered alongside the milky green water until I entered the

trolleyparkhistorical trolley park, with signs indicating a waterside gathering place, active from 1896 to 1920.

As with my first watershed run, described in Water Pathways, the Sebago to Sea trails lead me through wooded, suburban, and industrial zones. I’m always alert when running alone, but there are particular sites that put me on edge. Sometimes I startle when snakes, squirrels, woodpeckers, and mourning doves slither, dart, tap, and rustle in the bushes around me, but it’s the places on the edge–the transitional areas between public and wild space–that put me on  alert.

Philosopher Gaston Bachelard, in his classic book, Poetics of Space, writes about the phenomenology of place, examining shells, nests, drawers, garrets, and cellars, pondering the affect of these spaces on the human imagination. I would add the underworld of bridges to Bachelard’s list, as secret places that cause a shiver in the corporeal imagination. Referencing L’Antiquaire, by Henri Bosco, Bachelard describes a “cosmic cellar” in which a character, in a dream, discovers “an immense body of water,” which causes him to shiver (23). The author describes the shiver as not human fear but “cosmic fear” that echoes the “great legend of man cast back into primitive situations” (23). Bachelard goes on to describe how this process leads to a sense of connection– dream/imagination affecting reality. Speaking of the body of water discovered in the cellar, in a dream, he writes:

From the cavern carved in the rock to the underground, from the underground to stagnant water, we have moved from a constructed to a dreamed world; we have left fiction for poetry. But reality and dream now form a whole. The house, the cellar, the deep earth, achieve totality through depth. The house has become a natural being whose fate is bound to that of mountains and of the waters that plough the land. The enormous stone plant it has become would not flourish if it did not have subterranean water at its base. And so our dreams attain boundless proportions. (23-24)

There is a didactic purpose to my watershed project: to increase my own awareness of where water is sourced (and share my discoveries) and to make visible what is concealed about our relationship with the water that sustains us. At the same time, my motivation is poetic; I’m collecting artistic source material through a process of experiencing place. In that vein, Bachelard offers me philosophical bedrock, illuminating the relationship between what is seen, felt, and imagined, and thereby helping me to read my experience of running the edges and corners of the natural world.

underthebridge

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Jessie James’ Magic Garden

Swiss Chard

There are many tales to tell about my experience of Grand Manan this summer. Garden 1 The island has weathered some tough losses, which I’ll share about in future posts. Today I want to tell you about the garden of Jessie James and Anne Mitchell.

Garden 3I’m on the island for a local event celebrating the release of my mother, Alison Hawthorne Deming’s latest book, Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit. The weather is gorgeous and we

decided to get out and enjoy the day, to pass the time before the evening’s festivities. On our way to the Anchorage for a beach walk, we stopped by an island “farm stand” to pick up some swiss chard. The so-called farm stand turned out to be one of the most magical gardens I’ve ever seen! Certain places are so lovely that they permeate one’s dreams instantly, and this garden went straight to my heart. I’ll let the images say the rest.

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Water Pathways

Presumpscot River

I’ve launched a new studio project on the subject of water, which will consist of a combined process of running, writing, drawing, and creating installation works. The project has begun close to home, with the Casco Bay watershed. I’ve been researching throughout the summer, and yesterday I began in earnest, running the final leg of the Sebago to the Sea trail. The trail starts at Sebago Lake, the primary source of Portland’s water supply, and ends at Casco Bay. As with my farm running project of last year, I’m discovering that it’s easy enough to print a map and find a starting point, but navigating the hidden vision within someone else’s mapping process is often more complex.

