May is our expansive month. Leaves unfurl, waters warm, our woods are flecked with flowers at our feet. Perhaps no bloom says better, “It’s time to walk” than the lady’s-slipper, or moccasin flower. This foot- (and heart-) shaped blossom is our native orchid, and, where our woods are undisturbed, it can be legion. Brunswick’s Town Commons, with its 300-year legacy of being “saved” land, offers these wild orchids by the tens; sometimes during a walk I can count hundreds. 

I thought of this the other night, when I was taken for a filmic walk in those Commons. Created by co-directors Ania Johnston and Josh Flanagan and other students from Brunswick High School’s Film Department, Uncommon Ground, pays lyrical tribute to this core of our town. Settled back among 200 others in the school’s Crooker Theater, I followed the film down familiar trails, and paused with it for appreciative close-ups of pines and ferns and mosses. It was all enlivening and soothing. 

Among the film’s many gifts were its subtle and sensitive soundtrack composed by Asa Meyer Waldo and its clear narration by Wyeth Tobey. Both “voices” deepened my sense of this land I already know well from hundreds of foot-forays there. 

Then we lifted off, soaring over the mix of conifers and deciduous trees via drone and camera; from above the treetops, we could see all the way to a glimpse of sea, I could see this town heartland in context. And we could see how central it is to our area. 

Back on the ground…and now in the dark…we got a wild gift. Two students, Ben Wilson and Scout Masse, had set up research with a wildlife-cam in the middle of the commons, and we got to see some of that cam’s gleaning. There, up close, were familiar deer, a fox (perhaps the one that ran through our yard during a recent snow), and then the less familiar but dramatic resident coyote. The researchers had found others too, among them the fisher cat, a 10-pound study in stealth and ferocity. Our Commons is a home to the wild indeed. 

Brunswick resident Jym St. Pierre followed the film with a compressed history of our Commons, from its thousand-acre inception in 1719 to its current iteration of the 71-acre core shown in the film. St. Pierre also noted that, in the aftermath of the naval air base’s closing, our common lands are also growing again — see the nearly 600-acre Kate Furbish preserve on the old navy property. It fits with the stories of collaboration (and those of occasional frustration) that St. Pierre has uncovered in his telling of the long history of our Commons. St. Pierre also mentioned that Henry Thoreau had stopped through Brunswick in 1838, and that perhaps he had been made aware of our Commons. 


That reference put me in mind of another collaborative conservation story I know well. On Sunday, May 5th, at 2:00 p.m. at Curtis Memorial Library, local author, Lucille Stott, will give a presentation from her recent book, The Saving of Thoreau Farm — How Citizens Rallied to Bring Henry Out of the Woods. I mention this talk because it joins the story of our Commons as a triumph of common cause by unlikely allies, who, together, do what none could do separately. These citizens don’t all hold the same beliefs, vote the same way, or agree always on what should be preserved and what used. But they listen to each other, and they share a belief that Henry David Thoreau’s birthplace deserves its permanent place in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. They believe also that we —citizens — do our best work as a collective. 

That collective was on inspiring display on April 24th in Crooker Theater. Our Commons is in good young and old hands. As noted in earlier columns, town celebration of those Commons’ 300th birthday stretches through the spring, with a day-long schedule of events slated for May 19th. Those events are listed on Brunswick’s town website, and all of us who value these remarkable lands hope you will join the celebration. 

On the same day, St. Pierre’s deeply researched history of our Commons will be officially unveiled on story-boards at the Pejepscot Historical Society, and I urge you to check for more showings of Uncommon Ground. Both will bring you the touch of story and spirit that helps keep our Commons alive. 

Go too for a spring flower-walk in the Commons, where the lady’s slippers will last into June. Our Maine slippers are four: Yellow, Ram’s Head, Showy and, by far the most common, Pink. I’ve found a Yellow and a Showy while off trail during springs past, but no Ram’s Head…yet. It is a globally imperiled plant, and so a rare one in Maine too. But I feel welcomed annually by the many pinks that crowd right up to the paths. They’ll welcome you too. 

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident and chair of the town’s Conservation Commission. 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; Tantor Media released an audio version of the book in February, 2019. He may be reached at [email protected]. 

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