The view from Woodward Point Contributed image

I’m not sure what the current equivalent is, but a while ago, one of the ways to signal interest in someone was to make that person a “mixtape.” Said tape comprised a neighborhood of songs that you deemed special; it was the kind of ‘hood you wanted to hang out in, and the tape invited that someone to join you there. Mixtapes could range — depending on your tech-chops — from clunky to slick, but whatever their quality, they also offered exposure, sometimes breathtaking exposure. Yes, they were someone else’s words and chords, but, at a time of life when mute was much, they said a lot…about you…to some other. And sometimes that was scary.

So, having drawn that comparison, it is with some trepidation that I offer this short mixtape of moments from visits to nearby public lands, some common grounds I’d like to share. That seems a good way into and through the rising light of spring in a difficult year. When much is closed to us, many of these grounds are open.

Note: In parentheses I’ve put the group or groups who hold easements or titles that keep open and help maintain these common grounds.

Pennellville (Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, Town) — Aging March, 2020: everything’s strange — day rhythms, trips to town, social absence — except, if I stay present in it, this field-rich, big-sky world on foot. Spring’s early, and, just before the equinox, I’m noting this little pond’s slight settling and the way green grass-tips have begun to seek the sun. All winter, I’ve passed and repassed its gray ice, one usual day after another; suddenly it too has shifted, all dark liquid, and it murmurs in passage as it scoots through a culvert beneath the cracked tarmac, making for the sea. Time to move, it seems to say, yes, time to stir. Time to make the world anew. Water, the optimist’s elixir.

Town Commons (Town) — Spring, first day — cool and gray, fog caught in the pines. Trails soft from the night’s rain and the final melt of remnant ice. It is a perfect day to go to the Commons, though after over an hour there, it seems I’m the only one thinking this. The Uncommons, then. Still, scuffed leaves and mud indents tell me others have been here too.

Running or walking out on days like these feels especially…sane, odd, important, transgressive? How does it feel? Like “return” keeps flashing to mind. Return to the recognizable, to a constant, to grounds steady enough to support the passages of this day…like any other. The remnant stone walls, the occasional cellar hole, the woods-road lined with big trees but grassy still in its middle — all these point back to the ways people crossed and stayed on this land. To the way they weathered whatever crossed their days, creased their brows, and kept on.

Woodward Point (Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Brunswick Topsham Land Trust) — On a cold, sunny day not long after the equinox rolled through, two of us drove over to Woodward Point in separate cars. It seemed an ideal day to meet the Point again — cloudless, ground firmed by the night’s frost, grasses still lying low.

We set out on what I call the 3-prong walk: first, west across the dam and then right along the forest path to Woodward Cove where it thins toward marsh; then, back along that path and over the open half-mile of the west peninsula and back via detour to the Bullpen inlet; finally, back across the dam and then south to the tip of the east peninsula. All in all, we walked for over an hour, with points of idle at each meeting with the sea. We were in the presence of 25 or 30 other appropriately-distanced citizens, walking often in spread clumps of 3 or 5.

The water put on the day’s main show. At this time of year, our water impersonates Caribbean kin, taking on an aqua color and showing off its transparency. Summer’s silts and blooms are forgotten, or pushed off into the future, and our cold water gleams and glistens and admits vision. It also brings on swimmer’s ache to be immersed, though even a finger dip into it tells just how cold it is, still.

Mere Brook Gully (near Bowdoin College’s X-C Course)

I am deeply dependent on foot-motion (which can, of course, create difficulty when I’m hobbled), but that dependency also asks that I consider closely balance, in motion and out. And one way of doing this is to practice forms of not moving, meditations of sorts. For this, I’ve found no better place than a nearby gully, which ushers Mere Brook along its way to the sea. At this point, early in its sometimes tormented course, the brook has burrowed through the glacial sands some twenty feet down. A trail ambles along this cut, and its walkers are, for perhaps 100 yards, down in the earth too. Part way along this path, the brook bends to it, undercutting a nonetheless sturdy, small hemlock, whose rootworks shunt the brook back to a wider channel of manilla sand.

Here, the water is clear, and its flow has gouged a pool down to a hint white sand. I like to join the hemlock, stepping out onto and feeling the flex of its roots above this small pool; I can see directly down into it, and, sometimes, after some time, a fish will appear. A boyhood spent in brooks tells me the fish is a brook trout, and it fins in place facing the flow. We are watching the water come on, even as we are going nowhere, and this mix of stillness and motion says, for me, meditation, which I take to be a peaceful mindflow. Perhaps even one with companion fish in it.

How long have I been down-gully? Hard to know without the watch I left behind.

Here is a link to the Brunswick Outdoors map, where you can plan your own mixtape: https://www.btlt.org/brunswick-outdoors/

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 [email protected]

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