The 7th and final leg of the Sebago to Sea trail runs from the Blackstrap Road Canoe Launch to East End Beach, and it combines, somewhat awkwardly, urban, suburban, and forested segments.  I asked my friend Rick to join me on this first run, in order to facilitate the point to point running (a car on each end) and the navigation (I’m learning to run with reading glasses, but it’s a pain!). Also, Rick’s got good map sense and keeps the pace moving. The 7th leg of the trail is mapped out at 8.2 miles, but we found the urban bushwhacking to be difficult and added a few miles, due to hunting for the persistent transitions from woods to sidewalks and back (our final run was 10.08 miles). Difficulties aside, the process of meandering with a map in hand tends to offer surprising insights, and this was no exception.

We found the trail head, a tiny parking lot near the river in Falmouth, and were just about to start the run when a guy pulled in, hopped out of his pick-up, and started chatting. He had some time to kill while he was waiting for his wife and he’d been curious about the new trails. He looked around, commented on the un-artful graffiti tag on the trailhead sign, then began sharing some of his childhood memories of Portland. He talked about swimming in the “back bay” before it went through a period of being polluted. This gave rise to a debate about back bay vs back cove. According to our chatty friend, the yuppies brought the term back cove; however, it looks like he’s on thin ice with that argument. Yuppie is an 80s term, and History of Portland,  published in 1865 by Portland mayor and state senator William Willis, is filled with discussions about the back cove. I doubt even this would convince our storyteller, as he was adamant! He went on to mention the practice of infilling for development and the related contamination of Portland’s water. He said he used to swim in the back cove until he saw sewage in the water. He also recalled his childhood when there was an ice delivery truck and his parents would leave a note for what size ice block they wanted. I told him that he looked good for 121 years old, as I can’t imagine ice delivery in 1940s Portland, though it probably existed! It’s interesting to note that the water lines of the back cove used to be significantly different, before the city expansion that began after the Industrial Revolution and after the fire of 1866. “Portland Then and Now,” an article on University of Southern Maine Osher Map Library website (with very cool maps), describes the infilling that occurred: “Several major land fills extended the urban core into Portland Harbor and up the Fore River to support commercial and industrial enterprises. New residential property was created by filling in the Back Cove.”

234.suburbia_oiltruckWe were ready to start our run, so we pulled out of the conversation, turned away from the wooded trail leading back toward Sebago Lake, and headed out onto the street. As we attempted to follow the map, aiming to arc back to the river, we ran through suburban developments that were completely desolate–a single oil truck grumbled by. We eventually reached the first section of wooded path, which led down to the finally, the woodsPresumpscot River and to the nicest part of the run. As we were looking for the right path, we spotted some Warhol-reminiscent graffiti under the bridge.

9.river

banana graffiti

River Glow

 

 

 

 

The path along the river was lovely–the green of the river glowing through the trees to our left. The trail was quiet but for one guy walking his dog and the sporadic sound of traffic in the distance. After a mile or so, we found the Presumpscot Falls and a sign describing the site of the Smelt Hill Dam, the first dam built in Maine, in 1734.

Presumpscot FallsThe sign outlined how, in 1996, a flood irreparably damaged the dam. By 2002  the remains were removed, which restored the falls and the possibility for a healthy, diverse wildlife habitat.

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As we ran down river, it was hard to determine where the Sebago to Sea trail navigated out of the woods. We were enjoying the trail, so we stayed near the river until it intersected the bridge on Allen Avenue, at which point we scrambled up to the street. Allen Ave. bridgeFrom that point on, the trail led through schoolyards, sidewalks, roads, and paths, and it wasn’t until we were over half way that I realized that, in addition to scattered Sebago to Sea signs, discrete white blazes were marking our trail. 21.blazesWe followed the white dashes up Stevens avenue, at which point we realized that the blazes 22.blazes2mark Portland Trails and aren’t specific to the Sebago to Sea route.

27.backcove

 

Having lost the trail, we turned toward back cove, knowing that we would intersect the mapped route on the Washington Ave side.  It was a beautiful day for running, but still, I was wiped out and the blue-green water looked welcoming. We cruised along the familiar back cove trail, down the final mile to the East End Beach.

30.eastendbeach

We soaked our legs in the water for a bit and then headed back to the starting point to pick up the car.

