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Faith and Nature – Community Labyrinth in the Coastal Journal

by Annee Tara Coastal Journal contributor, Brunswick

http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODE/CoastalJournal/ 

Photo by Annee Tara Angela Twitchell, director of Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, walks the Labyrinth in the Woods on Nov. 14.

Photo by Annee Tara Angela Twitchell, director of Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, walks the Labyrinth in the Woods on Nov. 14.

BRUNSWICK — At the turn of this century, when she was preparing for her role in Christian education at First Parish Church in Brunswick, Susan Fitzgerald heard a speaker talk about labyrinths and their value in connecting people of all ages to their spiritual path.
Intrigued, she set out to “help First Parish determine whether it wanted a labyrinth,” she said. Soon a group of parishioners had hand-painted an 11-circuit labyrinth onto 30-foot octagonal canvas. It was dedicated in February 2000, and several times each year since then it has been set up at the church’s Pilgrim House and opened to the public for walking.
A few years later, when Mary Baard became the minister at First Parish, she was “delighted to find out that we had a labyrinth ministry here; Susan has been the core person in that ministry.” She and Fitzgerald began talking about Fitzgerald’s dream of an outdoor labyrinth. Over the years they talked about possible sites, but couldn’t envision it on church grounds.

 

Then in the summer of 2014, Baard was walking near the Thomas Settlemire Community Garden at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Crystal Springs Farm when she stopped at the edge of a field and thought,“This would be a great place for an outdoor labyrinth.”

 

She contacted Angela Twitchell, director of the land trust, who was immediately on board. “We’d been talking about ways to make a better connection with faith communities in the area. Land trusts are always looking at ways to actively collaborate with other community groups,” she said. This project is a perfect example: Both First Parish and the land trust are interested in strengthening connection with the community. “It’s a great way to connect faith with nature,” Twitchell said.

A group from the church and the land trust began planning a labyrinth in the woods, which would be easier to maintain and provide more privacy and shade than one in the field. First Parish agreed to raise the money needed for the construction. The land trust agreed that it would provide the site and maintain the labyrinth going forward (with help from the church, which hopes to raise additional money to support the effort). They brought in the Topsham landscaping firm Cosmic Stone to prepare the site. The project took on special significance when, in the midst of the planning “Susan’s cancer returned,” said Baard. Fitzgerald had been diagnosed and treated three years earlier and was back at work in 2014. But the cancer came back and she has left First Parish.

While she no longer coordinates labyrinth activities, she continues to meet with and support the group that sets up and tends the labyrinth sessions. Fitzgerald and her husband John are also active supporters of the land trust, so both groups wanted to formally acknowledge her dream for the Labyrinth in the Woods by adding the words “in honor of Susan Fitzgerald.”

 

“Inspiration is really a remarkable thing: The right thing, at the right time, in the right place, for the right reason,” said Baard.

For Twitchell, this project serves several purposes. “It connects people in the community with the land; it’s collaboration with First Parish; and it honors Susan Fitzgerald’s great work.”

Both Baard and Twitchell make the point that walking the labyrinth doesn’t have to have be a “religious experience;” it can simply be a meditative way to enjoy nature. “Rarely in my work does an idea like that come to fruition within a year or two,” said Baard.

But on Nov. 14 a small group of labyrinth “tenders,” church and land trust board members, and Fitzgerald gathered to celebrate the completion of the Labyrinth in the Woods. “It brings me joy that the outdoor labyrinth has become a reality for the whole community. It is a little overwhelming. I am filled with gratitude for all those who made it possible,” Fitzgerald said.

Photo by Annee Tara Susan Fitzgerald and her family attended the opening of the Labyrinth in the Woods, dedicated in her honor, on Nov. 14.

Photo by Annee Tara Susan Fitzgerald and her family attended the opening of the Labyrinth in the Woods, dedicated in her honor, on Nov. 14.

The labyrinth is available to the public for walking now. A formal dedication is planned for May.

