A March gathering of canoeists warms the heart


Thanks to a generous invitation, last weekend I attended my first (but probably not my last) Wilderness Paddlers Gathering. Begun in March 1993 during “a blizzard of historic proportions,” this annual event has become a tradition at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, Vermont. For those of us who love canoeing, what could be a better way to spend a March weekend? Sharing stories, photos and videos, skills, and incredible amounts of tasty food with those who love canoeing the waters of the north.


Once there, I discovered a few old friends and made lots of new ones. I had 25 minutes on Saturday morning to tell my story and practiced at great length on the 4-hour drive over to this comfortable camp on the NH/VT border. See what a great audience I had! As always, though, listening to everyone else was the most fun. Through the beautiful magic of media, we rafted the Grand Canyon, paddled the Alatna and Koyukuk Rivers in Alaska, and followed Chewonki down Quebec and Labrador’s George River.

My favorite was a documentary, “Into Twin Galaxies: A Greenland Epic.” This hour-long film follows three young explorers on a insanely breath-taking quest kite-skiing across the Greenland ice cap to reach a river that they discovered on Google Earth. Delayed by the terrain and a serious injury, they arrive later than planned to find ice where they expected open water. When fate finally provides them with a churning river filled with huge, uncharted waterfalls, viewers will hold their breath in astonishment at what they try to run. Seize the chance to see this one when you can!

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Of course, you never know quite what you’ll learn. Above, retired Vermont fish & game warden Eric Nuse, whose stories are featured in Megan Price’s book series, Vermont Wild, tells a great breakfast story. Seems there was this ripe moose carcass caught up in a tree, one that could perhaps be best removed with dynamite. The key to success, learned the hard way, was to have a long enough cord to get well out of range!

Below is the traveling library that appears at both of the yearly Northern Wilderness Travelers Conferences, including the November Snow Walkers Rendezvous. I borrowed a book that’s been on my list for a long time, Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak: One Woman’s Journey Through the North West Passage by Victoria Jason. I guess that I just can’t get enough of reading by the woodstove, waiting for spring!

Upwards receives first book award!

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OK, how humble is it to say “first” book award? Honestly, though, my hopes and dreams for this book continue to grow, as more people read and share their thoughts. The volume of responses is growing and opportunities for the new year are coming in fast.

A few highlights:

  • Four upcoming events in the next three weeks (details on the events page)
  • Just invited to present at the Wilderness Paddlers Gathering in Fairlee, VT in March
  • Planning two events during the Adirondacks’ Celebrate Paddling month in June
  • And, of course, Honorable Mention in the category of Biography/Autobiography from the New England Book Festival.

The Boston-based New England Book Festival, sponsored by JM Northern Media, recognizes the best books of the holiday season in 17 categories. Winners are judged on “general excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story” and “the potential of the work to reach a wider audience.”

To balance out the many hours devoted to the book, I continue to plan for next summer and enjoy today. A deluge of rain, amid temperatures as high as 55 degrees, has washed away much of our snow. The sight of green grass and brown leaves has been a welcome change. Sunday’s afternoon walk, on boots not snowshoes, felt free and unencumbered.

I tramped, I tromped, the trail more brown than white, looking around at the woods, rather than down at my feet. You know how it feels when you’ve just climbed up, then down, a mountain and hit the flat? The joy of simply swinging along is wonderful.

Gone, though, was the hushed white wonderland of winter. Every step was a loud crunch, either on a couple of inches of frozen remnant snow or, mostly, on frosty ground. Crunching along at a good pace, out to the edge of an old beaver pond.

There, nature had sculpted striking designs in the paper-thin sheet of ice that rimmed the pond. I walked a few feet out to sit on a log, trying not to destroy too much of the beauty, finding an inch or two of air between the ice and solid ground below. The sound of my progress was deafening, all wildlife no doubt well warned of my visit.


When I sat, though, to take in the play of the brilliant sunlight across the ice, the ruckus continued. A vigorous wind, rustling the trees in the pond, gave the ice a tortured voice. The grinding, cracking, and squealing never let up, and the cold soon nudged me to head back home to a cup of hot cocoa and my never-ending to-do list.

As my faithful readers know, I am still learning the ins and outs of social media, and recently discovered that my automatic sharing of posts somehow missed the last one. If you’d like to join me on an earlier walk, here is my January 5th post.

 

Thank you, Aqua-Bound, maker of fine paddles, for writing about Upwards!

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Aqua-Bound, who manufactures quality U.S.-made paddles in Osceola, Wisconsin, recently invited me to collaborate on a blog post about my thru-paddle and book.

A long paddling expedition is built of many components, both within the paddler and without. When it comes to on-the-water equipment, after the boat, the paddle you choose is key. In my case, it was an Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon kayak paddle that brought me safely through to Fort Kent. Here is the blog post, published yesterday. We covered a lot of ground, or should I say water, in 900 or so words!

I was especially pleased that we were able to include a quote from Upwards, in response to one of the more introspective interview questions, about paddling solo. The post also links to two of my favorite websites, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (with an amazing online auction ending Sunday) and the Pemaquid Watershed Association. Thanks again, Aqua-Bound, for introducing the book to a new community of paddlers!

One is silver and the other’s gold

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Mike meeting Dad for the first time on the east shore of Maine’s Umbazooksus Stream. That yellow thing is the collapsible sail that he was experimenting with that summer.

The summer of 2014 was Dad’s time for a grand adventure, a 200-mile section paddle from Spencer Rips on the Moose River to the village of Allagash on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. He had started out alone and was planning to meet me, so we could do the Allagash together. Our rendezvous hour at the Umbazooksus Stream bridge came and went, though, with no sign of him out on the water. I decided to go exploring.

It turns out that you can drive into the last campsite on the east shore of that wide stream, really an arm of Chesuncook Lake. Down through the potholes and brush I went, until suddenly emerging right next to an ancient picnic table complete with roof.  Set up next to the table was a roomy canvas cabin tent looking lived in and loved.

It was too late to escape without being seen. I stopped and walked down to the shore to say hello to a friendly-looking man sprawled in a camp chair.  Mike Messick, from Missouri, had many a story to share and a history of long, adventurous road trips following wherever the spirit would lead.

That morning, it had led him to us or, rather, us to him.  After Dad arrived, over a cup of Mike’s freshly brewed coffee, we found ourselves inviting him to join us on the Allagash. This was a bit beyond the boundaries of our usual behavior, but it turned out to be the birth of a strong friendship.

Hastily, knowing the day was moving along, we spread out maps, jotted down the name and number of our favorite outfitter (Tylor Kellys Camps in the village of Allagash), and agreed to meet a few days later at Umsaskis Bridge.

Even though we were a bit late in arriving there, Mike was waiting for us with a campfire crackling…and the rest is history, part of which made it into the pages of my new adventure memoir, Upwards.

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New friends, united by the river.
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Picking blueberries at the campsite that had it all, including two whitetail bucks, a moose, a gray jay, and plenty of sunshine to light up our morning. An evening view from that campsite, Deadwater North, graces the front cover of Upwards.
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There’s nothing better than blueberry pancakes and bacon
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Mike was at home in (or under) a canoe
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Moon over Round Pond
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Until we meet again…saying farewell at Michaud Farm

I’ve been thinking this week that our lives flow along as glistening threads in an almost unfathomable web, their intersections our places of decision or serendipity. My author’s walk, still in its infancy, has been strewn with crossings, some joyful surprises, others the fruit of grasping courage with both hands and making them happen.

I’ve met trail founders, penned prayerful inscriptions for friends and strangers battling cancer, and sent copies of Upwards to stores hundreds of miles away. Through it all, the abiding kindness of people and the strength of their stories has filled me with new energy. On Thursday, I came in from my morning bus ride with the students of Bus #14 to discover that my school was celebrating ME, with snacks and speeches and lots of love! The handmade card below, created by Karen Hight, is one I will always treasure.

I’ve found there is something in those who go to the rivers and forests of the north that reflects those places and their intrinsic character. These are souls who live by the rhythm of the seasons, who know gratitude and peace. Rooted in the land, they love hearty meals and heartier laughs, have simple stuff, but complex thoughts. They are people like Mike, who quickly become dear to the heart. If you have gone there, you know. If you haven’t, I hope you will!

 

A country book goes to the city…and other nice moments

November has arrived with brisker air and comparative calm after Sunday night’s monumental winds and rain. Our town is still mostly without power, but neighbors are helping neighbors in the true Maine spirit. Why are the lyrics to “The Maine Christmas Song” suddenly playing in my mind?

