Final day and reflections

I feel funny today. Besides never feeling more tired, ever, I noticed I missed the river and  river lifestyle I got to immerse into for 12 days. and I miss you. I really felt we were sharing in something important. I felt people traveling with me and therefore a deep sense of connection with the human spirit and the natural spirit. So I feel a pang of something and I don’t know what it is but maybe we can still stay connected on a continued, evolving adventure. Heart open. Kindness. We’re  all on a good journey always, don’t you think?

I saw a lot of trees like this, it reminds me of how nature will reach for whatever it needs and is resilient in doing that. I think in the reaching it gets stronger. In the stretching there is expansion. This journey stretched. 

About 20 years ago I went on my first solo kayak trip in the north Maine woods.  I was scouting the Penobscot River to lead a holistic canoe retreat down it soon after. It was supposed to be a five-day trip. I couldn’t finish it soon enough. I was so scared and uncomfortable being in a remote location alone that I paddled as much and as fast as I could and finished in 3 days. I  Remember thinking it would be more comfortable in the company of people and also even back in town again-home in a predictable and safe space.  

I’m happy to have noticed  that I was completely comfortable in the solitude, welcomed it and learned from it further. It wasn’t always that way. It’s been a progression. A practice. There’s a difference between isolation and solitude. Isolation relates to feeling lonely and separate. Solitude relates to being comfortable in your own skin where ever you are -even in a crowd -even in the wilderness. I welcome you to it. Solitude. that’s where the richness and freedom of life lies.

Meanwhile, back at Lisbon Falls. I woke up to my final leg of the journey. I had a short day to Topsham. I thought. Thought i could just settle in and reflect on the experience and prepare to integrate back into the world again. The integration for me was to be a comparatively stimulating social situation - the river celebration which was right yet potentially intense. So I knew I wanted to get my wits about me to see if I could find my words about what I would want to share. I wanted to do this river the justice it deserved.

OOPS! I missed the teeny tiny line on the map that showed one more dam, one more portage. This was the portage from hell. I didn’t have a lot of juice left in me. So it took digging to the marrow that actually required support from some other force I cannot name. 

I’d like to share the progression of the experience with you. If only to let you know that I’m on fire about contacting the damn dams about making these damn dams user-friendly.

3 miles downstream I spotted a mirage, a line of orange barrels. 

I keep paddling closer. I want to make sure I’m not losing it. I want an accurate report of the signage provided by these damn dams. I keep paddling looking keenly with my eyeballs and binoculars for signs on which side of the river to take out. There’s no sign.

Still no sign.

I look River left. They’re making power from water. They’re also doing some sort of debarking process. Please note the set back from the river. It’s some sort of metal wall with minimal buffering (looks like 10 feet) for filtering what they’re doing. no trees. Looks like an old grandfathered dinosaur that chugs along. It was quite loud here with machinery doing something with trees.

Still no Sign for a canoe portage. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be on the left side of the river or right. I’ve noticed when I do find signage they only put it on one side. What if I’m traveling down the other side and miss it? Sometimes they fall or have been covered with vegetation. If there’s a big strong wind that I’ve experienced or strong current, this is uncomfortable to get this close to the dam without knowing if I have to cross back over as a solo paddler.

Then I see this thing. It’s made of metal. Do they want me to paddle through it? The bottom bar is above the water.

Can you see where the drop off is? This is the dam. There still no sign that I can see where to take out.

Oh there you are. Thank you for putting the sign in the woods. I could not see that from anywhere upstream. And thank you for this welcome ramp to slide my shit up these granite chunks.

There a was narrow path with roots that was very hard to navigate with the cart. I did it by singing nursery rhymes and shuffling backwards as well as grunting.

And I found this incredible slide. I’m like WTF? Are you serious?

I emptied my canoe and lifted it on the slide. I thought about walking down the stairs next to it and slowly lowering it but I just didn’t think I had the strength to stop the momentum.
I used the stairs instead. At this point I have lost any inkling to preserve the paint on my canoe or the hull. Green painted portages down the Andro.

At the bottom was a railing  and I had to try to find out how to make a 90° turn without jamming the canoe under the railing. Once I navigated that which was nothing less than a miracle, I was faced with another granite ledge to get everything down.

