Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hot Stove Paddling in the Waters of the Beothuk

Though my countdown to spring has now crested the top of the hill, I am on this last day of January staying close to my hot stove and reminiscing until temperatures a little more favorable for trash paddling return. Oddly enough, my reminiscing keeps taking me back to Newfoundland and memorable excursions I’ve experienced on the waters there. In particular, I recall a summer’s morning in 2000 when I awoke in my tent on the southern shore of New World Island. My objective for the day was to journey across an inner-coastal passage to a Beothuk village located in Boyd’s Cove about 8-miles to the south. The Beothuk were the indigenous people of Newfoundland and were called “Red Indians” by Europeans because of their applying red ochre to their skin from birth. In paddling my kayak to their village, I would be paddling through the same island dotted waters they often paddled. My means of navigation would be my chart, compass, and dead reckoning. I would need to use all three of these to find my way to the village and more importantly find my way back to my own campsite.
After paddling a short distance from the shore, I turned around and took a good look at the shore from where I had launched and stored the image in my memory bank. Then returning to my compass heading, I began looking for objects that corresponded with those shown on my chart. This helped to confirm my location and slowly allowed my confidence to build. I passed through Long Tickle and past an un-named island that looked liked a seahorse on my chart. Turning to an easterly heading, I passed between Dog Island and the northern tip of Chapel Island. Looking to the west with the aid of my binoculars, I could see the causeway and bridge carrying Route 340 across the passage’s opening to the Bay of Exploits. After rounding Chapel’s tip a southeast heading took me between Dunnage Island and Chapel. Just when doubts as to my actual location were beginning to creep into my mind, I saw amidst the sea of spruce and balsam fir trees the poles carrying utility lines near a cove on Chapel Island which corresponded with those shown on my chart. Confidence restored, I looked towards the Port Albert Peninsula lying dead ahead and began approaching my destination of Boyd’s Cove. Once in the cove and within view of the small community there, I began paddling on a northeast heading that paralleled the peninsula's shore until arriving at the small beach and stream marking the Beothuk village’s location. Had I been approaching this spot three hundred years ago, I most likely would have seen canoes stored on the beach, smoke rising from the lodges or mamateeks and children playing in the waters of the stream, for this was indeed a most idyllic setting for a village.
Here the Beothuk had, in my opinion, found a little piece of heaven! The mamateeks were clustered in a meadow located upon an embankment of good draining glacial till. Westerly breezes would have come across the water and provided relief from insects. A freshwater stream ran from an inland pond down to the embankment’s base, and in the spring would have been full of smelt. The Beothuk using their uniquely designed birchbark canoes, had access to hundreds of islands within a short and safe paddling distance to the north, east, and southwest. The islands and surrounding waters provided a bounty of food as evidenced by the variety of bones and shells found here.
Life must have been good here until the uninvited Europeans arrived and the dream was snuffed out. This particular area, by virtue of its being located between the French fishery to the northwest and the English fishery to the southeast, survived possibly into the 1700s but by the early 1800s life for the Beothuks was anything but good. As the Europeans settled along the coast, the Beothuk retreated via the Exploits River to the island’s interior. Here they survived in reduced numbers no longer having access to the seashore during the warmer months. Eventually, the English fur trappers began invading their interior locations and the Beothuk had nowhere else to retreat to. In the book The Beothucks or Red Indians by James P. Howley, I found this disturbing account of European/Beothuk interaction. In 1819 John Peyton, an English fur trapper, had settled permanently in the area and claimed his traps (set for marten) and other gear were repeatedly being taken by the Beothuk. He stated in a letter to the Governor the following: “On the first of March, 1819, I left my house accompanied by my father and eight of my own men with a most anxious desire of being able to take some of the Indians and thus through them open a friendly communication with the rest, everyone was ordered by me not upon any account to commence hostilities without my positive orders.” The next day they came upon a group of four Indians and began chasing them across a frozen lake. One, a woman in her twenties named Waunathoake, was taken captive. Upon seeing this, one of the other three, her husband Nonosabusut, approached and tried amiably to gain her release. When ordered to desist, Nonosabusut had the nerve to physically fight for his wife’s release and was summarily executed. Forced to leave her dead husband and small child she was removed from her home so that the English fur trappers could “convince her of their good intentions”. What was it about the mindset of Europeans in general and the English, in particular, that allowed them to think it was OK to kidnap people? How could they feign surprise when family members tried to intercede? There are numerous accounts of such kidnappings beginning in the late 1500s. I guess they weren’t familiar with Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People! At any rate, it was only ten years later that the last known Beothuk, a woman named Shanawdithit died.
Today, located near the village is the Boyd’s Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre and it is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Click here to visit. As you walk from the museum down the path to the meadow where the mamateeks stood, you will encounter this life-sized bronze statue of the last Beothuk Shanawdithit.
By the way, I deliberately did not name the inner-coastal passage or the name of the Provincial Park, where I had camped, earlier because of their rather unusual nature. So, now with full adult maturity expected of all, I disclose them. The inner-coastal passage is named Dildo Run and the Provincial Park is Dildo Run Provincial Park. The only explanation I have heard for these names was from a park ranger who said he believed it had to do with the passageway providing a safe alternative and I will leave it at that!
Postscript: While searching the internet for information regarding the unique design of Beothuk canoes, I came across Bob Holtzman's very informative blog on indigenous boats. To see his info on the Beothuk canoe click here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beware the Last Week of January

