Forward Progress

What is the requisite amount of time one can stare at a blank page (screen) before your literary army is called off the field and defeat, however transitory, is conceded? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Half hour? Without progress, without movement your keyboard mires meekly in literary muck, an easy target for archers to pick off with striped maple arrows fletched with turkey wing feathers and sinew. They all carry the mark of their maker, a small crest of familial piety burned into their shaft; arrows that create a punctuated creative moment at the end of it’s long aerial arc. The small piece of pressure flaked obsidian lodged into the arrow tip cuts a clean hole in bone, meat, time, energy, art, woolen trousers and any hope that sitting down tonight will produce writing that will live to see tomorrow’s battle. At least the surgically sharp edge cleaves a tidy incision that will hurt less and heal faster than a blunt stone, see, already healing.

Question: Who is shooting those arrows?

Answer: A chemically shortened attention span, drinks that go clink on my writing desk, social media and the laundry list of other shit going on in my head. That’s who, now move on.

I was going to create a running list of the meta issues causing stress and anxiety in anyone with a pulse these days: politics, global health, the environment, but I realized that I like the timelessness of this blog, not that anyone will think this was written in 536AD, but at least there are no mentions of Saturn cars, flip phones, President Bush or how weed should be legalized. The timeless is without time, ageless and applicable to any reader regardless of era or eon, so I figure leaving time out of my writing at least by definition lends a few crumbs of timelessness to my efforts. Should I mention that I started this blog with an AOL email on Blogger a decade ago? I’ll go with a heavy no.

Perhaps this bend to the abstract is just an avoidance of real life and offers armchair psychologist insight into my inner cogs and their detachment from the reality most people seem hell bent on adhering too instead of a heady and intentional attempt at a sophisticated literary mode. Maybe it is just one more way I avoid any normalcy, any involvement in the world around me. I feel comfortable in the role of an observer of life, I mean, I am out here in the trenches like everyone else, but I prefer the view of town from the hills on the outskirts with Ed Abbey’s howling wolf.

The clinking glass got me, distracted again. Here my essay and I languish on an open plain of common bent grass and soft brome, watching the shifting armies flank each other along the soft edges of scrub oak and jack pine, sifting the glacial loam through my computer softened hands not sure where this essay is going but deep down really just longing for a nap or maybe a 36 hour drive west over Berkshire and Appalachian, past Herkimer and Fargo, past home ranges of plains bison and Holstein. Oh to taste the coffee, the horrible horrible coffee you can buy in Bismarck at 8pm at the rowdy interstate truck stops that light up like little sin cities attracting the nefarious and dubious, the scandalous and criminal, and apparently under caffeinated east coast transplants who decide more coffee is the answer to all of life’s problems.

There is movement in all of us, molecules and atoms and electrons all buzzing with promiscuous propriety in a headlong pursuit of producing another leaf in the book of infinite realities. Track stars jump off the blocks, but my mind is no longer in it’s athletic prime, so momentum is gained more like paddling a canoe into a headwind. Once you win some progress the movement is palpable but there is always that brief time, in both writing and canoeing where you wonder if you are moving forward at all, or at least you are going to have one hell of a long day in front of you. So here I go, look at this progress…

What is progress? If I walk clockwise around the Earth East to West at 460 meters per second will I go anywhere? I would imagine it’d sure feel like it, but I’d be just keeping up with the erosional forces of time, gravity and the cold pings from the outer reaches of the galaxies that unrelentingly grind away any attempt on our end towards a fixed goal. Maybe that’s the problem, our goal has to be just as fluid as the game we all play.

Scene: Classroom

Paul’s arm is raised

Teacher: Do you have a question?

Paul: Yes

Paul again: “Does a passenger in a car make progress towards a goal even though they are not doing anything to attain that goal?”

If yes, maybe all of us are progressing quite nicely, despite our efforts or intentionality, as we rotate on this rock at 1000mph, as we orbit around the sun year at 66,000 mph, and as all of us rotate around the center of the galaxy at 483,000mph. So there you go, don’t feel bad next time you swing away your afternoon in a hammock, you’re really going somewhere.

The problem is that watching the universe lazily whiz by is a form of passive progress, like losing your hair or growing a toenail. Yes, you end up different or the same in a different place, but it wasn’t your hand that sliced the pizza, it was just handed to you on a grease soaked paper plate. Don’t be like a red delicious apple, wait, what? (A pizza metaphor would have worked better here. If it is a pizza metaphor that follows, I edited this with a sharper mind, probably an hour to two from now after my wine glass was refilled once or thrice, if it’s still about an apple I should have changed to Scotch). Right, so don’t be like a red delicious apple, here’s why:

First off, no one wants a red delicious apple, they area the face of defeat, the consuming of one reeks of institutionalization or a general abandonment of goals or appreciation for life itself. They are bred for looks and packaging, not taste. They are the image of an apple for infants to identify, for elementary school kids to take one bite of and throw in the trash (or at a tree or a dumpster) and, along with rock hard oranges, the sorrowful contents of fundraising fruit boxes delivered by well meaning girl scouts and school groups. But despite all the bitter, tough skinned, mealy and bland sorry excuse for existence, they too, like us are also hurling through space at pert near a half million miles per hour. Science will point out though that they are not progressing, and it’s going to cost them their genetic life.

Succinctly (because I have already written about this and I feel sheepish for dipping twice into the same story) apples are all cloned, you can’t get an apple resembling the one it’s seed came from simply by planting that seed. You eat an apple, pluck out the seeds, stick ’em in the ground and a decade later you’re most likely gonna have a few bushels of sour, bitter and inedible little balls of disappointment. The problem for the red delicious is that if you clone anything for too long, genetics wear thin and the diseases and pest that are normally kept at bay through genetic variation now have free run of the place. Enter pesticides, lots and lots of pesticides. So, no progress, just lot’s of galactic speed.

So we’re moving, but it’s back to being our responsibility for growth, and this year I really wanted to get better at deer hunting. In years past, I sat in my ground blinds or in a tree stand, spinning like a top at 1000mph but in actuality doing not much more than waiting for the cosmos to align. Sure I’d set up in deerish- looking spots, but outside of that I bet the odds that a deer would come by that area at the same time I decided to occupy my blind. I usually had some success, but not to the level I feel like I should be at at this age of my life. I was admittedly red deliciousing my hunting season away.

This is a good time to point out that personal progress isn’t always or isn’t merely a metaphysical navel gazing pursuit, in this case it’ll help me kill more. I mean, seriously, while that was not the best sentence I’ve created it’s true, progress as a hunter means, among other tangible and intangible qualities, more proficient and more frequent success, aka more killing.

Right now marks the second week of deer hunting in the great state of Maine where, as opposed to Wisconsin you get a whole glorious month to sit in a ground blind made of field grass, dead tansy flowers and cattail leaves that conceal your corpuscular movements, movements which are typically focused around coffee consumption and/or warding off the creeping cold. I have a system when I reach my ground blind; everything I take out there has a place. My coffee leans against the white pine trunk, my black hip pack on the ground to the left and behind the tree, my phone ( to check hunting times) sits in the open front pocket of that pack, binoculars in the main pocket, headlamp hangs from the nub of a branch I snapped off this year and my deer calls on the ground next to my left hip. This orderly preoccupation orbits around my binary baseless fears of losing something in the dark (even though I am wearing a 700 lumen headlight) and the feeling that if I leave an item (like my hand me down blaze orange Filson hat) willy nilly on the cold damp earth it’ll somehow be ruined. Irrational? Oh, completely. Moving on.

