Mere Brook estuary Contributed photo

These days have — we all agree — been odd ones, and what passed for normalcy seems still a long way away, both past and future. A half-year before this new era arrived, I began a new notebook titled simply, “The Future Is Local.” I’m not often prescient, but here I seem to have been on that mark. The initial spur to the notes was my emerging sense that Mere Brook, our challenged, urban watercourse, would become a subject for my work and writing. I wanted to walk the brook and talk with fellow citizens to understand better what links each of us to these local waters and lands. As summer came on, after three days of brook-walking, extending my inquiry to the brook’s sea-end via kayak seemed a good choice too. So.

In mid-June, a sea breeze still has a little bite. The land heats in the morning sun and the air over the water takes notice. Hey, it seems to say, let’s go there, where the new season’s on, and sometime near noon, as a sea breeze, it does. But all that time spent lolling above 50-degree water has infused it with cold, made it the equivalent of a dog’s nose, which he is eager to share when just in from snuffling in the snow. O, we all say, Stay away, but breeze and dog both insist.

All that suggests going to protected waters for first paddle-forays, and on a trying-to-be-mild June day I drive to the public launch on Prince Point Road, just after it diverges (right) from Route 24 as it aims for Harpswell. When I arrive, two fishermen are dragging a raft off the concrete ramp; they head out, and I am the next (and only) one in line.

Paddlers who ply this area should pay attention to the tides, both for the appearance of mudflats, which, if one’s paddle is ill-timed, can leave one a long way from firm ground, and for the mid-tide-race beneath the bridge at the nearby Gurnet. What that all sums to is that high tide and the slack hour either side of it are best times to paddle there. If you would go, time your visit so that you ride the tide in and up; then, when it turns, ride it back out.

The Mere Brook estuary at the head of Harpswell Cove lies some 5 miles from the launch, but they are easy, protected miles. There, at head of tide, the brook meets the sea. This day offers a contemplative approach under gray skies, with wisps of fog caught in the big pines along the shoreline. After I turn north at the corner at Prince Point, I feel also the twin hands of tide and south wind ease me forward toward the taper in Harpswell Cove; where the trees begin to edge toward each other, the grassy estuary begins.

I’ve timed my visit to high tide (a modest 9-foot one), which should allow me to get near head of tide. The chart shows me that my way will be meandering, that I will cross this broad grassland back and forth between woodlands for over a mile. Also, I know that on the initial west bank lies the Kate Furbish Preserve (west), while the east bank mirrors it with Kate Furbish Preserve (east). On both banks, we have only begun to explore the wealth of woods and waters in this largest (591 acres) of conserved lands in Brunswick. In those woods Brunswick’s Parks and Recreation Department has been at work hewing trails. Early on, I can see where one trail I skied in January kisses the west bank above the grasses.

I’m greeted by a richness of birds — three egrets (one great and two snowy), a belted kingfisher, an osprey (annoyed), higher up, an eagle, and seemingly stationed every hundred or so yards, a sentinel great blue heron. From the woods, I hear the flute-song of the wood thrush and the percussion of the pileated woodpecker.

Small rafts of grass float up-tide with me as I veer with the water from east to west, and back, and forth. This flow and float suggest a slowest pace, and I accept it as the right one for this intermediate world. Why hurry?, the waters and grasses say. Why, indeed.

Life’s abundant richness in number and form where fresh and sea waters overlap is common wisdom, but that doesn’t mean life in this edge-land feels common. Here, in this estuary, drifting up on the last impulse of tide, I feel changed. Yes, I have some goals — explore, note, write — but that all recedes. And yes, the immediate world shows in places — two holes from the nearby golf course run down to the water, as does the hummocked field of leftover bunkers from naval munitions storage; I could follow those images back into the usual world.

But the birds, a large, unidentified fish lolling near the surface, the slow, winding waters, say, No, let it go. And I do.

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 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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