My son has learned how to let it be in Brooklin.
My firstborn son is an apiarist, a beekeeper. To a lobsterman, a "keeper" is something of value, such as a legal-sized lobster, and I've been around lobstermen long enough that the word has crept into my vocabulary. I have always thought of my son as a keeper. He used to collect bottle caps; now he keeps bees and blueberries, and builds boats, and he bought land in the small town up the coast where I grew up, a town called Brooklin. Given all of this, it should come as no surprise that when we talk on the phone about his beehives, I tend to hear it as "keeping Bs."[For the rest of this story, see the June 2008 issue of Down East.]I am reminded of a Sesame Street show, when the Muppets played in a rock and roll band and sang rewritten lyrics to the Beatles tune, "Let It Be." The Muppets sang it as "Letter B," part of their ongoing efforts to teach the alphabet. Keeping bees has been much on television lately, as well, because of widespread colony collapses that have been attributed to genetically-modified crops, mites, viruses and other ills. Often, farmers who single-crop their fields - say in apples, blue-berries, or cabbages - must move bees by the truckload to pollinate the crops. Some theorize that bees may be dying because of a lack of diversity in their diets. This time, it may be Mother Nature singing "Let It Be" and it may be the small beekeepers who heed her cry.
Keeping blueberries, like keeping bees, is a relatively passive activity, although my son occasionally burns his blueberry barrens to keep down the weeds. My parents also had blueberry fields, and I have fond memories of my brothers and me strapping Indian water pumps to our backs and spraying the edges of the fields, to safeguard the woods. My son came into his blueberry fields when he bought land near the old Stoneset Farm on the River Road, a parcel owned by Edmund Williams, Jr.
About fifty years ago, Edmund used to sell milk from the cows he kept on Stoneset Farm. My parents were renting a house then, on the banks of the Benjamin River, so we were among Edmund's lucky customers on the River Road. An early riser in our household could select an unopened glass milk bottle, pry the red cardboard cap off the top, and pour the sweet cream onto a bowl of Wheaties. Whoever came second got plain, whole milk.
There is a symmetry that I enjoy in my son buying land from Edmund and choosing to live in the town that I still love. My son is not a farmer or a milkman, but he kept sheep for a couple of years and boarded a cow one winter. He is a boatbuilder - like my father and my brother and my husband - so there is symmetry there, too. His land is partly wooded, partly cleared for blueberries and it is accessed by a logging road. What my son now calls "the Ed Williams bridge" crosses a small stream in back. A solitary evergreen that Edmund named "the lone pine" stands in the center of the clearing and a long rope swing dangles from an outstretched branch.
A dowser came and suggested where water might be found on this rocky parcel, one of the highest spots in town, and his advice panned out. My son dug a well and hit good water at just fifteen feet, no drilling required. The old adage about "leaving well enough alone" comes to mind. My son has well enough; he'll let it be.
Meanwhile, Ed Williams, Jr., recently died at the age of ninety-two. He was born in 1915 in a house just down the road from one that his grandfather,
Elias Steadman, had built. Before he died, however, Edmund had transferred his farm to others who will tend the land, the same family who had boarded their cow with my son. When Edmund sold my son his parcel, they spoke about when my family lived in West Brooklin. "I didn't see much of them after they moved to North Brooklin," Edmund recalled, as though we'd moved to North Carolina instead of just three miles down the road.
Edmund enjoyed riding his tractor on his property even in his nineties, but he found little reason to go farther afield. He was a self-taught man and an avid reader, particularly interested in history and genealogy. For many years, he was an active member of the local historical society and the Brooklin Keeping Society - which is to say that Edmund was a keeper, too, and he was careful to pass that baton - another, and perhaps the most important, letter B.
- By: Martha White