I felt  my anger boiling. I shared videos on Facebook looking for some sort of support. I’m sorry I couldn’t even respond to anyone’s concern at that point. I think I was having an outer body experience sort of like a psychotic split. It felt like it was a booby trap. Of course it might’ve been different with two men doing this type of thing. But it wasn’t. And I feel it should be friendly for a solo canoeist regardless of gender or size.

This is looking upstream after the portage at the damn dam. 

My T-shirt was wet with sweat. I took my scarf and put it in the river and wiped my face. Trying to wipe away the experience. I cried into my scarf for a while. I was shaking with so much strong emotion and exhaustion. It took sheer force and determination and I think perhaps angelic lifting to pull it off.

 I had an apple and some water. I kept breathing. The storm passed. I got settled back into my canoe and I was quite certain that I just had a 4 mile leisurely experience to let all that go and get back on track with peace and connection.

That level of physical effort and emotional storming created a very deep surrender. I felt like something really big inside of me had just  let go. My vision was deeper and my hearing was stronger. The birds came in. Everything became magical. There were ducks and Osprey and geese and tree swallows and an eagle. They all reminded me what this was all about. 

It’s hard to put names on the experience. I would call it complete presence. Bliss. I saw nothing but beauty. I heard nothing but beauty. I shouted it to Eagle, I got you. It’s screeched something back. I shouted at the eagle again, I got your back and I got your front!! He shifted and flew upstream. 

I was completely joyful. Everything made sense to me. And yet it wasn’t about anything making sense. It was an experience. It just was.

Oh and during this experience, my phone was in my pocket and Pandora suddenly kicked in and Tibetan bells started playing followed by incredible chanting music that created a backdrop around this magical experience. I’m not kidding. 

Now the crying came from a whole different place. It was deep gratitude and connection to life. It was surrender. Is it was remembering something primal and innate. My birthright.

I was savoring every stroke and the feeling of being suspended on this river of life. I thoroughly enjoyed my final leg to the boat launch. I saw the old bridge I stood on many days ago looking upstream wondering how this was going to go for me. So taken and curious by this body of water, looking from the end of it up into the mystery. Here I am gliding into where it all began. 

My dear friend Lisa showed up at the boat launch eventually. She helped me make the final portage over to the Seadog. It was fun to walk to town with a friend on this final leg.

Here’s the river from the perspective of the Topsham-Brunswick bridge below the very first dam on the river.

I was so very moved by friends and “strangers” alike that Showed up to the river celebration. I think the thing that moved me the most were people that I haven’t ever met and that have lived on the river, have an affinity for the river and made the effort to come to show an alliance and affinity. 

I think I’m singing here. I adjusted Joni Mitchell’s lyrics to the following;

Hey farmer farmer put away the DDT now. I’ll take those spots on my apples, just give me the birds and the bees. Don’t it always seem to go.  you don’t know what you got til it’s gone. Save paradise, let’s skip the parking lot.

Couple of sweet sidenotes, when I was portaging in Lisbon Falls and stopped at a traffic light waiting for the light to change, a  truck was next to me. There was a young boy and his father. The dad was like hey I saw your article in the paper. I’m sorry about my wife. You're doing great! It was the same guy who asked me to leave his land days ago. I love it when serendipity lines up like. A coincidence, really, that we would actually meet at the same stoplight. I mean come on.

Secondly, the word got out about my love for chocolate. Landis gave me a bag of it at the end. It was all packaged up -different types of chocolate clearly from a specialty shop. I dumped the bag on my counter and out came one individually wrapped chocolate in the shape of the honeybee. I don’t know what got Landis to pick out that one random candy. (A lie) That was my mother‘s nickname. Her name is Beatrice we called her honey bee. There she was totally with me.  she had a great  sense of humor. I could hear her laughing. She had the same love affair with chocolate as I. I just shook my head :-) hi MA! I love you. Thank you for being here with me always. You’re so quirky to do this to reach out to Landis and get to me in this way. Remarkable. 

