If I was to listen to advice from Rachel Carson while writing my novel I would imagine she'd tell me to immerse myself in the places I want to write about. I've always done that, with all of my books. So no surprise I spent a week in Maine combing the same beaches she did while working on her book The Edge of the Sea (1956), and in her final years, Silent Spring (1962). I wanted to see what she saw as a fervent observer of the natural world.
Rachel used the money gained from her fame as an author of the sea trilogy to buy a house on Maine's mid-coast. It was there she met and continued her special relationship with Dorothy Freeman. No wonder her cottage was a refuge, the Maine coast is picturesque and mysterious.
On the day we arrived in Southport for our short mid-June vacation, a fog was creeping up the Sheepscot River into the small cove where we stayed. My husband thought it was smoke and asked "where's the fire?" That night he insisted we watch the 1980 movie The Fog to remember the creepy feeling of watching the mist roll in like a creature from another world. Perfect for a horror flick. I read somewhere the locals call it the vapors.
That's making it into my novel.
Then there's the tide pools. I grew up around freshwater lakes. In fact, I was eighteen when I first saw the ocean and even then my experiences have been limited to the sandy beaches of the Jersey Shore or Florida (one stint snorkeling a coral reef in Kauai).
Rachel Carson was late to the ocean as well. She landed a summer scholarship to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute after college and this launched her passion to write about the sea.
It's in her third book, The Edge of the Sea, she really puts her observational skills to work. Her explanation of the reproductive habits of the sea creatures is amazing, yet it's her vivid descriptions of the tidal pools, and colorful characteristics of the shifting, brimming with life ecosystems, that shine in this work.
I went to the Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve to see what was so special about this place she called her summer home. The place where, I imagine, she allowed herself to observe, write, collect her thoughts without worldly distractions. Almost as if Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea was written about her.
You have to have patience and dexterity to navigate the large boulders of the tidal pools in Maine's mid-Coast. The rocks are upended from geological faults so that they appear to have been pushed onto shore by a giant hand creating an accordion effect. The rocks glaze with crystalline striations of mica and quartz. Once I conquered the rocks, I found small pools where the ocean is trapped for a few hours while the tide is out.
My view lands on a rock coated in red, submerged in a small pool of water. I identified it as coralline algae, a red algae that can secrete lime and encrust the surface of rocks. There were clumps of cladophora that resemble green mermaid hair until you pick it up and the strands feel like slime. And the rockweeds.
While I was examining the tidal pools, I noticed on shore, some visitors, sitting in chairs, on the beach, on their phones. And I wondered. What is it? Why isn't this important enough? I know venturing onto treacherous rocks is not everybody's gig; I feel lucky I still can. But why not put that phone away and observe everything else? The gulls swooping in to devour whatever crabs or urchins they can discover amongst the rockweeds, the moaning of an ebbing sea, the faint clang of a line on the masthead of a sailboat moored offshore.
The tidal pools in Maine made me step into a mode where I was present, not wondering what was happening later, where we'd eat dinner, just being. There's a story here that needs to be told and the only way to write it is to remember that feeling.
Author note: I'll be running a workshop for Writers in the Mountains November 4th 2023 at their annual retreat on creating setting and place for your novel.
Hi, I'm an author of contemporary and historical fiction. My next novel features a young protagonist from a lobstering family living on an island in Maine who pretends she's doing research for Rachel Carson to impress the people in her small town. Join me as I procrastinate writing the novel by blogging about Rachel.
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