You always have to move on, like on those mornings when despite your best efforts to mimic the bleat of a doe or the grunt of a buck, all you see is the blazing stare of Venus and Sirius and a few nonchalant chickadees. I have thrice now ‘moved on’ from my human nest without seeing a deer, but it’s been 65 degrees this past week and the deer are feeling hot under the collar in their winter coats like skiers who duck into the lodge for lunch wearing full snowsuits. They are uncomfortable out there, hot and bothered but not hot to trot enough to respond to the artificial can call of a doe in estrus. On a side note, back in the day I was way into tracking and animal behavior and in that parlance female animals are said to be ‘in estrus’ when they are fertile, a phrase that when applied to female humans at a private environmental college didn’t go over quite so well and showed my glaring misunderstanding between menstruation and estrus. Oh well, I blame elementary school health class for dropping the ball on that one. Thanks a lot Mr. Larson.

My favorite part of hunting, besides the galactic silence you feel in the dark at 4:45am are the incidental catches like so many kraken in a tuna net. This year there is a flock of chickadees that fly into the small white pine I am blinded under who always seems to show up around 6:30am. I’ll be sitting still enough that they land like confetti above me in the pine’s branches and flit about for a few minutes. This morning they were extra exuberant and had me thoroughly distracted from my task at hand to the point that I seriously considered the possibility that they were intentionally distracting me from a parade of deer. The kicker is that they might have been, there is no knowing.

Other incidental catches: there are three roosters around our house and the one to the south of us wakes up first followed by the other two. Our human neighbors wake up very early. There is a fox nearby who barks just before sunrise. This is a bumper year for mice. Last year I only remember hearing them once or twice mouse about under the dead thatch of grass around me but this year it sounds like the constant crackling of tissue paper. I can see stalks of grass and dead asters twitching like the tail of a hunting cat as the mice and voles bump into them. I hear them squeak and scamper right up to my boots, apparently aware that the firearm I cradle is not meant for them.

I may see a buck this fall, I may not. The best way to move on from life when plans end up like an episode of The Real World and not Full House (showed my age there huh?) is to remember that the more fluid a goal, the better chance you’ll have of at least hitting the target, if not the bullseye you were shooting for. Another good practice, set your goal in the process not the product. My goal has always been to go hunting, so if I shoot a deer all the more better and I believe I’ve enjoyed my years of hunting just as much if not more because of that goal. Now fishing on the other hand…

So I move on with this fall, this early winter that feels like late June. We move forward with a global pandemic, a new president and an accumulation of memories from the strangest and most challenging year most folk can remember. We move on, mostly because we have no choice but also because we know we can’t stay here any more than a deer can’t stand still for too long without attracting the attention of a 30-06 managed by hands that have known the feel of a warm deer heart and the grip of a knife.

We all move on, mostly, well, because we have to and we all know it. Just like the mistaken ethos of wilderness conservation, there is no final point with the evolution of species, succession of ecosystems, or in life, no point we can examine and call ‘how things are supposed to be.” Conservation of a set point of Nature is another moment of flawed logic, of delayed or destructed ontogeny, like our preoccupation with puppies and youthful looking humans.

We all move forward away from what has happened, but not towards an end game, towards instead the next form of us that will quickly be left behind like so many toppled dominoes or a flip book cartoon of our lives. Hopefully my next me is eating a medium rare venison steak or thinly sliced pieces of deer heart over wild rice and not a red delicious apple or greasy pizza from a truck stop in Bismarck. I hope my next me enjoys those moments in mid battle when I get to sit for a moment and inspect the quality of the glacial silt deposits. I hope my next me still enjoys watching the chickadees in the small white pine as much as exploding a piece of lead into a deer just behind it’s front shoulder. Luckily though at the speed which we’re all going, I won’t have to wait long.


Good to Know Nothing Has Changed

April 26, 2020

It’s been a while since I indulged my frenetic and often erroneous typing on a blank screen like morse code without any specific intelligible or coherent message. What really gives this process of committing thought to page the fits is  my typing style, which is akin a to a chicken on Adderall at feeding time and is a direct product of all those middle school computer classes where speed was of equal to greater value than accuracy. So there you have our culture, a cracked out chicken…I mean a culture of speed and quantity over quality and I am a dyed in the wool product of that ethos. There are times I squelch remorse over the apparent adhesion to that lifestyle with the clinking of ice in a glass, but the hyper activity of my cultural heritage does lend itself well to someone with a short attention span and who has never had a lot of success doing anything anywhere for more than a few months. Type type type, backspace type….(Full disclosure: I had to stop three times to write that last sentence to correct my horrific spelling and typing skills…4 more for this sentence in parenthesis).

I would think that if one any key on this QWERTY keyboard were to kick the bucket, it’d for sure be the backspace. Just a rough guess: for every one letter of forward progress there are probably somewhere between .5 and .7 letters of regression; luckily forward progress goes to the runner. I think what I like so much, obviously, about word processing on a computer is exactly this ability to correct and backspace out of existence any errors in your being. It’s a do over key; the click of regret nullified, a clean slate, a clean start. Maybe that is the rhyme of the remorseful, the song of the sinner. Too serious? I am from the video game generation where no matter how badly you were schooled by the level boss or how many times you forgot the melodies on your ocarina of time, there was always a redo, another chance to dance free of the scars of the past. That’s better, a nice and cute metaphor that keeps me from seriously talking about my feelings. Or maybe that’s the end game: just smiling and not diving deep just because you can; where nothing is left except a humorous reflection on the chaos of the cosmos as you sit comfortably in the middle of it all focusing on real issues like should I give a darker roast coffee a vaulted place in my morning habits unseating the medium roast that has held court for years or spending hours wondering if you’ll some day be able to wiggle your pinky toes.

*Blatant and instantly regrettable reaching connection time: I could see there being some correlation between one’s typing style and how one lives their life, goes about their day, are as a lover and as a friend. Now, I’m not going to play armchair psychologist to myself, that just seems like a wormhole without an terminus, but I will say that I move fast, make mistakes, correct them and move on only to make the same mistakes over and over again without sign of lesson learned or marked improvement. While this must prove to be an intolerable personal trait to my partner, at a certain age you must accept who you are and not sell yourself as anything other than another blundering human with no real idea of what is going on. I have tried to learn from my mistakes, plan with lists, move slower and more deliberate, and not blunder so much but…

1. I will always make mistakes, but I do feel that I am luckily reaching a carrying capacity for how many I make on any given day, maybe 5 if I had to put a number on it. So if I am destined to folly 5 times a day, isn’t it better for at least a few of those to be familiar mistakes? I mean, if I don’t remember to check the diaper bag when I leave with the baby, at least when I do I’m not too surprised and therefore not too upset. As a matter of fact, the more you mess up the more resiliency you build to future incarnations of that mistake. In this case, I now have diapers and wipes and god knows what other baby paraphernalia in my car “just in case,” ready for the next time I forget.

2. I have tried to move slower, mostly so I don’t stub my toes ten times a day on the high chair in our kitchen, but also in life in general. I have really tried to wake up slow, have coffee, sit on the couch and talk about the day to come, but in the end I just get anxious as though it’s gonna be noon before I know it and all I have done is drain a pot of coffee (although now with kids that coffee till noon thing sounds delightful). Moving slow feels good, kinda like yoga or meditation. My brain feels calm and my general anxiety about everything is abated, but one can only stay in that mindset for too long. It’s like vacation, it’s fun but at some point you have to go home and let the cats out.

3. Lists. I have to admit I like lists, but I usually forget them so it seems like an activity null and void of meaning.

4. To blunder is to accept the unknown as a realistic possibility. I wrote about the blunder lifestyle in a past blog, but basically Joseph Campbell wrote about the blunder as a doorway to the adventurous unknown, which to me cements it as a legit lifestyle.

Well, that started about as usual, some random thoughts loosely tied to a mediocre insight into myself and/or our culture and/or fishing, Nature or a random animal that I decided to learn about that day. It’s funny because randomness, when I give a minute of thought, is my nature: to ramble about shit that might be merely interesting or scratch a whim of fancy but that totally avoids all authentic or honest admittance of my feelings or what have you. I see life like a leaf on a pond. Oof, that statement has a horribly contrived soul worthy of Hallmark or an On Golden Pond reboot. Anyway, going with it…Yeah, I totally admit there is for sure a hell of a lot more below the leaf that would probably be infinitely more satisfying and would secure a greater return on my time invested, but for god’s sake, look at that leaf? I mean, it just floats around, creating little waves, telling of the surface winds and meniscus tension and, oh snap! it just changed directions again…Now, I don’t want to sound like a simpleton, I have spent my hours in existential crisis and maybe I did stare too long into the abyss trying to figure out what the groove is all about. Maybe I’m just at the point where the leaf is enough.

