Tending the Marsh by Linda Maria Steele
I first put pen to paper and began to jot down thoughts about going through a divorce and moving into a new house near the great Sippewissett Marsh in Falmouth, MA in 2016. I started journaling because it helped me sort out the details of what happened and how my life was changing in ways that sometimes felt scary and were often unexpected.
The writing was primarily therapeutic—a way to get what was swirling around in my head out and down on paper.
Initially even though I had already published my first book a cookbook with related stories called “Meet Me in My Cape Cod Kitchen: Recipes for Seaside Living”, maintained a blog, taught writing classes and published close to forty articles on topics ranging from food, home care, parenting and family, I was not quite ready to share such a personal story.
I did not know if I was ever going to publish my deeply personal story about loss and transition or how I could effectively transform daily journal entries into something meaningful that would appeal to readers.
At the time, all I knew was that by taking daily walks on the marsh and then coming home to jot down my impressions made me feel better.
Back then I would meet up with a friend for lunch, a fellow writer, who had just published her memoir. Every once and awhile, we would bring recent written works to share with each other.
“Do you think I should turn this into a memoir?” I asked shyly over a burger and fries after Sharon read a selection.
“You definitely have something here” she’d reply.
“I think other women going through a divorce would relate to your story” she’d add.
I put what I had in my desk drawer where it stayed for over a year. I had other work to tend to and knew I needed a little more distance from the actual events.
I was laid off from a teaching position in August of 2017 due to low student enrollment and suddenly found myself with extra time on my hands. I pulled out what I wrote the following autumn to revise and organize entries. When my writing friend and I met for lunch again I brought a rough draft along of what I had so far.
At that point, I did not feel I had written a memoir just yet and still was not sure I wanted to share it.
What I began to see were patterns in my journal entries emerge. I walked every day for a year. I wrote as soon as I got home so my memories were fresh and specific. I saw the herons on my walks often and started to feel a real affinity with the majestic birds. I felt deeply comforted by nature regardless of what I was feeling each day. The marsh remained the same day in and day out and yet it also changed moment to moment.
Around that same time, one of my poems “Tending a Tender Heart” was accepted to be read on NPR’s Poetry Sundays. Recording that poem and sharing it on NPR sparked the idea that rather then tell every single detail of the year after my divorce into a tell all memoir from all of my journal entries I began to imagine that maybe I could take bits and pieces of the story and draft a narrative timeline around the events. Somehow a collection of poetry felt like a more comfortable way to tell my story then a tell all memoir. With poetry I could ground my story in specific images yet choose to share how much or little of my story as I wanted.
I started to see how I could write poems that offered a tiny slice of the bigger story by using nature imagery and simple language formed from my journal entries. The collection included a reflection of change in seasons that mirrored a change in my attitude. I experienced moments of profound grief that year, but I also experienced very real joy. I encountered miracles on my journey which led to a poem simply called “Miracles.” I finally imagined my life beyond this current loss. And I learned more about what mattered most to me and at the top of that list was my three children reflected in the poem “Baby Birds.”
It felt right to put my story together in a series of poems. I decided to look at all of my journal entries and choose key moments, experiences and events then draft poems that followed my year of daily walking.
There were times that I simply trusted my intuition about how to organize them and move forward. On a walk one day, the title Tending the Marsh popped into my mind because I truly felt the more I walked and wrote the more I felt the marsh was in turn tending to me. Other times, I asked writing friends to read and offer feedback.
Somewhere along the way, poetry more and more felt like a good fit for my story. It allowed me to make vivid observations about my environment and my experience. But I didn’t have to feel bogged down by all the specifics of a complex timeline even though a story like structure of that year from the loss to new beginnings eventually emerged from one poem to the next.
Poetry allowed me, not only a way to create a way to name my experience, but also a way for me to grow and heal. I invite you to read the collection in one sitting and pay attention to the timeline that emerges from loss to eventual hope throughout its pages.
I made sure to include a poem to reflect each season. One poem is called “That’s How it is in the Summer” another “When Spring Arrives” and, of course, a poem called “Dead of Winter.”
Recently a friend wrote and said, “Tending the Marsh is beautiful and calming. I have the sense of walking beside you and seeing all the secrets of the marsh through your eyes.”
Another friend who went through her own divorce a few years before said after reading Tending the Marsh that she wished she’d had it to read the year after her own divorce because of the comfort it provided.
Tending the Marsh was published December 2018 and includes poems like “When Grief Visits,” “Moonbeams,” “New Beginnings,” “Blessed” and Autumn on the Marsh.”
You can read Tending the Marsh available now on Amazon and in local bookstores and please feel free to reach out to share your experience or story if you feel moved to do so. Even better you can sign up to take my class Finding the Writer Within. I can also be reached through my website at www.lindamariasteele.com.