30 September 2010


Today, the first day of our Utah trip, has been one marked by little and large kindnesses. I’m not going to make this post an annotated list, but for someone who lives her life tending toward a jaundiced view of humanity, the interactions of the day – servers to truck drivers to welcome center attendants to hotel clerks – have given me pause.

We were up at 5:00 and, watching the gates close behind us, pulled out of the driveway onto Country Club Road at 6:10. Our first stop? The Huddle House at US25 and I-20, a whopping nearly 20 miles. At that rate we’ll be arrive in St George about this time next year. Our breakfast, though, was great, the kitchen at home having been cleaned – and closed – the night before. Poor Tal.

It was an easy travel day. Augusta before 7:30 and Atlanta after 9:00. We travelled through bands of heavy rain intermingled with “teasings” of blue sky during that first leg of the trip, the tall buildings on the Atlanta skyline peeking out through the mist. Birmingham was a bit of a challenge with the interstate under improvement. Through the afternoon on US78 (aka Future I-22, interstate quality already), we passed through iron land, now reclaimed and gently rounded, displaying no population to speak of within view of our route. The skies cleared to a brilliant blue. We fueled in Jasper AL, had a picnic lunch at the Mississippi welcome center, gave a nod to Elvis as Tupelo went by on our left. The pleasures of a road trip!

Given that I failed to take into account the time change when making our hotel reservations, we arrived in New Albany MS (birthplace of William C Faulkner on 25 September 1897) by 2:30. Turning that error to good, we rested for a time and then set out for a walk recommended by the desk clerk.

New Albany is two miles form US78 and, for good and ill, is on the Tallachatchie River (of "Ode to Billie Joe" fame). In a civic feat with what I would imagine to have been incalculable psychological and political costs, the little town took advantage of the development that came with the highway’s improvement to interstate standard and built a sportsplex (ballfields, equestrian center, playgrounds) at the interstate and connected it to town with the Tallachatchie Trails – three of them, all intertwined: walking/hiking, bike, an 18-hole disc course. The whole development is known as the Park Along the River. I probably don’t need to say that we enjoyed our walk.

That’s the good. The ill has to do with the river’s rising above the levees and flooding the whole area on occasion, which it did earlier this year. All has been made well in the interim and the river is a placid, shallow, pale green stream, the dried brush in the trees and the sand dune-like piles of silt plowed from the paths a reminder of a very different river.

Day One
Four States: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi
472 miles

29 September 2010

Happy birthday

Today is Tal's 84th birthday. Needless to say, he had a cake. He could have had two!

And, he had cards and two gifts. He opened the cards during morning coffee. He opened my gift to him at the same time. That was gift number one. (Binoculars, by the way.)

Then, well, it was the day before leaving on a trip, he played golf, we delivered Belle and Whitby to All God's Creatures, the washer churned, the dryer hummed, the car got a once-over, the house didn't. Busy and wrenching.

Then, after 6:00 came the telephone call -- a personal call from Tal's doctor. None of the tests run yesterday during his marathon at the Imaging Center revealed anything the doctor suspected. "Finish the antibiotic," he said. "Go on your trip. We'll talk when you get home."

Gift number two.

Happy birthday to us both.

28 September 2010


OK. We're leaving in two days. And, for some reason which I cannot begin to fathom, I bought a dozen eggs the last time I went to grocery store.

What to do?

Make two pound cakes, quick!

The hardest part was getting myself organized -- counting and measuring everything twice. Once I got the mixer cranked up, it was easy.

We cut one for Tal's birthday and will take the other to All God's Creatures when we drop Whitby and Belle at camp for the duration of our trip to Utah and back.

Twelve eggs ... handled.


27 September 2010

At last, rain

My location? McDonalds in Greenwood. Tal's location? The Imaging Center next door. Since midway through our canoe trip on the Allagash he's not been feeling well, moving between two worrisome extremes: something not quite right to deathly ill. That he went to the doctor is all the information I have to have; we need to take this seriously. Needless to say, I am not at the clergy retreat today ...

It is pouring. I drove home from Pawleys yesterday under darkening skies, and after Santee, sporatic rain. By dark it was raining hard enough that the DirecTV signal was lost for a time. (Horrors) After going 30 days with no rain at all and now with two inches over night and continued heavy showers this morning, I am seeing smiles on almost every hungry (and wet) face that passes through the door -- a phenenomenon that will be short-lived, I realize, should the rain persist more than today.

As for me, I have twitching hands. Where's my paddle? It did this almost every day on the Allagash.

26 September 2010

Seeing the abstract

This afternoon I went to through the images I've made in the past few days to make sure they were all catagorized properly. Several of them -- the bench at Brookgreen and the Tarbox headstone at All Saints' -- I've already posted.

I made one image on the spur of the moment yesterday morning when I noticed sunlight hitting a knob on a kitchen drawer while Mom was preparing breakfast.

Pretty cool, huh?

It was Saturday. We had pancakes.

What else?


25 September 2010

Fifty-eight years

Poignant is the word of the day. On the 58th anniversary of Mom and Dad's marriage Mom and I could not help but talk about the courtship and actual wedding. That Dad is not part of observations and conversations has been hard to grasp.

Our outing of the day was to the All Saints' churchyard. Having the wedding date on the stone both comforted and confronted. Recent mulching followed by watering had resulted in six inches or so of duff around the base of the headstone. The two of us gave the visit another level of purpose with a little housekeeping. Tarbox women to the core ...

During the evening we watched a romantic chick-flick, "Kate and Leopold," and looked at the wedding album and Mom's bride's book. She recalled guests at the wedding, talked about many of the items on the gift list and told me stories I'd never heard before -- like her suitcase having been stolen the day of the rehearsal and, get this, the groomsmen and (Michigan State's) Howland House residents having decorated the wrong get-away car, its unfortunate owners never having been identified. My stars!

A sweet and somber day.

24 September 2010

The bench

Today Mom and I went to Brookgreen Gardens, so I could see the recently installed bench given by the staff and volunteers in Dad's memory. It's outside the walled garden, backing up to the Dogwood Pond and facing the arboretum. It's a pretty and hospitable location with a lovely breeze.