Hiding in the Woods at Crystal Spring Farm

By Ellen Rodgers

When I awoke last Sunday I looked out the window and thought “This is a perfect day to burrow under a bed of leaves in the woods at Crystal Spring Farm!”

Burrowing under leaves is not a normal activity for me. When I visit Crystal Spring Farm (CSF), it is usually to hike or ski the trails, shop at the Farmers’ Market, or tend my plot at the Community Garden. But today was special because I had volunteered to be a “hider” for a training session run by Maine Search and Rescue Dogs (MESARD), a group called in to find people who have gone missing in the Maine wilderness.

This was my first time as a MESARD hider, so dog-handler Sarah and flanker William brought me to the beehives at CSF and gave me a radio, a GPS, and a quick tutorial. As I listened, I peeked into Sarah’s car to get a glimpse of Sarah’s dog Zeke, the fluffy cappuccino-colored dog assigned to find me. For a moment I wondered if Zeke might be too adorable to be a serious search dog, but I didn’t have time to worry because soon I was scurrying after the long-limbed William into the 20-acre search area as he searched for a good hiding place for me.  He found one – a shallow gully under a fir tree – and then disappeared into the woods after telling me it would probably take Zeke 45 minutes to find me.  I settled in, covered myself with leaves, and waited while monitoring Zeke’s zig-zagging route on my GPS screen.

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Can YOU see me?

Judging from my GPS, Zeke was still far away, but in the distance I heard the faint tinkling of a bell, a comforting sound that meant I would soon be found by the wearer of that bell. The ringing grew louder and louder until suddenly a giant black shepherd rushed excitedly at me, slicked my face as if saying “Tag! You’re IT!” and ran back to her handler to report her discovery. The shepherd’s handler approached me, realized that her dog (named Wren) had found someone, just not the intended someone, and praised Wren for her discovery before the two continued their search for the intended “victim”.

I realized I was viewing the world through dog-slobbered glasses, so I wiped Wren’s saliva off my lenses and nestled into my gully again.  I soon heard the familiar sounds of a ringing bell and the rustle of paw-steps in the leaves.  And then I was found again, this time by Zeke, who wanted to make it clear that he is not just an adorable dog but also a serious worker.  Zeke was rewarded for his successful search with heaps of praise, plenty of treats, and a few rounds of fetch with his favorite toy.

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My hero, Zeke.

I hid two more times in different locations at CSF. I was discovered by Kobuk and Jenga, both shepherd breeds. Having been discovered by four dogs, I was fascinated by how different each of my finders was. Each dog was well-behaved and driven to carry out his or her search mission. But each dog had an undeniably unique personality behind that work demeanor. Some were playful, others calm.  Kobuk was mellow while playing with his beloved toy, while Jenga enjoyed a hardcore game of tug-of-war, especially if it resulted in her being swung around in circles while still gripping the toy in her teeth.  After finding me, Zeke excitedly ran back and forth between me and his handler, while Jenga – once she knew her handler could see us – stayed close as if to protect me.

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My hero, Kobuk.

There are many ways to enjoy CSF (one of my favorite spots in Brunswick). Helping MESARD provided a new way to enjoy this special place while also giving me the opportunity to meet new individuals (two-footed and four-pawed). MESARD does important work and regularly assists the Warden Service during search and rescue operations. It makes me happy that the Land Trust can provide the venue for these training sessions. So if you see a vest-clad dog off-leash** in the woods at CSF, don’t distract them from their important work!

My hero, Jenga.

My hero, Jenga.

**Please note that these dogs have special permission to be off-leash at CSF for training purposes only.

Pumpkins for Pigs!

This year you can put your left over Halloween pumpkins to good use!

Bring your pumpkins (preferably not rotten, but some soft spots are okay) to the square bin in the driveway at Crystal Spring Farm and they will become food for the resident pigs.

Pigs love to eat pumpkins, and they are good for them too! Carved, uncarved, smashed, any color – the pigs will eat them!

Support a local farmer.