I call BS.

I do care what’s under the leaf. You have to care what’s under the leaf. Humans have created thousand s of stories and belief systems to explain what’s under the leaf so to not be curious or honor that depth is to thumb your nose at thousands of years of curiosity, religion, intellect, story telling, searching, pondering and enlightenment.

Bear with me, this just popped in there. How do we search for the hidden? Books? Religious centers? Hooch? No judgment to any of those.   For some the answer will be stock, complete with a water stamp.  For others, no matter how much we try to explain ourselves we often just end up at the back of the bar drinking whiskey and coke, plugging quarters in the jukebox and tying flies for tomorrows blue wing olive hatch.  Some walk to Mecca.  For other’s it’s fantasy football.  I might have gone a a few Catholic churches a decade ago to scope out the rad architecture and to see if there was any depth.  Spoiler alert: there was.  So was there on the Boulder River in Montana, in the warm moments with my wife, in the perfect bone broth soup in Burlington, when I first saw my daughter, at Lambeau Field with my dad and brother.  I guess there is depth everywhere, but what becomes of you if you stop to appreciate all those moments in situ?  You either become a holy roller or a useless puddle of spiritual goo.   Is it worth the risk?  Enlightenment or enpuddlement.  

The search for the hidden takes us to the deep boreal forests in January where Aspen tress explode and the ghosts of sled dogs howl at a crescent moon. They take us to the high deserts in Nevada where dirty kids trade quartz pendants for cigarettes and beer on cheap knock off Navajo blankets. It leads you to a dense forest where you follow a turtle underwater until to reach a bonfire with dancing figures calling you to join; you don’t go though knowing your work here isn’t done yet. You find dusty prophets in box cars in Salt Lake City, charlatans who steal your hard earned busker money in Phoenix and you learn to avoid any person or city named Zane for fear of vehicular mishaps. You learn things along the way, like bribing police in Costa Rica isn’t that bad, it’s actually kinda cute and endearing. You learn the there is so much beyond us, that we are just  blurry apparitions moving through a field of ions and fantasy, pushing aside the ghosts of our ancestors like so much kelp swaying in the North Pacific Gyre. Then fast forward 10 years and you’ve forgotten all that animistic craziness and turn into an anxious monster who can only focus on right now. But you did put in the time and it changed you despite the mess you’ve become.

How much can we change over this short life time? I mean, we all carry a little genotypic plasticity in our cumulative codex, so shouldn’t we be able to bend towards the sunlight or grow towards a better version of ourselves? I guess I’d like to think so, but the older I get the less I am inclined to believe I have a whole lot of plasticity in my makeup. We all want to change to be a better form of ourselves, but we also need to know that as much as we’d like to be a racoon, we are just a common dandelion and no amount of plasticity is going to change that. Maybe it’s all about making the best changes we can without being burdened by expectation. Like I can strive to plan better and not be so direly dependent on being sporadic and zesty…no, zesty is not the right word, it just made me feel good writing it. Sporadic and unprepared? Unrealistically optimistic and flighty? So yeah, I can strive to plan better and not be so concretely adhered to being a head in the clouds wanderer. I can make better lists, try to be more grounded in my expectations and not follow every detour in my path, but who would I be left with if all of those changes came to fruition? Can plasticity go too far? Obviously not in the scientific world, but here in the free form essay world, I would say yes. Can you drop one splash of red dye in a bucket of blue without a change? Sure but after a thousand drops you have purple (yes, I know purple isn’t a real color, but I went with it because it fit my analogy). You can let as many drops into your bucket as you see fit, that’s cool, no judgment, just don’t be surprised when you wake up one day stuck somewhere between mauve and plum.

So were we sit. Willing to change but maybe expecting a biological impossibility to occur in order for symbiosis to keep the peace at home. I think if I knew how to end this essay I’d be a huge step closer to repairing strained relationships in my life and understanding myself at a nucleic level. But alas, here I am backspacing and day dreaming about summer days fishing for lazy trout and watching the leaves float by on the current. Oh snap! Is just changed directions again!

Salmo salar or Surviving the Spring Flood

Spring floods require us to hold on to root and rock while the once trustworthy solid ground, like sand at the beach under our toes is getting eroded out from under us and flushed out to the ocean.  Rivers swell and fill in ravine and swale, forming tendrils that reach out from the main current and attempt to pull the covers off the land like two lovers in bed locked in a nocturnal battle for the blankets. Amidst this undressing, the landscape becomes temporarily aquatic, a place where rivulets careen down footpaths, submerge spring ephemeral wildflowers and fill deep hidden pools whose dark tannic water lies in wait to engulf a distracted fisherman up over his chest waders. One must mosey with care this time of year lest you lose your footing and end up getting swept over long-forgotten grist mill dams and through rusty highway culverts on your long swing back to the ocean. You wouldn’t be alone should you go for a long swim this time of year, although like driving against rush hour traffic, you may see more headlights than taillights.

As you slip into the water that up until recently was locked up in it’s solid, hibernatory phase you feel the bone aching cold that slows your blood down to that of the brown trout you find parked in calm eddies behind rock and log, snatching small aquatic insects in free drift but who are not really warm enough to work too hard for that meal. The cold water thickens life, it thickens sounds and soul too bringing every action and movement into question of worth as in “is this really worth the discomfort to be fishing right now?” It’s the first of May but my hands are numb, it’s been raining all day and I’m beginning to shiver. I have spent many days in cold water and, just like beard frost in the winter, I use my body as a thermometer. Today I’m guessing by the ache in my legs that the water is around 40 degrees, although since the air temperature is only 39 and I’ve been wet all day the integrity of my inner thermometer may be off a few degrees.

You get used to it though, or maybe your pain receptors, no longer receiving any new stimuli are switched into their off mode. I have felt this in natural hot springs where the water was hot enough to cause pain and an elevated awareness of life, or at least an elevated awareness of your sometime faulty decision making process. When you’d slide into the hot water it’d hurt for a half minute then, as long as the water stayed perfectly calm you’d slip into a state of heat- induced meditation that lasted until someone else entered the pool and made some waves or you committed to making a mad dash out of the pool when you’d reached your cooking temperature. Hot water, cold water- it’s all the same to us, but not to the fish.

You are making your way downstream, neutrally buoyant in the water, passing suckers full of small peach- colored eggs the size of half a pencil eraser. They are heading up to their gravel beds to spawn, giving life to future suckers as well as to the trout and salmon who feast on their eggs and the eagles who are better fisherman than I. I found a sucker mostly eaten by some large bird, osprey or eagle probably, on the sandy river bank surrounded by the golden blobs of her egg sacks like the halo around the Virgin Mary or the long blonde hair of Botticelli’s Venus. I’m not sure why the eggs were left uneaten, I assume it was the eagle giving me a chance to see the size and color of the sucker’s eggs so if I were so inclined I could tie on an appropriately sized and colored egg to my fly line and catch a trout or two unawares to my avian-inspired knowledge.

As the river slows from the frenetic white water pace upstream and enters a lower gradient meander to the ocean, you pass the ghosts of salmon, Atlantic salmon that used to clog the small river by the hundreds of thousands and push my comfort limits of fecundity and life. Fish by fish the runs shrank. Some were caught by the ton off shore for food by us and other nations. Others were choked out by rising water temperatures and lower oxygenation. Some were impeded by dams that placed impassable barriers between the ocean and the clean cold gravel beds some hundred miles upstream. A couple hundred years ago you would have been pushed back up river by the amorous rush of fiscian love, now you only pass a few lone survivors, salmon that avoided the “black hole” of salmon mortality in the Atlantic where scientists don’t really know why juvenile salmon are failing to return from their few years of life in the open ocean.

