Monday, August 17, 2009
Merrimack River - Middlesex Canal to Wickasee Island
Today I once again picked up the trail of the two brothers from Concord, John and Henry Thoreau, at about the point where they emerged from the Middlesex Canal and began heading upriver on the Merrimack. Before they emerged from the canal they passed below a church from which the parishoners were exiting. Henry later wrote "As we passed under the last bridge over the canal, just before reaching the Merrimack, the people coming out of the church paused to look at us from above, and apparently, so strong is custom, indulged in some heathenish comparisons; but we were the truest observers of this sunny day..." The location was known as Sullivan's Harbor in 1839 and it has been filled in over the ensuing years. It was located about halfway between the Rourke Bridge and the mouth of Black Brook. They would need to be lowered in the locks to the level of the Merrimack River "by a serene & liberal minded man who came quietly from his book, though his duties, we supposed, did not require him to open the locks on Sundays. With him we had a just and equal encounter of the eyes as between honest men."
Once on the Merrimack it is immediately apparent that it is the big brother of the Concord. It is wider, its banks are much higher, and the current much stronger. It also has numerous small sandy beaches which offer easy spots to land for a break. Beginning my passage upriver, I soon encountered this humble riverfront home built between the RR tracks and the river by some enterprising individual...
If the brothers had stayed on the west side of the river, as I did, they would have passed the outlet of Stony Brook which is a good sized stream draining the Westford and Chelmsford area. I paddled up the brook until almost running into a mill building after emerging from under Middlesex Street...
Back on the river and a little further along I passed the City of Lowell's Drinking Water Intake Facility...
It is on the opposite side of the river from where I had earlier launched my kayak.
Between here and Wickasee (also Wickasuck) Island, the river was busy with jet-skis and power boats.
Reaching the island I elected to get out of the downriver breeze and paddle the easier route to the east side of the island whereas the two brothers rowed along the island's west shore. According to John Pendergast's book The Bend in the River , the sixty acre island was once the property of great Pawtucket leaders such as Passaconaway and Wannalancet. Passaconaway was a Bashaba amongst his people and was revered far and wide. Upon his death in 1682, he was buried in a cave on Mt. Agamenticus. It is said that at his funeral feast, the following animals were consumed: ninety-nine bears, sixty-six moose, twenty-five bucks, sixty-seven does, two hundred forty wolves, thirty-two buffalo, four hundred otters, six hundred and twenty beaver. Not a bad send-off!
His son Wannalancit lived out his last years on the island until his death in 1692.
Today the island is home to the Vesper Country Club.
Emerging from the narrow passage back into the river I continued upstream for about another half mile or so and took this photo of the Thoreau brothers trail as it continues north towards New Hampshire...
They made camp on that Sunday night not too far from this spot and were kept awake by the "boisterous sport of some Irish laborers on the railroad" across the river on the opposite shore.
After turning around, I got a good view of the Vesper Clubhouse on the northern point of Wickasee Island...
It was at this northern tip of the island that the brothers encountered two strange men begging passage to Nashua aboard their small vessel. Their request to come aboard was wisely denied despite some animated protestations.
Returning to the spot from which I had launched, I was once again ashore and my captured refugees assembled on the beach for a group portrait...
They numbered 71 in all and broke down as follows: 41 recyclable (13 redeemable) and 30 misc. rubbish such as plastic bags, bait tubs, etc. My YTD total stands at 3405.
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