And, the bench is popular already. Mom and I had to wait to get near it, as we found a group of four settled in with their lunch. Earlier in the week when Mom and Joyce went to see it, they had to wait, too.

Ann Tarbox resting with Dad's memory on the Tarbox bench

I hope many people find peace in this inviting spot. The spirit of Gurdon Tarbox is there -- fervently whispering to everyone who might happen to linger that hurrying isn't all it's cracked up to be. It is my dearest wish that everyone who loved him in this life will somehow perceive that message -- whether they get to sit on that lovely, comfortable bench or not.

23 September 2010

Autumn's arrival

It was two weeks ago today that I mentioned the subtle change in the weather on the Allagash River. The rain on Thursday felt different than it had on Wednesday, just the day before. With the angle of the falling water, with the chill in the steady breeze, with the way the early morning mists appeared in the trees, fall permeated the air, the river, the land. It was holy.

Although here in South Carolina the weather has shown no appreciable change as yet, the leaves littering our lawn have more to do with the month-long lack of rain than they do season change, autumn has arrived officially. This is my favorite time of year, which during my time in parish life I missed for most part, the proigram year in the diocese as well as the parish in full and hectic swing.

This fall I plan to drink it all in with abandon.

22 September 2010


Another 5000 miles. Another oil change. Tires need rotating. The air conditioner's been acting weird, as in blowing hot air at inopportune times, or not blowing at all. You all replaced it in June, remember?

The appointment for the car was at 7:30 this morning, half an hour before the service department here at Yonce Ford actually opens. I was almost giddy at the thought of getting in first, ready for a quick in and out.

When I arrived at 7:20, I was surprised -- and immediately disheartened -- to see all the bays full. A boxy vehicle from the Meriwether Fire Department, several pickup trucks, an Edgefield County ambulance, a County Sheriff cruiser. My heart sank. "I have things to do," I whined inwardly. "Why am I the one who has to bring the car in for service?" I grumbled. And, I accuse Tal of not waiting well ...

I started writing this post while I sat in the waiting room, trying to grapple with my snarly mood. Several sentences in I was stuck and began looking around. No car in the show room. No lights on in the show room or any of the offices. Good magazines though. Current. No 2011 brochures. Bet they're expensive and are parceled out carefully. Blessedly, the television was dark and silent.

An employee ambled through, emptying trash baskets, his greeting cheerful -- as was mine. I only had to force it a little bit. The sounds of coffee being made soon came from the direction in which he had gone, and then came that singular and enticing aroma. He didn't offer me any, though.

Over the course of 30 minutes or so four codgers arrived one-by-one. Their conversation -- all about their impending drive, alas in the Focus parked out front, to Altanta to ferry three new vehicles back to Edgefield -- was enough to bring a chuckle to the back of my throat and a smile to my face a couple of times. (I was SO glad not to be making that trip!)

I saw our car emerge from the service department and head in the direction of town. I made a list of things I needed from the CVS, drafted a thank you note I'd recopy once I got home, read an article on an artist in Aiken. The car reappeared from the opposite direction in which I had seen it go and then disappeared back into the service area.

In the end I partook of Yonce's hospitality for about an hour and a half. By the time the service manager came to get me I was almost a new person, a new person who was very happy to hear that the air conditioner was going to make it another 5000 miles, not to mention the whole car.

There's nothing like unanticipated hang time, I suppose. The imposed wait seems to be just what I needed today. I've sort of been put in my place and I'm better for it.

21 September 2010


I am home from York and an intense board meeting at York Place. It was intense for a couple of very different reasons. First, I was elected vice-chair of the board (for which I had agreed in advance, by the way). Second, the challenges facing residential treatment centers -- both in the financial arena as well as the effect seemingly capricious legislation at the state level -- were made fully clear through several thorough reports.

The good news, and there is some, comes in the ways York Place is adapting in the face of multifaceted upheaval. Staff is determined; I am optimistic. But, there is work to be done.

The chaplain at York Place, the Rev'd Scott Fleischer, made a presentation to open the meeting. Were I in a ranking mood, I'd give it a ten. While he lives the trials of the institution on a daily basis, he also works closely with children whose outlook on life is severely compromised. The point he made is universal. I know, I'll draw on it for some time.

The focus? The story of Liz Murray of "Homeless to Harvard" fame. A child of drug-addicted parents and living in New York, she found herself homeless at 14, orphaned at 16, beginning high school at 17 and "miraculously" ended up a student at Harvard. Click here to see a YouTube interview with her.

This is the quote that grabbed my attention when I heard it this morning, grabbed me to the point that I had to look it up after arriving home:

Don't look at the people around you who are doing things and think that they are made of something more than you. They've learned some stuff and they're putting it to use. And, they're probably willing to work really hard for it. But, they're not made of anything different than you are. So, don't get psyched out. As long as you're willing to work past the point where you feel you have absolutely nothing left inside you, that's perseverance.

Perseverance doesn't guarantee monumental success. Neither does it level intellectual, financial, educational playing fields. And, it doesn't transform rotten attitudes. But, I think Ms Murray is right. Pushing past what is easy or comfortable or what seems possible will reveal benefits no one can anticipate.

20 September 2010

Back to the interstate

The schedule between our paddling adventure in Maine and our departure enroute to Utah's national parks and monuments is tight. Not only do we have a mere ten-day turnaround, but I am committed to a York Place board meeting beginning this afternoon through tomorrow afternoon, requiring an overnight in York; appointments with several directees, mid-week; three nights with my mom at Pawleys Island and the fall retreat at Gravatt for diocesan clergy next Monday through Wednesday.

I am determined not to get all jumpy over it, but clearly we were overly optomistic about what we could accomplish in such a short time. (That "we" needs to be translated, doesn't it? The word "I" would be much more accurate.)

This morning Tal left early with a friend bound for a semi-annual, three-day golf outing at Santee. I've enjoyed several hours of desk and house work, and am ready to set out for York with a stop at All God's Creatures to drop Belle and Whitby off at "camp" for the night.

Complicated, but doable.