They are hatchery fish, these salmon I see now, raised in the headwaters and planted by various means in the same gravel beds the wild running fish used to come back to.  I caught a couple yesterday, 14” flashes of silver that looked like puppies in a pet store; innocence born out of simple, blissful ignorance.  They have yet to breath the tangy salt water or see the real life ahead of them. They swim with hope, hope that they will have a life we can relate to: a safe childhood, a place to grown and learn and a home to raise a family.  The salmon I saw were like middle school age kids. Sure they had probably chased each other around and taken a few token pot shots at some smaller suckers but they were good fish, fish that were on the brink of a big adventure, an adventure we’re pretty sure they won’t come home from.  The chance of truly living doesn’t come with high success rates for anyone, only around 1% if you’re an Atlantic salmon whose home river is in southern Maine.


The water warms past head tide, the fresh water is replaced by a tidal rush that pulls you out to the open ocean. While you’re out there maybe you could ask around and find out where the salmon are going who don’t make it home. Maybe you’ll decide after a few years it’s time to come back home. Where the river grows small and cold and tunneled by cedar and hemlock you’ll see me again, shivering in leaky waders, dead drifting a #12 Hare’s Ear Rubber Leg and a #16 Pink Frenchie through the deeper runs. Maybe you’ll just see my boots as I bend over a small birch sapling adorned with those same flies and hear my muttering about the state of my fishing affairs.  Just like yesterday, I’ll stop fishing for the day when I know you’re down there, you have a rough go of it and the last thing you need is to be pestered by a half- frozen human.  I’ll just sit on the bridge eating cold chicken parmesan and drinking equally as cold coffee in the late afternoon drizzle, imagining the river filled bank to bank with your ancestors and trying to make out your shape in the dark water below, enviously imagining the travels you have in front of you.

The Waterlogged Journals: Page 14

Aug. 2nd

Big Island campsite on Spednic to Wingdam Island on the St.Croix.  Good campsite, small flat area around fire pit with camp sites up the hill.  Shared the camp with a youth group.

Portaged through Vanceboro, went back and forth between US & Canada customs 5 times in 1/2 hour.  Portage around dam over grassy bank.  Both customs offices were very accommodating.  Made the short walk to the duty free store to celebrate the beginning of our downhill run to the ocean.

Ideas from the trip

-role/place of technology on trail, in wilderness, on an expedition, in our lives.  We had coverage (cell phone) most of the time which allowed for the use of google earth/maps and also the ability to share our experiences in real time.

-hobo bushcraft

-charity/ kindness of strangers along the way

-protection of water, doesn’t have a cute face for media to sell/to save, not an individual species, harder to protect

The paddle across Spednic marked the end of our flatwater paddling and took us to the dam in Vanceboro.  Like I have written before about this trip, dealing with customs was a never ending source of inconvenience and bureaucracy but also a unique and memorable distraction from the routine of paddle and portage.  As with all the other custom officials we met on this trip, both side of this border were extremely laid back and courteous to our situation.  Two of us, in the process of alerting both sides to our team’s plans, carrying our gear across the border, going back for more gear, heading for adult beverages at the duty free store and then back to our gear had our passports scanned 5 times on each side in the span of half and hour, which I’m sure sent off an alarm somewhere in Washington.  

We poled the short stretch of rapids below the dam that marked the last week of our expedition.  The St. Croix is one of my favorite quick water runs in Maine giving paddlers access to playful whitewater, well kept campsites, solid fishing and the opportunity to score gear and other lost goodies from other paddlers who let their guard down on some of the St. Croix’s rapids.  

Poling rips on the St. Croix

As any long trip begins to see it’s end, it is natural to begin the reflection process and take stock of thoughts and experiences you’ve had along the way.  Here I was working on how I felt about the mix of modern life/ modern gear in not only a wilderness expedition, but in our lives at all.  It is easy to let it in to our lives at home but on trail the presence of technology needs to be measured and balanced against your personal goals and motivation for that experience.  In our case we were never out of cell range, and since most (if not all) of used our phones as our cameras, the internet leaked into our trip on a daily basis.  It wasn’t all bad, like I wrote in the journal, having our phones with us in use allowed for each of us to broadcast pictures and moments to whoever cared to see, which I think is pretty awesome.  On the flip side, having all that distraction in the palm of our hands poses challenges in keeping your head in the game, so to speak, and keeping everyone invested and present in the moment.  The amount and presence of modern technology on any wilderness trip is a personal choice we all make.  Some of us have to bring it as outdoor professionals.  Other use it to capture media from the trail in hopes of sharing and inspiring others.  Some of course just want to check facebook 15 times a day.  

Another Great St. Croix Campsite

I have written prior about our concern for the quality of the water on our trip so I won’t kick that can again but I do want to point out the inherent problem our culture has with water protection.  First, like I wrote on trail, water isn’t a cute, cuddle warm little fuzzy mammal with doe eyes and a waggly tail.  Water suffers the same fate as reptiles and fish that way.  Our culture loves to save the adorable but doesn’t often extend that concern for other species unless they can be hunted, fished or utilized somehow.  Water is faceless and is also not a single species but in instead a community.  It is easier to save the west slope cutthroat trout than it is to save the entire aquatic ecosystem it lives in.  The other problem our culture has with water protection is that while no one owns water exactly, we all use it and unfortunately some use (and abuse) it more than others.  Does the McCain potato factory have the right to use the water of the St. John as much as I do or as much as the fish do?  I think so.  The problem is how they use is.  Do I have the right to paddle and swim in it leaving it more or less the same as before?  Sure.  Does the McCain potato factory have the right to use the water and return it full of industrial pollutants that are detrimental to the use of the water by all the other life forms who depend on that water’s integrity for life?  Well, this is where me and Mr. McCain disagree.  




The Waterlogged Journals: Page 13

July 31st

Blue Berry Point campsite to Hinkley Point campsite on Spednic Lake via portage trail from Mud Pond (16 miles)

Amazing campsites on both lakes

Finished reading “Trapping the Boundary Waters” by Charles Cook

Two Disclaimers

1.  There has been a gap of time, not only between when we paddled this water and now but also between the last time I wrote a blog post which adds a certain amount of mist to the memory and also, like a police line up, allows our memory the ability to pick and choose what it wants to see and what events will slip from our vision.  In the space between then and now I have spent time on trail in Yellowstone in the dead of winter, which is one of the most dramatic and stunning places on Earth that time of year ( I promise to let that experience bleed onto this blog soon) and have also found a great joy in life that has nothing to do with fly fishing, camping or philosophy ( SPF 4,2,1 ).


2.  Sometimes strange things happen on trail, not by our intent but more out of, let’s say momentum and sometimes those events need to be filtered in order to preserve those involved.  

As a registered Maine Guide I have to follow all the laws and rules of the Inland Fish and Wildlife Department of Maine and also the local, state and federal laws that might blanket us while we are on trail.  Sometimes on trips you might end up having to camp outside of a designated campsite due to approaching weather or other safety concerns.  I know explorers who were forced to illegally hunt game in order to make it home alive.  As a survival instructor I have been asked many times if I thought it was acceptable to light a forest on fire if it meant someone would find and rescue you.  All situations force you to balance natural and legal laws, what is right and wrong and what the ramifications of your actions will be on you, on the ecosystem, and on the community as a whole.  Is all this ambiguous? For sure, but such is life when you live in the Wild and not in an organized, humanized landscape that due to size and mass has stacks and stacks of laws and punishments out of necessity.  So what am I getting at you ask?  Well, unless you can track one of the 7 of us down and buy a few rounds, you may just have to live with the knowledge that what happens on trail stays on trail.

