The Universal Notebook: The land we love (and the governor we don't)

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The land we love used to be a third of an acre in Yarmouth. Now it’s half an acre in Brunswick. We are slowly making it our own, shaping it by hand into what we want it to be before we move on.

For 32 years, we worked on our Yarmouth yard, cutting down swamp alder and filling in the gully at the rear with sand and loam. Carolyn and the girls cut down the huge arborvitae shrubs in front of the house and we spent long, enjoyable evenings digging out the roots. We planted a garden and a raspberry patch where the alder once grew and added a garden shed.

A few years ago, our neighbors kindly allowed us to take down several large trees at the corner of the lot in order to get more sun light on the garden. Carolyn just about had the yard the way she wanted it when we decided it was time to move.

Carolyn’s only reservation about buying our new home in Brunswick was that the backyard was too shady. Shortly after we purchased the house in September, therefore, we had an island of mature maple in the middle of the yard cut down as well as two towering pine trees. I see more trees falling in the not-to-distant future.

This spring, we had the maple logs split and I spent a couple of pleasurable afternoons stacking the firewood in a circle. We worked together one Saturday cutting twisted bittersweet vines as thick as my wrist from some of the backyard trees. And Carolyn pretty much single-handedly tore out the incredible system of orange bittersweet roots beneath the lawn.

Because the lawn is still scarred from the heavy equipment needed for tree removal, we had 14 yards of screened loam delivered last month. We have been spreading it with shovel and wheelbarrow ever since. A big bag of grass seed and a smaller one of clover seed wait in the garage to be spread once we are through shoveling.

There were three raised bed gardens well established at the left rear of the yard, but we have been horsing 200-pound railroad ties out of the ground and replacing them with cedar so creosote won’t contaminate any vegetables Carolyn might plant. We also used some of the loam pile to fill a new stair-step raised bed where the maples once stood.

We emptied two trays of the basement worm bin into the backyard gardens, baptizing our new land with new earth created by thousands of red wrigglers that turn table scraps into beautiful black dirt and compost tea. Brunswick is starting to feel like home. We are making it our own.

Last Saturday morning, I accompanied Carolyn to the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust plant sale, where she bought bee balm, phlox, anemone, cone flower, thyme, oregano and a bag of compost hand-mixed by Tom Settlemire. Tom is an emeritus professor of biochemistry at Bowdoin, a master sheep farmer and the man for whom Brunswick’s community garden is named.

We ran into Tom at the plant sale and he suggested we join the land trust. He follow up with an email just so I wouldn’t forget. You can’t say no to a force of nature like Tom Settlemire, so I am on my way downtown now to drop off a check.

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has conserved 2,300 acres since 1985. The 30-some properties include the Cathance River Preserve, Head of Tide Park, Bradley Pond, Bowdoin Organic Garden, Skolfield Farm, and Crystal Spring. The system of trails, the farmers’ market and the community garden are precious local resources.

Citizens working together to preserve and protect important pieces of local land is one of the highest and best expressions of community. Thanks to the land trust, Brunswick and Topsham are rich in conservation lands. But Maine’s conservation ethic is threatened by a man who constantly places politics before people.

Maine now suffers a governor who would tax land trusts, holds voter-approved conservation projects hostage to his own political agenda, and threatens the very existence of the Land for Maine’s Future Program, one of the state’s finest achievements.

Oh, you didn’t see that coming?

Well, my point here is that the governor’s meanness has begun to permeate the Maine environment. His petulance imperils local conservation projects and his pettiness reaches right into our own backyards. This is a governor who has broken faith not only with the Maine people but with the land we love.

We must not stand for it.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.