Day 6 June 7

What a day-what a day!

First off I got woke by lotsa books. Everywhere. I recommend sleeping in your local library. Or non local. 

The “hard pan cafe” opened shortly after. 

I had put it out there on Facebook if anyone wanted to paddle with me on the next couple of segments they were invited. Two people bit. They found their way to Hanover and I shared the river with my sister and my friend Nicole and I do think they were taken by the river much like I was. It was fun to share ideas and the landscape together. And kale and chocolate.

Saw landmarks I knew all my life, paddling into our home town, only from the river, from a perspective unimaginable now a reality. 

We had a quick lunch at the Rumford boat launch about 3 miles upstream from the first dam. Mer and Nicole got off here and I kept going towards the mill. I had a meeting with the first line of management and welcomed the final few miles to get focused and clear. 

I was rather fearful- not knowing where to take out, Would I know what to ask, how to be with so much running through me, if I could handle the mile long portage down Falls Hill and up Canal St to the upper gate. I felt my world pressing in on me and this whole journey heavy on my shoulders. Like someone said upstream, the smell of money comes out of those stacks that have fueled the local economy for a hundred years. Could we have a healthy conversation and hear each other? Could I find my words? 

A bunch of geese started honking back and forth in front of me. A lone goose appeared river left and paddled close to shore. A gray squirrel came to the river's edge and stopped, sat and looked towards me. All the geese lifted up in formation above me. This movement of these wild friends felt reassuring and like I was being pulled to the right place at the right time. Gratefully, I saw a small old overgrown path up about 4 feet from the water as I was approaching the warning barrels running across the river. I knew this was the final take out option and it would take all my strength to heave that canoe up the rise. Something surged through me like there simply was not a choice. 

After a short drag I came to this snowmobile/ATV trail and I was golden. On a mission I kept grooving towards Route 2. 

Had a surprise visitor in my other sister, Aga, who took it upon herself to escort me directly to the mill by crawling along side me in her car slowing traffic. She was driving back and forth on Route 2 looking for me. I mean I would have been hard to miss but the timing was impeccable. She seemed as determined as me to get me to that meeting. I felt pretty damn supported by her.

She stayed and waited while I met with PR manager Scott Reed and HR manager Janet Chaisson Hall. Also Ferg from Androscoggin River Watershed Council was nice enough to come. Scott is on the Board of that non-profit, which I appreciate.

I got the breakdown on their water treatment facility. This brown fountain of sorts used to horrify me growing up and I would like to take a moment to share what I learned.

There are three processes to the water treatment. Water, lots of water, is used to make paper. And when the consumer wants bleached paper and colored paper and glossy paper that’s what they get. By the way, important sidenote, they do change what they make based on what the consumer wants. So if you pay attention to the kind of paper you buy it could change this industry. If companies you buy products from have catalogues they put out, you could request that they use recycled paper, etc. The simpler the paper the less chemicals used and the less effluent less processing and a less funny business that goes back into the river. Less is more. 

Water treatment yes… Three processes. According to my best memory attempt here—There’s an aeration process in the very beginning with lots of water to separate the solids from liquids. Those solids are pumped into the pool here and aerated further as you can see in these plumes or fountains. The aeration, the temperature, and the introduced microbes all create an environment where the chemicals used to make paper are broken down. The water from here goes into another clearing tank where the solids sink to the bottom. Those solids become sludge and are burned for fuel at the mill. So what you're looking at is sort of kind a like a composting system or kombucha. Maybe a bad metaphor but that’s what it reminds me of. The remaining water in the third process goes into the river and is tested on a regular basis. It has to meet certain EPA standards and I was assured that they’re above those standards. I was assured that they are highly regulated. 

Like me, their fathers worked in the mill. Like me, they are from the area. I played high school basketball with Janet. I do believe they have a sense of place and do care about the environment. 

The mill just got bought by a Chinese company. Nine dragons. Scott did some research on this company and they tout their environmental excellence. I hope it is so.

Since it is a new beginning for the mill I asked Scott to communicate to the next level of management my interest in them meeting even higher standards and setting themselves apart as an organization that creates products in a way that is more sustainable for the environment. They could be the greenest papermakers in the state. They could set a standard, a new standard. I told them that there are consumers that do pay attention and would buy recycled and certified paper.  Whoever is reading this, I’m asking you to do that OK? You me we consume. a lot. Vote with your dollar.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet with these people, to learn more about how the mill works and to continue on with the journey.

 I’m grateful that my sisters have rallied and supported and we had a nice dinner and I did my laundry and I’m going to sleep in a bed tonight. 

To support the mission of this journey- healthy  rivers and their water sheds-


  1. Awesome. Thank you for sharing this journey. Now I can sleep knowing you’re tucked in for the night. Grateful.

  2. It's an unfortunate reality that "the company touting it's environmental excellence" often turns out to be something totally different from the perspective of a "concerned citizen" on the river. For example, Verso Paper, and mill owners before them, had a long history of saying that they "complied with all regulations". But, in the legislative arena they actively, very actively, resisted any move to upgrade the rating of the river downstream from "C" (the lowest allowable under the Clean Water Act) and "B". The reason being that the new standard would put them at risk of legal action if and when their effluent caused a problem in the new category. So there's alot going on behind any company statement about their environmental record and plans. Basically it's easy to "talk the talk"...

  3. Forgive me, I’m just finding this comment section. I hear you Greg. I totally hear you. Then it’s up to the citizens in the legislature to hold corporations accountable for regulations. an independent auditing system that can be created that is not influenced by any lobbying? Maybe maybe this already exists. The DEP? The EPA? I can see how it is influenced by politics.


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