This was a fun day with a mix of big lake paddling on the sprawling Grand and Spednic Lakes and a short shot of whitewater poling fun on Forest City Stream.  We found an old portage route that led us (mostly) from Mud Lake to Spednic Lake just down from the Booming Ground where timber was cradled up on its run to the mills downstream.  I can’t say enough about  cleanliness and comfort of the campsites on both lakes, especially the two on Spednic which rank high on my all time favorite campsite list.  We enjoyed some decent bass fishing catching smallies on black and olive woolly buggers fished in 15′ or so feet of water along the large boulder gardens just off shore.  


August 1st

Spednic Lake- HInkley Point to Big Island campsite (9 miles) 

Saw more loons on Spedic than I have seen on one lake before

Weather : warm and sunny.  (we all had the sun tan lines to prove it)

The only rain so far:

On bluff outside of Fort Fairfield- short downpour at night

On Carnival Island off of Woodstock – light rain at night

On the Eel River (which was fine as we were soaked anyway from wading and walking our boats upstream for 5 hours) –on and off all day, big storm just as we got to camp.

—Early day off

The real take home for me in this entry is the weather.  We had absolutely ideal weather for 18 of the 22 days (there is one more storm to come) and when it did rain it couldn’t have come a better time- at night, after camp was set up or when we were already soaked to the bone.  All throughout the 22 day trip where we could have seen big waves from a headwind we got calm as glass water.  Where we could have been rained in (or out) for a day or two we woke to crystal blue skies.  Where we could have suffered through intense heat and humidity we had relatively mild day time temperatures ( although we did wither a tad under the sun on the St. John for those 4 days).  As a long time adventurer and guide I always hope for the best weather and prepare for the worst.  Maybe I had suffered through enough cold and rainy days trying to teach bow drill fire lighting or shelter building to earn a decent streak of expedition weather.  Either way, it was pretty nice.



The Waterlogged Journals: Page 12

July 26th

Woodstock NB to Start of Eel River Portage (9.5 River Miles)

Woodstock to John Tingley’s house.  Got in around noon.  Afternoon off, gorged on fresh raspberries, beer- great time.  Prepared for long portage.

All I can say is thanks to John for taking such good care of our team, and also for believing in my flying abilities enough to let me pilot his remote control drone.

July 27th

St. John to Molly’s Rock (2 River Miles, 6 Portage Miles)

Portage day.  6 miles each way, 2 people carrying small gear and one boat.  One boat loaded in cart.  Everyone else carrying personal gear.  6 hour portage.  Paddled to Molly’s rock to camp about 2 miles up the Eel.

A little backstory.  The Maliseet Trail begins on the St. John River near the town of Meductic and ends close to Old Town Maine thereby connecting the St. John River drainage to the Penobscot River and historically the Penobscot Tribes to the Maliseet, Passamaquaoddy and Mi’kmaq Tribes.  The trail jumps overland from the St. John to the town of Benton some 6 miles away avoiding dangerous and formidable rapids on the Eel River below Benton.  From Benton the trail pushes up the Eel close to 15 miles to First Eel Lake.  There is a 3 miles portage into North Lake where the Maliseet Trail crosses into Grand Lake then keeps heading west into the Penobscot drainage.  

This route has been central to life in this area for longer than we know but just like many ancient canoe routes is being lost to time.  While we chose to hike the paved road instead of retracing the original path, it was still a truly amazing experience to be a part  of the ancient human story in that part of the world.  I highly recommend checking out for the whole story.

We arrived at the homestead of John Tingley who I had met a few months earlier scouting out this portage section of the expedition.   We met John around noon at his landing on the St. John which he had marked with both Canadian and American flags.  This small gesture of welcoming and hospitality was repeated over the day we spent with John to the point that we as a team had to sit down and decide just how much assistance we wanted to accept for fear that out hard won trip would devolve into a vacation.  For example, John had offered to drive us and our gear over the portage in his van alleviating the 18 mile two- trip portage.  As a group we talked about this and voted to tackle the portage as we had planned from the get go.  It was a great offer but ultimately we didn’t want an asterisk next to this trip and also since we had been planning on this epic  portage from day one, to cut it out last second seemed anti-climactic.  

We enjoyed a much deserved day off after putting in 7 long mileage days and 3 portages totaling 10 miles (two trips each time).  John had a full fridge of food, beer and an appetite for cribbage which we obliged.  I can’t say enough for the generosity of John and his laid back willingness to help out however possible  We went to bed well fed and ready to get up at 4 to beat the sun and the projected 90 degree day.

Lounging at the House of Tingley

Not to undersell the portage, but we cruised through two trip portage completing the 18 miles in 6 hours with only a few sore feet and one bored trip member who drew short straw and had to guard the gear pile as the rest of us went back for the second load.  At the end of the portage  we snapped a pic in front of an old covered bridge with our nation’s flag presented to us by John.  It was a long haul but the much talked about portage turned into just another day for this group.  img_7264img_7270img_7274

 July 28th

Molly’s Rock to First Eel Lake (12 River Miles)

Had a pair of guests last night, couple who boated by earlier us brought us a case of beer and a big bag of meat-he was a local butcher- salt pork, beef heart, rib eye steaks, bear sausage

Did whole Eel River today.  Easy paddling to second bridge (Hartin Settlement Rd).  Low water made upper part of river tough, pushed and dragged all the way to earthen dam.  Got to Bear Point 5 minutes before big storm.

The upper half of the Eel was a section of this trip that I hadn’t been able to scout due to limited road access to the river.  I had read that at normal water level the upper Eel is a challenging section of whitewater requiring poling and lining, but at the low levels we faced it was more like dragging our boats up a wet sidewalk.  After a day of slogging upstream and then paddling the dead water before Eel lake we pulled our boats onto Bear Point just as the storms that had been building all day blew open on us with high winds, cold sheets of rain and lightning.  After some fruitless attempts at setting up a tarp and getting a fire going, the storm blew over and we settled in for the night knowing that the trip was all downhill to the ocean.  

Push, Pull, Drag, Pole, Paddle, Portage- Typical Day on the Eel


Our Welcome to Bear Point Storm

July 29th Bear Point to Grand Lake Blueberry Point Campsite (8.5 Miles, 3 Portage Miles)

Bear Point to Grand Lake camp.  Great open campsite, will spend a day off here.  Went through customs again.

I guess I don’t have much to say about this day.  It was an easy 3 mile portage along Highway 122 and a nice paddle across North Lake, down the river connecting Grand to North, through US and Canadian Customs (both super friendly to wayward paddlers) and then to Blueberry Point Camp on Grand Lake.  This day off was driven as much by the need for a day of rest as by the need to start putting the breaks on the group since we ate up miles on the St. John so fast, blew through the Benton Portage, completed the Eel in a day  and arrived at Grand Lake 3 days ahead of schedule.  I told the guys at one point that any guess I had at daily mileage and expected destinations at a given time were out the window due to the amazing ability of this group to grind out miles both on the water and on the portage trail.  It’s always a beautiful thing to see a group perform at the level you know they can!


July 30th

Day Off

-Loon attack?

-Wilderness trip existing so close to people

-a lot of noise and traffic on lake

-bear meat

This pretty much sums up any duff day on trail: lots of food, contemplation of the wilderness/humanity/civilization situation, and some shenanigans involving the locals.  We took a much needed and well deserved day off at Blueberry Point, our first full day off of the trip.  Days off are necessary in order to repair gear, give your muscles a chance to rest, heal any ongoing medical problems ( in this case an infection from a leech bite) and also to take a chance to reflect on the trip and prepare for the next leg of the journey.  We enjoyed a breakfast of rib eye steaks and bear sausage that sent everyone back to bed to digest the overwhelming goodness of the gifted food.  When you’ve been eating a diet of trail food for a length of time any diversity is more than welcome.  

Day Off Planning

So yes, one of our guys was savagely attacked by a look while he sat in his canoe dangling his feet in the water.  Well, that’s what it sounded like and to be fair I did see most of the even happen, although I do admit to only catching the act after the alleged assault took place.  It was surely one of the strangest animals moments I’ve seen on tail.  Who knows why loons do what they do, but all I know is for the rest of the trip we saw an unusual amount of loons who all seemed to be eyeing us up.