Questions? contact Kristen Pearson at doublehpigranch@gmail.com or 507-261-5098

Click here for the flier: Pumpkins for Pigs

Labyrinth in the Woods is about to become a reality!

While the sight of a bobcat entering the woods of Crystal Spring Farm (CSF) would typically be of interest to wildlife watchers, the motorized Bobcat that will soon enter the CSF woods might alarm some watchers of the land. Fear not! It’s a sign that our Labyrinth in the Woods is about to become a reality!

Site work is expected to begin on Friday, October 30 and continue for several weeks.

In collaboration with First Parish Church of Brunswick, we are building the newest community resource – a labyrinth in a natural setting that is open to all. It will be located a short distance off the Garden Trail, in between the Community Garden and the Main Loop. Nestled in the woods, the 7-circuit labyrinth will occupy a 50-foot diameter circle and be constructed of granite paving stones and natural mulch.

Proposed Labyrinth Location_AerialA labyrinth is not a maze.  Mazes have dead ends and are designed to confuse. Labyrinths offer a single path whose course winds back and forth within the bounds of a circle, ultimately leading to the center. Walking the path of a labyrinth is a longstanding practice of relaxation, prayer, or meditation in many cultures and religions.

Labyrinth at UNE that is similar to the one being built at CSF

Labyrinth at University of New England that is similar to the one being built at CSF

Linkel Construction /Cosmic Stone of Topsham is building our labyrinth. Several years ago, they did a spectacular job of installing Clay Brook bridge on the Cathance River Trail in Topsham, remarkably managing to place a 60-foot long bridge with almost no disturbance to the brook and surrounding forest.

In the coming weeks, visitors who access CSF trails from the Maurice Drive trailhead should use the Garden Trail with extra care, as equipment will be crossing the trail periodically. As always, dogs on the trail are expected to be leashed.

The Labyrinth in the Woods is being built in honor of Susan Fitzgerald, long-time Land Trust supporter and Children’s Education Director at First Parish Church. We are grateful for the partnership that brings this unique addition to our trail system and hope many will take advantage of this new community resource!

New Member Month Raffle Prize Goes To…

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…Margaret Gerber!

August was New Member Month at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and all month new members were given a raffle ticket for a $100 gift certificate to the Land Trust’s Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm. In early September, we drew the winning raffle ticket and we were thrilled to offer the prize to long-time volunteer Margaret Gerber. Gerber has worked both in the field and office on a wide array of Land Trust projects, and took advantage of the August New Member Month incentive to join the Land Trust as a first-time member.

With 1,000 current members, the Land Trust enjoys a broad base of community support. Since January, 90 new members have joined, and the organization is hoping to reach 1,100 members by the end of 2015. These members are the primary source of support for the Land Trust with its growing number of programs that connect people to their 2,300 acres of conserved land in Bowdoin, Brunswick, and Topsham.

The New Member Month raffle was held over five Saturday’s at the Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm. In those five weeks, the Land Trust welcomed 40 new members. Along with the many existing members who have renewed for 2015, we are well on the way to reaching their 2015 membership goal of 1,100.  If you would like to support the work of the Land Trust by becoming a member, go to www.btlt.org/membership

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Celebrates 30th Anniversary

This year the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust marks 30 years of conservation in the towns of Bowdoin, Brunswick, and Topsham, as well as the successful completion of its recent $7 million comprehensive fundraising campaign. The Land Trust  invites the community to come together for a BBQ Celebration at the Farmers’ Market Green at Crystal Spring Farm on September 19th.

Three decades of conservation started when a small group of neighbors came together to protect the traditional character of a coastal meadow in the Pennelleville neighborhood of Brunswick. From this beginning grew the community-minded Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

The Land Trust now plays an active role in the community, shaping the iconic landscapes and managing essential resources and programs that many can’t imagine living without. 30 years of conservation has included the creation of miles of trail, an array of educational and collaborative programs, creation of a vibrant farmers market and community garden, protection of thousands of acres of open space, working land, and habitat, and so much more.

