Not more than a week ago Misha came to visit us and brought our brand new canoes, still so new and clean you could eat off them. We spent quite a bit of time outfitting these new unruly beasts of plastic and foam to get them rigged up for the road ahead. No detail was spared; foam knee pads, thigh straps, floatations, painter lines, the whole nine yards. We all worked in the Northwoods wood-shop up near our camp, and after a couple hours of rigging our boats were ready for water use. You should see these things, they look like some kind of European speedboat, ready for a track run in Italy racing a Formula One car. Beautiful vessels they are.
We went for our test run out on the flats of the Clyde River, near the highway overpass. Everyone seemed to be getting the hang of it pretty well, no catastrophic failures or punctured boat hulls, but just as we approached a stern looking sheet of ice, and were practicing leaning into turns, the first casualties of the water fell in, flipping the boat one-hundred and eighty degrees around, head over heels into the water. Kerensa and Kenya looked quite like the proverbial wet cats as they got fished out of the frigid water and into the adjacent boats standing by. Thus we learned our first lesson in canoe technique, the “T” rescue. Simply enough its just getting into a T with your canoe with the flipped boat and then hauling it rail over rail onto the upright boat and righting the flipped one onto its belly. As for our soaking friends, they departed back to camp to warm up and recuperate.
The day was far from over though; we had another flip into the water, with Angus and Zack this time, but for some reason, a short spurt of insanity I bet, they stayed for the rest of the class on the cold and windy river. After this class, we all rode our bikes back to camp on Ten Square Mile road, and although it was muddy like you wouldn’t believe it, it was pretty fun for everyone, since the only moving we’ve been doing is under heavy packs with skis, this felt quite like flying down a road.
We had another paddling class with Misha again the next day, and went to what although he called “swift-water” I call “whitewater.” Terror in the water for me comes at the lazy speed of two mile an hour currents, and with the task at hand we were given, which was paddling UPSTREAM, you can bet I was in the throes of panic. We all did it though with much blundering at first, but by days end, wet and happy and cold, we all could more or less turn in and out of eddies, which is the slow part of the river where the current turns back on itself and makes a little parking spot on the fast moving water. There is something in the primal fear of all people, of losing control of their surroundings, and I figure this fear is prevalent in people on the river, when its going fast and they just don’t know what they’re doing, so it’s very important to us that we learn how to avoid situations like that.
Misha left us the next day with as much wisdom and instruction he could give us in the time allotted, and parted us with words of encouragement on the new route. We were all supposed to go to Maine to see Chris and Ashirah Knapp, and learn paddle making at their school Koviashuvik, but we were far too swamped with work and so we chose instead to stay here at camp and finish our work without being rushed. It’s been a good sacrifice so far, and although we haven’t gotten much free time, our work has been worthwhile and productive. Things went well over the weekend, although the weather has been inclement the whole almost the whole time, with sporadic rain, sleet, hail and snow throughout.
The 15th was a break in the sky and the sun came down in beautiful form, filling the land with light and warmth. We went on a long bike ride up to the top of a hill over-looking Lake Willoughby. The climb to the top of the hill was hard, it was muddy and warm out, and the little rivulets of water ran down the hill, imposing on our good roads, threatening to make them into pure mud. We did ascend though, and the road to the bottom was a clear shot of gravel and half paved concrete, a mile long stretch of downhill derby delight. Ripping down at what I figured to be at least a hundred and fifteen miles an hour we rounded the corner into the town of Westmore and settled down on the white sand beach of the lake to have our lunch and learn about glaciers.
We rode back on the flat roads with the occasional down hill and made good time in the late afternoon, with the golden sun at our backs. Upon our arrival back, we made it with five minutes to spare before our guest arrived for dinner. The county game warden, who we invited earlier that week, came to speak to us and just to pleasure us with his company. He was a friendly ex-military man, with an air of authority and training that comes with his profession as a law enforcement officer. We ate dinner with him, which was kale and wild turkey, which Noah’s mother brought to us earlier that week, a premium score of road-kill delight.
