Coweeset Brook just upstream of Route 106 on the Easton West Bridgewater line
Still, I can remember the discussion, while paddling down stream. Ya know dad, I really love this place. You mean that you like this place, would be his reply. No dad, I do, I really love this place. Now, I have told you before that you canít love things like rivers, swamps and woods. You can only really love living things like people. Ya, I know dad. But I still think I love this place. He would then give me a serious look which would quickly fade to his explaining face. Then in great detail he would explain to me why this was so.
Being only eight years old at the time, I was far more interested in the brook and the swamp around us. But it seemed important to him, so with one eye watching for snakes and turtles and the other on him I would listen. When he finished his explanation, I would say sure dad I understand. But I still think I love this place. The discussion would then quickly degenerate into a yes I can no you canít sort of affair. Until a wooduck flushed or a hawk circled at which point our attention would turn back to the brook. This brook was the Coweeset.
The Coweeset Brookís headwaters lie within the towns of Easton, Stoughton and the West Side of Brockton. The main stem then flows along the Easton, West Bridgewater line to become the Hockomock River when it passes under Rt. 106. Driving in a car you would pass over it at West Chestnut St in Brockton, West and Walnut St in West Bridgewater and at Rt. 106 in Easton. From these vantage points it appears to be a typical small stream. But, a canoe or kayak trip down this brook reveals its true character. Which is an amazing wild wonderland sandwiched between the sprawl of our ever expanding communities. Considering its former uses one canít help but marvel at mother natures healing ability.
Once referred to as Shit River, the Coweeset Brook was the home of Brocktonís sewer treatment plant. On West Chestnut St where Cerelli foods is now located was the former plant site. Below theyíre across Turnpike and Pearl streets were the sewer beds. These were shallow trenches where the solids left over from the treatment process were put to decompose. There were also two mill dams on the lower brook. One just below West Chestnut St and another below Walnut St. The Cowesset was once (and may still be) considered a wasteland. To wet and soggy for farming, itís low gradient making it to slow moving to support a profitable mill operation. It seemed the Coweeesetís only useful purpose was to serve as a sluice way for wastewater.
Today the sewer beds are gone along with the plant. The field stone abutments of the long since breached mill dams lay crumbling beneath the brambles. They stand as a seldom seen memorial to the labors of early settlers, as silent witnesses to the timeless patience of a river and as portals into this wonderful ribbon of wasteland
On a frosty November morning I made my way down the Coweesetís narrow channel. Spreading my arms wide I could touch both banks of the brook. Down through the clear amber water freshwater mussels could be seen covering the sandy bottom. As I rounded the bend they faded into the mysterious blackness of a boiling back eddy. Looking up from the water a tuft of hair and spots of blood stained the frosty grass. Further up the bank the body of a yearling doe laid still. Her hind quarters had been stripped of flesh, steam rose from her still warm body. Above her stood a lone coyote, fresh blood stained his chest and muzzle. He appeared large for a coyote, his thick winter coat blended with the tall tawny grasses of the swamplands. He looked similar to a large husky dog in its sled pulling prime. But unlike a dog there was an unmistakable wildness in his eyes and posture. He displayed no sign of fear; in fact his look seemed to reflect my feeling at that moment. It was a feeling of surprise and curiosity. As we exchanged glances over the bloody scene in the quiet solitude of this narrow wasteland I felt a part of something constant.
Here I sat a quarter mile from everywhere in the middle of nowhere. On a brook whose character today is not dissimilar to what it was three hundred years ago. Witnessing a wild scene that has been played out countless times since time immemorial. Beneath the water on the brooks bottom, nestled in the cold mud beneath the roots of the sedges, in the red maples and through out the tangled thickets of this wonderful wasteland. Thousands of similar but less dramatic struggles take place here every hour of every day between an incredible array of diverse species. Oblivious to the whirl of our human world there is no time here, just the constant push of the seasons and the struggles that they bring. It is in this constancy of nature that we find firm anchorage to hold us fast against the under tow of change swirling around us.
What the future holds for the Coweeset and places like it is unclear. There are no special designations for this place. There are no signs or proclamations calling attention to its magnificent diversity. There are no bike trails, picnic areas, info booths or campsites. Canoe travel is difficult due to brush and old blow downs. Life goes on here largely unseen not knowing or caring whether itís 2002 or 2000 years ago. This is the beauty of the Coweeset and we must be vigilant to make sure it is not its downfall.