Jan Bodwell of Brunswick was the Land Trust’s first president, and the person who got it all started by coordinating the protection of Pennellville Meadow in 1985. She said then, “I had no idea that one decision would compound into a local land trust…but our land trust is a victory for the people of Brunswick and Topsham [and, later, Bowdoin]. Through the trust, we can now protect our critical local lands with flexibility and creativity.” Upon the anniversary of the Land Trust, Bodwell said she was amazed by the number of people who support the Land Trust today. “I never envisioned this level of support at the start.”

Supporters of the Land Trust encompass a broad range of very engaged people.  Attendees of the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm (CSF) often express their gratitude for the opportunity to buy fresh, local food, connect with neighbors, and enjoy the beautiful farm setting.

Land Trust Board member and sheep farmer Tom Settlemire loves to remind people that the Farmers’ Market isn’t just about healthy, tasty food. “It is also a place,” says Settlemire, “for small farms and local businesses to grow their own business as well as the economy of our community.”

CSF is an ideal venue for the BBQ because the Land Trust’s protection of the farm has played such an  important role in the community. It provides a place for working agriculture and recreation very close to downtown; community resources such as trails, a community garden, the soon-to-be-built outdoor Labyrinth, and educational programs. It also protects  a cultural and historic asset as CSF was central to the region’s dairy farms in the early part of the 19th century.

“You can’t do conservation without caring about people,” says volunteer trail supervisor Gary Fogg. His keen eye and strong back have made many miles of Land Trust trails both sustainable on the landscape and accessible to a wide range of community members.

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust by the numbers:

1985 2015
17 acres – 1 property conserved 2,300 acres – 41 properties conserved
0 miles of trail 17 miles of trail
Land Trust celebrates raising $2,000 during annual fundraiser Land Trust celebrates completion of $7 million comprehensive campaign
86 contributing members Over 1,000 contributing members
1 paid staff (1988 – first Land Trust in Maine with a fulltime director) 4.3 FTE staff
0 Programs Leading 5 community programs and partnering on many others

There are those who support the Land Trust as a result of experiences on these trails. William (Joe) Nichols, a Brunswick resident near CSF said, “I enjoy having open space and farms near my home. I walk my dog on the trails almost every day.  I am thankful for the Land Trust and Crystal Spring Farm – they make my neighborhood and town better in every respect.” Nichols added that he likes to supplement his annual gift by sharing his beautiful photos of the trails for the Land Trust to use.

This kind of giving – community members coming together to share their skills and resources – has made the Land Trust the vibrant organization that it is today.

Bowdoin Professor of Economics, David Vail, says, “I really care about community vitality, and I’m convinced that the Land Trust is what makes Brunswick and Topsham such vital places to live.” There are trail volunteers, dedicated Board members, community partners, business donors, land owners, members and so many more who have been crucial to a successful 30 years of building community through conservation.

The Land Trust hopes that everyone will join in a celebration of community and conservation on September 19th. A BBQ meal will be catered by Mainely Catering, and activities include staff-led nature walks, music, as well as face painting, nature crafts and vegetable-car building for the kids,. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 5 years and up, and FREE for kids 4 years and under. To find out more about the BBQ Celebration RSVP, and view the full schedule for the event please visit www.btlt.org/events/celebrate or call (207) 729-7694.

 

August is New Member Month

August is New Member Month at the Land Trust!

Still waiting for just the right time to join the Land Trust? It’s now!

Already a steadfast member? We’re are so grateful for your support! This month, consider asking your friends, family and neighbors to join us too.

Our goal is to get one hundred new members in the month of August.

All new members that join will be given a raffle ticket for a chance to win gift certificates to the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

It is easy to join.  Just click this link to join online: www.btlt.org/membership or stop by the Land Trust booth on Saturday mornings in the center of the Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm.

If you value the Land Trust trails, Community Garden, Farmer’s Market, Young Explorers and our educational events, please consider reaching out to your friends and neighbors. We need your support to keep these programs alive and thriving. By helping us broaden our support, you’ll ensure that these cherished resources and programs are around for many more years to come.

