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.

19.rickwoods

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.

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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.

Falls2

Falls4

 

Falls5

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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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Closets

From the Potato Patch

From the Potato Patch

Last weekend, I traveled to Kimball Union Academy in N.H., where I was a student from 1979-1983. I’d been invited to give a presentation on my work to faculty, staff, and alums, and as I began to prepare my talk, I realized that this was an opportunity to reflect more deeply on my high school years.

I began by opening up a box of paperwork that my mother had asked me to take off her hands. In the box I found poems of love and heartbreak, teen-age letters written home, and a stack of  high school grades. I took a deep breath and began to read. By the end of my high school career, I was on the honor roll and was given an Athlete of the Year trophy, but I’d forgotten how poor my grades were before that. I read through some cringe-worthy evaluations, including one from my freshman English teacher, Mr. Holland, who wrote, “Her main problem is that she consistently makes certain fundamental writing errors which she shows no interest in correcting.” What can I say, I was distracted! Sifting through the box was a worthwhile process, but before leaving for New Hampshire, I decided to have a driveway bonfire. I’m developing stricter standards for what takes up room in my closets!

BurnMy childhood was largely spent in rural Northern Vermont, moving and changing schools every few years. When I entered KUA as a freshman, I had some academic catching up to do, as well as some major cultural adjustments to negotiate. Those four years were tough, and I left KUA with decidedly mixed feelings about my high school experience. But something shifted last weekend. There was suddenly space for gratitude, as I realized that I’d spent those four years in boarding school struggling to develop courage; learning how to make mistakes and recover, how to change, how to be vulnerable and strong simultaneously; and learning how to be comfortable with ambiguity. Guessing that there might be others in the audience who could relate, I shared some of these insights during my presentation.

Trails2In the afternoon, after the post-talk chat, I decided to take a run down the hill to see if I could find the old ski trails. It took a while to find the entrance, but once I was in the woods, I could practically remember every hill and turn. I skied those trails so many times in high school that the memory of the terrain is embedded in my cells.

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Trails5

 

 

 

 

Later that afternoon, at a reception back on campus, I ran into John and Anne Donaghy. They had co-coached the Nordic team and John had also been my favorite English teacher. I’d been thrilled to run into Anne a few years ago at a NENSA skiing event (blogged about in Very Good But Old Fashioned), but I hadn’t seen John in 29 years. Within minutes we were talking about running, skiing, and Jacques Lacan. I was quickly reminded of John’s edgy wit and how formative he was in my development as a thinker, writer, and, athlete.

The weekend was much richer than I’d anticipated. I departed with an understanding that adaptability is one of my strengths–as an artist, an academic, and a human being–and after all this time, I could suddenly see that Kimball Union created a context for the development of that strength. Gratitude.

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The Whistle

TheWhistle_1Though I’ve been visiting the island since I was a little girl, Grand Manan has opened up to me in new ways since I started running. At 21 x 9 miles, it’s just the right scale, and there are abundant trails, long, flat stretches of road, and rolling hills to choose from. Last weekend, I tried a new route–running from the cottage in Castalia to the Whistle and back. After the run to the point, I trotted down to the rocky beach to take in the view.

TheWhistle2The Whistle is a lighthouse that perches on a relatively small ledge at the most northerly point on the island, and it is the spot to be at sunset. On any given day, a mix of locals and tourists gather to watch the sun dip below the horizon while catching up on island news.

TheWhistle3 On the beach, I breathed in the cool, salty air and watched a low hanging fog creep across the rocks. After a few minutes, I scrambled back up to the road for the return trip. This run is seriously hilly, but the weathered concrete is pretty smooth and there’s a decent shoulder if hips and knees need a rest.

TheWhistle5After suffering through my first half-marathon on Grand Manan last July, I had decided I’d put off the longer races until the cooler fall temperatures. Two days of running on the island might have changed my mind…

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Watershed

 

 

WhaleCove_BlogMay26

I’m writing from Grand Manan Island, where I’ve been coming since I was a little girl. The journey here has grounded me, as it always does. This morning I sit in the family cottage, looking out at a foggy Bay of Fundy, listening to cars pass by on the wet pavement. The challenges of the last few months are beginning to slip away, and I’m grateful.

