Moose River Adventure
November 17, 2019
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Return to the River

On the frozen banks of the Kennebec River

Hello!

I’ve been gone quite some time from here, no? Jeesh it looks like November of 2019 was my last post? Whatever could have kept me away in 2020? No matter. I’ve been fighting. Last year started with another failed attempt at gaining employment with Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection. I’d worked so hard too! Learning all the ins and outs of the Natural Resource Protection Act and developing a really slick presentation for the interview. I took a very keen interest in the Department’s role in approval or denial of the New England Clean Energy Corridor (NECEC) proposal and even ended up interviewing with the very man who led that review and ultimately granted approval. (We can talk about how I feel about that project another time). Sadly, I either failed to impress him or was bested by more qualified candidates.  Minus an office manager position with DEP (that I turned down because I really want to be outside), this was a third attempt at employment with DEP and a devastating blow. Oh and then my car broke down, I wrenched my back, had a terrible arthritic flare-up on my foot…  and a pandemic blew in…

I decided first and foremost to take care of my health and despite the pandemic by the month of May I’d turned my health around greatly and kept progressing with bike rides, long hikes, Wim Hof breathing and ice-cold showers. I kept my eye on the State employment website for another crack at the DEP but it never came. By July the only outdoor State job I saw open up I lunged for. I am now the one and only Hemp Inspector in this state. It’s been a wild but enjoyable ride. I am happy to have a job that gets me outdoors in the great state of Maine. I drove all over the state last fall meeting hemp farmers and walking their fields. It was an incredible joy. But here we are in February—nothing growing in those frozen fields! I wanted to get outside so bad that I gave up a year-round full-time cushy State office job to take a seasonal one. Now I’ve got to plug the gap until the snow melts. Besides all that blueberry raking I did as a kid I’ve never really worked a seasonal job before. What will I do?

I walked the tracks along the river down back all the way up to Seven Mile Brook the other day trying to figure this shit out. Three inches of sleet and frozen rain had just fallen from the still steel gray sky. It was like walking in loose sand at first. I’d grow tired pretty fast in this. In fact, Seven Mile Brook wasn’t even a destination that was on my mind. For one, it’s three and a half miles up the tracks—a seven-mile walk taken round trip—but as I reached the island in the frozen river to my left (not even a mile upstream) and contemplated navigating the strip of snowy woods traversing the river embankment down to my favorite perch a flash of motion up the tracks caught my attention. One big-ass turkey bounced out of the woods, ascended the ditch, and sprang up onto the tracks. I stood for a moment as four more bounced out in succession. They began to poke along slowly up the track but then the large one stopped, turned, and lifted its neck high. I could tell he was looking down the tracks right at me. Probably shocked to see a person there. Once my presence was confirmed he turned the other way and hauled ass up the track with the others. I followed. Their dash north was short and then they left the tracks for the thicket of woods that rolls down towards the river. In short order, I’d catch up with their prints in the blanket of frozen little pellets and be able to follow them off into the woods. Could be fun. I put my head down and marched onward.

I’ve walked along this river for much of my life. I’ve fished in it, swam in it, and boated on it. Also its tributaries and the lakes and ponds that they spill from…