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It Takes A Village

Clearing Pleasant Hill frontage of invasives and shrubs

Clearing Pleasant Hill frontage of invasives and shrubs

We spent a wonderful day recently tending our trails and properties with a small but mighty crew of volunteers who enjoy physical work. There’s something deeply gratifying about work that results in a more welcoming trail, a more beautiful roadside view, or a healthier natural community.

In the morning, equipped with come-a-longs, grass whips, hand saws, and loppers, we made the Cathance River Nature Preserve more welcoming to people (and in some cases, less appealing to ticks!).  Working in small groups, we mowed grassy sections of trail, removed potentially dangerous leaning trees, made signs more visible, removed tripping hazards from trails, and installed new signage.  Trails require constant attention!  Plants are attracted to empty spaces filled with light (a.k.a. trails), so keeping signs and blazes visible is a never-ending task. And, there is a slow but steady rain of trees and branches in the forest creating obstacles for our hikers.

Using the come-a-long to pull out invasives

Using the come-a-long to pull out invasives

In the afternoon, equipped with pickaxes and (again) the mighty come-a-long, a (mostly) different crew wrestled invasive shrubs along Crystal Spring Farm’s road frontage – to preserve the view and remove these unwanted invaders.  It was inspiring to see people working so hard for the benefit of the community.  Seth Kroeck, our tenant farmer, drove by to offer encouragement and the use of his flatbed truck to haul brush to the brush pile. This saved time and energy so we were able to get even more done. Thanks, Seth!

Just some of our work product for the day

Just some of our work product for the day

Land stewardship is not unlike the work of caring for a much loved family member or friend. On the surface, it appears that the benefit is all to the dependent.  But tending to a person, or in this case, a community resource, can be deeply satisfying to the caregiver. Maintaining landscapes and walking trails that enrich people’s lives every day is enriching in itself. And, new friends were made and all left with that tired but happy feeling that comes from an extremely productive day. A heartfelt thanks to all the volunteer ‘caretakers’ who really exerted themselves to keep our communities’ special places special!

 

In the news: Congolese gardener puts down roots in Brunswick

Enock Mukadi, 21, in his plot at the Land Trust’s Tom Settlemire Community Garden at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick (Walt Wuthmann photo)

BRUNSWICK — Enock Mukadi spent the first 20 years of his life in a town called Mwene Ditu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He spent the last year in Brunswick, where he has found a way to make sense of the change in the community garden at Crystal Spring Farm.As the sun beat down on Tuesday afternoon, Mukadi walked through his two plots at the garden, pointing out and identifying the vegetables he was growing.

“I have spinach, carrots, Chinese cabbage, potatoes, red onions,” he said. He used to grow collard greens, but they were eaten by beetles. He replaced them with kale, which seems to be faring better.

Mukadi gets his seeds from the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, which was set up four years ago by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. He is one of 70 people who farm the garden’s 82 plots.

Under a row of tomatoes, Mukadi sifts through the leaves and stalks, removing little beetles by hand and crushing them. Community garden “master gardener” Prentiss Weiss has taught him how to identify Maine pests, as well as organic ways to repel them, like using a spray made of Neem oil, a natural repellent.

That system is not 100 percent effective, however, so sometimes the beetles must be taken on in hand-to-hand combat.

“Some of these tomato plants, my English teacher gave me,” Mukadi said. Mukadi is about to finish classes at Merrymeeting Adult Education, and then start summer courses at Southern Maine Community College.

English is just one of the five languages Mukadi speaks; French, Swahili, Tshiluba, and Lingala are the others. He also says he has learned some Spanish and Thai from friends at Merrymeeting.

“Every time I start to learn a new language I get excited,” he said. He practices Spanish using an application on his phone, and described each language as a “new world.”

In this new world of Maine, there are some practical things that affect his gardening.

Mukadi said Maine’s windy days and cold temperatures have been a challenge for his vegetable growing.

