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Writing the Land on Harpswell Preserves

Kara Douglas
April 8, 2024

My introduction to partnering writing with land trusts in a formal way was ushered in by an unexpected Barred Owl at the Oven’s Mouth Preserve in Edgecomb. As a lifelong writer, an announcement in the Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance newsletter seeking partnership between poets and land trusts in Maine caught my eye. I made inquiries, sent in some writing samples, looked over an extensive map of possible land trusts to partner with and drove to Oven’s Mouth. My daughter and I arrived at the empty, forested parking area at dusk. About five minutes down the trail, the owl swooped low and silently over us, then disappeared into the firs. I started writing that night.

The Writing the Land project is a collaborative outreach and fundraising effort for land protection organizations. It was conceived of, founded by, and is directed by Lis McLoughlin, PhD. Writing the Land pairs poets with protected lands and produces anthologies sold by the land protection agencies to support their mission. Through these anthologies, poets help to raise awareness of the importance of land conservation, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Poets are partnered with conserved land for up to a full year.

large boulder among trees

“The Pebble” at Curtis Farm, 1/22/2022, Barry Coflan

The project began in 2020 with one New-England-based anthology containing 11 land trusts and 40 poets. In September, 2022, Writing the Land, Maine was published, along with three other anthologies. By the end of 2023 there were 10 Writing the Land anthologies, and the project was working with over 350 poets and 120 land trusts and other land protection organizations nationwide, one of which is HHLT.

The Curtis Farm Preserve will be the first HHLT land featured in an anthology that will be published in the summer of 2024. The collection, entitled Wanderings II, will include 11 land trusts and 19 poets from across the United States, Washington to Maine.

For me, exploring and writing at Oven’s Mouth during the second year of the pandemic provided a sense of purpose and direction in an otherwise tempestuous and occasionally rudderless time. As I was walking along a narrows one morning at mid-tide, when the water raced through at nearly five knots, I heard the telltale sound of an exhale through a blowhole. Less than a foot from shore, in deep and churning water, two porpoises surfaced and dove, racing toward open water. There are so many stories these wild spaces tell when we quiet ourselves down and put ourselves there.

When the opportunity arose for more land trusts to join the project, I partnered with HHLT to explore and write about the Curtis Farm Preserve, which happens to be just about in my backyard. For several years, my family has helped a crew of stewards maintain the trails at Curtis, cleaning up after storms and building bog bridges to span the perennially wet areas along the trail. I worried at first that the preserve was so familiar to me that I’d look with accustomed eyes and miss the richness that comes from exploring a place for the first time. Then, my daughter came home from Curtis Cove one afternoon shouting for help. There was a school of squid trapped in a tidepool that was drying up. We ran down with buckets to the sight of hundreds of tentacled bodies changing colors, inking the water black. My trepidations dissolved.

Of the project, Lis McLoughlin writes, “Writing the Land is an attempt to honor nature and our relationship with it in a way that is as equitable and transparent as it is deep and entangled. As poets and advocates, we declare our intention that the scope of this project be as inclusive—to humans and places—as we hope the mantle of protection that land trusts offer can be. Our work in writing the land will never be complete but rather gains strength, depth, beauty, and energy from a multitude of voices.”

People are encouraged to buy the Writing the Land anthologies directly from the land trusts in it, as this is how readers can support the mission of land protection. Follow links from this page: https://www.nature-culture.net/books-publishing

Wanderings II, the anthology that includes HHLT’s Curtis Farm Preserve, is anticipated this summer and will be available at HHLT.

Interested poets, land trusts, and partners can contact the Writing the Land Project at: https://www.writingtheland.org/contact