As I reflect back on the farm running experiences of last year, I’m aware that part of the process and pleasure of discovery was in getting lost while navigating someone else’s vision of a place—a vision with a different set of goals than mine (knowing one’s farm boundaries, locating fence lines, etc.). The same is true with the watershed exploration, and I imagine the board members, naturalists, and trail crew that developed these trails with the goal of “connecting communities.” As I experience Lucindathe trails and the water pathways that accompany them, as a way of understanding the Casco Bay watershed and the water resource that fuels Portland, I feel as if I’m in conversation with others who have looked at the land with care and intentionality for a range of reasons. I can’t wait for the next run and for the drawings that emerge out of the experience.

 

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Brain Space

 

It’s been a week since I left my full time academic job, and I’ve been immersed in the pleasures of organizing drawers and closets, tossing heaps of files on the recycling bin, relaxing into running adventures, and launching into the new studio work. Life is being re-ordered, and my creative brain relishes the extra space.

Teaching is still an important part of my life, and though I’ve left my position with Union, I’m fortunate to be working in the MFA program of the New Hampshire Institute of Art, as well as serving as an Artist-Teacher in the Vermont College MFA. On Friday, I drove to VT for a studio visit with a student and decided that on the way back, I would return to a Lincoln Woodsfavorite spot, the White Mountain National Forest, Lincoln Trail, which consists of an old logging railroad leading into the Pemigewasset wilderness. I’d run the trail a few times before, and in 2005, the annual family camping adventure started at the Lincoln trail head, which eventually led us in to the Thirteen Falls tent site and beyond. A few days into that first trip, after the bridge photo (below), I ended up with a badly bashed shin, having slid down a rock in an attempt to get out of the way of an overly vigorous hiker on crutches!

Bridge2005

Starting epic family adventure in 2005 with my sons, Link and Ray, and their cousins, Ben, Pete, and Allie, and Uncle Eddie.

As I prepared to run the trail in 2014, I stopped to say hello to a few rangers relaxing on the porch. They were taking it easy due to the high temps and explained that they’d gotten up early to do their woods work in the cool morning air.

BearAlert

 

 

 

 

 

I asked about the bear alert signs, and one of them replied,

“We don’t get bears down here, but they’ve been up at the campgrounds.”

“They know where the food is,” I replied.

“Yup,” he said, “as they say, it’s a people problem, not a bear problem!”

I’d run part of the long, flat trail in crampons a few winters earlier, and this time my plan was to Trail1run as far as Franconia Falls. I knew I’d need a dip in the mountain water in order to cool down mid-run.

 

I ran the fast and flat 3.2 miles to the falls, including the last stretch of tangled trail that runs alongside the brook.

 

Trail2

 

 

The falls are close enough to Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway, that the Falls get a lot of day hikers, and given the heat last week, the rocks were scattered with sunbathers and teenagers lining up to slide down the rock chute into a pool of bubbling water below.

Chute

The sight brought back the final day of my 2005 family hike, watching my kids stretched out on the rocks with their cousins, taking in the sun after a few long days in the woods.

CousinsFranklinFalls

Link and Ray, with their cousins Allie, Ben, and Pete, in 2005

On the current journey, I had limited time, as I was heading to Portland for First Friday openings–including the final weekend of Andres Verzosa’s Aucocisco Galleries, the venue where I’ve been fortunate to exhibit my work over the last year. The afternoon was fleeting, so I spent 20 minutes taking a dip, soaking my legs in the cold water, and capturing the view before trotting down the rooty path and out the main trail to the hot car.

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Frogs, Moss, and Emerald Pools of Water

3.wetland

I’m writing from the Hewnoaks Artist Colony where I’m immersed in a week long residency. In addition to drawing bees, frogs, maps, and experimenting with new compositional strategies, I’ve been reading, writing, and enjoying the reflective time that artistic solitude can bring. Last week I resigned from my full-time teaching job, a decision I’ve been crunching away on for months, and this week of creative focus has underlined the importance of my decision to shift my energy to creative projects and other institutions.

