Welcome to our Summer Interns & Fellow!

Jane Olsen

Hello! My name is Jane, and I’m interning at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust for the summer of 2022. I am so excited to join this wonderful community.

I am going into my Junior Year at Bowdoin College, pursuing a dual-degree in English and Government and Legal Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies. This past semester I wrote a column for The Bowdoin Orient called A Moment in Maine. After months of exploring the natural beauty around campus, I have come to admire all of the work that the Land Trust does to support this community and am so excited to be a part of this team.

I am from New York City and have always been passionate about strengthening community ties and am looking forward to bringing this passion for community support to my work this summer in Maine. Despite my urban upbringing, I have always loved spending time in nature. Since coming to Bowdoin, I have enjoyed bike rides around campus and venturing out for longer hikes.

This summer, I will be assisting with projects at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, primarily supporting the work of the Common Good Garden and the New Mainers garden. I will also be cultivating a plot of my own! I am excited to get to know the plot holders, volunteers and all of the other friends of the Land Trust. Along these lines, I will be compiling a series of profiles of the plot holders to highlight the wonderful people at the garden.

I am thrilled to be working with the Land Trust this summer and looking forward to seeing you all in the Community Garden, at the BTLT Farmers’ Market, or out on the trails!

Cora Spelke

Hello BTLT community! My name is Cora Spelke and I am interning at the Land Trust for the 2022 summer. I am super excited to work with such an incredible group of people that does such amazing work for our community.

I am a rising sophomore at Amherst College in Massachussetts, but I grew up in Topsham and graduated from Mt. Ararat in 2021. I am undecided on my major but I am planning on majoring in math and am also interested in statistics, computer science, and environmental studies. Growing up in this area I was lucky to have so many great trails and outdoor opportunities close by, and I am excited to help the BTLT continue their amazing work.

This summer I will be doing a mix of office work and outdoor work. Outside, I will be helping Jane in the community gardens as well as various outdoor projects on the trails. Inside I will be helping with reaccreditation, learning about non-profits and any other help that is needed around the office.

I look forward to this summer and working with the entire BTLT community!

Megan Leach

Megan Leach is a graduate student at the University of Maine, Orono. She’s a student in the Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology (WFCB) department and a trainee in the University of Maine’s National Research Traineeship (NRT) program in Conservation Science, funded by the National Science Foundation. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Botany option from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, as well as a masters in Ecology and Environmental Science from the University of Maine, Orono. During her masters, Megan studied pollinator behavior and conservation practices. She then went on to teach high school science in Jackman, Maine and work as a curriculum coordinator for the educational non-profit Rural Aspirations. She decided to go back to school to learn how to combine her experience in biophysical research and education for conservation, which led her to her current position in WFCB and the Conservation NRT at the University of Maine.

Her research focuses broadly on human dimensions of natural resource conservation and applying social science theories to resource management issues. Her research focuses on Maine’s vernal pool conservation efforts and the Vernal Pool Special Area Management Plan (VP SAMP). She is working to understand the challenges and opportunities this conservation tool provides for municipalities and conservation organizations and develop tools that make it easier to adopt and apply. She is working with Brunswick-Topsham Land trust to understand how the VP SAMP conservation criteria will affect vernal pool conservation in the town of Topsham and learn more about private landowner perceptions in the community.

Woodward Cove Trail Opens Up

By Connor Rockett

A little over two weeks ago, the land stewards from BTLT and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust completed a new trail for public use at the Woodward Cove property, located on Gurnet Road in Brunswick. After multiple scouting visits and a surprise discovery of some (very large) poison ivy patches, we cut a winding, lollipop-shaped route just under a mile long. A relatively short trail featuring gentle hills, an upturned rootmass, and apple trees, it is a wonderful spot to spend a few moments in peaceful reflection or to stretch the legs and get some fresh air after a long day.  All of us at the Land Trust are glad to see this trail open to the community and we hope you will enjoy it!

As I mentioned earlier, the unexpected appearance of poison ivy posed some problems. After having scouted and flagged an initial route, Margaret and I returned a week before the planned start of trail cutting only to find that an expansive patch had sprung up. It was unclear whether we would be able to build the trail. In what ended up being a great example of the creative problem solving involved in stewardship work, we devised a new route that included the interesting features of the property, all while avoiding sensitive wetland areas and the poison ivy.