Day Off Cooking


I chose this route because I wanted to produce a long canoe trip that encountered both wilderness and non-wilderness water.  I think I is important because it not only forces you to confront the environmental impact of modern civilization of water ways but it also gives you the chance to meet folks along the way.  I wrote more about this a few months back:




The Waterlogged Journals: Page 11

July 25th

Florence To Woodstock New Brunswick(26 river miles)

25 mile day. Camped on island offshore of Woodstock. Been hot and sunny all week

High 85- Low 55

Weather has been great, no wind and easy paddling. We haven’t been drinking the water but is seems o.k. for swimming.

We have the 6 miles portage ahead of us which we should reach in 2 days. The plan is to  get to the take out early tomorrow in order to have some rest for the carry.

—Self sufficiency on trail- what you left with should be all you get. To get supplies along the way or not.

Another long hot day put is in the town of Woodstock N.B. which provided our first real chance at getting supplies that we didn’t bring, mostly beer and cigarettes. We had talked about it around Ft. Fairfield but I decided that we were an expedition and should act as such, meaning that once you start buying supplies along the way you are undermining the hard work you put in planning and preparing. While I stand by this ethic and will continue to hold to that belief, I am also a proponent of making good memories on trail and some times that means letting one member of your group wander through a river town looking (fruitlessly) for a convenience store to buy a few beers. We did “re-stock” later on the trip in St. Croix at the duty free liquor store, but that was a planned celebration. I think any time a long trip takes you close to civilization long thought should be given to whether or not to take advantage of those modern amenities.

What we didn’t know at the time was that the island we camped on off shore of Woodstock was an old (and now submerged) amusement park that was drowned about 50 years ago when the St. John was dammed downriver. I love these back stories of the places a trip takes you. Of course those stories exist in the back country but are often void of living history. On this trip we met many people who shared their story and the stories of the landscape and waterscape we were traveling through, stories that were both entertaining and enriching and also useful to the logistics of the trip.  

One such insight involved the levels of pollution in the St. John.  Before we had left for this trip we were advised not to drink (and even swim in) the St. John even after boiling and/or filtering due to industrial pollution.  At one lunch stop we met a lady whose husband works at the McCain potato factory near Florenceville New Brunswick.  She said one day on a tour of the factory her husband pointed out the outflow pipe, the waste liquids that were drained directly into the St. John and she noted how gross the water looked.  He then showed her the pool of sludge that wasn’t supposed to get released into the river but that did occasionally at high water and she described it as a pool of “green goo.”  I’m not citing McCain as the sole polluter of the St. John, but it does go a ways towards justifying our caution in finding drinking water and hesitancy to swim in the St.John for the 4 days we paddled the river.   

The First Dark Clouds Over the St. John

This camp was the first time the wind blew strong from the south and caused us to circle up and decide whether to cut camp on the island or keep going. There is a list of questions you should ask yourself when deciding if your group should stop for the day (sometimes earlier than you’d like) or keep pushing on. Primarily I want to make sure my trip mates are safe, healthy and happy. If you keep pushing you are risking over-exertion if the day is long, exposure if the weather is tough, and a poor night’s sleep if the trail proves unfit for camping. Stopping early on the other hand can disrupt the flow of a trip, give your team too much down time, and can throw off the timing of a long expedition. Depending on my understanding of the risk of the moment and the performance of the group I will oscillate between telling and selling to participating (More on situational leadership).  Flexible leadership is the name of the game; invisible yet powerful.  

The Waterlogged Journals: Page 10

July 21st

Beaver Brook camp to 2 miles south of Caribou (24 River Miles)

Hot and uneventful day of paddling. 7:30- 3

Moose Day. 2 young cows met us on the river.

—–Agreed to wake up at 5:30 and be on the water by 7:30

It’s a funny thing looking back at this entry, at the way what the uncommon becomes routine on trail, at the quickness a certain level of tunnel vision sets in on a long trip. Even though this was only day 2 of the paddle, the sight of two adolescent cow moose who not only posed for a great pic but who waded out into the river and started following us like a pair of golden retrievers received only a passing mention. 


One of the first specifics we nailed down prior to leaving camp was our morning schedule. Even before we talked food, gear, or route details we as a team agreed on the time we’d be waking up and the time we’d shove off each morning. This is very important for me as a guide as I have simmered in the frustration in the past when there is no set morning schedule. I find this is a decision best made through group consensus instead of solely by the trip leader because it is a personal issue that takes personal commitment to follow. For a short trip it is alright to be the alarm clock for a group but on a long trip not only would that role become burdensome but could also become resented and I think ultimately you would end up with time entropy, each day getting a later and later start. It is good practice for an outdoor leader to be able to understand and utilize the theory of situational leadership, group investment, and to some degree the idea of the full value contract. The more you can allow a group to self govern and self regulate, the more you raise the functionality potential of that group.

July 22nd

Camp south of Caribou to camp south of Fort Fairfield (18 River Miles)

Padded today through Caribou, past the dam to a bluff camp ½ mile past Ft. Fairfield. Cart is amazing, but how durable is it?

Portaging, or carrying as it is called out east, is the ancient practice of moving all your gear and boats around an obstacle (think beaver dam, land separating two bodies of water) and is one of the core skills any wilderness paddler should master along with up and downstream poling, paddling and reading whitewater, lining a canoe up and down river, rescuing an overturned canoe, and the fundamental wilderness camp crafts like fire, water, shelter, navigation and cooking.

To be efficient in portaging is the name of the game. Too often I have seen groups approach a portage trail without a plan which usually results in a garage sale of boats, paddles, and gear not only strewn about the landing (bad in case another group lands and also bad because it is easy to leave gear behind, not that that happened to one of my fly rods back in the day) but that requires too many trips back and forth along the portage trail. Ideally a boat of two paddlers should be able to make the trip once depending on how much food is on board. One paddler takes the boat, paddles, and a small pack while the second paddler carries the main load of packs. This is of course the ideal, when in reality two tripping a portage is more common and unless the trail is extremely long (a mile or more) is more enjoyable.

We had along on this trip a two- wheeled canoe cart, that  I was skeptical of since I had never used a portaging cart before and honestly the whole idea didn’t sit well with my background of wilderness canoe tripping. I was mostly suspicious of the construction, fearing under the weight a weld would crack, but even with a full food box, paddles, PFD’s and some other small odds and ends the cart rolled the loaded canoe effortlessly around the Caribou Dam, which was only a quarter mile but it was our first portage of the trip so it was good practice for the long portages to come.

We had a set date to meet Canadian Customs officials at the border just downstream of us for the 23rd of July, which was an amazingly generous offer from the Perth- Andover Customs Office that saved us 4 miles of portaging down a busy highway. All along out route we met incredibly helpful and kind individuals who added to the continuity and relative ease of what could have been a long and complicated trip. I approached the Customs office earlier this spring just to give them the heads up that I’d be coming through in July with a group of dudes carrying canoes through the border check point . After the meeting I received an email from Officer Dirk Bishop who not only proposed a remote crossing but who championed our cause and made this idea happen despite some (understandable) push back from other officials outside of the Perth office. It took a couple months of cooperation by ultimately the idea was green lighted and we waited on the banks of the Aroostook River south of Ft .Fairfield wondering just what legal scene we were about to run into..

July 23rd

Camp south of Ft. Fairfield to 1924 camp south of Perth (15 River miles, 2.5 Portage miles)

Passed through customs at 9am.  Paddled the rips from the put- in below the (Tinker) dam past the 2 bridges.  Upper rapids were easy, big ledge, run river left, the drop past the bridge required some maneuvering.  Found a great campsite 2 miles past Perth.  River right, small beach.  Portage around dam (2.5 miles) took 2.5 hours.