Here are my  inspirations for this river that I got to know intimately;
  1. Let’s create a wilderness management area through the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Dept creating a safe habitat for wildlife to have space to live and thrive.
  2. Let’s create a river trail system from the ocean to the mountains where people can paddle back-and-forth and be supported in that journey, camping, exploring, enjoying. Remember it is undeveloped all the way to Topsham. I repeat, it is undeveloped all the way to the ocean. Unheard of intact wilderness belt. It will enhance a nature- based economy and tourism, already Maine’s #1 industry.
  3. Let’s get that damn dams to be more fish and human friendly.
  4. Let’s see what we can do to get the federal and state governments involved in cleaning up the toxic sediment in the riverbed holding lead and mercury.
  5. Let’s change the grade of the water quality from C to B.
  6. Let’s get towns, municipalities, cities along the river way to take care of storm water runoff and sewerage overflow to have back up plans with extreme weather patterns. Let’s be sure no toxins go directly into the river. It may mean an increase in taxes but it’s worth it because you cannot put a price on clean water. Or having no clean water.
  7. All the humans I spoke to that were fishing on the river way were unanimous in the fact that they would not (ever) eat the fish.What about the loons who eat fish?  What about the Osprey who eat fish? What about the Eagles who eat fish as their primary diet? What are they supposed to do? Let’s change the situation so everybody can eat the fish if they need to to sustain themselves.
Good, there’s a chunk of homework. We have something beautiful and in our reach. We could restore the river. We’re already on the way. Let’s do it right. Let’s go from use and abuse to honoring.

Thoughts  on things we can do as individuals to make a difference. Your dollar is your vote. I am certain that manufacturers and corporations will change based on our spending patterns. Cultures evolve as our awareness and choices evolve. Here are some simple things we can do that can affect nature and water quality directly, and our own health.

  • Buy Less- be less  materialistic, simplify.
  • When you do buy, consider buying recycled
  • or products without phosphates, dyes, fragrances. In particular- detergents. Look for labels that say “free and clear”, you don’t want those dyes and perfumes on your skin, nor in our rivers.
  • If you live on or near a waterway, make sure there’s a very wide buffer between your lawn or your garden and that waterway. Have vegetation to filter whatever you’re doing as a buffer.
  • Communicate with your legislators About the value of our natural resources.
  • Use less plastic. Bring your own utensils and plate. Say no to straws and styrofoam.
  • Support your local farmer and farmers market or grow your own๐Ÿ˜‰
  • If you get catalogs at home, first of all get off the junk mail list, second of all request those companies create catalogs from sustainably harvested trees and gloss free paper. Ask for recycled content in that catalog.
  • Buy recycled Unbleached paper
  • Go organic on at least these dirty dozen produce items-
  • If you live on a waterway, do not disturb the shoreline. Those trees and plants filter human activity to keep the water more clean.
  • Love your local land trust or environment group / non-profit by volunteering, getting involved, being on the board, charitable tithing or service 
  • Use less electricity. Only what you need. Shut off your lights when not needed. get a clothes line. We have a love affair perhaps addiction entitlement to electricity. That has a huge impact on so much. Use less power please.
  • Run for office! President! 

It feels good to do the right thing. To challenge and grow. To join hands. And hearts. To laugh and to cry too. 

My god what an experience. I can’t believe I’m home.

Laundry and drying out the wet stuff. Bitter sweet. 
Wild journey.

Thank you.

I was the last one at the SEAdog making sure I gathered all my stuff. This little girl was looking out the window at the river. I was struck by her presence and her innocence. 

So we do this for her and the six generations after her.  That’s what the Native Americans did. Native peoples made decisions considering the impact on the next seven generations. That’s about 200 years. We’ve been messing with this river for about 120. Seems we tend to think about ourselves, our kids and grandkids. And I’m asking to think even beyond that.

Psst we raised over $5000 for Maine Rivers and I could not be more excited. Thank you all!

PS I’ve threatened to be more regular with my blog musings. If you’d like to follow along I’d like to continue to share insights and experiences on the journey. It won’t be daily but it would be as inspired. 

Life is a trip. We’re always on it.
Let’s do this :-)

Love love love


  1. Wow Jen. Just wow. Grateful for the blog so we could follow along. What a trip!!!!

  2. Thanks for being with me every step of the way and for being a tribes member for Mother Earth


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