Monday, December 8, 2014

An odd departure, but one never knows....

I have, of course, commented on this blog all but exclusively as a poet, but now I'm going to do so as president and principal fund-raiser for an organization that has preoccupied my time and attention for over a decade, the Downeast Lakes Land Trust.

Actually, there is small conflict if any between my career as a poet and my work for this trust. The deep-woods neighborhood that DLLT has conserved, and to which it now wants to add, has been dear to my heart for 62 years. It was in 1953 that my father took me and my brothers on a two-week paddle trip among the neighborhood's many pristine lakes; ten year later my dad and mom bought a camp there. They are both gone now, and my living brother and our two sisters run it more or less as a collective.

 I have never missed a summer (and rarely a fall, and lately, few winters) in that beloved place.

I was privileged to know many men and women who lived in this still-remote country prior to the arrival of power tools for woodswork and modern conveniences (including electricity) for the home. These were some of the hardest working citizens our nation has ever produced, and their descendants still require a lot of gumption and industry to survive in the poorest county not only in Maine but also in the entire northeast.

Hard as life was for those old-timers, they were sturdy and as a rule pretty jolly. They were also fabulous raconteurs. This owed itself, I suspect, largely to the fact that they had to make their own entertainment, even radio being beyond their reach. They were, in effect, an oral culture; some of the most accomplished yarn-spinners were ones who could barely read and write– and some could do neither at all.

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I longed to get their voices onto the page. However, I knew I lacked the genius of a Willa Cather or a Mark Twain: I knew, that is, I could not write in dialect without sounding condescending, which was about as close to opposite from the way I felt about these men and women as you could go.

I thus concocted an enabling fiction, if that's what it is: if I sought to tell stories like theirs in poetry, maybe I could catch some of the cadences of these treasured folks' speech without having to imitate it.  

My success in that regard, indeed my success as a poet in any respect– these are not matters I'm fit to judge. But I am certain that I owe those old-timers and their descendants, in effect, a whole life. So when a group of us, mostly locals, but "outsiders" like me as well, discovered that this neighborhood was slated for liquidation logging and sale to real estate developers (God, what a word!), we founded Downeast Lakes Land Trust.

I have been working on its behalf since the trust's inception in 2002. Our first effort, which ended in 2005, proceeded in partnership with the New England Forestry Foundation. It secured a 328,000-acre conservation easement, protecting one shore of West Grand Lake around the hamlet of Grand Lake Stream in Washington County, Maine, from development. The conservation easement included nearly 500 miles of lakefront. In the process, we also purchased 28,000 acres outright as a community forest, which, sustainably managed, now provides jobs in a part of the world that is more or less always in economic recession.

Since then, the acreage of the community forest has been increased by 6600 acres, which also protected the much smaller but equally beautiful Wabassus Lake from development.

We now seek to purchase an additional 22,000-acre tract to add to our forestry holdings. It has been both our privilege and our great good fortune to have Lyme Timber Company, a firm with strong conservation values, as the owner with whom we are dealing. Lyme bought it from the prior owners and worked out a deal whereby they could timber it responsibly while we raised funds.

By the end of 2012, we had raised the necessary 14 million dollars to establish another easement on that 22,000 acres. We needed five million more to buy the property outright, adding it to the community forest, and making that entire community resource nearly 60,000 acres. 

Very important to me is that the tract we mean to buy will include a 7100-acre ecological reserve, which will be left in a pristine natural condition, never cut, and so allowed in time to become old-growth woodland. The reserve includes the magnificent wetland watershed of Big Musquash Stream, including a 1000-acre domed bog, home to many threatened and even endangered species. I have paddled the world, but no trip is more extraordinary than the one through that magisterial wetland.

Both the federal government, through its Forest Legacy program, and the state of Maine, through its Land for Maine's Future program, have recognized us in the past as the number one forestry/conservation project, respectively, in the nation and the state, so we have reason to be proud.

Should we fail in purchasing the property, we will have no control over forestry practice, and local people greatly fear either the return of industrial logging, which is hard on wildlife habitat and thus on much of their livelihood, or the establishment of so-called “kingdom estates,” which might well restrict their access to land and water that generations of men and women have cherished. 

It is significant, I think, that the town of Grand Lake Stream, with fewer than 100 year-round residents, changed the amended town meeting article providing the trust with $10,000 dollars to $40,000, and approved the amended article unanimously. We are very encouraged by such strong local support.

It is a longer than long shot, but if any of you who follow me here want to donate toward the completion of this important campaign, please Google Downeast Lakes Land Trust, and you will find all the information you need.

Once again, happy holiday season to all! 

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