A vicarious, high voltage adventure to stop a private power line in New Hampshire.
"Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children." ~ Ancient Indian Proverb
1 a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
1 b : one in which confidence is placed
2b : reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit>
3a : a property interest held by one person for the benefit of another
3b : a combination of firms or corporations formed by a legal (Though not necessariliy lawful) agreement; especially : one that reduces or threatens to reduce competition.
~ Webster’s Dictionary
3c : A group of people who join together to achieve an objective, ideal or end result. (Though not necessarily lawfully).
~ Edward Abby’s Dictionary
Chapter 1 - Stonebridge
Stonebridge hadn’t been in the Thirteen Mile Woods area going on ten years now and the memories flooded over him as he drove his old Land Rover up Route 16 out of Berlin toward West Milan.
He drove the Rover as much for the necessity of space that accomodated his six foot six frame as for its ability to navigate the muddy roads and fields that were the daily habitat of an experienced paddler. He could fit three boats on the roof, need be, with the paddles lashed beside them.
Now-a-days, Stonebridge bought his boats retail, but there had been a day when the only way one could find a covered boat - especially for a towering hulk - was to build it yourself. So he had made his own boats - and a pretty good portion of his living - by building boats that the early generation of whitewater enthusiasts would use to pioneer both the sport and the territory.
On this trip he had brought only one boat because he was going to be leaving the Rover while he paddled and fitting extra boats into the rig was tight and an invitation to thieves.
He passed Unity Street in Berlin, the road to the Mahoosucs and wondered if he would have time for a hike in to “the Notch”. Then on his left he noticed TeaBird’s Cafe - recommended to him by his friend and recovering pol Wayne King. But he was on a mission at the moment and not inclined to stop for lunch. He headed north out of the city.
“Bur - lin “ he rehearsed in his head as he drove on, not Berlin as they said in Germany, or anywhere else in the US for that matter. Who could blame them he thought. Folks up here may be willing to stick with the name but they weren’t going to pronounce it the same. Germany may be an ally now, but memories run deep and a lot of “Burlin’” boys gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy and the road to Berlin, Germany and those memories linger on. There had to be a distinction.
“West My-lin”, he continued his line of thought, keeping a careful eye out for moose that were usually thicker than black flies right about now. It was dusk along the area of Rte 16 that some locals called Moose Alley, especially the ones associated with the Chamber of Commerce who were always looking for an angle to draw folks north of the Notches.
Actually there was an ongoing war of words among the Chambers of Commerce in Berlin, Groveton and - from time to time Bartlett and North Conway - over the claim to the name. A visitor to the White Mountains and Great North Woods areas of New Hampshire could very easily become confused and disoriented if he or she happened to travel through all three areas in one day and stop somewhere to shoot the breeze with locals. In Colebrook, Moose Alley was a short stretch of Rte 3 just before West Stewartstown and the Canadian border where the salt-licks of the roadside sphagnum bogs offered plenty of browse early in the spring and the runoff from road salt from the previous winter made for some delectible dining, well seasoned, for the big critters. Then there was another stretch if you stayed on Rte 3 and kept to the Northeast through Pittsburg and past the Connecticut Lakes., headwaters of the Connecticut River that formed the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont from top to bottom. Truth be told this one - the Pittsburg Moose Alley - was probably the one with the most legitimate claim to the title by virtue of both the density of the Moose population and the naming rights associated with longevity.
But Stonebridge wasn’t headed for Pittsburg, though he always wanted to take a trip up there and see some of the spots associated with the Republic of Indian Stream.
Indian Stream. Most folks, even New Hampshire natives, were unaware that in 1832 a small independent nation was established, borne of the border disputes between the French Canadians and the US Government over this fertile valley on the border of the US and Canada.
Seems that the treaty of Paris had included some ambiguous language describing the territory in and around Indian Stream and this created a whole raft of problems for the folks in the area, not the least of which was those blood sucking tax collectors from both countries demanding payments followed closely by sheriffs enforcing tax collectors orders.
It didn’t take very long before the three hundred or so hardy residents of the area decided that they wanted nothing to do with either the US Government or the British controlling Canada. So they formed their own Constitutional Republic.
Neither the British nor the Americans - of course - recognized the validity of the Republic but that did not stop the people of Indian Stream. They created their own constitution and they set about charting their own course.
The Indian Streamer’s were a hardscrabble bunch, didn’t have the funds to build a jailhouse in their little Republic so they took a huge potash kettle turned it over upside down in the middle of town and whenever they had need for a jail they just lifted it up and put the scawflaw under it and dropped it back down. After a day or two of sweltering days and cold nights it put the fear of God in almost anyone who was otherwise inclined to infringe on the rights of his fellow man. Yessir, frontier Justice, served up in a kettle.
He rounded the bend coming out of Milan and for the first time got the full panorama of the dark and verdant Boreal forest with the Androscoggin river flowing lugubriously along through it. How many times had he seen it before? Yet it still reached deep into his psyche, stirring up old memories of mist covered mornings on the river, the growing thunder of the Pontook rapids in the days before they dammed it up and turned one of the most wild and beautiful stretches of river and rapids into a twice daily amusement ride, fully dependent upon when the ideal time for power generation happened to be.