19 September 2010

Reference book

I packed so carefully to go to Maine. And, I did pretty well, using everything I took. But, as I packed twice I picked up my Audubon "Field Guide to Wildflowers" from the bedside table and put it in my suitcase; twice I thought better of it. I was considering the extra weight. I was also assuming, given the time of year, that I'd not actually need it. Too bad.

I spent this afternoon going through images from the trip, using that longed-for reference book as I went. An amazing number of things in bloom in Maine's late summer.

Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea; Aster family)

Orange Hawkweed; Devil's Paintbrush (Hieracium aruantiacum; Aster family)

Spotted Touch-me-not; Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis; Touch-Me-Not family)

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perinnis; Pea family)

Beach Heath, False Heather; Poverty Grass (Hudsonia tomentosa; Rockrose family); a tiny yellow flower rather overwhelmed by the gorp bag

Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana; Buttercup family)

Blue Vetch; Cow Vetch (Vicia cracca; Pea family)

Harebell; Bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia; Bellflower family)

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis; Dogwood family)

Calico Aster (Aster lateriflorus; Aster family)

We're leaving for Utah at the end of September. Will I take my field guide this time? I'd like to say yes, but it's the eastern edition.

Oh well ...

18 September 2010

Where to start?

There won't be any photos taken today. A laundry room knee-deep in damp, dirty clothes and stacks of mail are commanding presences.

We're all home. Freshly groomed Whitby and Belle loved their time at All God's Creatures, but seemed glad to see us. It's obvious that it's not rained here since we left. I suppose it was all on the Allagash. But, the man who tended the yard while we were away did a great job. Trimmed dogs, neat yard, and, oh, the house we left nice and clean.

We've been to the grocery store, but my efforts don't hold a candle to the meals Alana and Colin put in front of us. Clearly, I've been spoiled.

17 September 2010

New habits

While on the Allagash we were conscientious about keeping our possessions from getting wet, our clothing and sleeping gear packed into large dry bags which, when closed properly, would remain watertight should we overturn the canoe. We also had smaller day packs made of the same material with the same closing system in which to carry things we might need while paddling -- binoculars; camera; an extra warm layer; sunglasses (not really a necessity on this particular trip!), hats, brimmed or warm depending on conditions; gloves.

In my day pack I also carried our set of Allagash Wilderness Waterway maps, my journal and pens, and a copy of "The Allagash" by Lew Dietz, the Dietz in its own zip lock bag and the journal, maps and pens in a second zip lock. Both of those bags went in a nylon, waterproof bag with a roll top which traveled in the larger day bag. Sounds a little like overkill, I admit, but I didn't want to risk losing any of those items.

Yesterday afternoon, to my astonishment, as Tal and I rolled along I-81 through West Virginia and I finished writing in the journal, methodically I put each item back into its proper bag, zipped them both closed, put the bags back into the nylon bag and rolled and clipped the top.

"What am I thinking?" I wondered to myself, when I realized what I had done. Truth is, I wasn't thinking at all. Just doing, following that -- on the water -- necessary routine. A deluge inside the car is highly unlikely, but one never knows ... At least I won't have to go rooting for a pen the next time I need one.

16 September 2010

A slow-moving train

We are in the car on I-81 already after a restful (but too short) night at a Holiday Inn Express in the vicinity of Harrisburg PA. Despite sleep -- in a bed larger than the footprint of the tent we used on the Allagash!, a morning shower and the use of a hair dryer for the first time in two weeks, it feels as though we never left the car. We travelled 540 miles yesterday and are looking at about 650 today.

The skies are overcast; the temperature is about 55 degrees. Perfect weather. The Pennsylvania countryside is as I remember it from our years in the Philadelphia area -- softly rolling with neat farms and sensational barns. I wonder if there might be a coffee table book on barns ... Anyway, the only thing marring the view is the privelence of double-decker billboards lining the interstate.

BUT, I'll not focus on that when I have a better view to savor in memory. The light is so soft and even this morning that details seem to leap forward toward one's eyes. When we crossed the Susquehanna River shortly after we got under way, Harrisburg on both sides of the river to my right, a long train, its boxcars colorful, commanded my attention. It was moving slowly eastward and was long enough that it completely crossed the river, the engines just passing out of my line of sight on one shore and cars appearing one-by-one from between buildings on the other.

Stopping to watch would have been such a treat. As it is, though, that train and Susquehanna will remain fused. And, I'll smile wistfully every time I think about it.

15 September 2010

Lingering goodbyes

Today has been a long day and we are tired. Since about 10:30 this morning, with a rest stop, another for fuel and a quick lunch of a pizza slice and a 1.5 hour snarl on I-78 behind a hideous accident requiring a HazMat team, numerous fire trucks, two wreckers for the remains of a tractor and its trailer, we have been on the road. About 10.5 hours and 600+ miles. Some people might say that getting there is half the fun. I'm not too sure. Both travel by air and by car is pretty tiring. For most part, though, we have done well, making only two slight wrong turns and getting to and through New York City with surprising ease.

I don't think we have ever willingly had such a late start in the face of an unusually long day. All it took was an invitation from Alana and Colin to Tal ...

We were up at about 6:00, just after dawn. The showers and hot water were sublime. (We arrived back at Chewonki last night late enough that we had to choose between showers and supper, and food won.) Breakfast was served in the dining room, where we gathered as a group for the last time.

Chewonki, as I think I have written before, has a semester program for high school juniors, about 40 students, who have a morning meeting immediately following breakfast in a large lounge on one side of the dining room. During the meeting a report of current, overnight events is presented by a student, reminders of field trip details are announced, and the like. I was sitting there pretty much in awe of the whole process and especially of that assembly of extraordinary young people and the adults guiding them. Colin took the opportunity to introduce our Elderhostel/Road Scholar group before the meeting ended, explaining what we had done over the course of nine days. To be honest, I felt some reciprocal awe ...

That was when Tal amazed me by not being in a hurry to set out for home immediately after breakfast. He took up Colin and Alana's invitation for a walk to The Point. It's a glorious location with about a 300-degree water view. While I cannot explain how deeply satisfying this experience has been, maybe our late start explains it better than words could.