Moments later I heard an airy mechanical hum in the distance. Looking up I spied a light coming down the track towards me. It’s easy to forget these railroad tracks are still “active”. Their use is so infrequent and the rusted remnants of their former glory days are evident everywhere. It was a single car of a sort probably out specifically to clear the tracks of ice and snow down to about a mile below me at the little hub on the river that houses the Performance Food Center distribution HQ, Cives Steel, as well as a Blue Seal feed distributor. Most industry at this little hub comes and goes by trailer-truck but the railroad tracks still seem to retain some usefulness and are maintained (at least to this point) just enough to facilitate this use. I briefly contemplated just standing off to the side of the tracks while he passed. I thought the better of it when I remembered that walking on active railroad tracks is technically illegal. Besides, it was probably best no to be so goddamned obvious. I had to ditch the tracks for the thicket of woods to get out of his way before he even knew I was there.  After some time spent wandering in and enjoying the frozen thicket of woods I trudged back up to the tracks. I noticed that the blast of snow and ice the car had cleared from the tracks had extended greatly to either side. I’d have been blasted over or perhaps buried by this wall of frozen water had I decided to stand passively by as this car pushed on doing its thing. As a happy consequence, the tracks were now much easier to walk on. No more squishy frozen sand. I decided to keep pushing north to the brook, a cold damp breeze in my face. I’ve walked along this river for much of my life. I’ve fished in it, swam in it, and boated on it. Also its tributaries and the lakes and ponds that they spill from. When I walk in a forest and I see a particularly fine specimen of a tree with a trunk wide enough to love I give it a hug. Yes, I’m admittedly a bonafide full-blown tree hugger! But what I’d really love to hug is a watershed

My arms aren’t wide enough to hug these things..

The day before the storm rolled in I bundled up and headed out to my sister and brother-in-laws place on Three Mile Pond to go ice-fishing. I hoped to catch like I usually do but instead the pin on the crank of my hand auger popped out just as I breached the ice and I lost it down the hole! Fortunately, with the aid of a powerful magnet supplied by my quick-thinking brother-in-law, I managed to fish it out. It was the only thing I pulled out of the pond that day. As I said I usually do pretty well on this pond. It used to be pretty green with algae blooms until the alewives were allowed to migrate back into its waters. At least that’s what I’ve noticed. Three-Mile Pond is a part of the Kennebec River watershed just like most all of the ponds and lakes I spent my time on while growing up in this area. Like them, it connects to the river through a series of streams, ponds, and lakes. From my sister’s, on Three Mile Pond in South China Maine I am roughly 9 miles away from my walk up the railroad tracks to Seven Mile Brook on the river behind my house. The outlet of Three Mile Pond is a stream that lies on its northern end in Vassalboro. When I leave to go home I will (by car) loosely follow much of its course back to the river. All it takes is a quick detour down Seaward Mills Road along Seawards Mill stream down to Webber Pond, which spills out at its southern end into the aforementioned Seven Mile Brook.  Seven-mile brook will also collect the waters of Dam, Tolman, and Spectacle Pond before finally ending up in the Kennebec River.  But Three-mile pond’s back inlet stretches farther up the watershed taking one up a stream which branches off to Mud Pond on the Augusta/Windsor town line and then on to Three Cornered Pond in Augusta which in turn has an inlet at its northern end that leads to a brook that takes you on up and around a hill to Anderson pond in Augusta. From here I assume one’s reached the local high ground that feeds the river basin from the eastern bank through Augusta and Vassalboro. It’s like a wild twisting waterslide that’s actually slung low and wide across a good chunk of land. But then, not lost on me is the fact that another sort of lower basin exists just over the ridge of Mud Pond in Augusta/Windsor and puts you into Togus pond which then spills into Togus Stream and then eventually the Kennebec River again on the Randolph Pittston town line farther south. Push too far east across the aforementioned towns of Windsor and South-China and you will be in brooks, streams, and ponds that all connect down to a different river. This one called the Sheepscot. I love this river watershed too. What can I do? My arms aren’t wide enough to hug these things..

looking into mouth of Seven Mile brook from railroad trestle

Back on the tracks the walk to Seven-mile brook is long. The plow car comes back again from my rear and I dash into the woods on a thinning river embankment. From here I crouch beneath a large ash and sip some warming whisky from my flask—dreaming. A frozen mist blows down the river valley and my glasses fog and bead up slightly obscuring the beautiful view of the western riverbank steep and covered in massive dark riparian pine—a deep contrast to the white bottom below. Yet, wherever the ice abates on the frozen river, it slips by black as oil. What fish lie down there?