Back in 2000, having read Joseph Garland’s book Lone Voyager, my kayak and I were compelled to make a pilgrimage of sorts to a small ‘outport’ village located 21 miles to the east of Burgeo (and the Ha Ha) on Newfoundland’s south coast. The events that set the book’s story in motion happened at just about this time of year one hundred and twenty seven years ago in a world without cell phones, gps, or radar.
On the morning of January 27th in 1883, Howard Blackburn, a fisherman from Nova Scotia, found himself in dire straits. His dory-mate, Thomas Welch from Newfoundland, lay curled up dead in the stern of the fishing dory that Blackburn found himself desperately rowing in an attempt to reach land. Having lost his heavy wool mittens, while bailing during the previous day and night, Blackburn had allowed his bare cold hands to freeze to the wood handles of the boat’s oars. He knew it was his only hope for if his hands had closed, he would never have been able to get them once again around the oars. This was all happening in mid-winter on the Burgeo Bank fishing ground, roughly 60 miles or so from the south coast of Newfoundland. Blackburn and Welch, both in their 20s, manned one of the 6 banks dories that launched from the Gloucester fishing schooner Grace L. Fears 2 days earlier on January 25th. Each 2-man crew set out nearly a mile and a half of lines with hooks baited for halibut and returned to the schooner for a mug-up. However, after only 2 hours, the schooner’s Captain, Alec Griffin, sensed impending bad weather and sent the men back out to retrieve their lines. Blackburn and Welch rowed out to their line and had just finished retrieving the mile-long string when a sudden and severe squall swept across the area bringing with it blinding snow, and fierce winds that kicked up heavy seas. While busy fighting to keep their small boat from being swamped, they lost sight of the Grace L. Fears. One man bailed furiously as the other tried to keep the bow into the wind and waves. When the snow finally let up and darkness had descended, they could see a torch had been lit in the rigging of the schooner far to the windward. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to make any headway and had to lay anchor until morning. When they scanned the horizon at daybreak on the 26th, there was nothing but heavy seas, sullen skies, and a wind that wouldn’t quit. The men decided to row towards Newfoundland but were forced by the wind and seas to spend most of the day taking turns at bailing the boat resulting once again in little headway being gained. Just before dark, Welch did not respond when it was his turn to bail. He told Blackburn that it was no use and began a steady slide into the waiting arms of a merciful death. Later that night, Blackburn moved the lifeless body of his dory-mate to the stern where it served as ballast. This left Blackburn all alone and he began his steady, cold and agonizing row for land. The wind had finally subsided and the seas were now nearly calm. He rowed all day and just before dark he sighted land far in the distance. With darkness setting in he stopped rowing, set out his crude sea anchor, and rocked away the cold night in the dory with his dead dory-mate. On the morning of the twenty-eighth, a Sunday, Blackburn passed to the east of an island that looked to be unoccupied. Had fate been kinder and he’d passed to the island’s west, he would have seen a village where refuge could have been found. Instead, he rowed on toward the line of rugged hills that rose up from the mainland to the north. Ultimately he found himself rowing against a current of black brackish water which he followed to a narrow opening between 900 foot high hills and entered the Little River fjord. On the fjord’s west side, within sight of its narrow mouth but out of the main channel, was a fisherman’s wharf or “stage” as they are called in Newfoundland. Nestled at the base of the steep hill near the stage was a decrepit hut. Blackburn