After our return to main campus and when we could linger no longer at the picnic table under the apple tree where we had met for met each other over lunch together on September 5th, it was time to go, a moment that felt like ripping off a bandage. Despite the flare on the lens, I think this photograph pretty much says it all.

I am grateful for eleven days of association with these folks. Now comes the luscious process of mining the treasures of the experience in earnest.

14 September 2010

Pull outs, drop offs, arrivals

We made great time this morning. Up earlier than normal and working toward a 7:30 departure from our East Twin Brook campsite, we were intent on getting to our pull out point just past Allagash Village, where the Allagash joins the St John River. Although we were almost 30 minutes late leaving camp, we more than made up for it on the river, arriving at the pull out before 10:30, a full hour earlier than expected. Alana had us threading the needle rather neatly -- finding the best running water and dodging rocks, most of us hanging up only once or twice and then not significantly.

Here are Dave, Kathleen and Eric with an array of our stuff while waiting the van and trailor's arrival from the local outfitter who moved it from Churchill Dam to Allagash Village.

And, here (in a photograph by Colin) is the entire group, flanked by our guides, Colin and Alana, at the end of our 75-mile paddle and the beginning of a 300-mile ride back to Wiscasset.

With a stop for fuel and a trailor-side picnic lunch in Fort Kent, van trouble requiring a stop at Midway and a stop once again in Bangor to drop off two of our new friends meeting their ride to Bar Harbor, we arrived at Chewonki at 6:30.

13 September 2010

Irish melody

As I sit writing in our tent at the end of this lovely, rainy day, I can hear the crackle of the campfire as it dies down and the sweet strains of Irish-sounding melodies.* Colin is sitting at the water's edge below our camp playing his fiddle, a soothing end to another day on the Allagash River.

We paddled a rather short distance today from Allagash Falls to a campsite at East Twin Brook, located at a bend in the river -- perhaps eight miles. Three factors made today's course particularly memorable:

  • More rain: Yes, we've had another overcast day. Even Alana and Colin have been surprised by the constant rain. Generally, September in Maine is clear, though cool at night.

  • The waterway itself: After Allagash Falls the river narrows a bit, winding luxuriously, with silver maples lining long sections of the bank. I can only imagine what it will look like in two weeks, since -- clearly -- fall is here. The river's course is not all tranquility, though. There are rips and slight rapids to negiotiate. Today's section of the Allagash is referred to as "bony." Paddlers have to pick their way through the challenging sections.

  • The afternoon in camp: Today's paddle ended in a steady rain. By the time we unloaded the boats, Alana and Colin had the tarps over the table and fireplace erected, had built a fire and put lunch out, though, the rain had stopped and stayed stopped until now -- just moments ago (about 20 minutes after Colin finished playing the day to an end). For nearly three hours the camp was still, with quiet conversation, napping, catching up journals, sitting by the fire the primary activity. It was a lovely last encamped afternoon.

  • It's time to put the writing materials away and turn off the flashlight. I can still hear soft fiddle music even though the instrument's safely back in its dry case and Colin has gone to bed. Enough for the day. That distant music and the strengthening rain will bring on satisfying sleep, I hope.

    Two of the three pieces Colin played have names I can remember. One is "Going Up the Allagash," written by Colin himself and the other "Ashokan Farewell" by Jay Ungar. It was written in 1982 and used as the theme for the PBS miniseries "The Civil War." Very delicate and sweet. The link will provide both information on its origins and a very nice rendition to listen to.

    12 September 2010

    To the falls

    Today's paddle featured heavy skies and rain, innovative old machinery and a former farm, dreamy stretches and "boney" water, another icy plunge and another birthday cake. It couldn't have been a better day. I confess to deep weariness, though, and no desire to write anything tonight from our campsite halfway through the Allagash Falls portage.

    But, there are photos ...

    Along our route today we took a break at the Cunliffe Depot campsite to see the remains of two Lombard Loghaulers, steam-powered tractors invented by Alvin O Lombard in the early years of the 20th century.

    One of the interesting things about the loghaulers is that they, with their caterpillar tread, are the precurser to the farm tractor and the modern-day military tank.

    A week ago we stopped at the Telos checkpoint to register our presence in the North Maine Woods. We enjoyed our lunch today at Michaud Farm, where we identified ourselves to the ranger on duty, signing out as it were. This photograph was taken from behind the Michaud Farm Sign, which has an old saw blade decorating the top.

    Allagash Falls is a beautiful, 40-foot waterfall requiring a 150-yard portage. It is difficult to photograph without employing more daredevil tactics than I was willing to risk. This shot is from the bottom looking back. The photo's extreme foreground is the bathing pool -- and the coldest swimming water yet.

    10 September 2010

    The cake

    The cake, chocolate with chocolate icing, with which we observed Colin's upcoming birthday, was a stellar success. We crawled into our tents once again well-fed as daylight faded.

    Into the water

    No, we did not end up in the water with an overturned canoe. But, yes, I have wet feet all day every day, the "Chewonki way" of loading and getting in an out of a canoe requiring wading in ankle-to-knee deep water. And, yes, the rain continued through the day. In addition to all that wetness, it also seems as though fall has come to the Maine North Woods -- couple of weeks before the equinox. This has been out coolest day yet; I wore my wool knit sleeping hat all day.

    Paddling ten miles in the dreary chill, however, was not without its beauty. In fact, the entire distance was in the river (no lakes or ponds to traverse), a narrow, meandering ribbon with stretches of serene flat water breaking up the more challenging shallow water with its rips, rocks and rapids. Tal commented more than once through the day that "this" is what he came here for.

    Our lunch stop was at the new and controversial Henderson Brook Bridge on the Blanchet-Maibec Road. Seems it replaced a 39-year-old temporary bridge and many objected to a permanent structure. It's beautiful in its simplicity and I must say, since leaving I-95 on Sunday, I have been surprised by every bridge (not very many, I hasten to add) we've crossed over or paddled under. They may have a steel superstructure, especially the newer ones, but the rails and decks are of wood -- very large wood -- held together with huge bolts.