The problem solving process was simple but effective: people observing, thinking, and communicating to find a better route. All that it entailed was 5 of us working on the ground, weighing options, relying on past experiences, and envisioning alternatives. That collaborative creativity allowed us to avoid the poison ivy, without having to resort to using costly and disruptive herbicides. It was place-based problem solving for community wellness in action (wooh!). So that being said, the next time you’re out on the Woodward Cove trail, hopefully you’ll be reminded of just how much can be accomplished by a small group of ordinary people with a common goal in mind!

Connecting to the land at the Community Garden

By Connor Rockett

I ended my last post talking about the importance of hands-on interaction with the land. It was this type of engagement with nature, which was built into the lives of our ancestors through farming and a deeper, less transient connection to place, that caused them to understand their dependence on the land and the meaning of a healthy, thoughtful relationship with it. That they articulated the importance of this relationship through their cultural production demonstrates that their ideas about nature were authentic and valuable and that our modern willingness to manipulate and degrade nature for the sake of production at all costs should not be taken for granted or seen as the way we have always operated with respect to our environment.

Since our industrial economy has alienated us from the land and told us that we can live above nature, we have largely forgotten how to relate to our surroundings in a way that is healthy and long-lasting. Alienation from the land, the fact that, for many of us, our way of living is (seemingly) separated from it, has made us blind to our dependence on it. Only through the observed and looming environmental catastrophes have more and more of us started to recognize that ecosystemic health cannot be wholly divorced from human health; that the two are linked in a complex relationship. But if, in the industrial economy, it takes loss of life and untold suffering to recognize this dependence, then it is already too late and we cannot say that we have a way to live, in the sense of staying alive. We have to build a different economy that causes us to live in accordance with this dependence. Such an economy will both nourish our bodies and spirits and allow us to survive on Earth.

The theme of building that land-friendly economy has been the focus of the last two blog posts and that is what I am leading up to in this one. Since the vast majority of us do not have an attentive engagement with the land, as our ancestors did, we struggle to understand it and to feel connected to it. Relearning this understanding of the land and reconnecting to it are, in my opinion, important for us collectively to be able to envision how a land-friendly economy should function and to know why we should have one. When many of us have the necessary understanding of and connection to the land, we can move towards a land-friendly economy as a community. Since no single one of us is able to, or should, decide on how to reshape our way of living, efforts to spread understanding and connection to the land are the basis for democratic, community-wide action to build a land-friendly economy.

I was lucky to contribute to the Land Trust’s efforts to foster hands-on understanding and affection for the land this week at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden when working with volunteers from Apogee Adventures. The volunteers and staff from BTLT divided up to tackle various tasks at the garden. I worked with two volunteers and, while we were weeding the strawberry rows, one of them said “I’m glad to be getting my hands dirty, it feels like I’m actually doing something.” That experience of investment and fulfillment in working the garden is just the type of engagement that will be the basis for orienting communities towards a more land-friendly way of life. It was clear from the vibrant and flourishing plots throughout the garden that those who work them have invested a great deal of love and care into them. Again, that is the type of interaction with the land, both educational and loving, that is needed to deepen our connection to it and I’m so glad to see that happening at the community garden.

Solving Problems

By Connor Rockett

I spent this past week working with the four members of the Regional Field Team – a group of land stewards based out of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust who spend a week at a time helping different land trusts in the area tackle projects. In just four days together, we built a new trail at Woodward Cove (which you should go visit!) and mapped invasive plants at Crystal Spring Farm. These two projects were significant tasks but the RFT had an incredible work ethic and we completely finished both of them.

Working as a team provided the opportunity to discuss different viewpoints and problem-solving approaches. It was important for me to see how the RFT stewards work and to learn from their experience with trail-building. All in all, the exchange of ideas and the insights they brought to our daily tasks made for a rich learning experience in stewardship and problem-solving generally. It was inspiring to be working with such a dedicated, thoughtful crew. I’m sure they will go on to make important contributions in environmental protection.

