Lunch with Swift

Roaming southern New Hampshire's Monadnock Region and beyond — visiting unique places and tasting the local flavor..

By a Mossy Brook

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Paddle to the sea
I am next to this brook thinking of an experience I had years ago when I was involved with a bunch of youngsters building a dug out canoe.  This nice lunch spot is bringing it back to me.   A warning here,  this is going to stray on the convenience store mission of Lunch with Swift and stretch a bit.
The spot in this clip is hidden in the woods up the road from the Washington Store.    Washington vies for the  title as most photographed town in the area with Harrisville.  It is especially great in the fall in when the leaves are turning.   Snowmobiles park all over the town in winter and especially in front of the store.  In the summer,   There are lots of folks who have houses on the many ponds in town.   But, now its spring,  people are slowly untangling themselves from too much time curled in front of their wood stove.  Mud season is over, gardens are going in.   It is awfully quiet at the store right now.   If today was rainy, you might find me at the  lunch the counter in the store where  they make a great hamburger and breakfast all day.

But I am up the road from there and in the woods for lunch today.  Its in Lempster where this little brook runs down the hill.   Water collects and joins the Ashsuelot river.   From here it will travel 45 miles from here to the Connecticut River.   Some of the towns it will be passing through are Marlow, Gilsum,  Keene,  Swanzey, Winchester, and out to the big river in Hinsdale.  Then, the water that is going by me now will continue for another 115 miles to head through these towns in Massachusetts — Gill, Greenfield, North Hampton, and Springfield where in Connecticut it will pass through Hartford, and head into Long Island Sound at Mystic.    These drops of water will pass by a lot if people.











It stirs my memory  to a time when I was invited by Temple, the founder  of   Mountain  Shadows in Dublin, to work with the students to build a dug out canoe.


Looking back 23 years  ago, the kids I worked with are now done with college and some may even have their own children.  I remember we started the project by reading Paddle to The Sea by Holling C. Holling.

This book about a little Native American boy had us thoroughly  engaged.   When we started the work, the kids and I were all primed by reading and rereading it.   During that Fall and the following spring we took one little step at a time.   That is the only way a dug out canoe could be built.    It was 1991  with no internet– I went to the library to find some literature about how it is done.  There was nothing I could find out in the Peterborough library.  Next I went to the Boston Public Library.   I did find some interesting and useful material there but even that was limited.   Later,  I went to the Plymouth Plantation down in Plymouth, Mass  and talked to the folks there.    The people that staff the village are the “keepers of the flame.”  They know how to build dugout canoes.  Talking with them helped me understand how to approach the project.
I spoke to one man in the dusty replica of Plymouth Plantation who was dressed in a deer skin suit of the period.  He was working coals around a cherry burl.   “You have to keep the edges cool and daub mud on the rails as the canoe becomes hollowed out.”    He said,  “Don’t let the fire get too hot.   Don’t rush. ”   And then he blew on the burl that he was turning into a bowl.  A whisp of smoke rose from the blackened surface and a small spot glowed red.   He was doing was the same thing to this piece as what we would to build our canoe.    It was simple.   We needed a log.
Back in Dublin, at Mountain Shadows,  we went down into the woods with a tractor and pulled up a big fallen pine.   It was about 22 inches in diameter with thick bark and clear and about 30 feet long.    We set it in a side yard where we could have a series of fires in it and around it.    We chose the best 16 feet of it  and cut it to that length
Then , we propped it up along it’s future keel.    Every step was simple.    One step led to the next.   Over the next months the  we gathered wood and had a number of fires on the log.  Sometimes, when the fires were out, we would chop at the coals.  We got better about how to build the fire and how we could direct the flame and  heat to focus on forming a particular part of the log.  The canoe slowly took shape.    Our fires were much more than little whips of smoke and little glowing coals.  They raged with high flames.   We had long fires on the top of the log to cut through the bark and eat into the log.   We had other fires forcing flame at the bow and stern forming  the outer part of the canoe.   As time went on the canoe got lighter.    It was never very light like a modern canoe,  but it was light enough for us  to handle.  There were at least 20 different fire episodes during that year.  We kept returning to the book,  Paddle to the Sea as our guidepost.  There were so many opportunities to explore the metaphors of journeys  in this project.  We were getting a unique experience as observations came up about the log and it’s transformation.   We  found metaphors in fire, water, and wood.   It was a slow process.   We thought of the native villagers who might have heard from scouts that there was a raiding party from another tribe coming in their canoes to do their people harm.   We thought of them rushing to get the canoe formed up and run away to safety.   As we were learning this was not something that could be rushed.
Finally, the hull was formed.       We took it to the water on a beautiful warm spring day.   We discovered that if we made a number of slings under the canoe, we could, with pairs of  small kids on either side, lift the boat.   In this way, we moved the boat over the Dublin Lake beach.  We placed it in the water.   There it bobbed with just enough of the log in the water and enough free-board out of the water to make a reasonably seaworthy craft.   I can remember kids paddling it around.    I can’t remember getting it out of the water or taking it back to Mountain Shadows.   However, it was returned to the school somehow and placed in the woods at the end of a long field.     It still rests there.   To my knowledge,  it was only ever in the water that one spring day.  But it didn’t matter because the journey for this boat was in the building the boat not actually using it.
So I’m here on this little stream in Lempster on the side of this mossy brook, thinking of paddling to the sea.    I could get there from here.



One thought on “By a Mossy Brook

  1. Well done piece. Something to learn within.

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