    As we neared the inlet to Round Pond, the river braided and slowed. At that point we were treated to the sight of large, elegant elms on either side of the river (the first of which is shown here), having survived Dutch Elm disease because of their isolated location.

    It is mid-to-late afternoon as I write this and our camp on Round Pond is set up, again the rain abating during that process. Several of us have been in the water. Including me! And, how was it? Cold? Bracing, breathtaking, brutal. But, refreshing. I am grateful for having brought both the bathing suit and the felt-like microfiber camp towel. Though we cannot actually bathe, I did with biodegradable camp soap manage to wash my slicked-to-the-head dirty hair. The rinse had to be done on the shore in a water-filled bucket, the rinse water then poured out several feet up inland so it would filter through shrubs, grass and rocks before returning to the Allagash.

    And, now, at the moment we're all gathered around the table -- warm drink in hand and warm fire nearby. Supper (of mac'n cheese) is underway with the chocolate cake having been put on the fire first. Colin and Tal definitely have the best seat in the house.

    09 September 2010

    A long haul

    Today we paddled from our Chisholm Brook campsite through Umsaskis Lake, Long Lake and Harvey Pond. It was a very hard day for Tal and me. We seem to be better at rips and rapids than we are long stretches of lake and headwinds in intermittent rain. Consistently, we were at the end of the line. On a positive note, however, we didn't lose ground as we did on our first day out and, when all was said and done, we made the distance. A T-shirt that Chickie and Pat Harristhal sold in their shop at Canadian Border Outfitters outside Ely MN, which had "Shut Up and Paddle" on the front, was my mantra for the day.

    Of course, it wasn't all gloom. We saw our first moose up close on the approach to the American Realty Road bridge crossing the thoroughfare between Umsaskis and Long Lakes. She was watchful as our flotilla approached, but continued eating until about the third canoe passed under the bridge, only then slowing moving back into the tall bushes. We were pretty far behind and my camera's focal length power is limited, so I didn't get a very good, close, well-composed shot.

    We have camped at the ruins of the Long Lake Dam, a very picturesque spot. The ruins of the dam might seem runnable both from the water and from the campsite bluff, but the literature I've seen suggests strongly trying it to be a bad idea, there being submerged spikes which could seriously damage a canoe. A short portage is required, so the canoes were brought out of the water and to the campsite for the night.

    This afternoon has provided Tal the second opportunity he has had to use his flyrod, the first having been at Churchill Dam Tuesday afternoon. While none of the fishermen in the group (Colin, Eric, Tal) have caught anything they could keep, watching them in action is a pleasure.

    08 September 2010

    Chicken of the woods

    After the four-mile-long Chase Rapids and some additional fast water the Allagash opens into slack water and meanders through a large meadow. We stopped for the night at the Chisholm Brook campsite located a short distance from where the river then opens into Umsaskis Lake. While the rain continued all day, we were fortunate that it stopped while we established camp. And, we were treated to a couple of hours of late-afternoon sunlight making our in-camp time at Chisholm Brook particularly lush. Everyplace I let my eyes settle the light falling on the world gave it an enchanting richness.

    While helping with supper I went back to our tent to put on dry shoes and was taken by this scene, looking back into the campsite -- at the water beaded on the surface of the tent fly, of the smoke curling up on either end of the tarps, of the low shaft of light leading up to Ron and Tal talking to one another. I wish the photograph did the moment justice.

    And, then there was supper. Chicken of the woods in a Marsala cream sauce -- in the wilderness of the Maine North Woods. I am forever spoiled where camp food is concerned, let me tell you. Chicken of the woods is an edible (thank goodness) mushroom which Colin harvested at Chewonki and dried. It was better than tasty after Alana finished with it.

    As evening settled in so did the clouds. Our reprieve from the rain was short, but golden.

    Chase Rapids

    I am writing after our run down the Chase Rapids and we're all in one piece! I cannot say that anxiety was not part of the experience. The rapids are four miles long with a drop of about nine feet per mile. I'd be telling a mighty lie were I to discount how worried I was. It could have been Niagara Falls as far as I was concerned! Truth is, since all our big gear -- our dry packs; tents; the wannagans, the cooler and the pickle barrels containing our food -- was transported around the rapids by the ranger so we could run with empty canoes, I comforted myself by acknowledging that were I absolutely unable to force myself to participate I could ride around with him and the gear. Miraculously, that thought did help.

    I rained some in the night and we awoke to a steady rain. Alana amazed me with breakfast. Had I been in her position, facing rain and a challenging section of water with several novice paddlers, likely I would have served cold cereal and bagels, something quick and simple. A reflection of my anxiety, I judge. She and Colin, on the other hand, produced bacon and blueberry pancakes with Vermont maple syrup over a fire!

    On days when there are paddlers waiting to run the rapids water is released through the dam from 8:00AM to noon. After the gear had been loaded into the truck and while we waited to see if the rain would abate and for the water in the Allagash to rise, we walked across the dam to visit the museum. Late blooming lupine in pink and blue on the east side of the dam was a surprise to us all, and a particular pleasure to me as it was Hester's favorite flower and something she loved most especially about Maine.

    The rain kept falling, though, and the water wasn't going to get any higher. We had to set out.

    This photograph is one taken by Colin in sweep position just as we left the dam. The first rapid is around the curve in the river to the left. I am grateful to Colin for having documented the group's passage, as all of us kept our cameras stowed in our waterproof day bags and pretty much had all we could handle in the rushing water presenting itself to us.

    Within a couple of hours we'd done it with only one mishap. A canoe went over on the second rapid and as serious as it could have been the paddlers did what they'd been instructed to do during yesterday's practice and Alana and Colin's extensive training at Chewonki became evident immediately. Tal and I were the fourth canoe in the line, so we eddied out and waited until everyone was back in the proper boat and the water was clear. We had our turn without having anyone to follow to show the way and we did fine. It wasn't all easy after that, but I settled down, realizing that all we had to do, all we could do, was follow when we were able to see a canoe in front of us, try to read the water no matter what and take the river as it came.