He has insulated his potato plants with straw to keep the soil warm warm, and so far, it seems to be working. The plants stand knee high, with green leaves pushing up through their straw protection.

Even though the weather and pests are new, some of the vegetables he grows are not.

In another part of the garden, garden coordinator Corie Washow has set aside a plot for Mukadi to plant and experiment with African seedlings.

“We knew that Enock had brought some seeds from Africa and we had some open space,” she said.

Mukadi has started to grow winter squash, sorrel, amaranth, and African eggplant. “(The eggplant) is very bitter,” he said. “You need to cook it. You couldn’t eat it in a salad.”

Although Mukadi is the main caretaker of his plots, he said on Saturdays some of his brothers and sisters, as well as his mother, come out to help tend the plants. His sisters are making some signs about the vegetables so they can be “a kind education piece for the community,” Washow said.

Washow also said if the vegetables “take off,” the garden will save the seeds to grow again.

Mukadi said everything he grows will be quickly eaten by the 11 people in his family.

Mukadi has three brothers, and six sisters. They all moved to Brunswick last year after his father, who had been living in Portland for the past five years, found a house here.

“He tried to find a big house for a big family,” in Portland, Mukadi said. But he ended up finding one in Brunswick, near Cook’s Corner.

In the beginning Mukadi worried that wasn’t a good thing.

“At first we were all alone in that house,” he said. “We could see cars moving all around us, but no people.”

But now, Brunswick is a “community,” he said.

His siblings go to the local schools, and are always out in the neighborhood with friends, he said.

“Sometimes you have to leave things behind to go forward in life,” he said. “If you have ambitions, you need to sacrifice.”

Mukadi said he wants to get his bachelor’s degree, and then work for the United Nations, travelling and doing development work in countries like Congo.

“In Congo, things always change,” he said. “When presidents change, all things, like the military, change too.”

He said he has found peace in Maine, where the economy is “stable.” “Maine is good for me, I like a quiet place,” he said.

Looking down at this African eggplant sprouting from the soil, Mukadi said he didn’t initially think that his African seedlings would grow at all.

“Coming from this very hot place to this world that’s not very hot, a place that’s very strange, cold, and windy … I thought they would not come out,” he said.

But they have, “and they don’t complain about the weather,” he added.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net.

Annual Meeting Highlights Success

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust held its annual meeting on Tuesday July 23rd at the Topsham-Public Library. The meeting was well-attended as there was much to celebrate! This year marks the Land Trust’s 30th anniversary, and June 30th marks the end of the “Strengthening Our Community Through Conservation” capital campaign.

 

jay speaking

Jay Espy (Jym St Pierre photo)

Jay Espy, executive director of the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, former executive director of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and guest speaker for the event, spoke about the Evolving Land Conservation Movement. Participants at the meeting traveled through Maine’s history and landscapes as Espy described conservation milestones starting from early in the twentieth century (Acadia, Baxter State Park) and continuing through more recent conservation achievements that enrich local Maine communities through healthy ecosystems, lifestyles and economies.

 

Board member Tom Settlemire described the role that the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has played in this community-centric conservation movement during the last thirty years. What started as preservation of a meadow has evolved into an organization that protects and stewards thousands of acres, is supported by more than 1000 member-households, and fosters continued appreciation of the natural environment and land-based culture through many programs and events (50 in 2014!)

 

angela and jack

Jack Aley & Angela Twitchell (Jym St Pierre photo)

Founding board member and former Executive Director Jack Aley was honored with a plaque, a painting, and a conference room named after him in appreciation of his efforts during the first two decades of the Land Trust.

 

Treasurer Mary Johnson provided details of the Land Trust’s financial situation, summarized as “The organization is financially healthy and growing.”  Jerry Galleher presented the Nominating Committee’s recommendations, and five board members (whose terms were expiring) were reelected. There were no changes to the Executive Committee.

 

We would like to express a heartfelt “Thank you!” to all who attended the meeting, to Jay Espy for an informative and inspiring speech, and to all who made this last year – and indeed the last thirty years – so successful.