2018-04-13 / Opinion

A Bridge to Gratitude

(in Brunswick’s Greater Town Commons)

A BRIDGE crosses a small swamp in Brunswick’s Greater Town Commons. 
SANDY STOTT PHOTO A BRIDGE crosses a small swamp in Brunswick’s Greater Town Commons. SANDY STOTT PHOTO Your Land

When (if ever) the snows recede and the woods open, many of us go first to our favorite trails. It is a sort of reunion with one’s outdoor self and all the walks and runs that have shaped him or her. Just so on a sunny, though still cold, early April day, when I am bound over soft ground and lingering snow-crust for the Town Commons.

On May 8, this gift of public, conserved land will celebrate its 299th birthday. Slimmed markedly from its original 1000-acre girth in 1719, the 71-acre Commons and its companion Greater Town Commons to the immediate north and south still check in at nearly 200 acres of forested, trail-rich land near Brunswick’s center. It is easy to be a central town citizen and still reach the trails to these Commons without needing a car. Or one can take a short ride to the parking and picnic area a few miles down Harpswell Road. For a guide to these Commons, I recommend a trails map created by the town and its Town Commons Committee.

After hundreds of forays into and through these Commons, my map is in my head, and today I’m headed for a favorite spur trail, noted as a “tertiary trail” on the map mentioned above. What woods-walker doesn’t want to get away from the daily babble into less populated third-choice areas?

Not far beyond the south end of the Commons proper, a thin trail diverges right and then follows a slight ridge as it loops west away from before turning back to the main north-south trunk. The trail’s midsection drops a few feet to one of the myriad wetlands that speckle the Greater Commons. There, the tea-colored water draining from a slightly higher wetland to the west flows slowly through the tufted grasses and high-bush blueberries that rise from the general swamp. There’s enough water in most seasons to stop all but the most muck-happy walkers and runners, and so this roughly half-mile loop depends upon a crossing that must be conjured.

But the magic to be found there is a common sort. No walking on water needed, only a careful crossing on a plank bridge whose boards flex pleasingly beneath your feet. Without this bridge, there wouldn’t be enough passage to keep the path open. But that’s all speculation, because someone/ s set this bridge initially, and someone/s keep replacing the planks that rot out and, at the touch of some walker’s or runner’s foot, give way.

Here, for me, is a little mystery in the heart of these Commons: Who, I wonder for the nth time as I cross, keeps this bridge intact? Who keeps me crossing over?

The bridge is no little construction. Yes, it is a simple 5 eight-inch boards wide, but it also stretches to 12 six-foot sections for around 70’ of bridge. At the joints between sections, the boards rest atop what look to be short crosspieces cut from old railroad ties. And then there is the maintenance. Over recent years, I’ve seen how the planks rot and weaken until finally someone’s foot punches through and the board must be replaced…which, through seeming magic, keeps happening.

Today, for example, I find one plank of repair — fresh, white wood — and two planks missing. Within a few weeks, if history holds, I’ll see new boards laid down over today’s absences. But despite hundreds of crossings here, I’ve never found anyone at this repair work.

Those questions make this month’s column an appeal of sorts as well as an April shower of general praise. I really would like to honor the person/s who keep me crossing (and so in touch with) this little swamp. Often I pause at mid-span and watch the slow swirl of amber water. In July, you can reach a couple of the high bush blueberries and comb a few berries from their branches for a mid-walk or -run boost. And during a dry summer, the mossy mud that’s left where the water is usually bears the gouged prints of deer that browse through.

And yet, even if I never find out who maintains this bridge, I want to celebrate a bit what it means to be in touch with and to have bridges given to us. For the past few years the bridge’s example has sent me along its spur trail with my clippers, brushing back the thick, thigh-high growth, helping keep passage clear and wide enough for walkers and runners to avoid taking on hitchhiker ticks. The slow work of clipping and clearing offers its own reward — when you work quietly in the woods, every animal that lives there grows used to you and resumes its singing or foraging; you become a part of it all.

A bridge crossing to that “all” is one we all need.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident and chair of the town’s Conservation

Commission. He writes for a variety of publications and his book, Critical Hours

— Search and Rescue in the White

Mountains, was published by University

Press of New England on April 3rd, 2018 and is available at Gulf of Maine Books. He may be reached at fsandystott@gmail.com

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