That next morning we went for a good run. It was still fair weather with a southerly breeze blowing at our backs. We stopped at the top of the hill near our camp, by the dairy where we get our milk, to watch the sunrise. We sat under a set of spruce trees across the way from a flat field and had an unobstructed view of the coming sun. Much has been written on the subject of sunrises, but I feel obligated to share what I saw in that patch of sky. I sat watching the coming light before it came into the sky. The sun was just beneath a large hill off in the distance, and the sun gave it a crown of light. It took no more than five full minutes, but as the sun crept up, it felt like it would never peak, and all of the sudden it did, it burst over the ridge in a explosion of light as if the earth had never seen light before, a wash of light blanketing the world. It is no wonder the ancient peoples had the sun as the center of their worship, and feared its loss in the night, and prayed for its return in the morning.
The following days were days of fun and work. We went to Butterworks farm to see where the yogurt we eat comes from. Its not what you’d think either; it’s a small farm, for the scale they put out on, and it’s a cozy one too. It really speaks to their way of production, which is ethical and in touch with the products they make. The owner, Jack Lazor, gave us a tour and let us sample his maple kefir, which is like fizzy yogurt, and let us pet his cows. Both are of excellent quality. We sorted beans for him in return, which was sitting at a conveyor belt pulling the bad beans from the good, as they fell out of a grain hopper and rolled across the track into a bucket for bagging. We took home a small case of yogurt for the road and we thank Jack for his
kindness and willingness to show us his farm. One piece of advice he gave us to take home was to always stay small, small is better than large, and I’d guess that’s pretty true for the things that you like doing
On the way back to Northwoods we got ice cream, a sure sign of spring even though it was cold enough that if you stood outside, your ice cream literally could not have melted all day. At the ice cream place, we also saw someone in shorts, even though it was also about thirty-eight degrees. I cannot tell if this is a sign of spring, bravery, foolishness or a combination of all the three.
The next day was one of full throttle working, but it was all for the greater progress, so I didn’t feel to worked. A former Semester teacher, Nate Johnson, came to teach us about hide tanning. He taught us how to scrape the hair off and how to tan it in the future to make sure we can all make moccasins later this next month. Its smelly work scraping the hides, but totally worth it, Nate left us that evening and in his stead came Polly, from Mahoosuc Guide Service. She and her partner Kevin run a dog sledding and paddling guide service in Maine. She brought us chocolate chip cookies and a slide show to watch of her years in the Yukon Territory as a dog sled musher and hunting guide. She showed us pictures on an old film slide projector and they were of stunning top-notch quality, and had that vintage genuine look to them, the look that these pictures were taken sincerely and not out of just the want to document, but to preserve a moment in time, and they did that.
As our last days draw to a close, we’re getting ready to leave, everyone is bustling about, filling in last minute jobs and tasks, random loose ends have to be cut before we can cast off into the river, and its been busy. The weather is warming up and I can only hope it stays that way. This’ll be the last update for quite a while, since were not stopping till we get to Lake Champlain, but till then, all is going well on the home front and we will carry on, my wayward sons and daughters.
Pushups and Poetry: On Cold Water and Cheese
There’s a moment where you feel fear and excitement, when you see a rock in sight, a rock that if you don’t move the canoe right then, you will hit that rock. And who knows what will happen then. You have this fear and excitement running through you and put your paddle in the water, and putting your paddle in the water, trying to think clearly through your fear, magically or maybe not at all, just my luck! You do the correct strokes that turn you away from the rock in your way. – Kenya
|Jack of Butterworks Farm|
River, river, running river
down I go and I don’t know
don’t know how to hold me up
& panic, grab the gunwale
running river down I’m pulled!
river grabs me, lost the gunwale
cold & panic, panic more
& breathless —
get to shore. —Anonymous
Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far a whey
In the depths of my dairy bucket, something scary was brewing
Like the salts of Nantcuket, the sour scent made my nose hairs bent
And from the bottom of the bucket came ricotta
Standing there with my hair looking steazy, I said
“It aint easy, being cheesy” —Anonymous
Socks and Sandals
My two pairs of wool socks
It doesn’t make any sense
My feet are warm
Until I’m in the boat
Until we don’t lean enough
Until they are soaked
And laying in puddles
Then they are freezing or frozen
My socks like the womb of a
Woman that’s been dead for a while
My feet like the dead babies inside them — Lotte