Peter Forbes recently published a book about his mentor Bill Coperthwaite. In the first chapter he describes losing his mentor. When I start to think about a way to honor Carol, I have to echo his words from that first chapter. There were those who knew her better, and those who knew her longer. All I can lay claim to is that she changed me.
Carol, amongst so many other things, was a naturalist and a teacher, she was a historian, a writer, and a fabulous story-teller. She was a true renaissance woman. Over the past year she has been a friend and a mentor to me. I have observed and participated in many of her classes, and early on in our relationship I realized what a magical person she was. She had so many stories about each town we teach in. She knew the location and sources of the cut pieces of granite in the town center, where the old town pound was, the last names in the cemetery, and who owned the first lumber and grist mills in town. She would artfully and suspensefully weave legends in front of enraptured children looking upon glacially carved mountains and valleys. She shared with me what she had researched about forest fires, quarries, and cellar holes. When we would share lunch we would excitedly chat about whatever either of us happened to be researching or teaching. Carol would always have some gem hidden up her sleeve for me, no matter the topic. She fed my own curiosity and passion for the natural history of my town and community.
Since I started teaching with Carol’s mentor-ship something started to come alive in my lessons. I started investigating the little hidden special spots around town, barely visible in our everyday life, yet rich with clues about the people who lived here before us, and how they lived their lives. A small memorial, a hidden graveyard, an all-but-buried cellar hole. They tell us their stories if we are willing to listen and look for them, about the lives people carved out of this land, who they were, and their connection to this place that we share in common.
Carol and I were in the middle of teaching a Native American unit at a local elementary school, when she passed. We still had one-class left to teach together, when I heard she had had a stroke. The last time that we spoke I had asked her about Lovewell’s battle, as I had been reading about the Native Americans that had lived in Western Maine for this class. Although we were just in passing in the hall at Tin Mountain, she stopped to tell me what she knew.
Lovewell’s battle was known for being a bloody battle. It was a fight in a series of fights between the Abenaki of Western, Maine and New Hampshire and early American colonists. As Carol tells the story, about 80 Pequawket tribesman were returning from a fishing trip to the area which is now Fryeburg. A duck-hunter was upon land, and shot at a duck. A band of colonists had been gathered in the south and led by Captain Lovewell had travelled deep into an area heavily used by the Pequawket tribe. The colonists had made it to the shores of Saco Pond (now Lovewell pond) and were alerted upon hearing the gunshot. They searched out the duck-hunter, and in doing so ended up starting a fight with the nearby returning Pequawket warriors. The famous Lovewell’s battle ensued that supposedly lasted from sunrise to sunset. The leader of the Pequawket tribe, Paugus, as well as Captain Lovewell were both killed along with many of their men.
While not particularly uplifting, this was a tragic account of an important piece of our local history. What Carol taught me is that our local history and the story of our land is inextricably tied together. With each story we learn we become more connected to the place that we live and each other. Our natural heritage is not only the resources inherent in our environment, but also in our own understanding of our connection to it and the people who were here before us.
The day I received the news about Carol I felt my own tragedy. I had to grieve but I didn’t know how. I found myself searching out the memorial she had told me about near Lovewell’s pond that commemorated the battle that we had last spoke about. I didn’t do it because I felt like a memorial site was appropriate for grieving. Afterall, the memorial was erected in the early 20th century and only listed the names of the white people who died that day. Carol would not approve! I went there to honor Carol’s tradition of researching and remembering the stories of those who were here before us. In some small way, it made me feel close to her again.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to live side-by-side with amazing and inspiring people. And they change us, they change the course of our lives. They touch us deeply in a way that is so genuine and real it doesn’t seem real at all.
And sometimes, we only hear about those people through their stories. I know we all have Carol stories. I hope that we continue to share those stories and cherish those stories, the way that she taught us to.
Written by Teacher / Naturalist, Corrie Blodgett
Photos taken by Teacher / Naturalist, Lily Morgan