Sandy Stott, BTLT Board Member and local writer, recently began a regular series published in the Times Record all about the Mere Brook Watershed here in Brunswick.
By Sandy Stott on May 15, 2020
Here’s a little local footwork you may be interested in following. It all happens at appropriate distance, and it offers the intrigue of looking for origins.
We all must start somewhere. Our origins often shape character and possibility, and that, even given its wildly various midstream selves, is true of Mere Brook.
Not far southwest of Brunswick’s clustered center, the land opens to agricultural fields and wetland woods and grassland and blueberry sandplain. A driver or cyclist headed for neighboring Freeport rides through this open land and then sees Pleasant Hill Road rise to a minor ridge, where it scoots between two apparent farms. The farm on the right features a vibrant flower garden in season and always neatly clipped fields. On the left, a series of signs enjoins us to support our local farmers. Then, a sign in the shape of a once-bitten carrot introduces the second farm, Crystal Spring Farm. It’s a working farm, its nature clear from a mix of machinery, buildings and paused labor. There’s always more to do, says that composition…always more.
Next to that scene of active, traditional agriculture, through a bank of stately maples, is a parking area and a roped-off patch of flattened grass; every weekend from May to November, vendors and customers flatten the week’s grass-growth in attendance at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Saturday Farmers’ Market. The market, a regionally revered gathering of appetite and community spirit, anticipates, animates, and celebrates the local growing season. (Note: during current closures and relocations brought on by COVID-19, the Farmer’s Market will take place outside Brunswick High School, where room for distancing and parking make possible the continuation of this important source of and support for the produce of local farmers.)
Crystal Spring Farm is owned by the land trust, which runs the market and leases the majority of the remaining agricultural land long term to farmer Seth Kroeck and his family. The farm is its own fascination with a 200-year history of cultivation, but we are brook bound, and so it’s the Spring in the name we want to know, a bit.
The farm’s water rises from the aquifer that underlies its land. Perhaps it is the fine filtering of the glacial sands that lie in our subsurface, but there is local agreement that the aquifer’s waters are outstanding, in taste and purity. Some religions suggest that we all begin in such a state, welling from ground into being, all open to what’s around us. An initial stem of Mere Brook begins by rising from the same aquifer. Two other stems start and then join a little farther to the north, behind Thornton Oaks and near Matthews Road.
Visiting these Mere Brook headwaters takes some footwork, preceded by mapwork. I like both, and so, on an April day promising rain, with shoes on foot and map studied into mind, I set out to find and see our brook’s outset(s). I followed Richards Drive up its slight grade, while the brook ran audibly on my left. Near the Coffin School, I ducked behind the idle yellow busses and buildings and found a pocket woodland park through which the fledged brook meanders, and where its two initial stems join. But I couldn’t bust through to Baribeau Drive without trespassing, it seemed, and so I returned to roads and went up via Peary Drive.
Beyond Baribeau, I walked left and out to the Settlemire Community Gardens, slipped into the woods on the right and took a path that parallels for a little while a shallow depression. During this season, it reads as a succession of vernal pools, with slight flow evident between. No sign says, Brook Begins Here, no gush of water issues from the ground, but when I walked back along the depression southwest for some yards, I came upon Brook…as defined by water flow, by hints of banks and a bottom. Yes, a dry season may make this thin water vanish, but its course says, I’ll be back. Whenever water falls and rises enough.
I was, I realized, directly opposite the Labyrinth, a contemplative construct set in the woods and maintained by the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, which also oversees the nearby Settlemire Gardens. That our urban brook gathers itself and sets out near a labyrinth seems apt. In its 5-mile trip to the sea, Mere Brook must navigate all manner of bafflement and blockage before it reaches Harpswell Cove. Which it does, and which, with our help from the just-begun planning task force and subsequent actions over the coming years, it may do better. (For more on this work, see December’s Your Land column, It’s (No) Mere Brook, published on 12/6/19); link: https://www.pressherald.com/2019/12/06/sandy-stott-its-no-mere-brook/
Even as I knew some of these waters come up from the aquifer below, it seemed false to say that Mere Brook rises; rather, in the trees and under last year’s leaves, this brook-to-be collects. If you would be a brook you must cup your lands, give the waters a place to gather. Once together, they know where to go.
And if you would see waters gather, I recommend this walk in the rain, with pauses to watch wherever the land shunts the water one way or another.
Sandy Stott is a Brunswick, Maine resident, chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. His recent book, Critical Hours — Search and Rescue in the White Mountains, was published by University Press of New England in April, 2018. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org