Cycle of Life

Last November we sold our house in Durham where we’d lived for 26 years. This felt like the start of a new chapter. It was, but the narrative soon turned dark.

Landing in Brunswick on a beautiful tidal cove was exciting at the time. Being new to town, I envisioned capturing elements of our new home with a series of post based on weekend forays about the place. Then tragedy intervened. Life along the cove became framed by abundant morning light that simply permitted holding on.

A mile and a half from our house there is an older cemetery. I knew nothing about it until passing while running one morning in December. My new route took me westward from our new place, out Coombs Road. I immediately knew the road to be an ideal alternative providing a side loop away from busy Route 24, where I could enjoy my surroundings and not worry about dodging cars and trucks roaring along at highway speeds.

Purington Road, which abuts the cemetery, also dead ends at a gate on the east side of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. The road, like much of this area, is bordered by chain link fence and warning signs left behind when the town answered the military’s every beck and call.

From RootsWeb, I found this description of the cemetery, known as New Meadows Cemetery:

New Meadows Cemetery is located on Purinton Road and borders the Naval Air Station. This part of Brunswick was farming country known as New Meadows before the Naval Air Station occupied the area. Old records describe it as located on the North side of the road to Great Island, about three miles from Brunswick village. This road is now part of the Naval Air Station.

Doing a minimal amount of digging revealed that the area around Purington and Coombs Roads was once a thousand-acre town commons that was once the New Meadows neighborhood. There are historical records that show there were four homesteads dating back to 1739. What locals know about the area if they know anything is that it’s framed by the recent past following the Navy’s encroachment (and significant contamination) of 90 percent of this section of the community that formerly consisted of farms, grist mills, and brick and carriage makers.

Father and son, forever.

The area near the cemetery and next to the eastern gate of the former base doesn’t get much traffic. Any cars on Coombs Road are likely driven by people living there, or someone like me looking for a quiet alternative for biking, running, and even walking.

Mark had a bike in Providence. The bike, a Jamis Beatnik, is a stripped-down, single-speed model. It appears to be a functional and affordable pedal-powered option for city commuting. This is the bike that you’ll see Mark riding in some of his videos he filmed in Providence. He must have racked it in his room prior to leaving on his walk. That’s where it was when we went to the house in February after he was killed.

Biking to the graveyard.

I’ve only ridden it a few times since bringing it home. I like strapping on his orange commuter helmet with his anti-power plant stickers, too. On these rides, I’ve pedaled out Coombs Road, which immediately forces you to go up a gradual, but challenging incline. On Mark’s Beatnik, I’m reminded of his powerful legs that carried him across the country in 81 days in 2010. Riding his bike, I imagine him cranking it up the hill towards the Brown campus.

Mary bought him a bike basket made from a recycled lobster trap. Mark was all about sustainability and re-using. He was excited to receive this gift from his mom and attached it to the handlebars. It’s definitely a Mark kind of bike.

Saturday morning, I got up and did some work around the house including mowing our small lawn. Instead of taking off on my usual summer-length ride on my road bike though, I decided to pump up the tires and pedal the Beatnik out to New Meadows cemetery. I’d seen a headstone for a father and son the last time I was there. I wanted to go back and take a picture. I also spent some time walking around and looking at other headstones, some from people who died within my lifetime, and many more during the 19th century. There were many stones marked Woodward, likely members of the family tree of our cove’s namesake.

A prominent New Meadows family.

On my return, I got to bomb down the hill on Coombs towards Gurnet Road (Route 24). From there, I pedaled about a ½ mile on the main road to Princes Point Road and the boat landing and the bridge over the narrows there. The setting is beautiful, affording views of Buttermilk Cove, as well as a host of seabirds like osprey, peregrine falcons, and egrets, to name the few I recognize.

My Saturday excursion on Mark’s bike offered up what’s normal for me these days: a mix of sorrow, some joy being out in nature and knowing how much our son cared about Earth, while always being aware that life will never be the same as it once was prior to his death.