‘Woodsqueer’: Farmington author posts ‘love letter’ to county
FARMINGTON — It’s not often that Franklin County is a central character in a book. That day has come, in Gretchen Legler’s latest book, Woodsqueer: Creating sustainable rural living.
Lumberjack is an intimate portrait of when Legler lived in Jay Woods and started The Three O’Clock Cat Farm with his partner, Ruth Hill, where they lived, raised animals and farmed from 2000 to 2017.
Lumberjack is not limited to the ins and outs of sustainable agriculture and rural living, as the subtitle might suggest. Lumberjack is underscored by the concept of connections – with nature, animals, other humans – and what it takes to build, maintain and repair these relationships.
Without a definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Legler explained, in a Feb. 8 interview, that “woodsqueer” is a term with multiple meanings.
In the “old-fashioned sense,” it “suggests someone who goes off into the woods and becomes wacky and isolated, sort of funky and quirky. They just stayed in the woods too long… hanging out with wild animals,” she said.
But Legler said she was “so seduced” by the term and formulated her own meaning, her own identity within it.
“Woodsqueer,” for her, “glitters” in the sense of “someone who is so in love with the woods and the dirt and the earth…”
“[A woodsqueer is someone who is] totally passionate, obsessed, preoccupied with [the woods, nature]said Legler. “Totally in love and happy about it.”
And with “queer” in the name, the term takes on another level of depth for Legler, who is lesbian.
Altogether, sustainability, passion for the woods, interpersonal relationships, and LGBTQ+ identity intertwine for a gripping tale of the Woodsqueer experience in Jay and Franklin County.
While the book shines a light on the experience of being queer in Franklin County and rural Maine, Legler sees its reach beyond the LGBTQ+ community.
Legler said the book was written for all sorts of things. It was written for people “trying to find their place in the world”, “trying to figure out what their relationship is to other people and non-human beings”.
It’s for those “who feel or have felt hopeless, who feel like they will never heal, will always be broken”.
For people “who are looking for joy and haven’t found it yet or don’t know where to look”.
For those who are “Maine crazy,” those who “want to learn how to do things like raise chickens and dairy goats.”
Above all, said Legler, “it’s written for people trying to connect with the world.”
Although it’s all kinds of connections, one of the most powerful aspects of Lumberjack is Legler’s portrait of the queer experience in rural Maine.
Part of that portrait, Legler said, is that “two women can do this together” — despite the societal notion that farming, farming is primarily men’s work.
Additionally, Legler thinks the book conveys how same-sex relationships are like any other.
“Maintaining a same-sex relationship is just as difficult in many ways as maintaining any other type of relationship,” she said. “You must learn compassion, mercy, patience and forgiveness.”
“People need to work on relationships with each other and with the world around them,” Legler added. “And it’s worth it.”
Another captivating aspect of the book is the concept of Franklin County and the land she lived on to Jay as characters in their own right.
“[The book] is a bit of a love letter to Franklin County; a letter of thanks,” Legler said. “It is certainly a love letter to my neighbors who were so wonderful and so full of rural wisdom.”
“[Franklin County] is a place where people still have their feet on the ground, a place where you can still have your feet on the ground,” she said. “You can be directly connected to the natural world in beautiful ways.”
Legler hopes one of the takeaways from the book is how “important it is to pay attention” to the world around you.
“It’s important because attention connects us. And what are we without relationship? Legler posed. “If we don’t relate to other human beings, to the world we live in, then we’re just atomized. We walk alone.
Legler clearly stated that Lumberjack is not a sustainability conference – despite all the potential implications of the subtitle.
“I didn’t mean to insult my rural Maine neighbors who have been here for generations by telling them how to live a sustainable rural life,” she said. “And I didn’t mean to preach, I didn’t mean to shame anybody else who lives in rural Maine and doesn’t want to live that way.”
On the contrary, Legler felt it was important to “celebrate” the Franklin County rural community, “which includes the elders.”
It’s in the book. It highlights the beauty of Legler’s experiences, rather than putting the blame on the reader who may not be living that life.
“I wanted to celebrate [this community, this land],” she said. “I wanted to tell the story of joy [this experience] was and how beautiful this relationship was that Ruth and I have created with this little piece of land.
Woodsqueer: Creating Sustainable Rural Living is now available for purchase at Devaney, Doak & Garrett and online retailers at https://tupress.org/9781595349606/woodsqueer/.
Legler will read an excerpt from Lumberjack at a DD&G sponsored event at the University of Maine at Farmington Landing at 5 p.m. on Thursday, February 24. Mandatory masks and registration. Registration can be found at https://forms.gle/XNLzsjhJyABv5hBx6.
Legler will also do a virtual reading in conversation with author, filmmaker and UMF professor Amy Neswald at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22. More information and registration can be found at https://trinity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__AUzWBiqSVymdvlSQCCXGA.
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