Laurie’s Adventures blog

My go-to lakes

We’ve had an unprecedented stretch of blue-and-gold weather, perfect for getting outdoors, although the gardens are begging for rain. Or twice daily watering. Just so you know that I am not just running from lake to lake, counting them up (see my recent post A baptism), I did return to Webber Pond several more times, one time swimming with both a loon and bald eagle for company. The water is quickly warming up.

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It’s almost cheating to count the next two lakes, my go-to favorites. On Friday, I strapped the canoe securely atop my RAV4, ready for new waters. It was late afternoon Saturday, with the brutal heat easing, before I got up the energy to pack a picnic supper and head for McCurdy Pond. This beauty is a little over half a mile from my home. I took my time, poking into the little coves, on the way to my usual swimming spot.

Canada geese

The lighting suited my mood, as I reunited with the curving shoreline that I know so well. A cluster of sheep laurel, with a backdrop of birch, drew me like a magnet. This member of the heath family is one of the showiest flowers found in our wetlands. The peaceful glow of soul and evening stayed with me through a leisurely swim and supper, for once just sitting and being.

Sheep laurel

Of course, I do not always go solo. In fact, for the past week, I have been surrounded with loving concern and care from the best of friends and family. I was supposed to have been on a much-anticipated visit to Pennsylvania and Virginia, until the shingles in my right eye flared up at a most inopportune moment. So, instead, I have been comforted here at home, most notably with a series of delicious meals.

I suppose I am now truly guilty of hopping from place to place. Yesterday after church found me with friends Bill, Mary, and Mary, paddling Biscay and Pemaquid ponds, which are connected by a tiny stretch of the Pemaquid River. In these COVID times, all of these waters seem busier than I ever remember them in June, and there were many fellow boaters to greet along the way.

Group gathering

Mary and Mary

After saying our good-byes, I swam from a tiny island in Biscay, which makes Lake #3 in my 2020 swimming quest. With the warmer water and some conditioning, I’m up to twenty minutes now. This lake is my oldest favorite, as evidenced by the photos below. Taken around a quarter of a century ago, they bring back a time of wonder, of discovering Maine through the eyes of my children, long before we lived here.

Biscay collage

 

 

About that new book

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I am the ultimate morning person. The fresh promise of a new day always energizes me, and I can often be found writing as the sun rises, at least in the darker months. Today, here in Bremen, Maine, the sun rose at the precocious hour of 4:54 a.m., as it has for the last week or so. This is the third day of my summer vacation, so I was still deep in sleep at that hour. Nonetheless, I arose a little later with a much-anticipated mission—to give you all a glimpse into my new book and update you on recent milestones.

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There is no better place to begin my story than with Maine Authors Publishing, my partner in publishing and marketing my work. Located in Thomaston, around twenty-two miles from my home, MAP has welcomed me into their fabulous community of authors and guided me through the years with wisdom and patience.

As a veteran author, navigating the publishing process has been smoother this second time around. One week ago, the edited manuscript was returned to me. Hundreds of edits, many repetitive in nature, awaited review. As I worked through them, the value of professional editing was once again clearly apparent. I learned a lot, too.

I hereby resolve to remember not to indent the first paragraph of a chapter or section, to spell good-bye with a hyphen and nonprofit without one. Note, in top paragraph, how proudly I exhibit my newly acquired ability to insert an em dash in place of a minus sign. Perhaps there won’t be so many edits next time around!

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With Upwards, the adventure inspired the writing. With Through Woods & Waters (or will it be Through Woods and Waters?) , the writing inspired the adventure. By spring 2018, I was yearning to embark on another long wilderness expedition, one that could become the subject of a second book. I wanted a compelling destination and challenges in getting there. Tough river sections, novel vistas, thrilling beauty, rich history—I found them all on the way to and through newly established Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. (Look, another em dash!).

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My travels began with a backpack and hiking boots, following the International Appalachian Trail up and over mountains and along part of the river I would later descend by canoe. After the backpacking trip and a long-awaited book event, I put my small canoe in at the western end of Seboomook Lake, some 150 miles from the national monument boundary. Going the long way ’round allowed me to incorporate a couple of hitherto unexplored alternative routes of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, as well as the upper reaches of the East Branch Penobscot watershed.