    We stopped at the site of the former Bissonnette Bridge where our gear had been deposited to reload the canoes and for a relaxing lunch break. Alana's tuna salad was exceptionally magnificent! Even the outhouse was deserving of its own photo. I suspect it was pure relief that enlivened my reactions to the ordinary to such a heightened degree.

    In this downstream view our reloaded canoes await the next leg of our journey.

    07 September 2010


    I began writing this while sitting at a table in our campsite at Churchill Dam, but didn't get very far. The sound of the Allagash water running through the dam was loud, but not overly so, and very steady. From where I was sitting I could see the dam and the museum on the east side of the river. The museum (once a storehouse)and another large, now-abandoned, building behind me (a boarding house in the day)are the only buildings remaining from a logging complex on this site known as Churchill Depot, a rather large and thriving community in the 1920s and 1930s.

    In addition to the sound of the Allagash, a soft, slow rain made a wonderful noise on the tarp covering the table and fireplace. It was a sound completely different from what I would have been hearing had I been in the tent writing. It had been a busy day to that point with paddling in the morning, setting up camp after lunch and practice on the river before free time.

    So, the practice. Colin and Alana presented an overview of how to read fast water, what to do in the case of a tipped canoe (and what they would be doing) and then had us put the canoes in the fast water on the downstream side of the dam. There we practiced ferrying (crossing moving water without losing ground), prys and draws (to turn the canoe quickly), eddying in and out of the current. Most important? Don't follow to closely, if in trouble blow the whistle attached to one's PFD, have fun. Yeah, right. The thought crossed my mind that we won't know how well we learned those techniques during our practice session until we're put to the test in the Chase Rapids tomorrow.

    Needless to say, a nap called after all that. Then it was time to begin supper. That activity is well underway in the photograph below.

    This is Alice helping with the prep work for our meal of Gado-gado, an Indonesian stirfry, featuring lots of fresh vegatables and a tantalizing peanut sauce. We finished the meal and finished cleanup before dark descended -- no headlamps necessary.

    Seems as though practice in camp is paying off. I do hope the same holds true for our pre-rapid practice in the water earlier in the afternoon.


    Yesterday afternoon was a terribly difficult time. I was in no way prepared for such a formidable start, five miles of paddling into a relentless, howling headwind. By the time we approached Scofield Point, despite several all-group rest stops, Tal and I were so tired that we didn't quite make it to the campsite. When we tried to round the point, our canoe was caught broadside by the wind and we simply couldn't keep paddling straight long enough to complete the turn.

    Colin was in the single canoe in sweep position; he recommended that we paddle to the bank on the back side of the point, which we did. Exhausted, we carried our personal gear up the shore to the campsite. We weren't quite alone in our failure, but we didn't make it by a considerably larger margin than a few of the others. Colin assisted folks with gear while Alana and Eric ferried canoes. What a beginning.

    But, Scofield Point was certainly worth the pain, I must say. As we set up our tent and camp life was established, the wind died down and we took a short walk along the bank soaking up the stillness and the quiet.

    We arrived and ate late enough that we needed headlamps again before the cleanup was finished, but what a meal -- a delicious concoction of black beans and salsa, sauteed onion and ground meat for burritos and a dessert of ginger-brownie cake baked over the campfire. Divine! Have I mentioned that Alana is a personal chef?

    It rained in the night, a nice sound on the tent fly. And, as Tal and I were waking in the pre-dawn, we heard very distinct footsteps outside and moving past our tent. Moments later came a terrible snap followed by a loud crash. A moose had come through the campsite, getting tangled in one of the lines securing the tarp over the table and fireplace. Very exciting! We should have seen moose eating in the marshy area at the back of the point after dawn, but with the unusual wind direction continuing overnight, they with their acute sense of smell stayed away.

    With the overnight rain came a change in wind direction to what Alana and Colin had expected for yesterday. So, today we paddled back to Churchill Dam with -- a headwind. Somehow, we were more ready for it today than yesterday and, though hard, we kept up pretty well.

    06 September 2010

    Getting there

    I awoke before dawn deep in my warm sleeping bag expecting to hear early morning bird sounds. Nothing. Silence. Except for Tal's regular breathing next to me. But, then ... the unmistakable scream of an eagle. "Yes, we are in the woods!" I thought. Unfortunately, I was so out of kilter in that moment that I couldn't figure out how to get out of the tent, much less find my clothes, in order to try to catch a glimpse of the creature offering that first wilderness-morning greeting. I suspect it's going to take me a day or two before I get a routine going -- erecting and disassembling the tent, keeping the dry bag sort of organized, putting my shoes in the same place each night.

    Luckily for us, Alana and Colin are used to all this. Coffee was perking and breakfast well underway by the time we emerged to greet the day. Our first breakfast? Scrambled eggs, English muffins and sausage. I could get used to this ...

    A slow morning, though, it was not -- since we had to drive several hours again before we arrived at Churchill Dam where we would take the canoes off the trailor, learn the "Chewonki way" of loading them and paddle off to our first campsite in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

    We made four major stops during the morning, the first two almost immediately. The Big Eddy Campground is on both sides of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. (Of course the name refers to a fishing pool below a long stretch of whitewater. But, that doesn't keep people from using an affectionate though inaccurate name: the "Large Edward"!) Since we were on the side opposite the office and we needed both fire wood and water, we headed there, but stopped before crossing the bridge.

    First Stop -- Cribworks Rapids: DO check out the highlighted link for a terrific photograph and a short paragraph on the rapids. What a terrifying sight this was for the white water novices among us who would be confronted with the Chase Rapids on Wednesday! I absolutely did understand that the Cribworks were blasted into their wild and sharp present form by loggers using dynamite, that they are Class IV+/V and that the Chase Rapids top out at about Class III, but my head knowledge didn't help much at that moment. Still a stunning scene, I must say.

    Second Stop -- Big Eddy Campground: The Big Eddy opens up at the bottom of the Cribworks and Big Eddy Rapids. We enjoyed watching fishermen and kayakers, absorbing the early mornning ambience of the place, filling water bottles, taking advantage of one last restroom and sipping a final cup of coffee before settling in for the ride.