tied off the dory, went ashore, and spent the night pacing the floor and looking at the stars through holes in the hut’s roof. Though there was an old bedstead inside, Blackburn feared that if he lay upon it, he most likely would never arise. When daylight returned, he went out to the dory and found it damaged and full of water from being pushed against the rocks during the night. After emptying the boat, he ruptured his abdomen while attempting to lift Welch’s body, and had to push his innards back in as he helplessly watched his dory-mate’s body sink in about 12 feet of water. Back in the damaged dory he rowed out of the fjord and looking to the east saw two vessels becalmed in the distance. As he rowed in their direction, the wind freshened and the boats disappeared. His hopes dashed once again, he returned into the fjord and rowed along the east side,until after fighting the out-flowing current for 3 hours,finally saw several cabins clustered in the distance. As he approached the cabins, he encountered the iced-over portion of the river. A couple of people walking from one cabin to another saw him in the moonlight and walked across the ice to his rescue. Blackburn refused to leave the dory until his rescuers promised him they would immediately row to where Welch’s body lay submerged and retrieve it. Two men set out to perform this task while others helped Blackburn to one of the humble cabins where he would spend the next three months in their care. Despite their best efforts and empirical knowledge of home remedies, he would ultimately lose all of his fingers, half of each thumb and 5 of his toes to frostbite. The people of Little River were themselves impoverished that winter after having experienced a disastrous fishing season in which the capelin never appeared. What little food they had was freely shared with the man fate had sent their way. Because of their help, Howard Blackburn survived his ordeal and later settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He supported himself by running first a smoke shop, then later a saloon, and became a living legend in one of America’s busiest fishing ports. It seems he spent the rest of his life trying to prove that his survival was not due merely to luck, but rather due to his rare strength of character. He demonstrated this by twice sailing a small boat solo across the Atlantic earning himself the title “The Fingerless Navigator”. A third attempt at the age of 43 did not succeed and nearly killed him. He lived out the remainder of his life in Gloucester and finally succumbed to a variety of ailments at the age of 73. He is buried in Gloucester’s Fishermen’s Rest Cemetery.
The village of Little River still exists, but today is called Grey River. The name was changed due to its being confused with another village of the same name in the early 1900’s. During an outbreak of measles, medical help was unfortunately sent to the other Little River by mistake resulting in tragedy and the subsequent name change. Though only 21 miles down the coast from Burgeo, Grey River is not accessible by road. The only way to get there is by boat, coastal ferry, or helicopter. The coastal ferry, M/V Gallipoli transported my boat and I to the village when I first visited in 2000. The descendents of the family that saved Blackburn’s life still reside there and I was fortunate enough to meet several of them. With their help, I was able to see the spot where Blackburn found deliverance in the family’s cabin. I was also able to launch my kayak into the river and paddle out to the river’s narrow mouth where the small stage and unoccupied hut were located. This desolate spot was tucked only a little ways in from the open ocean. Steep, rocky hills rise to 900 feet on both sides. I tried to imagine what Blackburn endured that first night in the hut. Truth is I really can’t!
Here is a photo of a more modern fisherman's stage located not far from where Blackburn spent his first night ashore...