He thought back on the days before the dam and on the tepid efforts to stop it. No one chained themselves to a gate or locked arms across the road to prevent the trucks from bringing in the turbines. And now here it was, not especially magnificent as an engineering feat, certainly not any Hoover Dam or Grand Cooley but a burr on the ass of a great river just the same and where once a Kayak could run the course of the mighty river anytime day or night, now you were lucky to get a decent release once a day and you had to time everything around it just to run this stretch. It was still fun, sure. But they has strangled the wildness out of her.
And he had just watched it happen.
John Prine blared out as he drove on. “I know a guy, he’s got a lot to loose, he’s a pretty nice fella, kinda confused, got muscles in his head, ain’t never been used. thinks he owns half this town. Start’s drinking heavy, gets a big red nose, beats his old lady with a rubber hose, takes her out to dinner and buys her new clothes, that’s the way that the world goes round.”
He sings along. “That’s the way that the world goes round, you’re up one day, the next you’re down. It’s a half an inch a water and you think you’re gonna drown, that’s the way that the world goes round.”
Regrets were strange things. The women you lost, the friendships you failed to nurture when only a little effort would have made the difference; the fights you walked away from - good fights, fighting for justice, for wilderness, for peace, all because it would have been a little inconvenient at the time.
Yes, Regrets were, indeed, strange things.
Regrets, seasoned with age were the things that denied you the peace of slumber; that deep sleep that nourishes your soul, not the restive, disquieting sleep of the disappointed and the damned.
He’d driven up here, all the way from “Yeehaw” West Virginia, looking to recapture something from his youth. Some superpower that had been sapped by everyday life ; by backyard barbecues and old spice commercials; by 9-5 work and 5-9 boredom. He had it once. They still told legends about him along the paths that he had trod.
But he wasn’t a legend in his own mind. He was a heaping, steaming, pile of regrets.
He was approaching the intersection of 16 and 26 in Errol and feeling a bit tired. He turned the wheels and brought the Rover to a stop in a gravel pulled-off and closed his eyes for just a moment.
• - • - •
Dusk on the Saco River. Mauve fading to pink against the black backdrop of the mountain silhouettes. The blue-green line of the Saco a winding swoosh through the blackness of the valley floor.
Four townies, local thugs, stood on the bridge calling down to the canoe shelters that were scattered across a large sandbar. The canoes were turned over providing a shelter for equipment and one solid anchor for the painter lines used to hold the tarps that formed the shelters. Paddles were strategically placed as poles to maximize the space under the tarp. All told there were eight shelters scattered across the sandbar, a patchwork of bright colors, muted by the evening, with flashlights coming on and off like so many fireflies moving under the tarps.
The boys from the camp were already half asleep in their tents, exhausted from a day of paddling and portaging and - now trying desperately to forget the hunger in their stomachs after one-by-one they had quietly buried the meal that the counselor had cooked. It was a sticky mess of rice, raisins, and some kind of mystery fish. Three things that just did not belong together in the same dish. But if they had complained they would have been given a second helping and made to eat it and then to top it off they would have been given dish duty. So each boy surrepticiously slipped off to a spot where they would not be seen and buried the evidence.
Even Stonebridge, the second in command of this intrepid group of 12 year-olds, was hiding in his shelter trying to avoid the cook-cum-lead-counselor. He had joined in the vast conspiracy when he came upon a boy burying his dinner and promised not to tell as long as he would dispose of Stonebridge’s as well.
“Come on girls, we have somethin’ to show you! Called the boys on the bridge above, thinking that they had stumbled upon a girls camp and salivating over the idea that they might be able to find some action here in a town where any girl their own age - who actually knew them - would have nothing to do with the braggards.
“We can come down there, just as easy,” called one of them. “Maybe we’ll just come on down and show ya.”
The full moon had just risen over the horizon and cast a pale yellow light down on the shelters. Causing the chatter from the locals to increase hoping to rouse the unsuspecting lovelies from their sleeping bags.
But Stonebridge had heard enough.
“You boys stay here”, he said, reaching for his double bitted axe (his trademark in those days). The boys obeyed his orders but couldn’t resist the temptation to peer out to watch. Stonebridge stepped from the shelter and the boys watched in awe as he raised himself up to his full six feet six inches, stark naked and holding his double bitted axe high above his head. In his best fake falsetto he called “come on down boys, we’d just love to play with ya’ll!”
• - • - •
Stonebridge awoke and smiled at the memory of how fast those local hoods had retreated - as he turned the land rover back onto the road.
It had been like a scene out of a Yosemite Sam cartoon, where you hear the ping and zip and see nothing but the dust of the retreat. He chuckled and half consciously uttered “Tarrrrnation!” as he turned east at the junction and headed toward Lake Umbagog. In moments he had wheeled across the bridge over the Androscoggin River and put the town of Errol - all 20 houses on the main street - in his rear view mirror, heading for Moll’s Rock.
© Wayne D. King, 2014
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