    Third Stop -- Telos Checkpoint: Since much of the land and roads is privately owned by timbering corporations, recreational users are required to register their presence as they enter the North Maine Woods and to pay user fees. This stop required about 30-minutes, allowing for the stretching of legs and sinking in of the increasing remoteness of our situation, as seen in this view of the road leaving the checkpoint.

    It was to our advantage that we were making this drive on Labor Day. The loggers were taking a rest from their considerable labors, so we didn't have to negiotiate for road space with the trucks.

    Forth and Final Stop -- Churchill Dam: Originally, plans for this trip called for a different starting point and a longer paddle. Concerned about southerly winds on the large lakes which made padding difficult, Alana and Colin had proposed putting in at Churchill Dam and paddling up Churchill Lake with a tailwind for an easy first day's paddling. As we unloaded the van and trailor, enjoyed lunch, learned about balanced loading and securing everything in the canoes, the wind did pick up, but in the wrong, opposite-from-normal direction! When we set out for our campsite at Scofield Point, a very desirable location, in was into an increasing wind which tested us from the very beginning. More about that later.

    This photograph was taken by Colin McGovern from the dam (looking south and upstream), documenting all five canoes fully loaded and the seven Road Scholars ready to get their paddles in the water.

    05 September 2010

    To Chewonki ... and beyond

    Tal and I have looked forward to canoeing the Allagash for several months now -- for the legendary white pines, for the challenage of serious physical activity, for getting to know a new group of people -- well, for lots of reasons. And, I like to travel, pretty much for travelling's sake, truth be known. With Hester's death I added another hope after we wiped our tears and waved goodbye to Bill: that the primitive nature of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the Maine North Woods will provide space for quiet and memory and for grief and gratitude.

    We left Saturday Cove after breakfast this morning for the one and a half hour drive to Wiscasset and to find Chewonki, sponsor and coordinator of our trip. We did the "duffle shuffle" (getting our things out of our own luggage and into dry packs), met and had lunch with our two guides -- Alana and Colin, both from Maine, and three of the five others in our Road Scholar group -- Alice from Williamsburg VA and Kathleen and Dave from near Ashland VA, loaded up and at 2:00 set out in a 12-passenger van with canoes following along behind. (Pictured here is Tal double-checking the canoe straps.)

    At a Dysarts truck stop in Bangor we rendezvoused with our final two group members, a father and son -- Ron and Eric, Ron from Maine and Eric from Idaho. Although at a little after 4:00 we were officially together and on our way, it wasn't until we left I-95 at Medway/East Millinocket and headed into Maine's interior that the remoteness of what we were about to do began to sink in for me.

    It was dusk before we pulled into Chewonki's Big Eddy Campground on the Golden Road (which runs from Millinocket to the Canadian border and is the most active logging road in New England) and the West Branch of the Penobscot River, just outside Baxter State Park. It was there that we learned to pitch out tents and had our first meal cooked over a fire -- both activities accomplished in the dark. Now I understand why headlamps, rather than flashlights, were so highly recommended on our equipment lists ...

    04 September 2010

    An end

    When the hospice nurse arrived this afternoon to see Hester, all the extraneous people vacated the house. Tal and I sat on the back porch with Bill, Hester's husband. It hadn't been ten minutes when Hester's daughter stepped through the door, leaned over, put her arms around Bill's shoulders and whispered, "She's gone."

    As ready as he was, as ready as we all were, those two words put the world into a strange wobbly orbit. There were things to do, but for awhile as the nurse boxed up medications, made calls, all the things she was supposed to do at such a time, we simply sat with Hester, around her bed there in that large, bright room overlooking the Penobscot Bay.

    Keeping vigil

    I am taking my turn at sitting up with Hester, the 2:00 - 6:00AM shift. She is still breathing. Such a labored struggle. While she lives what will probably be her last night, what remains of hurricane Earl has arrived, torrential rain and gusting wind having begun at about 3:00.

    This is so hard. Part of me wants to flee. But, a stronger (and better) part wants to keep vigil with this ebbing life. I am struck by the rains outside this snug house, the elemental force of it all, coming in forceful waves, followed by lulls, each phase dramatic in its turn. I am also aware of how similar the elemental forces are which exist in this room, life and death caught up in, twisted in on themselves, in horrible battle. I know full well which will be the victor. The question is when. And, when the time does come and the labored breathing stops, we'll all agree that, while death took a life, it's Hester who ultimately won, dying at home in her beloved Saturday Cove, the soft lights bathing the room in something akin to a holy glow.

    Dawn is breaking. The rain and the breathing continue. The scent of brewing coffee is a deep comfort.

    03 September 2010

    Christmas lights

    We arrived in Northport today, a relatively easy drive, although long with a few pockets of heavy traffic and of construction work. Fortunately for me, Tal felt like driving, so I was able to navigate us along our way and through various change of route. (There are lots of options for avoiding Boston!) Given Hester's situation, we did not dally at all. We stopped only twice for fuel, both stops at the convenient travel plazas on the toll road/interstates in this part of the world which offer fuel, food, refreshment and probably entertainment, though we didn't seek that out. In fact, we ate in the car as we headed this way, keeping the meal simple ... crackers, fruit and beverage.

    The house and location are as I remembered them from my visit two summers ago -- beautiful and welcoming. Hester is heavily sedated, particularly today having been bathed and her bed changed during the morning, a daunting and painful activity. Her hospital bed is in the living room, looking out over the deck to the Penobscot Bay, a view she has long loved. Bill had the clear Christmas lights put back up along the eaves of the back of the house, which softly illuminate the room through the nights, another thing Hester loved.

    Seeing her this way is more than difficult. I would not trade being here for anything, though. Of course we had decided that we would only say hello and visit with Bill for a short time and then go on our way. Staying here would be an inconvenience to the family and we would be in the way. Our room, however, reserved for us by Hester and Hester having been clear about it before she slipped into her deep sleep, was ready for us. Stay here we have.

