Matt Nakamoto

It’s summertime and the walking is easements. Okay, that’s a sorry mauling of an old lyric, but yesterday’s woods-walking (and a few small remaining burr-claws) call it up. For those of us affiliated with the Brunswick Conservation Commission, high summer is a time to get outside and see how some of the town’s conservation easements are faring.

A conservation easement, in short, is a binding contract between a landowner and a legal entity, typically a town or a land trust, that protects land in its natural state. Such conserved lands may (or may not) have trails and be open to visits from people. Each easement has its own language and conditions, and while the easement is a public document, the land is not owned by the public. But mostly, the eased lands will be allowed to grow and evolve naturally for as long as the easement lasts. Which is, typically, forever.

A little before 9:00 a.m. on a showery, humid morning, I pull over to the side of Rossmore Road and switch off the engine. I’ve left my windows down, and after a 10-second grace period, the mosquitoes arrive. I swear softly, flick the car back on and roll up the windows, all the while flailing ineffectually at my new companions. I give some blood and take some lives. Summer’s gift exchange.

A few minutes later two more vehicles arrive, and we all (4 of us) emerge, looking in our masks like misbegotten banditry. Matt, a Bowdoin senior-to-be and the Planning Department’s summer fellow, has the easement map, with protected land colored in yellow. Matt, Brunswick Assistant Town Engineer, has a pole-mounted GPS, with which we hope to delineate easement boundaries. (In the past, we have had to guess our way along defining lines, using maps and descriptors.) Jared, Brunswick Town Planner, has with him the easement’s language and a fine eye for what he walks.

Every time I walk a boundary line or visit a stream with Jared, I learn something. A little later today, I’ll get introduced to patches of gold thread, whose root system offers — it’s said — a curative. Sure enough, when tugged out, the roots do mimic gold thread. “That patch would get you 5 bucks,” says Jared.

We confer at appropriate distance, and while we do, a car pulls up, and two men get out. “You the easement fellows?” they ask. We ‘fess up. “I live right up there,” says one, pointing to a nearby farmhouse atop a sweep of mown land.

By custom and law, landowners adjacent to an easement get notified when an easement will be checked, and on occasion one or two will show up with a question, or simply to come along on the walk. Our two new companions guide us across part of the field to a stone “monument” (really a foot-high piece of granite) that marks a corner of the easement. It seems that their hope was that we’d be checking property boundaries, but we are instead trying to track where owned land becomes saved land (even as it is still owned).

We set off north into the woods with our escort of mosquitoes. I’m also sure that I look like a mobile fast-food franchise to any ticks around. We are in search of “pins.” These pins are markers, sometimes metal, sometimes wood, pounded into the ground, and, we hope, often flagged by orange or pink tape. Every pin we find becomes — we hope further — a point on Matt’s GPS device, which he deploys atop a sheathed pole some 15 feet tall. It blinks like some midget UFO up near the first leaves. And most of the time, Matt gets a reading. “Here’s where you are…exactly…” it might say, in whatever language the GPS-beings speak.

What, beside pins, are we looking for? Typically easements begin adjacent to yards and sheds behind someone’s house, and our other mission is to see that the woods and fields of the easement are left unused. So, for example, we shouldn’t come across piles of yard waste, or piles of firewood, or out-buildings on the eased land.

Here, misunderstanding sometime flares. “But no one is using it,” said one annoyed homeowner. Or, “it’s no one’s land; it’s public,” said another. “Yes,” we reply patiently, “it is unused. That’s the point. That’s the contract.” And, “we (including you) are the public. But that

doesn’t mean we can simply dump our stuff anywhere in public.”

Mostly, however, we walk and find land slowly becoming it-self. And we find sign of passage from all sorts of other “citizens,” the four-footers and crawlers and hoppers who live and thrive on “unused” land. Three hours later, when Matt and Matt and Jared and I emerge a little bitten and semi-soaked, we’re also a little changed.

I think often, as I walk local easement woods, that the term is well chosen. In them, the hurry of everyday life eases, slows to the pace of patience and the long work of becoming yourself.

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]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: