Maine, thank goodness, is a land of rivers, something people forget when they fall in love with the coast and the ocean. In Massachusetts, I was born next to the Neponset and baptized early in the Charles River, a long story involving a sixteen inch pickerel and a slippery mud bank. We didn’t eat fish out of most rivers in those days. Actually I was baptized twice in the Charles, learning to sail at Community Boating and riding home on the T in wet pants and shoes.
The Kennebec came next, above Solon, where I fished for rainbow trout with my uncle the dairyman, my father, and my brother, who stored earthworms in his pocket so he didn’t have to keep recrossing the bridge to bait his hook.
When I moved away to college, my river was the Kennebec again, the Two Penny Bridge between Waterville and Winslow, the sulfur smell of money sharp in my nostrils in the foggy mornings on my way to Calculus class.
Which is only to begin to explain that I’m drawn to moving water, where the view before you changes constantly. A lake can be still as a pewter plate, but rivers never stop moving.
I confess this is why I love them. They run top down, high country to lower by the grace of gravity, no matter if the source is a mountain tarn or a crack in the rock. They move, and if you’re careful and pay attention, you can move with them. Though pushing straight against the current is usually a mug’s game.
I think of myself as both washed and carried by the rivers I’ve known. After college, leaving Maine, my river was the Potomac, years spent rubbing against the dailiness of government. Back to New England, the Merrimack, Sugar River, the Contoocook in New Hampshire. To the West, in Oregon, the Willamette, the Trask, Nehalem, Deschutes, and Metolius. Crabbing on the Columbia on Thanksgiving morning with two hungover Finns. The Rogue. The Sacramento. In Connecticut, I barely remember them, subsumed by their cities: Farmington, Housatonic.
And then, finally, home again: the Kennebec once more, much cleaner now and full of fish and birds. The Spurwink, Presumpscot, Cat Mousam. The Androscoggin and the Penobscot. Both branches. And finally to this house on Trout Brook.
What the river taught me, sometimes the hard way?
- Know where your feet are before you start moving.
- Hidden rocks are more treacherous than the ones you see.
- Bucking the current is a fool’s game, but you can always slide sideways.
- The shore is no safer than the deepest pool.
- Mud always sticks.
So, I believe in the words of Norman MacLean: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. . . I am haunted by waters.” And intend for that always to be so.