The Wampanoag Canoe Passage has symbolic and actual importance on several planes.
First, it reminds us of the people who lived here for thousands of years in a sustainable way, and in so doing, makes us consider the consequences of a "way of life" that we have largely, unthinkingly inherited. Second, doing the Passage brings attention to the watersheds and raises money for a worthy cause, the NSRWA. Third, being able to do the Passage, or parts of it, with friends and the support of friends, helps to build a community that recognizes the vital, life sustaining roles that these rivers play in our lives.
Lastly, and most importantly, there is the personal experience. Paddling the North River with Randy Julius involved considerable time travel as we talked about people paddling their mishoons up and down the river; stopped to read the signs where the old shipyards had been; and landed on Blueberry Island to briefly explore for Indian artifacts and imagine Wampanoag hunters and fisherman taking a break from their paddle, as we were doing. The brilliant green of the new saltgrass, osprey, gulls, heron; the effort of paddling against a steady wind; the changing light as storm clouds darkened the sky all lent a timelessness to the journey, as though we could have been paddling at any point in a chain of a thousand or so years.
A day later, traveling the Satucket with Nik and Eliza , in the hypothermic haze of the 50 degree late spring drizzle, team work and maintaining a good attitude were the drills as we waded more than floated the river, hauling the canoe and then scrambling over and under an endless succession of fallen trees. This is when the character of the people you are with becomes very important. That I actually found this trip, and the challenges that it posed, to be enjoyable can be attributed to Nik and his sister. Very obviously, log slogging the Satucket is not for everyone, but it seems that we were actually having a good time, at times laughing a little insanely as we ploughed forward through thick clouds of vampire mosquitoes. Early on we bounced over the ancient Wampanoag fish weir that helped us recall the Satucket's past abundance of herring that made their way up to Robbins Pond to spawn. And, not far past the weir, we we got out of the canoe and floated it through the sluice of the Cotton Gin dam that blocks the herring from reaching Robbins Pond today.
The broad and, mostly, log free Matfield and Taunton Rivers came as a relief after the blow downs and confinement of the Satucket's steep clay banks. On the Matfield we encountered a Momma wood duck and her brood. We followed her down stream as she played her injured duck role to distract us from her young. From time to time snapping turtle heads emerged from the current for a quick look at the passing canoe. Occasionally, a gangling blue heron would rise from the stream bank, its spear fishing temporarily interrupted by our appearance. Nik pointed out the massive swamp oaks that dotted the grassy flood plain. At times a house would be visible in the distance; but, for the most part, we were paddling through a riparian wilderness seemingly divorced from the bustle of humanity that we knew was taking place nearby. At one bend a surprised deer, in its sleek, red summer coat, scrambled from its streamside bed and bolted up the high bank for the woods.
Even so, one human impact became apparent as soon as the Satucket joined the Matfield. The pungent, almost too sweet smell of treated water coming from Brockton's treatment plant took over for the rest of the trip. It was a not so subtle reminder that the river is still being degraded by all that human bustling. As we paddled, we tried to imagine a time when people drank directly from the river to quench their thirst. The idea seemed very foreign to me as we floated along on a river of nutrients flowing out of Brockton.
Not too long after hauling around the treacherous maw of a collapsed dam (old pilings protrude from the river like the teeth of a hungry jaw), located just below Route 104, we arrived at the steep rip rap of the Cherry Street Bridge. By now darkness was closing in. Wet, cold, and covered with mud, Nik and I hauled the canoe up the rip rap and across the road while his sister went on ahead to start the van parked in the grass just off the tar. As the van's heater slowly warmed us, Nik drove me back to Randy's place where I had joined them hours before. We parted ways in the damp glow of the porch light of Randy's log cabin. Driving home through a steady rain, I thought about all that I had learned from Nik, and from other friends like Tim and Randy. Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. In my case, it may never arrive, but it helps to have friends who drag you along on the exploration of rivers, and an idea, with all that it entails - like the Wampanoag Canoe Passage.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Day 3: Warren Winders
Day 3 saw my youngest sister Eliza, Warren Winders and I paddling the Satucket River to the Matfield to where they meet up with the Town River to form the Taunton - finally! Many thanks to both of them. Below are some thoughts on the trip by Warren, the head of the local Trout Unlimited Branch and one of the principal agents of the restoration of Red Brook, an outdoorsman and environmentalist. Thanks also to Randy Julius for his hospitality.