Finally getting to see the headwaters

IMG_3252[1]I only remember seeing the headwaters of one river before last year.  It was the Arkansas River.  That’s when I learned that rivers seem to be named for where they end, not where they begin.  That’s an interesting notion to me!  Somehow I had always thought that the headwaters of a river would be grand and obvious.  The Arkansas starts in Colorado and the headwaters are a mere stream, of sorts, going through a meadow.  This proved to be the same with the Allegheny.

After completing our flume/luge-like experience, our friend John was kind enough to oblige my desire to see where the river really started.  I had googled it and found a sign indicating the headwaters.  I wanted to see that sign and so he guided us back up river about 30 minutes to the meadow where the waters trickle together to begin the stream that becomes a river with deep waters and deeper history.  The stream was tinier than Cassadaga Creek, that small waterway we had started on years earlier.

I still find it amazing that great things have such humble beginnings and I wonder if we will be able to someday say that we paddled to the other end of that river where it dumps its muddy waters into the Mighty Mississippi.IMG_3249[1]


Going with the flow….

IMG_3244When we began this journey, we were both in our 40s. The idea of reaching for a goal like paddling in a canoe to New Orleans from Western New York seemed like something we could actually grasp some day. Of course, we laughed about the idea that “someday” would be when we were 90 years old and just barely able to push the canoe into the Gulf of Mexico. For me, the trip was about accomplishment and acquisition. Each year I wanted to paddle further each time we went out. Even though events like moving to New Mexico, and back six year later, or dealing with the death of parents kept us from getting out on the water as much as we wanted, the goal of getting there someday was always the prevailing metaphor.

In the last three years, I have felt a distinct shift. The aging process is part of that shift but even more is the process by which we do not acknowledge the new frontiers of aging. For instance, in an effort to be ship shape, I joined a gym in January 2014. I was getting stronger and muscles I did not know were there were popping out. And then one day, after swimming 1/4 mile doing the crawl, my back seized up. It had been up and down for several weeks. I had taken drugs which, along with a little stress at work, landed me in the ER one Friday afternoon. I went to physical therapy which I think helped but it would take a long time. Finally, a week before my departure to meet Karen in Columbus, Ohio, I called and told her I could not/should not do a big trip, far from medical care, not knowing how I would fare.

So, what our minds won’t do for us, our bodies eventually will. They will tell us to change our ways and our thinking. My body sent that message loud and clear. But because we have learned over the years that this is no longer about achievement but about process, we have learned to go with the flow. It has even become a deeply spiritual journey for both of us. So, we opened ourselves up to other options for the week we had both set aside.

We decided to try paddling the upper Allegheny River, ABOVE where we had put in years ago at the Kinzua Dam. We were excited because the river is wild there instead of dammed for navigation. There are little rapids to make the trip exciting. It had been many years since we paddled the wild part of the river from Warren, PA, to the first dam. Karen and Mark had done some reconnaissance a few weeks earlier and reported that the water was high but there were places to get in a bit downstream from the headwaters. So we were set to go on Thursday and start a new kind of journey while still adding to contiguous miles we had already paddled. It all seemed perfect. We were adjusting.  And that is what life is all about.

Frozen Rivers

We are already into the second week of February.  Soon Karen and I will start calling each other and emailing our lists and ideas for our next journey on the Ohio.  But right now that seems a long way off.  I have remarked in the past at the many changes that have taken place in Karen’s and my life since we first set out in a canoe in 2001.  And the changes just keep on coming. 2014 was full of changes. Our daughter was married on September 27 in a beautiful outdoor wedding at their home in West Windsor, VT.  Karen and Mark were integral helpers in making that a special day.  It was great to have another excuse to see them in the same year. Though you will read in forthcoming posts that Karen and I did not make it to the Ohio River in 2014, you will learn that we still had some canoe adventures. The day after the wedding we got to enjoy a group paddle on the Connecticut River. Ten of us took a leisurely trip on the river for about three hours.

After over ten years of working for Habitat for Humanity in Santa Fe, NM, and then in North Central Massachusetts, I started a new job in Claremont, NH, last week working for an agency that helps build stronger families from before the children are born.  Claremont is very much like Jamestown, NY, where Karen lives and where I worked for 17 years.  I find it interesting how we come back to what is familiar. I have worked at the new job for only 7 days but I like it and think it is just right for me at this point in my life.  But I have to say that one of the most fun things about the new job is that I have to cross the Connecticut River at least twice a day to get to it.  And sometimes by covered bridge.  I never imagined ever having a job in a place that meant I would be crossing rivers via covered bridges.  Pretty darn cool, eh?

It has been a cold and snowy winter in New England. We have not had it as bad in Vermont as the folks in Boston but at our home in Lancaster, MA, 40 miles west of Boston, the piles of snow are immense. We move our household belongings into storage at the end of the month and I cannot even imagine how we will pack a U-Haul with all that snow in the driveway but I guess we will figure it out.

The Connecticut River near Windsor, VT.

The Connecticut River near Windsor, VT.

Meanwhile, I enjoy driving over the frozen Connecticut River and seeing the changes each day. Mostly it is frozen over completely but there are a few spots where the water is not frozen. Last Friday when it was minus 15 degrees when I drove to work, those spots where there was water created a fog machine of sorts. The evaporating water instantly turned into frozen mist as it rose from the river. It coated nearby trees with a bit of frost. It was beautiful.

So here’s what I don’t know. When will the ice break up? What kind of damage will it cause? I remember one stop on the Allegheny River years ago where the residents enjoyed showing us photos of the damage the ice did to docks and riversides the previous winter. There is lot of ice on the Connecticut. If it cuts loose all at once it will do some serious damage downstream. I hope it won’t and I also hope I get to see it literally breaking up and flowing away. That will be a first for me.

So I am grateful for the daily reminder of river life. In New England, river life is more about the bygone days of the industrial revolution. On the Ohio, it is about the transportation of goods and lots of coal. But there is still the air of the bygone days as we pass abandoned coal powered plants.

And finally, I am grateful for the promise that Karen and I will have many more hours of paddling and talking and catching up on all the changes that are taking place in our lives.