Through some mysterious alchemy, my thoughts and emotions feel more organized when I’m here. My plan to develop a series of drawings about water (watersheds, specifically) is suddenly taking form in my sketchbook; my summer running schedule is mapped out. I feel the anticipatory pleasure of having just enough of a plan in place to give me purpose, with enough open space for the unexpected.

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White Space

Lucinda Bliss, Pineland 1, pencil and watercolor on paper, 22" x 30"

Lucinda Bliss, Pineland 1, pencil and watercolor on paper, 22″ x 30″

On March 8th, I participated in the Bretton Woods nordic half marathon. As I wrote in My Visual Cue , it was my first Nordic race in 29 years, and I set out to enjoy the experience, not to compete. I have memories of brutal race experiences in high school, at Kimball Union, and I wanted to dip a toe back into the culture without jumping fully into the world of pain.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

The majestic hotel set the stage for the race, as we queued up in the fields below. The Bretton Woods Nordic Center grooms 100k of trails, and I was eager to cover 21k of the gorgeous ups and downs.

I intentionally started in the middle of the pack, not wanting to get pulled out too fast. There was quite a bit of shuffling as the pack narrowed down to two sets of tracks.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

At 4k in, I was having a blast (bib #197), and my wax was perfect, which made the hills a breeze. My form was pretty rusty, but at least I had forward momentum!

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

The issue of wax was significant in this race. A few days earlier, I’d received the following email with the official Swix waxing recommendations:

GLIDE:
Pre Tune ski with Glide Wax Cleaner (I0084) to remove any contaminants in the base, wipe clean with Fiberlene (T0150).  LF05 or LF06 will be base layer for glide wax.  Race Wax will be HF08BW (25F to 39F)for 22km race, Marathon Wax Black for the 44km.
Powder will be FC78 Super Cera

KICK:
VG35 Binder Ironed In
VR45 moving into VR50

If using mechanical grip skis be sure to apply Warm Rocket spray or F4 to Glide zones and kick zones.  Temps will approach freezing and potential for icing in kick zone is high.
Top Coat will be HVC Warm or Rocket Warm.

Panic shot through me as I read. I haven’t raced in a long time, and I couldn’t even interpret the email, much less follow the instructions. I forwarded the message to friend and wax wizard, Rick Chalmers, hoping he could help me relax and come up with a plan. He was sure it would be a klister day, and said,  “Do you see snow in the trees? If not, stick with the klister!” The best skiers can double pole a marathon on rolling hills, but I would need a workable wax that would give me kick. The klister was perfect! Throughout the entire race, particularly after the 12k mark, skiers were talking wax. Some were calling out for waxing help from the edge of the course, manically trying to rub in some hard blue before jumping back into the tracks.  Even though I wasn’t “racing,”  my arms were shot by the half-way point, and I needed to take advantage of the leg strength I’d built up through the running season. That was only possible with wax left on my skis. At the finish, I was spent, but the skis could easily have done the full marathon!

Looking at photos of myself during this race has been an education, and humbling. For some reason, I expected to retain excellent form after 29 years away from the sport. After studying the pix, I have some clear goals in place for next year.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

Developing upper body strength and putting in more hours on the trails are at the top of the list. If I’d had the strength, I could have double poled long sections of the trail; instead, I had to save my arms for long, flat stretches. I felt confident on the skis–my ski legs began to come back this year–now I can work on efficient form: keeping my body and arms straight, rather than twisting my body and letting my arms cross over.

 

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

As for double-poling technique, I was cocky about that. I’d always been strong in that area, and I thought I had it securely in my nordic toolkit. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be squatting over my skis at the finish! It’s easy to see how much energy I’m wasting by bending up and down, rather than using core strength to propel forward.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

 

 

I finished the race in a hair under two hours, nearly being lapped by the full marathon winners. Though I was slow, I finished happy and eager for more, which seems the perfect way to re-enter the world of racing.

 

 

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