One River~One Ocean


I came of age on the Swift River, jumping off bridges and rope swings, diving off cliffs, floating down rapids, sitting in natural whirlpools, rock hopping upstream mesmerized by the smooth stones made silken and bright under the clear, cold, fast moving waters.

The Swift dumped into the other river I grew up on, the Androscoggin. I would watch in confusion and sadness at the contrast of that pristine water merging with a river that served as a receptacle for anything unwanted. The Androscoggin received raw sewerage from humans and effluent from the paper mills along her banks, spewing bi-products deemed necessary for bleached paper products including mercury and dioxin. We did what we wanted to the Androscoggin making it in the top 20 most polluted rivers in the US. It's condition, odorous foaming yellow, inspired the Clean Water Act in 1972 by Rumford's native son, Senator Edmund Muskie.

The mill was and is a way of life in the mountain valley region of western Maine. Bread and butter we say. My dad worked there before and after the war for 43 years. His father did too. Most did. It paid for my first car and college. Even helped with grad school. My parents lived by cash or layaway— no debt, no credit cards. 

Growing up, I noticed the air more than the water, especially when it was going to rain. The 14 stacks communicated clearly, open for business 24-7. When the weather changed, the rotten egg smell floated upstream, suspended in a murky overcast hue over the valley.

It was a disturbing irony for me, the wild child nature lover, last of 9 children, raised by the squirrels and trees, rivers and mountains. Yet, I lived a split life where the culture and its families honored and bowed to the paper mill industry as it allowed regular folks to make a great living. After all, everyone needs paper, right? Like the bumper sticker says, “If you don't like logging, (the essential connected industry) try wiping your ass with plastic.”

I remember people on Granite St, directly across from the mill, often woke up to a thin layer of ash on their cars. 

The Androscoggin is majestic, a life vein traversing from New Hampshire's northeastern mountains all the way to the sea where it meets the Kennebec River in Brunswick in the Merrymeeting Bay. It feeds the coastal fisheries and communities living there.

It's almost humorous that we name our rivers and oceans as if they are separate, unconnected entities. All rivers and streams eventually end up in the ocean. The life cycle and expanse of water are without boundary, every body of water evaporating up into the clouds until full enough to give way to gravity, raining down on us all, sharing whatever we sent up there through our tailpipes and smokestacks, chimneys and campfires.

I read the squirrels have heavy metals in their blood and bones from consuming the fat found in acorns. If the squirrels and trees are holding what we send into the sky, so are we.

I feel compelled to be a voice for this river, to bring greater consciousness to the Androscoggin and see if anyone will join me in listening to what she has to say. 

Canary in a coal mine? Maybe, maybe not. Shall we listen to the birdsong to see if there is something to learn?

I am going to travel it's length; looking, listening, feeling, joining. I will share what is discovered along this journey home, honoring the generations that came before me and those that will follow. You are invited to join me on this journey as I document what is discovered.

To the Abnaki and all native peoples that traveled here before colonization pushed you out, thank you for taking good care of the water, land, air, mindfully harvesting what you needed for food, water, shelter. I appreciate that you floated along her life stream, migrating seasonally from the mountains to the ocean in a balanced rhythm of giving and receiving.

To the generations that followed, finding your way in a rugged, beautiful land, doing your best to survive and care for your family and community. To the forefathers and foremothers, for your steadfast resilience, for showing us how to be and how not to be.

To those here now, for the ways we do the right thing with a consciousness for all of life, for the liberty of all beings and the pursuit of happiness and health, here now for every human, tree, fish, frog, bird.

To the future generations, may you be more conscious than we have been and be the voice for the unspoken many. May you see that in taking care of the land, water, and air you are taking care of yourself and all of life.

The details:

Intention: Raise awareness and water consciousness on the Androscoggin River and beyond while paddling its length.

Goal: Raise $5000+ for www.MaineRivers.org, whose mission is to protect, restore and enhance the ecological health of Maine's river systems.

My launch date: June 2, Errol, NH, Headwaters of the Androscoggin
My take out: June 14, Topsham, ME

Join me for a River Celebration public event at the Seadog Brewing Company in Topsham, on the banks of the Androscoggin on June 14; 4-6pm Free appetizers, music, and story sharing about the river.

Jen Deraspe, founder of Nurture Through Nature retreat center is a retreat leader and Registered Maine Guide whose love for nature runs deep and wide. FMI: www.ntnretreats.com

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