Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 4: Dan Shafto

Day four - Sunday, June 12th - saw Dan Shafto and I paddling down towards Dighton Rock on the Taunton River. Below is his account of our trip.

Up until the end of May, I knew nothing about the North and South Rivers Watershed Association’s Wampanoag Canoe Passage. Then, sitting in traffic one Sunday afternoon, I turned on WATD to hear Captain Lou interviewing Nik about the upcoming event. Having grown up in Marshfield, I was familiar with the NSRWA and the great work they do for the health of our rivers. As I listened to Nik describing this fundraiser, now coming into its third year, I was struck by the ingenuity of the idea. What could inspire people to care about these rivers more than recognizing how critical they were to all aspects of Wampanoag life for hundreds of years?

Just a couple weeks later, I was on the river with Nik and his horde of supporters for Day 1 of the paddle up the North River. It was a beautiful, sunny day—perfect for a paddle on the river. Two days later, Nik graciously invited me along for Day 4.

We shoved off from the Summer Street bridge (under construction) with the threat of thundershowers, and immediately I was struck by the quiet of the undeveloped banks of the upper Taunton River.

Since it was only Nik and I in the canoe, there was little time for picture-taking, but as we made our way steadily downstream, we observed much wildlife: hawks, otters, herons, cormorants, even a lone fisher startled by our presence. Though the banks were mostly overgrown, we encountered a few landings with evidence of human activity. The first was populated by a series of structures formed by sticks tied together with twine. Some looked like chairs, others like tables, and still others resembled no practical shapes, but instead hung eerily from the branches of trees. We continued on downstream.

Along the way, Nik told me more about the passage and its importance to the Wampanoag as a throughway, as a food source, as a hospitable area for settlement. Many of the bodies of water along the passage today are plugged by dams, polluted by modern industry, or simply forgotten. But each year Nik paddles its length, more people become reacquainted with this living historical landmark and its importance as a vital ecosystem, a source of food and water, a mode of transportation, and a recreational area. It is a part of our collective heritage and it’s to our benefit to keep it healthy.

After passing under some bridges with faster-moving water, we pulled out at a clearing to take a short break and have a look around. There was a large fire pit and a few chairs under a handmade awning. We took a mental note of this excellent camping spot for possible use on future paddles.

Under the next bridge, we ran the fastest stretch of water yet, then passed around a few bends and came to our pullout, only to find a welcome committee at the finish line!

We carried the canoe up the bank, a bit disoriented by the commotion of the modern world after a few hours paddling through the serenity of the upper Taunton River. As it turned out, the Route 44 bridge was being dedicated to a local soldier who had received the Medal of Honor.

After tying the canoe on top of Nik’s van, we were off to find our starting point. But that was not as easy as we thought it would be! Due to the construction, the Summer Street bridge was closed, and all roads around it were blanketed with detour signs directing us away from our destination. After a half hour of contemplation and driving around in circles, we finally came upon the Summer Street bridge—on the opposite bank from my car. Luckily, the bridge was not blocked to pedestrian traffic, so I walked across uninhibited and rescued my abandoned vehicle.

I have to admit I thought no river could compare in beauty to the North River, but I was impressed by the Taunton and its environs. Equally impressive, though, is the contribution the Wampanoag Paddlers have made to the NSRWA and toward raising awareness for our local waterways, which must be seen not as resources to exploit, but as invaluable natural systems to appreciate and preserve.