Another view of the village taken from the hill behind it...

All of the photographs in today's post were borrowed with permission from the Grey River Community web site.
So whenever I'm having a tough day, I need only think of Howard Blackburn's ordeal to find my troubles pale by comparison!
I'll be looking forward to turning the page on my calendar next Sunday!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Other End of the Pipe or This Bug's for You!

Ever wonder what happens at the other end of the pipe? You know, after you’ve released the water from your sink, flushed it down your toilet, drained your tub, watched it disappear down a floor drain, or heard your washing machine rocking and rolling as it empties itself out. I suspect that most folks don’t give it much thought, especially those that have septic tanks in their backyards. After all, whatever takes place there, happens underground and out of sight and most are fine with leaving it at that. They say “goodbye” and hope it’s final!
However, for folks in homes and businesses connected to a wastewater treatment facility things are different. They say “goodbye” to their water as it enters the pipe and someone else says “hello” to that same water as it emerges from the other end of the pipe, after what is often a long and dark journey.
Immediately upon emerging from the pipe and into the light of day, your used water is now referred to as wastewater and will need to receive proper treatment before it can be safely released back into the environment. Wastewater treatment plant operators utilize systems comprised of pipes, tanks, valves, pumps, blowers, chemicals, and control systems to ensure that proper treatment occurs. The physical arrangement and size of these system components were designed by an engineer and can all be seen and touched. However, the most important components of proper wastewater treatment cannot be seen. To the naked eye they are invisible, yet they do the lion’s share of the work. They are the micro-organisms often referred to as “bugs”! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first step in the process of treating wastewater is similar in a way to trashpaddling as it involves removing things that don’t belong in the water in the first place: plastic, wood, paper, metal, rocks, sand, etc. Many operators find themselves continually amazed at what some people think is an appropriate disposal method for their trash. At this point, the water having done its job of conveying waste to the facility is fast losing its freshness and is beginning to decompose.
Now, getting back to the “bugs”, they originate in the wastewater, actually in our guts, and once out and on the loose they’re looking for food and a good time! What happens when they find that food is critical in determining whether pleasant or unpleasant conditions will result. If decomposition is allowed to happen naturally, the “bugs” will quickly use up the available oxygen as they consume any food they are exposed to. When the available oxygen is gone, the process will continue without oxygen and will produce unpleasant results such as odors and gases. Think belching, flatulence, and flies! However, if an adequate supply of oxygen can be provided to the bugs, they will do their work in an aerobic environment and no unpleasant odors or gases will result. It is the operator’s job to see that this herd of “bugs” remains happy, fit as a fiddle, hungry and busy making more “bugs”! This is done by providing them with their favorite levels of oxygen, pH, temperature, nutrients, and of course, food. In a way, we operators are similar to shepherds in needing to take good care of our respective flocks. It is this element of harnessing ‘Mother Nature’ in a good way that has always intrigued me.
Once the “bugs” have eaten their fill they’re allowed to settle “fat and happy” to the bottom of a tank and provided time to digest and take care of other business. When hungry again, they’re provided another banquet and so on, and so on. The resulting clear water (aka supernatant), from which they settled out of, is disinfected and released back into the water environment.
Now entering my fourth decade of treating various wastewaters from various sources, I pause today to reflect on their differences in origin and treatment. In the 1980’s I worked in treating wastewater that had originated on the campus of a boarding school. Following treatment, that water was released back into the Assabet River watershed. There, I first learned about the unseen and largely undocumented “bug” workforce!
During the first half of the 1990’s I treated wastewater from a high tech office campus that was ultimately released into the Beaver Brook/Stony Brook watershed. The second half of the 1990’s and first half of the 00s found me treating contaminated water that was being retrieved from below ground, remediated and released into the Aberjona River watershed. Instead of using “bugs”, this site utilized “breakpoint chlorination” to oxidize urea ammonia nitrogen and the incredible properties of activated carbon to remove unwanted chemical compounds from the water. This site was also unusual in that it consisted of 50 acres of land surrounded by an 8 foot high fence designed to keep people out. Within this fenced enclosure, I had numerous encounters with wildlife such as coyotes, deer, rabbits, great-horned owls, red-tailed hawks, fishers, foxes, minks, musquashes, herons and ducks. I also learned much about the relationships between surface water & groundwater and above ground topography versus below ground topography. The site also contained an “ephemeral stream”…first I’d ever heard that term used for a stream and liked the way it sounded! Today, this same site is on the “superfund” list and because of underground topography is affecting an area much larger than the original 50 acres.
During the latter half of the 00s, while working for a contract operations firm, I treated wastewater from another boarding school (Sudbury River watershed), a shopping plaza (Merrimack River watershed), and condominium (Nashoba Brook/Assabet River watershed) and was back to working with my buds, the “bugs”.
Near the end of the 00s, now working as a freelancer, I began treating wastewater that had been used in the manufacturing of food products. The first of these was from the making of frozen desserts (aka ice cream). Here the name of the game is pretreatment which means treating the water only to the point where it is acceptable to another wastewater treatment facility for ultimate disposal into Boston Harbor. Because this wastewater has such a high level of oxygen demand, the “bugs” face a daunting task and need to be supplemented with the nutrient urea ammonia in order to perform their task adequately. Yes, that’s right…at one location I worked to remove urea ammonia nitrogen while at this one, I add it!
Recently, I’ve begun treating another food product manufacturing wastewater. This time it is from the making of seafood products and is also a situation where a wastewater having an unusually strong oxygen demand is pretreated to the point where it is acceptable to another treatment plant. Following its further treatment there, it is released into Massachusetts Bay. In an odd way, it seems that I’m home at last! Sort of like the “Cheers” episode in which Norm landed the job in the beer brewery. You see, I love seafood the way that Norm loves beer!:) Overcome with emotion, he hugged the nearest tank and cried “I’m home”!
My plan is to continue freelancing in the wastewater treatment field and include other water related tasks such as collecting representative samples of surface and groundwater as well as performing inspections of treated wastewater release locations (aka outfalls) for owners of same.
If things go as planned my business logo will be a variation on the “We’re the Birds to Call” one that has been in my family for many years. For my purposes, “I’m the Bird to Call” spoken by the perched vulture should suffice…