Remote Border Checkpoint

I had a meeting with Canadian Customs a few days before we left to coordinate the border crossing.  In this very tactical meeting I was shown maps detailing the meeting site, the various access roads and the portage route we were supposed to take in order to portage around the Tinker Dam on the Aroostook.  As we paddled away from camp that morning I told the guys to go slow so as not to incite an international situation and also to be on the lookout for the flashing blue and red light I was told would be waiting for us.  Sure enough, as we rounded a slight bend there on the right bank were two border vehicles with lights flashing and a few border guards ready to process us.  One by one we presented passports and carried all of our gear up to a running mobile x-ray truck .  I loved the scene of a black ash pack basket getting sent through this monstrosity of technology.  I have portaged many miles over the last 15 years but this one will hold high rank as the most unique and memorable carry of my life.  After all the boats, gear and dudes were given the ‘all clear’ we shook hands with the border guards ( who were probably happy for a morning out of the office), snapped a pic or two and prepared for our first long carry of the expedition.  

Mobile X-Ray Portage

From the border checkpoint to the area the dam operators said we could access the river down stream of the dam was around 2.5 miles of rolling country road.  We took two trips to get all gear and the 4 boats over the portage but it went very smooth with the portage cart really coming in clutch.  After a quick riverside lunch we scouted the class II rapid directly across the Aroostook from us and loaded up for some white water fun.  The first rapid was fast and deep but easy enough which was good for our group since we were all paddling at different white water ability levels.  Downstream from the ledge rapid is short set of class II+ rapids that we poled and paddled through without a lot of issues, although I made the mistake of following the 16 foot canoe through a gap between two rocks that was clearly only 16 feet wide as my 18 foot canoe banged a tad trying to shoehorn through a tight spot.  Just downriver is the confluence of the Aroostook and the St. John River which we’d be paddling for the next four or five days.  


It was great to see the end of the Aroostook for me since I have paddled every river mile upstream to its source.  Turning onto the St. John we were instantly in big water susceptible to big wind and big waves.  The day was hot and calm as we paddled among raging thunderstorms that built all around us but seemed to part ahead of our group giving us calm water and outstanding scenery in the towering clouds and lightening.  Past Perth we found our first “hobo” camp of the trip.  Pulling off the St. John on a small beach we crested small ridge and found a hobo’s paradise in the form of a clearing on the woods bisected by a little creek shaded by cedars and birch.  Sure it was technically someone’s backyard-ish area but for us it was a great little campsite dubbed “1924 Camp” in reference to an ancient culvert overgrown now but that had 1924 stamped in the old cement arch.  General consensus was that it was a time portal to 1924.  

July 24th

South of Perth to Florence (20 River miles, 1.5 Portage Miles) 

21 miles paddled.  Hot and still weather, making great mileage.  Portage around Beechwood Dam, mile or so of easy portage along paved sidewalk then down rough boulder bank to river.  Camped on island north of Florence.  Great campsite, looks like others have camped here recently.

Well Marked Portage Trail?

Looking Upriver Towards the Beechwood Dam

Two thoughts on this day, nope, three.  

1. Always bring sunscreen.  Even if you are the “I brown and don’t burn” type sitting in a canoe for 6 hours will roast the tops of your shoulders, tops of your knees and tops of your feet.  It was hot, clear and still on this stretch of the trip which was a boon for making miles on the St. John which can erupt in 3 foot waves in a south wind but that left us feeling pretty cooked by mid afternoon.  Long sleeve hooded shirts are great for escaping the sun as are full brimmed hats and sunglasses.  We escaped sun burns for the most part although we all felt a bit crispy after a week under a blaring sun.

2.  It is amazing how many times campsites, which you have picked seemingly out of the need to stop hiking/paddling have already been used as camps by other hikers/paddlers.  We camped on an island that from the river looked unused by people but that was perfect for us: private, wooded, and without the high banks that line most of the St. John.  We pulled around the head of the island to an easier landing site with gentle grass banks and a good gravel beach for holding the boats.  I jumped into the woods directly up from where we landed and found a fire pit and some detritus from other campers.  I guess it’s cool in a way that multiple groups of canoeists saw the island as a great campsite and were drawn to this specific part of the 2-3 acre island.  Historically campsites were chosen where there was an abundant resource i.e animals, plants or medicine, where multiple waterways/trails came together or that was just a comfortable place to spend a night that gave shelter from weather, bugs or other humans.  

3.  Make hay while the sun shines on a long trip.  I wasn’t expecting such perfect paddling weather on the St. John and had planned accordingly.  When you are putting  a trip together for longer than a few days it is good practice to build in a few days to accommodate rough weather, injury, or for general R&R.  What I realized after two days on the St. John was that this group was able cover miles that were beyond my expectation that when combined with glass calm water would be putting ahead of schedule by a few days if we were able to keep getting so lucky weather and water-wise and also if we were able physically to keep putting in 20 miles paddling days.  I was hesitant to expect the same pace throughout the trip, especially in light of the fact that we had a 6 mile portage waiting for us at the end of our time on the St. John which would mark the beginning of our time following a part of the Ancient Maliseet Trail








The Waterlogged Journals: Page 9

July 20th 2016

Day 1

Jack Mountain Field School → Beaver Brook Campsite on the Aroostook River – 19 miles

We left the Jack Mountain camp this morning at 8 am to clear skies and a stiff north west wind. The Aroostook was choppy with waves coming upstream/ in our face. Thanks to some recent rain the water level is up allowing us to make good time despite the wind. All the planning over the past few months is finally paying off.

With any long back country trip, there is a feeling of great relief that comes when the bags are packed and the hours planning logistics are over. There is something to be said for “winging it” and there is indeed great joy that comes with haphazardly putting yourself out there in the world without a plan or agenda, but then again there is beauty in the precision of planning. Anyone who has spent long periods of time on trail knows that no matter how much you plan there are always the demons of chaos lurking just over the next contour line so the idea of planing a trip out shouldn’t be a deterrence to those who fear control. To organize is hedge your bets that you’ll have a sporting chance at getting to a destination safely and with a great story to tell, which when you’re guiding a 24 day canoe expedition is a good thing.

On a side note, wind has a defiant way of following a river so that you can be paddling into a head wind all day no matter which direction the river turns. The Aroostook has that capacity and on our first day we had to push into the wind for most of the day. We paddled 3 18′ Prospector-style Nova Craft canoes for our tandem boats and one 16′ Nova Craft solo for this trip. Due to the total miles we had to cover (350-ish) and the size of some of the water we’d be on that could get pretty mean if we caught a stretch of south wind I chose to fill both seats and paddle all tandem canoes. A couple days before we left one participant had to drop out leaving us with one solo boat (see, no matter how well you plan something usually pops up that challenges the idea that you have any idea what’s gonna happen).  This was not a problem in the end and gave everyone some much needed quiet time when it was their turn to paddle solo.

Wind, waves through the river grass, poison ivy quietly waits, my legs burn from the sun. We all move and are influenced by those who move around us. I move fast like smoke in the wind, here and there 40 miles away on the breeze.

We made it to Beaver Brook Camp by 1:30 today, good time indeed! Beautiful little camp at the confluence of the Aroostook and Beaver Brook. Good hammock sites but as expected there is poison ivy everywhere.  Caught a couple little brook trout holding in the confluence on a small hopper fly, nothing for the fry pan but a nice way to end the day.

-Dynamics of first campsite- can be clunky until everyone learns the systems

The first campsite on a long trip is usually a cluster ‘f’ of gear, people, and food. We camped on a rocky beach this first night which brought out a complication to this trip that I hadn’t really thought about since we usually occupy established campsites on canoe trips which offer both flat ground for tents and trees for hammocks. Most of this trip we “hobo camped” as we called it meaning at the end of the day we paddled until we found a promising stretch of riverbank that was usually someone’s backyard and that forced us to hack out a campsite that worked well (flat ground) for the 3 ground dwellers and that also had good tree cover to give the 4 “aerial campers” room to stretch out our hammocks. It never turned out to cause a problem but there were a few nights where us lofty ones were forced to slum it and sleep on the ground…

High functioning group performance on trail usually takes a few days to develop but once everyone knows the score, knows what needs to happen when and knows where everything lives efficiency prevails and daily chores that once might have taken an hour are whittled down to minutes.  I love watching groups develop from individuals taking care of individual needs to solidifying as a group taking care of group needs and each other without the need for direction.  For the first half of the trip we split up camp chores into 4 groups: the solo paddler had no chores since they were having to work harder all day to keep up, two people were responsible for cooking, two for getting the fire going and collecting and cutting up firewood and two for camp clean up.

