‘Woodsqueer’: Farmington author publishes ‘love letter’ to county

Gretchen Legler and Ruth Hill pose Tuesday, Feb. 15, in front of the “Three O’Clock Cat” portrait — which inspired the name for their farm in Jay. Legler writes about their farm de ella, Franklin County, the queer experience and the importance of connectivity in her new book, “Woodsqueer: Crafting a Sustainable Rural Life.” Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — It’s not every day that Franklin County is a central character in a book. That day has come, in Gretchen Legler’s latest book, Woodsqueer: Crafting a Sustainable Rural Life.

Woodsqueer is an intimate portrait of Legler’s time living in the woods of Jay and starting The Three O’Clock Cat Farm with her partner, Ruth Hill, where they lived, raised animals and farmed from 2000 to 2017.

Woodsqueer is about more than just the ins and outs of sustainable farming and rural living, as the subtitle might suggest. Woodsqueer is underscored by the concept of connections – with nature, animals, other humans – and what it takes to build, sustain and repair these relationships.

Without a definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Legler explained, in an interview Feb. 8, that “woodsqueer” is a term of many meanings.

In the “old-fashioned sense,” it “suggests somebody who just goes off in the woods and becomes wacky and isolated, sort of funky and quirky. They’ve just been in the woods too long … hanging out with wild animals,” she said.

But Legler said she was “so taken with” the term and formulated her own meaning, her own identity within it.

“Woodsqueer,” to her, “shimmers” in the meaning of “somebody who’s so in love with the woods and the land and the earth…”

“[A woodsqueer is someone who is] totally passionate, obsessed, preoccupied with [the woods, nature],” Legler said. “Totally in love with it and joyful about it.”

And with “queer” in the name, the term takes on another level of depth for Legler, who is a lesbian.

Altogether, sustainability, passion for the woods, interpersonal relationships and LGBTQ+ identity intertwine for a compelling narrative about the woodsqueer experience in Jay and Franklin County.

While the book highlights the experience of being queer in Franklin County and rural Maine, Legler considers its reach to be beyond the LGBTQ+ community.

Legler said the book was written for all different sorts. 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 felt like they’ll never heal, are always going to be broken.”

For people “who are seeking joy and haven’t found it yet or don’t know where to look.”

For those who are “crazy about Maine,” those who “want to learn how to do things like raise chickens and milk goats.”

Most of all, Legler said, “it’s written for people who are trying to connect with the world.”

While it is about all sorts of connections, one of the more powerful aspects of Woodsqueer is Legler’s portrait of the queer experience in rural Maine.

From left, Gretchen Legler and Ruth Hill check on the plantings in their greenhouse in Farmington Wednesday, Feb. 16. Though they no longer live on the Three O’Clock Cat Farm in Jay, Legler and Hill keep its spirit alive in their smaller garden and greenhouse. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

A piece of that portrait, Legler said, is that “two women can do this together” — despite the societal notion that farming, homesteading is primarily men’s work.

Additionally, Legler feels the book expresses how queer relationships are just like any other.

“To sustain a queer relationship is just as hard in many ways as sustaining any other kind of relationship,” she said. “You have to learn compassion, mercy, patience and forgiveness.”

“People have to work at 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 in Jay as characters in their own right.

“[The book] is a bit of a love letter to Franklin County; a thank you letter,” Legler said. “It’s certainly a love letter to my neighbors who were so wonderful and so full of rural wisdom.”

“[Franklin County] is a place where people are still down to earth, a place where you can still get down to earth,” she said. “You can be directly connected to the natural world in beautiful ways.”

Legler hopes that one of the takeaways of the book is how “it’s important to pay attention” to the world around you.

“It’s important because attention brings us into relationship. And what are we without relationship? Legler posed. “If we’re not in relationship with other human beings, with the world we’re living in, then we’re just atomized. We’re just walking around lonely.”

Legler plainly stated that Woodsqueer is not a lecture on sustainability — despite any potential implications of the subtitle.

“I did not want 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 want to preach, I didn’t want to shame anyone else who lives in rural Maine and doesn’t want to live that way.”

Rather, Legler felt it was important to “celebrate” the rural community of Franklin County, “which includes the old timers.”

That much comes across in the book. It highlights the beauty of Legler’s experiences, rather than putting the onus on the reader who might not be living that life.

“I wanted to celebrate [this community, this land],” she said. “I wanted to tell the story of how joyful [this experience] was and how beautiful this relationship was that Ruth and I crafted with this little piece of land.”

Woodsqueer: Crafting a Sustainable Rural Life is now available for purchase at Devaney, Doak & Garrett and through online retailers at https://tupress.org/9781595349606/woodsqueer/.

Legler will be reading a segment of Woodsqueer at a DD&G sponsored event at the University of Maine at Farmington Landing 5 pm Thursday, Feb. 24. Masks and registration are required. Registration can be found at https://forms.gle/XNLzsjhJyABv5hBx6.

Legler will additionally do a virtual reading in conversation with author, filmmaker and UMF professor Amy Neswald 8 pm Tuesday, Feb. 22. More information and registration can be found at https://trinity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__AUzWBiqSVymdvlSQCCXGA.

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