Hopefully soon, the ice will melt and my boat and I will, once again, be plying our local waters!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hot Stove Memories of The Ha Ha

With the local waters too hard to paddle, I'm left to sit by my hot stove and remember some of the more memorable waters I've been fortunate enough to experience. In particular, I'm remembering a summer's evening paddle with Mrs. Trashpaddler and two good friends, Paul and Ellen...
Far to the northeast, on the south coast of the large island Newfoundland, lies the small community of Burgeo. An archipelago, known as the Burgeo Islands, extends out towards the once great fishing grounds, Burgeo Bank. This place is all about fish and fishing. Cod and capelin, whales and herring.
Back in 1967, before there was a road to this place, Canadian author Farley Mowat and his wife Claire resided here. During the latter part of January, in that year, there occurred a strange event that would result in Farley writing the book A Whale for the Killing.

The setting where the events unfolded is described by Farley as follows: "Aldridges Pond is a salt-water enclosure about half a mile in length, and nearly as broad, lying in the centre of the rocky isthmus which separates The Ha Ha from Short Reach. There is a narrow and very shallow "pushthrough" between it and The Ha Ha, passable only by small boats and then only at high water. However, a wider and deeper channel connects the Pond to Short Reach by the way of a rather large entry cove. It was the habit of men who fished The Ha Ha to pass back and forth through Aldridges Pond to save themselves the long and, in dirty weather, dangerous outside run around the head of the peninsula. Each morning at daybreak they would cross Short Reach, enter and cross the Pond, pole through the pushthrough, and set to work hauling their nets in The Ha Ha. In mid-afternoon, when the haul was finished, they would bring their loaded boats back into Aldridges and moor up to the shore in the Pond's protected waters to gut their catch.
During our years in Burgeo, Claire and I had only once visited Aldridges Pond; but before we had been home two weeks, the Pond became the centre and the setting for an event which was to change our lives."

The event was a female fin whale chasing a school of herring into Aldridges Pond, during a period of unusually high water. After feeding on the herring in the Pond, she found herself unable to pass back to open water and became trapped.
It was back in 2002 that we four paddled our kayaks out Short Reach from near the Fish Plant in search of Aldridges Pond. We soon found and entered the confines of the Pond which is nestled between Richards Head and Greenhill Island, and tried to imagine such a large whale being trapped in such a small tidal basin for several weeks. Then we carefully dodged some shallow and barely submerged rocks while passing through the pushthrough into the small fiord known as The Ha Ha. This is a beautiful and other worldly place and memories of it are forever etched in my mind. Here it is easy to understand why Newfoundland is called "The Rock", yet only a few miles to the west you can experience beautiful sandy beaches at SandBanks Provincial Park. Truly, a land of stark contrasts.
After reading A Whale for the Killing, I had to see and experience Aldridges Pond and The Ha Ha for myself! If you haven't read this book, you may want to check it out! Who knows, you may one day find yourself paddling through the Pond and into The Ha Ha! I will envy you!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Birds to Call!