The Waterlogged Journals: Pages 4-8

Food Planning for an Expedition

There is a philosophy and science to preparing a menu for a long back country trip. My personal foodie philosophy says eat simple, eat well, eat healthy. To me as a guide cooking on trail is a chance to do more than just fuel up, it’s a time to unwind, relive the days events, share stories and tell tall tales. Of course some meals on trail are simply about replacing calories, but too many meals that way can start to sink morale, deplete your health and turn meal time into a chore instead of a time of the day to look forward to.  Here are a few thoughts on food prep from my experience leading extended back country expeditions for the last 10 years:

Eat well on trail, no one likes gruel. I have been known to say that as long as the food is warm I could care less what it is, and to a certain extent that’s true, sometimes, but when you’re planning food for a group what you select should be better than just what you’d tolerate, it should be instead be a planned positive part of the experience that your trail mates will talk about when the trip is over.  It can be a challenge to plan a menu everyone will enjoy, especially these days where there seems to be a new dietary preference/restriction every day, but as long as meals are simple, nourishing and healthy chances are meal time will be a hit. Or you can follow the mantra of an old Maine guide who once said you should take the food you like so you’ll be guaranteed to have at least one happy eater at the table.

Food is medicine for the spirit on trail and while I don’t advocate breaking the bank buying gourmet food, a little love goes a long way towards making meal time a welcome part of the day instead of a mere filling of the tank. This summer we had one group member that was adamantly, and vocally opposed to having oats for breakfast every day due to an overdose on quick oats this past spring (I don’t know who mistakenly bought quick oats…). To appease his legit concerns we started by getting good steel cut oats and added fruit and nuts to the pot to add nutrition, variety and substance to an otherwise gluey breakfast.  In this case just a little creativity and flexibility headed off what could have been 22 grumpy breakfasts.

While we strive for quality and diversity in our trail food, we also live in the real world with a budget and we travel with finite space so the food we took along was a mix of all three needs:


Spend a little extra on nutrition. Little decisions when you’re shopping for your expedition’s food I believe can make a difference over the long haul. Buying whole grain pasta, brown or wild rice, multi-grain hot cereals, and maple syrup or honey are all upgrades in nutrition compared to the cheaper options in the form of white flour and cane sugar. A diet of cheap sugar and carbs may be fine for a short time but when your body is cranking and you are pushing it day after day I believe that you should feed the furnace the best you can. Again, this isn’t meant to be taken as eating expensive or luxury foods, just simple, healthy whole foods that you should probably be eating all the time anyway.  A general rule of thumb for a food budget is $4-$6 per person/ per day for basic food and $7-$15 per person/ per day if you want a more diverse diet with more diverse foods.  Above $15 per person/ per day and you are either glamping or you’re buying the expensive pre-packaged camping food which is usually terribly salty, often oddly portioned (too much or too little) and are a huge waste of packaging.

-Cook, Don’t just heat up. Anyone can pop a top off a can of spam or tear open a pre-made meal in a bag but a real outdoors person worth their salt should be able to cook over a camp stove or open fire at the same level as one does at home. Cooking to me means you didn’t just boil noodles and dump in a can of red sauce. It means maybe you fried some veggies first, grilled meat or spiced up the sauce.  One of the participants on the trip this summer related a story of being stationed on base in Germany and how some of the mess cooks would add to each dish something to make an otherwise boring meal good and how much that was appreciated by the other service guys.  That brought up the notion of adding a little love to each meal which after brought out the complain “where’s the love?” if we were served a stock meal.

It’s super easy to take bulk trail food like spaghetti and make it just a little better.  Adding some fresh veggies or meat, hot sauce, cheese, spices or whatever you have rolling around the food box does take a certain amount of culinary confidence/ experience, so if you don’t know how to ad hoc a meal, learn at home before you hit the trail, your expedition crew will appreciate, it I guarantee it. Take your skills one step further by learning how to bake bread, cake and cookies over a stove or campfire. Think your friends will like your new pasta and sauce? Imagine how much more they’ll like it if you can give them a piece of warm bread to go with it. Camp cooking is an art that many haven’t taken the time to learn but it is just as important, in my opinion as any other wilderness camping skill.

Vitamin Supplements. A few years ago I lead a workshop on menu planning for an extended winter expedition at a winter camping symposium. At the Q & A session a guy asked about taking vitamin supplements on trail, which at the time I answered that I though it couldn’t hurt but the food you take should represent a complete diet. While I have never taken supplements on trail outside of some vitamin C, I bet there is good evidence to show that, even if we are eating a good diet on trail there are micro nutrients and vitamins we are exhausting without replacing. Now, unless you are going to be on trail for months and months on end, this probably isn’t a concern, but I guess a few multi-vitamins don’t take up a lot of space so why not?

Half the food ready be packed by our trip intern and lackey Duke


Page 4-8
July 17-19

Food, meals and amounts for 7 people for 24 days


(18) Oats- ¾ cup per person per day

(6) Breakfast Eggs & Bacon- 18 eggs per day, 1 lb of bacon

*Eggs and bacon/ breakfast sausage travel well and will last a while if kept cool. We kept them in a small cooler filled with river water at night.  They were fresh for the 6 days and while the bacon was getting close to being ready to feed to the snapping turtles the eggs would have been fine for a lot longer.  Another way we could have kept the bacon (or any meat) fresh longer would have been to fill the small cooler with meat and water and frozen the whole cooler solid.


(12) Peanut Butter and Jelly- 1 ½ lb peanut butter, 20 oz jelly, 16 tortillas per day

(12) Meat and Cheese- 4 oz dried meat per person, 1 lb cheese, 2 packages of Wasa crackers per day

Apples and carrots

* For meat we dried and smoked 35 pounds of pork loin which was used for lunches and dinners.


(8) Pasta and Red Sauce- 6 oz. Pasta per person. 1 45 oz sauce jar. Leftover cheese and meat from lunch.

*For the first week we had some random veggies- onions, green peppers, garlic

(6) Burritos with Rice and Beans- ¼ c rice per person, ¼ c dry beans, 4 oz dried meat per person, spice mix, 2 tortillas per person, 8 oz cheese, two cans diced green chilies

(6) Chili- ¼ c rice per person, 1/4/ beans, 3 6 oz cans of tomato paste, 2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes, 2 chili spice pack, hot sauce, 8 oz cheese

(4) Tuna Mac- 6 oz pasta per person, 4 5 oz cans of tuna, 1 12 oz jar Mayonnaise, 2 can of corn, 1 can of peas, 2 cans of green chilies




Powdered Milk

Spices/ seasoning packets



Gorp Mix- 1 C. per person per day.  This we bought pre-mixed which would have been cheaper to buy in bulk and mix ourselves but the grocery didn’t have the bulk foods we wanted.

To have a little fun at the grocery buying all this food and also to give everyone a little more ownership in the food we were bringing, I charged everyone with picking out 2 luxury items less than $5 a piece to add to the food boxes. My thinking was that this would not only make for some funny moments when the mystery items were unearthed but it would also allow every meal a little something special for not a lot of extra money. Items included 2 boxes of pancake mix, a jar of Ovaltine, tahini, lemons, drink mix, cake mix, cookies, pesto, garlic paste and a few random spices and hot sauces.  All in all the food filled four York Boxes (waterproof cases with around 4 cubic feet of interior volume) two for the first 14 days and two for the last 10.