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Shortly after creating this blog in spring 2015, I wrote a post about the “why” of attempting a solo NFCT thru-paddle. That post, entitled May you find fireplace birds, still rang true as I embarked on my newest adventure. Should you decide to come along on the journey, you will see that I found more this time than I ever could have anticipated.

 

A baptism

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It was high time for the first swim of the year, I decided, surprised at the strength of the sun on my back.  I lugged the canoe to the water’s edge, arranged my gear ready to go, then drove home to exchange my long pants and long sleeves for a bathing suit and shorts. Today is June 12th, five days later than last summer’s baptism, when I jumped into the chilly waters of Moose Pond during our beloved Maine Canoe Symposium.

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By eleven, I was pushing into the breeze, the warm air rushing over my bare skin and setting the lily pads dancing. Brilliant blue damsel flies and dark dragonflies skimmed the shallows hazy with pollen. There was the beaver lodge that I hadn’t seen in a year, and a blue flag iris, just one splotch of purple along a shady stretch of shore.

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This may only be the second time that I’ve gone in the water at Webber Pond, but I found a spot I liked. No beach here, but rather a wide, steep rocky slope, on the hidden side of an island. I clung to the rough surface, then carefully slid into the deep water. I swam the breast stroke, feeling the old familiar rhythm and the comforting warmth of the thin surface layer. After ten minutes, I climbed out, enough for the first day in the first lake.

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Last year, I decided to keep a count of the lakes where I swam and ended up with ten: Moose Pond, Damariscotta Lake, Biscay Pond, Scraggly Lake, McCurdy Pond, Lobster Lake, Lower Shin Pond, Hay Lake, Nahmakanta Lake, and Pleasant Pond. Of course, I swam in Biscay and McCurdy dozens of times. Think I can beat ten this year?

 

Sweet liberty

“I sent my book to the editor yesterday!”

How long (twenty-one months) I have waited to say those simple words! For a couple of weeks, someone else will meticulously read and reread the manuscript – moving commas, detecting typos, and double-checking the spelling of Caucomgomoc, Seboeis, and Wassataquoik. Meanwhile, I can do the fun stuff, like finalizing the photos.

Snowy Katahdin

Taking off from my house up north, I spent my first day of freedom exploring. Snow still clung to the high peaks. At the greenhouse in Patten, buying cages for the peonies I’ve uncovered in my wild, untamed garden, I asked about the recent freezing temperatures. Local wisdom, it turns out, says frost can be expected until the first full moon of June. For 2020, that will be on June 5th.

Shin Brook Falls

The descent to nearby Shin Brook Falls is made possible by an indispensable system of ropes beside the steep trail.  Climbing above the main 30-foot drop, the trail follows the tumbling stream past a succession of smaller cascades, equally lovely.

Ropes to Shin Brook Falls

Above Shin Brook Falls

My goals for the day included: (1) finally hiking a portion of the Seboeis River Trail, (2) visiting the Christianson family at Matagamon Wilderness, to see how they were faring amid the cautious reopening, and (3) spotting a moose, of course.

The moose spotting took the longest. Pleasantly weary from hiking and pleasantly full from cheeseburger-eating, I drove up to the Francis D. Dunn Wildlife Management Area. So far, I’d seen moose tracks and moose poop, not to mention bear poop, a ruffed grouse, and a garter snake. The marshy Sawtelle Deadwater that comprises this state WMA has always looked moose-y to me and that afternoon it was. A small bull with fuzzy antlers emerging was accompanied by two cows, all looking shaggy and scruffy. Only one caw was brave enough to continue feeding while I watched from afar (too afar for a photo) through my binoculars.

My first day of liberty had been well rewarded.

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Painted trillium on my two-hour Seboeis River Trail hike
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Summer has begun at Matagamon Wilderness, where my friends are “bearing” up well. While I was there, I dropped off a fresh stack of books for the busy months ahead.
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Giant, immensely heavy relic abandoned along an old road

Raw

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I have just come from the lake.

