by Aram Mitchell
Yesterday, while the sun set hard on the Presumpscot River just north of Portland, a few of us sat on the bank and reflected on the way that a life impacts the setting where it is lived. And we reflected on the way that the elements of our earth-home manage to forget the impacts that - were they remembered - would clutter and crowd out the creativity of those yet to live.
Our perch was situated in the midst of the Presumpscot River Preserve, a stretch of undeveloped riverfront that, not long ago, endured the impact of industrial waste from gunpowder, textile, pulp and paper mills. Since the 1970’s, with the Clean Water Act, the Presumpscot - named for its rough waters - has begun its recovery, cleansing itself of pollutants and making space for the more subtle traces of a cooperative ecology.
While we sat and listened to the cleansing flow of the river tumbling toward the Atlantic we read Maya Stein’s poem:
Don’t tread so softly. Leave a trace for once. Drop breadcrumbs on the trail so they know where to find you. Make a hard splash in the waves. Carve a deep groove in the sand. Write your name in window fog. Wail into the blindness of a black night. Smash your fist so hard on a table the legs shake and your drink spills. Not because you are furious. Not because you are bearing the weight of everything you lost. But because you are here, occupying space and time, turning your allotment of days into a thread of stories you are still weaving. Make yourself known. Take a breath and clear your voice from the camouflage of things. Place the single markof a fingerprint into the earth. Purge your light from the anonymous dark.
And Lauren mused about the ephemeral nature of the traces that Stein advocates. These traces are not permanent fixtures; they are not perennial memorials to self that convey an attitude of dominance or possession. These traces are instances that simply assert, “I exist. I am here. I belong.” Not less than that. And nothing more.