Building on my farm-running project of last year, my plan for the Hewnoaks residency was to experience and map plots of land around Kezar Lake and then to translate the maps and experiences into drawings. I’ve had a few outings since I arrived on Saturday, but the most interesting work so far was inspired by the day I got lost searching for a trail, discovered a glorious expanse of wetland, and ended up doing a run in the New Hampshire mountains.

1.theroadOn route to find the Lord Hill network of trails, I navigated a series of small dirt roads north of Kezar Lake.  As I meandered the back roads, I saw a number of small trails that seemed to head toward Horseshoe Pond, but I wanted a slightly longer run. I was surprised at how quickly the residential land on the east side of the lake turned into wilderness on the west. Driving along the deserted road, I suddenly saw an expanse of lime green to my left and hit the brakes. My run would have to wait; the most lush wetland, thick with lily pads and life, stretched out on my left. A symphony of frogs, toads and other 4.Wetlands2critters echoed over the water: Wetlands Video

The day was fleeting and my run was calling, so after taking a few shots of the view, I pulled myself away. A short distance down the road, I found the trail I’d been looking for. Unfortunately, it was much more isolated than I’d anticipated, in addition to being steep, thin, and jammed with rocks and roots. I had no map and only a small bottle of water, so I decided to continue on. I hadn’t found my run yet, but I was having a blast getting the lay of the land.

After leaving the National Forest land, I hit Route 113. My plan had been to go out for an hour long trail run and then head back to Hewnoaks, but at this point, I submitted to a longer adventure. I’d been looking across Kezar Lake from my cabin, trying to identify the 8.TheTrailmountains, and now I was figuring it out by car. I eventually spotted a sign for a trail head and pulled into a parking lot with a number of other cars. Next to the info sign, a woman was sitting on the ground next to her motorcycle, smoking a cigarette and organizing her gear. She told me that she “rides and hikes alone,” and that she’d hiked these trails before. We chatted about hiking and running, and she told me that she started running Tough Mudders in order to quit smoking, but that smoking had just become part of her routine. Hard for me to imagine, but she lights up before and after a race. She showed me her trail map, and I figured I’d just do a short out and back on the Baldface Circle trail. Last week I ran my second half marathon (more on that soon) and next week I run the Beach to Beacon, so this week I’m taking it easy on my legs!

Sticking to the plan, I ran 35 minutes in, cutting back and forth across the brook a few times. 13.BrookThroughout the run, I realized that I wasn’t wearing the right sneakers for trail running. I had on my Mizunos, which I love for distance road running, but they felt clunky on the trails. Could it be possible that I need another pair of sneakers?!

The day was heating up, and I was eager to take a dip in Emerald Pool on my way out. I meandered back down, having one slip on a rock that looked secure, smacking my shin, and ditching both feet into the brook. I got away with just a scrape, but the slip confirmed my choice not to head into isolated trails alone and unprepared. In the future, I’ll bring my running pack with a map, layer, snack, water, and my phone. I arrived at the pool, pulled off my wet sneakers, and soaked my legs in the glowing green water. After a quick dip in the icy brook, I ran the short stretch back to the trail head.

12.EmeraldPoolMy head was filled with green–frogs, moss, emerald pools of water–and I was eager to get back to my studio. Still, as I got into the car, I figured I had to be pretty close to Evans Notch, and it would be a shame not to have a quick look! I decided on a short detour on my way back to Lovell. I wrapped up in my towel (always remember a full change of clothes when heading out on running adventures!) and drove the meandering, paved road up the mountain. I pulled over in the notch, EvansNotchchatted with a family of bikers, took in the view, and then cruised back to Hewnoaks around the south end of Kezar lake. I’d filled my head with images and ideas that will fuel my work well past the residency!

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