Each spring, I wait for the emergence of our native orchid, the lady’s-slipper. (Maine’s slippers come in four varieties, the most common of which is the pink lady’s-slipper.) In particular, I watch a nearby spot of leafy duff a few feet from a usual oak, and each year (so far), last fall’s leaves get elbowed aside and the flower’s green leaves rise and spread some degrees around a central stalk that then grows straight up. The white bud to become the pink slipper rides the stalk.

A lady’s-flipper flower grows in the author’s yard. Sandy Stott photo

This year, in mid-May (same as last), two pink slippers began their ascent into the lit world; one rose slotted precisely through a hole in an old oak-leaf, which served to bundle the leaves. Still, the stalk nosed up between them, the bud appeared, and yesterday, the slipper arrived, still a shy pale white, hiding its pink tones. I admired it for some minutes; I also tore off the oak-leaf collar to allow springy expansion.

This is an everyday miracle for our woodlands, a sort of exhalation after a winter of held breath, and I find it impossible to not feel lifted by it, buoyed slightly with my own spring.

They are rare enough to merit this request by Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry: “Lady’s-slippers require highly specific habitats in order to grow, thus collecting lady’s-slippers, even the common ones, is discouraged.” Still, to our south in the Town Common, some of the woods grow rife with these rising slippers, and they will occupy my peripheral vision as I walk or shuffle my daily miles there. Counting slippers, imagining the pulse that sends them up, is a favorite spring tic.

May 23 flower count: 93 lady’s-slippers (92 pink and 1 white variation); 10 painted trilliums.

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A second spring thought: Along with being a vein of wildness running through us, one of Mere Brook’s principal gifts to Brunswick is its management of stormwater, which flows from our roofs, roads and parking lots.

A rainstorm on May 1 dropped 4.16 inches of rain on a National Weather Service measuring site in south Brunswick. Other unofficial measurements in town read over 5 inches. A lot of water.

A little earlier, town planners and those of us on the Steering Committee for the improvement of Mere/Mare Brook received a report from GEI, a consulting firm hired with grant money to assess the hydraulics and hydrology of the brook. GEI’s report would help inform initial steps to improve the brook’s flow and general health; culverts, with their damming and sluicing effects, were featured in their report.

During an hour-plus-long, science-rich and water-clear presentation, we heard reports from fields studies that allowed GEI to predict how Mere/Mare Brook would handle runoff from heavy rainstorms; the modeling considered two-year, 10-year and 25-year storms. Conveniently, a two-year storm had arrived with 2.5 inches of rain during the data collection phase; pleasingly, the measurements from the real storm matched very closely those predicted by the model. We had a model that we could use for planning.

“What,” I wondered as the rain on May 1 sheeted down, “will Mere Brook be doing and feeling with all this rain?” As the rain waned, I stepped out to see. So, too, I learned a little later, did nearby resident Chris Baldwin, engineer for our Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District. Baldwin will design some upcoming culvert improvements for the brook.

While we didn’t have the equipment to measure depth and flow à la GEI’s earlier study, we could eyeball points of concern along the way. Separately, both of us went to see the dam at Coffin Ice Pond. Both of us felt good to see that the dam (in need of some reimagining and work in the near future) was handling the runoff from what turned out to be a 10-year storm. That seemed true also along some other stretches prone to flooding or scouring when the waters rise quickly. But there were also places where the pinch of too-small culverts caused or promised trouble.

The first phase of brook improvement projects — upon which Steering Committee member David Page and I will report — gets started with some culvert replacements later this year. That we have GEI’s modeling to guide us is good news. And it also suggests that we deepen that modeling to imagine 50-year and 100-year storms as we work toward Mere/Mare Brook’s future flow. Both our wildness and our storm resilience rely on it.

Community note

On June 6, at Town Hall’s Council Chambers or via Zoom, Brunswick and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust will co-sponsor a yardscaping workshop offered by Ali Clift of the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District. The workshop is free (though reservation is requested), and Clift will help us learn and imagine how our yards can be configured and kept healthy without heavy reliance on chemicals and pesticides that both undermine soil health and harm our watersheds. Sign up at cumberlandswcd.org/conservation-shop/p/spring-yardscaping-series.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chairperson 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 fsandystott@gmail.com.

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