Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 2: East Monponsett to Osceola Island (in Robbins Pond)

After saying goodbye to my mother we made our way to where Stetson Brook meets East Monponsett Pond. From the mouth of the brook we paddled west to a public landing marked by a white buoy to the north of Monponsett Inn. We portaged across nearby to West Monponsett Lake, stopped briefly for lunch and to apply Tecnu, and then canoed north and then west to the opening of the Stump (?) River.

The cedar swamp through which the narrow but easily navigable river meanders is one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the trip, designated on the north side as the Peterson Swamp Wildlife Preserve. We saw several ospreys, a swan and her children (the fluffy signets sprinted across the surface of the water to escape us) and majestic Swamp Cedars, a tree notably absent from the North River since they were killed by the higher salinities brought by the opening of the New Mouth by the Portland Gale in 1898. Birds sang, flying back and forth between the sides of the marshy corridor, and we even spotted a Green Heron, though this sole specimen of its species was out-numbered by the maybe six Great Blue Herons we saw as well.

At the end of the cedar swamp, the river runs into a line of trees separating it from cranberry bogs and cuts to the south to a dam after which the waterway turns into the shallower Stump Brook. We hopped over the dam and began the journey south, noticing thousands of frogs hopping around and croaking at us. The brook is pretty straight, bordered on the east side by marsh and the west by woods. This should have made our passage relatively easy; however, we soon realized how the Brook must have gotten its name, as it is blessed with what seemed a never-ending series of stumps coupled with their fallen trunks blocking our way. It was here that I realized how lucky I was to have my uncle Seth, a physics professor at MIT, and his postdoc friend Olaf, with me, as they showed me ingeniously how to rock the bow of the canoe under logs and step over instead of portaging (an already too-common phenomenon on our trip).

After portaging a minor culvert, we put into the last section before the Stump Ponds, another swampy area that looked fine at first but turned into a nightmare when we discovered that it was for the most part completely covered with a terrible weed necessitating us to follow an incredibly thin waterway by pushing off the not completely solid plant with our paddles. Large frogs sitting on hummocks along the side waited til the last moment to jump away, seeming to croak incredulously at us. "Do we know where we are?" Olaf asked about a third of the way through the clogged brook. We saw many Great Blue Herons in this section and along the upper Stump Brook, probably due to the high density of frogs --- Seth told the story of how Heron became King of the frogs (from Aesop's Fables) in way of explanation. We eventually tired of the weedy plant and portaged to were the waterway became clear again, only advancing a bit further into Shrimp Pond and into the first of the Stump Ponds.

We were thankful for the relative facility of the two Stump Ponds, winding between trees and houses. To get from the first Stump Pond into Robbins Reservoir, we portaged over Elm and then Furnace Street. The second Stump Pond broadens into a larger pond graced with duckweed and lilypads. We discovered a pair of swans as it began to rain, but found even more (about 15 or 16) in Robbins Reservoir after following a brook into the large, swampy body of water just north of Rt. 106 in Halifax.

From the reservoir, we headed west to where what seemed like a relatively recent earthen dam separated Robbins Reservoir and Pond and portaged down, our destination finally in sight. We made good time canoeing out to the island, where Seth and Olaf had left our food, tent and sleeping bags while I was paddling the Herring Brook. Upon arrival to Osceola Island, an amenable camping site, we brought our baggage up to the campsite, Tecnu'ed up for a second time and then washed it off in the shallow pond before heading back up to start Seth's Norwegian gas burner and cook spaghetti and meatballs and eat some bread and cheese left over from the day. By the time we had finished, set up the tent and headed to bed, a comforting chorus of Gray Tree Frogs had begun to lull us to sleep, providing an unfamiliar lullaby that nonetheless must have been heard by countless Wampanoag and their ancestors during the thousands of years in which the passage saw use.

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