Contributed photo

This is the 5th in a series of pieces about Mere Brook, Brunswick’s urban stream. The town has a Maine DEP grant to plan for the brook’s improvement, with a goal of bringing it from “urban-impaired” status to Class B. Though the nearby Androscoggin is much larger and more famous, Mere Brook is truly of Brunswick. It is our aquatic bloodstream; it is the brook that runs through us.

It’s day two of a June 2020 brook-walk led by fluvial geomorphologist, John Field (JF). Field has been charged with assessing the shape and flow of Mere Brook, with an eye out for problem points and possible fixes. His report (which the planning committee received in early 2021) will break the brook into 17 “reaches,” sections that can be worked on, and to which various neighborhoods are attached.

Under lowering clouds and amid welts of mosquitoes, I’ve met JF at 9 a.m. in the Town Common parking area on Harpswell Road. JF and I have crossed the road and set about finding our way through the wire that defines the old naval air station, now the Landing, but 10 minutes of probing has gotten us only repeated views of tightly linked, barbed-wire-topped fence.

We relocate our cars a quarter-mile down road and find another locked gate. But after a perimeter walk along the fence for 50 yards, it becomes no fence at all. We’re in! We set out north along the perimeter road.

A decline signals arrival at the brook, where it burrows beneath the fence and into the old base. The brook flows quickly from its undersized double culvert, and into a densely vegetated, broad, shallow valley. Looking downstream, we see a wilderness scene. Immediately, the brook hooks left, vanishing then into a thicket of alders. JF sets off along its course, splashing through the mostly-clear water, over the firm sand. I begin bushwhacking down the south bank. Along one grass-banked stretch, I watch two fingerling trout.

By the time we converge again, JF has walked and I have whacked 50 more yards downstream, and we are immersed in this brookland, seemingly at distance from every other land. This, I think, is the magic of Mere Brook (and many other waterways): they go wild effortlessly and rapidly. “This is nice,” says JF, and, scuffles with alders aside, I have to agree.

The slope eases a degree or two, and the brook meanders. In the marshy areas, the skunk cabbage leaves are supersized, as if to say, “This is the muck! There is no better.” At one point I get into a thicket of honeysuckle so dense that, for some long moments I am held immobile; my feet are inches off the ground, my arms pinned. If there were a big spider in this density, I’d be webbed and done.

I have escaped the thicket and JF and I are together for a moment. “See that mudded-in stump,” he says. “The sediment it’s in shows us that this whole area was once a pond. We need to find out how that happened.”

A hundred yards downstream, we find that story’s scriptor. Here, the brook lies nearly inert amid a plain of alders and grass, and we see a huge, crushed-rock berm, but that’s not what ponded this plain. To our right is a 10-foot high, derelict beaver lodge, with grass thatching that looks like wild hair. Its wood is bleached, and it’s long abandoned, but once upon a water, before the Navy imposed the crushed-rock road-crossing downstream, this must have been a version of the beaver afterlife. “Take me there,” any beaver shown the scene would have said. “There.”

It begins to rain, the dimpled drop-circles spreading over the water as it languishes beneath the high bank through which two large culverts are punched. We have reached the vanishing, the point where Mere Brook flows into the three tunnels of darkness for its 3/4-mile-passage beneath the runways.

As befits the dark passages ahead, we have have also reached the oddscape of rumor and question that asks just what happens and has happened in and around these long tubes of night.

Barred by a new wire-topped fence, dampened by now steady rain, JF decides to call it a day. We begin our trek back along flat, sandy access roads; here and there, an abandoned building sits at the end of a driveway. We’re in the ghost-base now, the part that’s not yet been figured into the always-question: what’s next?

What’s next for us is a dowsing. The rain comes now in a straight fall that squeezes out the air between strands. I couldn’t be wetter if I’d rolled in the brook.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick 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. He may be reached at [email protected]

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