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It was raw – the weather, and more – yet beautiful. The shores were thick with ducks and geese, that erupted in whirls of dismay at my approach. My body remembered the rhythm of the paddle. It was the first merging of boat and woman this year.

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I went into the light wind, for an easier time on the way home. Near the lake’s far end, moss on the bank shone a brilliant green, the most contrast there’d been in the still-wintry landscape. It was enough, in this raw, wild day borrowed from summer. One hour on the water would be my bright moss in the winter landscape of recent days.

Yesterday was not good. To be honest, embracing hope was not working. I couldn’t settle into my writing, and there was not much joy in the busy tasks I thought up to take its place. I soldiered on, though, driving the canoe from its winter resting place down to the lake, stacking firewood, writing to a few old friends. And today is better. Hope is back.

Not long after the moss came the haunting call of a loon. My heart thrilled, as I did not know they had returned to inland waters. A patch of white against the distant shore, though, turned out to a bufflehead, one at first and then two pairs.

When the loon popped up, he was darker than he would be in summer plumage and seemed to be engaged in some sort of acrobatic struggle. My binoculars brought him closer, where I could see he was straining to swallow a large fish, perhaps a bass, far larger than any I’d ever seen a loon tackle. He apparently had a good grip and got it lined up. His neck stretched high and his whole body wiggled. The fish was slowly sliding down, down, down, until even the tail was gone. I watched to see if he could still breathe or float, but with the task over, he looked unfazed. That was very cool.

A chill rain set in as I turned homeward, ready to write by the woodstove once more.

Embracing hope

Chipmunk (2)

Wow, do I even remember how to write a blog post? I discover that I’m a little rusty on the logistics – navigating WordPress, ensuring the post stays in draft form until I’m ready to publish, transferring photos from my fancy new iPhone XR, but I figure it out.

All these months, I have been “blogging,” but just in my mind. A thought comes, perhaps I even jot a few notes, or snap a picture, but that is all. Always, I search for the perfect block of time, the most creative frame of mind, a window where blogging will not keep me from finishing my almost-finished book.

March 23rd is a new day.

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the loss of my husband Chris. Today is the 11th anniversary of forging onward, of choosing hope, of the start of a new life that has brought unanticipated blessings. In the Bible’s King James Version, Hebrews 11:1 reads,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Thanks to a conversation with a reader at one of my author events last year, this quote opens chapter 9 of the new book. I love the process of searching for quotes, a mosaic of words that both touch me and add depth to my writing. In chapter 9, a chance encounter at Stair Falls on the Penobscot River’s East Branch introduces two new characters who become, for me, evidence of faith fulfilled.

This day, as we embark on uncharted waters, as I did 11 years ago, let us choose hope.

Let us intentionally search for it in the everyday life that continues to surround us. I will look most fervently in nature, where yesterday I took refuge in a sheltered nook, silent, warmed by the spring sun’s rays. Focusing on gratitude replacing fear, I shut my eyes until I heard a scurry of dry, papery leaves. A chipmunk sprang up on the old stone wall. Alert, vibrant in the glow of the afternoon sun, which shone pink through his tiny ears.

I had found my hope for another day. May you find it, too. In conversation with a friend. In freshly baked bread, enduring music, well-stacked firewood, or garden plans. In a news story of teachers sewing masks at home. Embrace hope, my friends, and take care! 

The best gift


The whirlwind of the Christmas season has caught me again.

One crazy day, earlier this week, made quite a contrast with the twinkling lights, o come all ye faithful spirit that one hopes for during Advent.

It all began with one of my hiking boots.

Worn down by a month-long cold and sinus infection, I decided to cheer myself up by dressing down for school in the middle of the week. Jeans, a comfy fleece, and the boots, last worn on a walk back in the woods.

You know that I love animal signs, the tracks and even the other less savory evidence left behind by my woodland friends. Just not on my shoe. By the time I noticed a certain aroma, I was already at school. Nothing would get that stuff off, and, believe me, I tried.