Speaking of problem-solving, last week I asked “what would a land-friendly economy look like?” One way to begin answering this question might be to think about which structural, systemic features it would not have. Working from the lessons we’ve learned about the negative effects of our industrial economy on the environment (and, therefore, our health) and tracing those effects back to their causes, we should be better able to define a land-friendly economy. From this negative, exclusionary start to our definition, the positive, creative process of defining a land-friendly economy will be more manageable. Having determined which aspects it could not have, we will have a place to start thinking about the institutions and forms of economic life that will replace the environmentally destructive ones.

What’s more, that positive process can also be informed by our past. Using the environmental ideas that have been transmitted throughout our cultural history as well as those that come from elsewhere, we can reflect on and re-learn the attitudes that helped our ancestors to have a closer relationship with nature. In connection with those attitudes, we should also think about the economies and societies that fostered them to see aspects of past ways of life that might be included or, more likely, modified in our way of living in the future. Without romanticizing our past or elevating one culture over another, we can still learn from the thoughts and practices of our ancestors to be better prepared to come closer to nature. Implicit in this approach is a critical attitude towards the notion of “progress.”

Finally, the ingenuity and problem solving of people like you, me, and the members of the RFT – people who seek an attentive understanding of the land and how we relate to it – will be another crucial element in constructing a land-friendly economy. Going out and building a trail or mapping invasive plants or tending a plot at the community garden, getting hands-on experience with the environment teaches us how to solve problems related to it and, ultimately, what our relationship should be with it. By doing this kind of work, we understand the land, where we fit in the pattern of it all, and what a healthy degree of give and take looks like between us and our surroundings. These were the types of experiences that, when they were shared across the community, helped our ancestors to develop complex, subtle theories of our place within nature. While studying and relating to those ideas in a second-hand way, whether they are contained in sutras or parables or oral traditions, is useful, it should also push us to acquire that wisdom through our own experiential learning. With that wisdom, we can better determine how our economy should be structured and how we should live.

Volunteer Connections

By Connor Rockett

On Monday, Margaret and I headed out with two volunteers to assess a bridge at the Skolfield Preserve. It was great to connect with the volunteers, who were enthusiastic about the work of the Land Trust and environmentalism in general, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about society and its relationship with the natural world. At the start of our visit to the preserve, one of the volunteers said to me “You see,Connor, the more you do this kind of work, the more you see that everything is connected.” I told him he had an ecologist’s perspective and was glad to hear him share this idea, which is at the heart of so much thinking on the environment and on approaches to reshaping our relationship to it. From there, I knew we had similar interests and on the way back from the visit we began discussing them. We touched on quite a few issues, from the environmental and social consequences of industrial farming carried out by state planners, to the relevance of Karl Marx’s ideas about the influence of wealth on democracies and the distribution of power. Pretty heavy stuff!

As we were wrapping up, one of the final comments the volunteer made was, “I’m attracted to Marx’s idea that, of all the things that influence human societies, the economy is a big one.” Without making any particular claims about the final importance of the economy over any other factor in shaping our actions, this to me is an important insight for solving the environmental problems we face today. If our behaviors are destroying the natural world, then we should reflect on the determinants of those behaviors (in the example offered by the volunteer, one of the most important determinants being the economy) and how we might go about changing those determinants in order to produce healthier behaviors across our society. The question to think about is then how do we transition to an economy that is conducive to environmental sustainability, that causes us to have a closer, healthier relationship to the natural world? What would this economy look like? This is certainly nothing new, plenty of environmental thinkers have made arguments about these ideas in the past but I too am convinced of the importance of developing a land-friendly economy (as well as other cultural, social, and political forms) whose structural influences will help us to live in greater harmony with our surroundings and in better health. It was from the conversation with the volunteer that I started thinking more about the importance of a land-friendly economy.

Having these discussions and being in the community of environmentally conscious people at the Land Trust have been wonderful aspects of this job. It’s uplifting to be around people who are thinking seriously about how we can get from where we are to where we want to be, with respect to the environment, right here in Brunswick. I’m glad and thankful to be connected with and learning from those people. Ultimately, the more of us that connect over these ideas and goals, the sooner we’ll be able to make something happen!

Once we got back to the office, the volunteer said, “I’ve lectured too much!” For me, I could’ve spent the rest of the day listening to him and am looking forward to having more conversations like the one we had.