Sunday, September 3, 2017

Merrimack's Nashville Ravine

The New Hampshire Appalachian Mountain Club Paddlers held their September Trash Patrol yesterday morning on the Merrimack River in Nashua, NH.  Patrol leader Denise and the usual gang of picker-uppers rendezvoused at the Greeley Park Boat Launch before heading out in small squadrons along both sides of the river.

After a few hours we'd gathered up this assortment of trash... which a sign was affixed to let folks know it hadn't just been dumped there, but would be removed early next week...

Because of when and where we were conducting this trash patrol it occurred to me that it might coincide (both time and place) with the boat trip brothers John and Henry Thoreau undertook in 1839, and which Henry later wrote about in his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers published in 1849I'd brought along my copy of the book and, checking it, confirmed the two brothers had traversed this very stretch of the Merrimack in their dory-like boat 178 years ago, to the day, on September 2nd 1839.
They were beginning the third day of their journey, having camped the night before in Tyngsborough, MA.  On that third day they continued up the Merrimack passing its confluence with the Nashua River in the late afternoon.  Regarding their day's destination, Henry wrote "Soon the village of Nashua was out of sight, and the woods were gained again, and we rowed slowly on before sunset, looking for a solitary place in which to spend the night.  A few evening clouds began to be reflected in the water, and the surface was dimpled only here and there by a muskrat crossing the stream.  We camped at length near Penichook Brook, on the confines of what is now Nashville, by a deep ravine, under the skirts of a pine wood, where dead pine leaves were our carpet, and their tawny boughs stretched overhead. But fire and smoke soon tamed the scene; the rocks consented to be our walls, and the pines our roof.  A woodside was already the fittest locality for us."

So, at the conclusion of the trash patrol, I returned to the river and sought to find the location where the brothers camped.  My original plan focused on Thoreau's mention of "near Penichook Brook" and I paddled the short distance to where the brook enters the river...
 ...and looked for a deep ravine located downriver from Pennichuck Brook.  I believe it had to be downriver because Thoreau describes their rowing past the brook without seeing it in the early morning fog the following day.

After looking downriver towards the direction the two brothers would be approaching from...
...I returned to Greeley Park and headed home.  This morning I reread Thoreau's description and focused on his words "..on the confines of what is now Nashville".  At the time Thoreau was writing his book in 1848 Nashville, NH was a separate town from Nashua.  It existed as a town between 1842 and 1853 when the towns of Nashville and Nashua combined to form the city of Nashua.   Online I found this 1846 map showing Nashville's location...

The map shows Nashville as having frontage on the Merrimack's western shoreline between the Nashua River to the south and Pennichuck Brook to the north.  This covers just under 3 miles of Merrimack River shoreline.

Oddly enough, one location that clearly meets all of the characteristics mentioned by Thoreau: "near Penichook Brook, on the confines of what is now Nashville, by a deep ravine, under the skirts of a pine wood, where the dead pine leaves were our carpet, and their tawny boughs stretched overhead" is the very location from which we held our trash patrol...the Greeley Park Boat Launch (see opening photo).  It's located just about midway between the Nashua River and Pennichuck Brook, was in the confines of then Nashville, is a deep ravine, and has pine trees galore.
It's distinctly possible that the place I went off to find was actually right there beneath my own two feet.  Wouldn't be the first time.

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