The man I most associated with this business logo has passed away. He had recently attained the age of 100 and been the guest of honor at a gathering with family and friends. He endeared himself to many during his life and will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to have known him.
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Friday, January 1, 2010

Upper Concord & Lower Sudbury Rivers

What better way to kick-off 2010 than a "Day One" trash patrol that nets only one piece of trash! Of course, ice and snow were abundant and the SuAsCo rivers were iced over at points. The opening photo shows the Assabet at Egg Rock and there is snow covered ice as far as I could see towards the Leaning Hemlocks. I had launched into the lower Sudbury River near this point and was not very optimistic after seeing the Assabet. However, the Concord River was open to the north so I headed downriver in that direction.
Before describing today’s trash patrol, I feel it necessary to mention the subject of cold weather paddling. As a rule, I avoid discussion of paddling gear/attire as these topics are very subjective and often become contentious. What might work well for one paddler would not suffice for another. I do, however, feel it would be irresponsible of me not to acknowledge the inherent risk of hypothermia and the precautions which I employ to prevent it. When I am on the river at this time of the year, I am dressed suitably for full immersion into cold water. In my case, that entails wearing a wetsuit, carrying an extra paddle, having a long painter attached to my boat’s bow, a small camp axe, and having a full set of warm clothing in a dry bag which I could change into immediately upon exiting the water. Of course, a life jacket is always worn by this paddler and a cell phone is at hand.
Getting back to today's patrol, the weather conditions were actually fairly nice for this time of year. The temperature was a little above the freezing point and there were even a few peeks of sunshine. I proceeded down the Concord River to the Old North Bridge and found it choked with ice. The ice barrier was thinnest on river right, and a few strikes from my camp axe allowed me to pass downstream. The next bridge, Flint's, is still closed to vehicular traffic, though the new railings look close to being complete. After passing Flint's Bridge, I kept expecting to encounter an iced over river but didn't. It was open water at Great Meadows Landing, Saw Mill Brook, and at my favorite cabin near Buttricks Hill...

The open water ended, however, about 100 yards beyond the cabin and that became my first turnaround point of the day. The trip back upriver was a warm one thanks to the effort expended to overcome the river's current.
Once back at Egg Rock, I decided to see how far upstream the Sudbury River would be open. I passed Nashawtuc Rd, Elm St., the South Bridge, and Route 2 before finally reaching the end of open water between Clamshell Bank and Heath's Bridge (Sudbury Rd.). After enjoying a "mug-up" of hot cocoa, I turned around and began my trip downstream to my takeout location near Egg Rock. On the way I thought about what the new year may have in store. It will be the third year for this blog.
How about booking passage for passengers in 2010? Well, sort of! Actually, I plan to book passage for books in the upcoming year by adding a “book packet” service to select trash patrols. By that I mean to transport particular books in “small packets” in or on my patrol vessel as they accompany me during a SuAsCo trash patrol. My kayak will thus be serving both as trash patrol vessel and "packet boat". Instead of handling packets of mail, however, I'll be handling packets of books. Once these books complete their river passage and are back on land, they will resume their journey to either my bookshelf or perhaps the bookshelf of a reader of this blog. The first books that have booked passage are: A Week on the Concord & Merrimack by Henry David Thoreau, Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Concord Sudbury & Assabet Rivers by Ron McAdow. Is there a book that you would like to book passage for? If so, please contact me and let me know the book and if there is a particular stretch of SuAsCo waters you’d like your book to experience. For a nominal fee I'll purchase it, provide it river passage, and then mail it along to you. This service will commence with the arrival of spring.
There are also plans in the works to provide passage for several automobile tires that presently reside in the Sudbury River near the Allen H. Morgan Avian Study Area.
At length, I reached my takeout location and disembarked with one lone plastic bag...

My YTD total stands at 1.
Additional photos from today's wintry looking patrol can be seen at this link.