School for us has been closed for three days, and I’ve accomplished a lot on my “to-do” list, including sleeping nine hours last night. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story. Look for another post soon about an initiative to get Upwards into our libraries.

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Presenting Skidompha Library director Pam Gormley with a copy of Upwards at Sunday’s celebration. The inscription read: “To Skidompha, the library at the heart of our community.”
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Friends and family, including Phil, Linda, Sue, and Mary did everything but sign the books. Also helping were Pam, Mal, Bill, and Hannah – hats off to you all for the delicious food, cashiering, videography, photography, and more. It was a perfect afternoon!
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On a book signing visit yesterday, I safely passed (twice) under this tree held up just by wires.
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Post from my Swampscott, Massachusetts friend Janet today: “Reading this on a bus in Boston this morning! What an adventure!”

On Eagles’ Wings

Those that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary.     Isaiah 40:31

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Another promising morning on the Dead River during 2011’s Paddle for Hope

Today we will gather to officially celebrate the book launch and continue the encouraging start that Upwards has had. This is a day that I’ve been anticipating for months. It would be natural to be focusing on the refreshments and slideshow and whether we have enough pennies and nickels to make change for $18.94.

This morning, though, I want to think of eagles’ wings, not book sales numbers. To remember why I felt such a pull to write and how long I agonized over how much of myself and my faith to share in what is, at heart, an adventure tale.

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Webber Pond shoreline this fall morning

The dawn has been arriving a bit later every day, but when it was light this morning, I walked down to nearby Webber Pond. Thinking about this day, it seemed like the summit of a high peak, for so long hidden by clouds. If not for my hope in God, that peak might still be shrouded in mist. I might never have reached it.

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. I had hoped and found the strength I needed – to brave escaped convicts and insane stretches of upstream whitewater. I had learned to be more flexible, to try to forgive myself when things didn’t go according to plan, on the water and with the book. I had believed in a dream enough, just enough, to reach the summit. So thank you, God, for walking (and paddling) with me.

In time of sorrow…may you see God’s light on the path ahead

When the road you walk is dark,

May you always hear, even in your hour of sorrow,

The gentle singing of the lark.

When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone—

May you always remember when the shadows fall—

You do not walk alone.

A Celtic blessing, from the Upwards epilogue

 

 

Bearing up wonderfully…a New Hampshire weekend

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The 2017 fall conference of the U.S. Power Squadrons was held this past weekend at New Hampshire’s North Conway Grand Hotel. Boaters from Cape Cod and Rhode Island to northern Maine attended my Saturday NFCT presentation. I was grateful that the books had arrived in time and that folks enjoyed my talk. The organizers (one of whom was my father) had asked if I would be willing to bring my boat and gear, which sparked much discussion with the conference participants. I continue to enjoy listening and learning from them and hearing their stories, as much as telling mine.

I’ve been working on a slide that better explains the direction of flow for the NFCT’s major rivers. One man added that paddling north on Lake Champlain is actually going downstream, as there is some slight flow or current to the lake. I did not know that.

On Sunday, I came home by way of West Milan, Errol, Rangeley, and Farmington, visiting friends and stores along the way. Here’s the day in photos:

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This unique looking shop, with a refreshing focus on independent authors, is in North Conway, NH. I dropped off some informational materials there and will wait to hear if they are interested in selling Upwards. Next was a drive through the White Mountains…

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I sense a theme emerging…the book keeps popping up in my photos! Seriously, it was a lovely ride through Pinkham Notch, where the foliage is fading to brown, rather than orange and red, with the yellow of the birches now the brightest color on the mountains.

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The Androscoggin River, along the NFCT, was just calling to me, “Come and paddle!”

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In Errol, NH, I stopped in unannounced at L.L. Cote, a large outdoor supply store, and was warmly welcomed. They took and paid for six books, my first sales outlet in New Hampshire! Then on to Rangeley, to drop off books at Ecopelagicon, where I proposed a book signing during the Logging Festival next July.

I will close with Amazon news. This morning I set up my Amazon Author Central Page and discovered that we are #240,887 in sales among 8 million books, after 4 days. There is nowhere to go but upwards!