Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town
Susan Hand Shetterly
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In writing about a displaced garter snake, witnessing the paving of a beloved dirt road, trapping a cricket with her young son, rescuing a fledgling raven, or the town's joy at the return of the alewife migration, Shetterly issues warnings even as she pays tribute to the resilience that abounds.
Like the works of Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold, Settled in the Wild takes a magnifying glass to the wildness that surrounds us. With keen perception and wit, Shetterly offers us an education in nature, one that should inspire us to preserve it.
struggled to the edge of the nest. It launched itself and tumbled to the ground. A hiker found it, carried it out of the woods, and gave it to an old man who had taken good care of wild birds for more than twenty years. The raven lay in a cardboard box packed with loose straw on the lawn of the old man’s place. The man had doctored many birds over the years, but now his vigilance was wearing down. Sometimes birds were brought to him, and he could not make himself do much for them. “What’s wrong
otter smell, dead sun-fish, a painted turtle’s tracks. Finished with inventory, he plopped down in the warm slosh as I swam out and floated on my back. No one else was ever here except for a loon or two bobbing in deep water. The only sounds were the water’s even chuck and sometimes a call from one of the birds. This particular selectman was also our town commissioner of roads. He worked for the Maine Department of Transportation. Roads were his business, perhaps even his passion, and the Cross
fishing for cod. “That’s when I saw a humpback whale die,” he said. “It was making a moaning noise, like a human in terrible agony.” A school of swordfish had surrounded the whale like a pack of wolves, he told me, and the bloodied animal headed for the shallow water of the banks, and those fish just followed it in. “I’ll never forget that sound,” he said. “It must have been in some god-awful pain.” I was stunned. I had not read about swordfish attacking whales, and I thought he must have
last forever. Big Fish A culvert runs under the bridge at the Cross Road. It is six feet in diameter. At low tide it carries heath water from upland streams into the head of Morgan Bay. At high tide it sends salt water a quarter of a mile into the marsh and the streams beyond. It lies in a bed of granite riprap, beside a gentle outcrop on the bay side, and on a hot day in summer this ancient Ellsworth schist is warm from the sun. At high tide, you can lie back against its received heat
slurry of water. It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard stories about bloodworm diggers caught with their gear in marsh channels when a tide rushed in and the water overwhelmed them. But the stories seemed apocryphal. Where did tides like that build so quickly? And why didn’t the men drop their gear and scramble out of the mud and up the bank? It didn’t make sense. When I came to a channel that was too wide to jump, I decided to step into it and slog across. The sides gleamed with finely granulated mud,