    02 September 2010

    A place in-between

    Our first two nights out on this adventure were with my brother and his family. Any tension with which I might have begun the trip vanished in that locale. We drank really good coffee and ate equally good food. We caught up on news of jobs and school. We told stories, were introduced to BBC's "Top Gear" (oh, my!), attended an end-of-band camp performance and even took in the wonders of the local (and massive) Bass Pro Shops. The Mechanicsville hospitality is always rich, warm and genuine.

    There's not much to say about our day's travel from Virginia into Connecticut. It was hazy and hot. For most part the traffic was heavy and at one spot rather harrowing, the details of which I'll skip over rather happily. There wasn't much scenery to enjoy along that congested corridor. The George Washington Bridge, for example, is an architectural gem, as are many of the buildings on I-95 just as we entered the city. Even with Tal driving, however, who could actively do any more than notice? A long gaze at anything today, even for the passenger, was completely impossible.

    During the Mechanicsville to almost-NYC leg which I drove and then during the almost-NYC to Meridian CT with Tal driving, it crossed my mind to decide inwardly that I do not want to make this particular drive again. Only in the most extreme circumstances do I want to drive to Maine again. It feels too hard and too dangerous. We were enormously grateful to tuck ourselves safely into our room at the Holiday Inn Express in Meridian on the Berlin Turnpike.

    Then, I made a telephone call to our friends in Maine with whom we were to stay for three nights before joining the canoeing group, a telephone call that took my breath away. Hester's sister-in-law answered the phone; Hester, who has been battling newly diagnosed cancer, is getting ready to leave this world, the sister-in-law told me. The daughter and grandchildren had arrived. When I talked to Hester only two weeks ago, she was getting ready to welcome the garden club to tour her backyard and she implored us to consider returning for a longer visit after we canoed on the Allagash. Dying? I couldn't and still can't get my mind to cooperate with that thought. I'm trapped in an in-between place, stuck with Hester's invitation still fresh in my mind and Kay's very terrible news trampling all over my heart. Melodramatic, I know, but it's true in this moment.

    01 September 2010

    Is it Eden?

    Tal and I left home on Monday morning, September 30th. The first twenty miles of a 1200+-mile drive to Maine was in the wrong direction -- in order to drop Whitby and Belle at All God's Creatures where they will board while we are away. We have been preparing to make this trip for weeks and weeks, even months -- reading about the Allagash River, consulting maps of the Allagash River, collecting the requisite gear to spend eight days in a canoe and a tent on the Allagash River. I still can't quite believe what we have set out to do.

    Over the years Tal and I have been married we have enjoyed travelling together, so the getting ready aspect is not unknown to us. We actually have a rudimentary checklist to ensure that the mail gets stopped and the hot water heater turned off. The process this time, though, was distinctly and pleasantly different in one primary way: I did not experience the usual intense panic leading up to our departure. There was no newsletter to finish; there were no last minute meetings to attend; I didn't have with me as we pulled out of the drive a list of notes to write and calls to make on the first day. I've not been gainfully employed for over two years and it's taken that long for me to clear the schedule and conclude a backlog of expectation.

    Now, I didn't leave our home precisely the way I'd envisioned -- all the towels washed and freshly hung, Tal's truck clean (that'll be the day ...), the grass edged, the depleted pantry in order ... It's excessive expectation, I know, but I always want to leave home in perfect order. That's partly so I can walk back in and find it perfect, I realize. But, I also think, at least in part, there is some dim but persistent memory of Eden in all of us. From how I want to leave home as Tal and I depart on a trip to humanity's sense of fairness (and how we think things ought to be along with our restlessness and anger when they are not) -- maybe all that springs from the imprint of Eden on the collective conscience.

    Well, I said maybe ...

    A sunny day

    We are in camp after a not-to-long paddle from Round Pond to Five Finger Brook. The campsite is another beautiful spot, sitting on a bluff overlooking a pretty and fast stretch of water where a number of streams run into the Allagash.

    Here Tal and Alice enjoy the bench overlooking the river and some conversation prior to the beginning of supper preparations.

    It has been a storybook day. The rains ended after the camp went to bed last night. That campsite on Round Pond was a quiet as all the rest, save the occasional sound of an occasional high-flying jet. And, since I was sleepless initially, I heard an eerie and beguiling chorus of loons. At one point, an owl, way in the distance, joined in. What a privilege to be here.

    Tal and I got up at 2:00 to walk to the outhouse and saw the heavens aglitter with stars from horizon to horizon and reflected on the surface of the water. Utterly magnificent. I suppose that sight puts a person as close to pure worship as is possible -- that sudden intake of breath, the whispered, "oh, look!"

    By 6:00, when the camp began waking, the place was completely socked in with fog. Only the edge of the water proved that Round Pond was out there. We had breakfast, broke camp and were on our way shortly after 9:00 into a clear, sunny day -- our first since setting off on this journey along the Allagash.

    I took this photograph while everyone was breaking camp and the last of the fog rolled away.

    Our route took us through the Round Pond Rips and the Musquacook Deadwater. Much of it was tranquil, even serene -- and, again, all river with one emerging view after another around every turn. In addition to memorable vistas, we saw two moose -- a cow and a bull; several eagles, two of which kept their tree-top positions as we paddled by, another escorting us for quite a distance along the river's route; many geese and mergansers. The bull moose gave a memorable performance. His rack was so wide that when he decided he didn't like the looks of five approaching canoes he had to trot a rather long distance in the shallow water at river's edge until he found an opening in the thick growth to get the antlers through. We all watched his every move until he melted into the woods.

    The wind -- a headwind -- picked up well into the paddle, turning our transport into work. I am very sore, but am holding my own. The wind caught us once in a tight maneuver and we ended up hung on a rock, a position from which Alana had to free us by physically pulling us backward, lining us up with the water's flow and turning us loose. We ended up riding that rapid very well. The sunshine did help.

    I've been in the water since arriving in camp. Cold and moving water. I resisted, trying to talk myself out of the frigid plunge and a freshly wet swim suit, but in the end concluded today likely to be my only chance in this lifetime to swim in the shadow of Musquacook Mountain. I had to decide quickly. Before the glorious sun fell below the ridge. Burrrr and whoo ha!