My phone was almost dead, a blog post published itself way before it was finished, you get the idea!

Later that evening, though, I read the day’s accumulated email messages, and there it was. The best gift of Christmas, a surprise, and one to be treasured. After writing a book like Upwards, honestly sharing from the depths of your innermost self, you kind of hold your breath. You await the response, and sometimes the waiting isn’t easy.

As the months pass, the book continues to gain momentum, to open doors, to connect people. And yet, still you wonder sometimes if you got the words right. Now, at last, I believe that I did.

So, this Christmas, remember that your best gift to give might simply be words that someone has been waiting and hoping for. Words of encouragement or understanding, forgiveness or love. The best gift of Christmas.

In the turning of the seasons, we give thanks

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They are treasured old friends, those forest places that we walk until we know them with every fabric of our body, and soul. We return, unbidden, adding layers of memory as the seasons pass. On the blank canvas of a place, we paint the story of our time together.

So it is with the trail behind our house, the less-than-two-miles out and back that I walk most often. Late one fall afternoon, not long ago, I followed the path through a gap in the mossy old stone wall, to an opening under a few magnificent hemlocks. This spot has always drawn me, and I often pause there. 

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My thoughts rushed back from wherever they’d been wandering when something moved, close beside the path. A spiky hummock of quills, its back turned toward me. This was my first porcupine in “my” woods and deceptively quick despite its cumbersome gait. It wasted no time reaching a tree and climbing steadily to safety.

This encounter will forever enliven this bend in the trail. No matter the season, on my homeward way, I’ll conjure up a prickly ball in the crotch of that tree, framed by the yellow leaves of fall. Just as I’ll remember the night I looked up into the surprising face of the full moon, shining white behind the firs. And farther along, the hill where an owl had snatched a mouse, leaving only the marks of its broad sweeping wings.

Since that fall afternoon, the snows have come, early for our part of Maine, and we’ve embraced the turning of the seasons to this time of gratitude. I think how our lives, too, consist of layers upon layers.

This Thanksgiving, we will gather in another log cabin, in Virginia, for the first Thanksgiving hosted by the new generation. Megan and Jacob will fill their home to bursting, stretching the seating and sleeping and serving, with the aesthetic creativity of two graphic designers.

As we paint new memories, they will never replace those that went before. The years of Dad’s rousing voice singing Over the River and Through the Woods. Searching for hazelnuts in a worn wooden bowl heaped with nuts that you had to crack yourself. Grandma Searls, urging everyone to “eat some turnips for the Pilgrims.” New on old, forever and ever, or at least for today.

This then is my prayer for all of you, that you paint memories anew this Thanksgiving. That you embrace the turning of the seasons, from prickly porcupines to the frosting of the forest, and that this season of gratitude brings you joy. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Simply delightful

Yesterday I woke up full of energy and anticipation. Saturday, October 20th was an unheard of, empty-square-on-the-calendar day. Lately, I’ve been marathoning through, doing whatever it takes to satisfy my school, family, community, and author roles. With the Kindle release of Upwards, I’ve been glued to my laptop far more than I should.

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For a day forecast to be sunny and 60 degrees, it did not have an auspicious start. The first pale light of morning revealed trees already bending to a vigorous, audible wind, under thick cloudy skies. In fact, a gale warning was in effect until mid-afternoon. Perhaps I would start with the safe chore of stacking wood, I thought.

 

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A tidy porch and empty wood rack beckoned

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, was running through my mind as I headed out to the garage. Did you know that the song “Simple Gifts,” also used as the tune for “Lord of the Dance,” was composed by Joseph Brackett, a Shaker elder from Maine, in 1848?

I like stacking wood. The orderly pattern pleases me. There’s the puzzle component, fitting the pieces together just so, while arms and shoulders grow gradually weary. Today, rather than use the tractor, I decided to haul it by the armload. Lots of armloads.

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Sometimes the camera forces you to see the beauty right in front of you
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My artwork for the day

After some Biscay Orchards cider, cheese, and crackers, I headed for Dodge Point, one of our local preserves. There’s a lot of history entwined in this 500-acre property on Newcastle’s River Road. A brick factory there, on the Damariscotta River, left behind a mosaic of brick-red fragments, which can be found all along the shore. Today, though, I crossed the heart of the preserve on the Ravine Trail.

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Not surprisingly, the brilliant reds had mostly fled and even the yellows looked rather tired. The beech leaves, though, were still stubbornly green, just beginning to move toward yellow. I knew they would cling to their branches until spring, keeping skiers and snowshoers company with their papery rustle throughout the long winter.

The trail skirts Ice Pond, once a local source of ice for cooling old-fashioned iceboxes. Looking at the relatively small pond, I wondered what qualifications made one pond more attractive than another for cutting ice. Perhaps in this case it was just proximity.

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A day like this should end in a boat and mine did. The far shore of Little Pond was bathed in golden sunlight as I slid my old canoe into the water. I made a slow circuit of the pond, to the “kee, kee” of a soaring red-tailed hawk.

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For perhaps the last time this year, I followed the path of the setting sun toward the western shore. There, in the shade, the colors were reflected with surprising intensity. Out in deeper water, a large fish jumped, and a flight of ducks took flight in a bright spray of water. I lingered as the moon rose and the sky behind me took on a pinkish hue.

Whether I would return again this season, I did not know, but this place and its spirit, its life and rhythms would stay with me, within the memory of a day of simple delights.

 

The icing on the cake, Upwards e-book on Kindle today

Just in case you can’t wait another moment, the Kindle version is available here, for $9.99.  

Upwards cover 2nd printing

 

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My daughter Megan celebrated her first birthday on vacation in Maine

Somehow I can’t think of first birthdays without thinking of cake and icing, chocolate being the most effective, smeared across chubby cheeks. Forget the presents, which the older kids are always glad to rip open. The real joy is in the smashing glory of the cake.

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Picking up the second printing back in May

Today marks the first birthday of Upwards and the culmination of a rewarding, fulfilling year for me. With your help, we are well into our second printing and looking forward to a jam-packed season of holiday events. And more than the numbers – 47 author events and a bank account almost in the black – is the joy of the people. In the indie bookstores and libraries at the heart of communities from the Adirondacks to Maine. In the words of cards and emails that both thrill and humble me. In the memories of readers’ stories.

Eleventy-first birthdays make me think of Bilbo Baggins, that most beloved hobbit, and his party of “special magnificence.” Though we don’t have any of Gandalf’s magical fireworks, today would also have been the 111th birthday of my maternal grandmother, Janice Sutherland Crowell Wheeler.

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Four generations, from Grandma Jan to tiny Megan

“Growing up,” I wrote a year ago, “Grandma Jan and I shared a love of books and birds and wildflower walks. Through her, I discovered treasured favorites like The Secret Garden, and she encouraged me to publish my first article at age 13. I have chosen today, October 19, 2017 as the official release date…in honor of a very special woman.”

A year later and another milestone, as we release the Amazon Kindle version of Upwards. I’m not sure what Grandma Jan would make of that. She worked in a library, with books whose pages you could turn as you read to a small granddaughter. Her nature guides and history books were filled with notes in a scribbly hand that got harder to decipher as the years rolled by. What would she have thought of reading on a screen?

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads lives only one.     George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

I believe I know. She wanted everyone to love books, and read them. With Kindle, travelers can carry dozens of titles on one small device and read to their heart’s content. There are some whose vision is so much happier with zoomed up print. My book will even be enrolled in a lending library, with royalties coming in each time a page is read. New horizons, for a new year…happy 1st birthday, Upwards!

If you’re visiting for the first time, welcome and please consider subscribing by clicking the blue button, on the right sidebar. Explore the blog, from poetry to stories of building homes in Honduras or passing through Greenland’s Prince Christian Sound. Learn more about Upwards and my NFCT thru-paddle here. For those who love Upwards, Amazon reviews would make a wonderful Christmas gift for this grateful author! Thank you.