coastlines.

today, gulf of maine.

Bouncing down the wooded gravel lane I steer around an expanding brown puddle. Around the bend the greenhouses and chickens come into view. Parked, with the engine off, rain drops beat on the roof and cover the windshield. I get out and cross the yard. The farmer I am here to start working for is over by the door. He has something in his arms.

-Know how to shoot a gun?

-Yeah. What at?

-We got a fox massacring the chickens.

This month nearly 25 birds were foxed. We keep talking about the fox as we step through the greenhouse’s wide plywood doors. The gun is rested against a wall and we quickly start looking over baby tomatoes that need to be transplanted. The radio may be calling for windchills in the low 20’s tonight but a massive wood furnace gives these little green plants an early start at spring.

 

mid april, lake michigan.

The wind is throwing sand into our faces.  Somewhere over the dunes ahead of us there is a massive lake full of melted glaciers.  The same glaciers ground the continental shield into the fine sand that is exfoliating our chilled cheeks.

We stumble up and run down another dune.  Then another.  Tree stumps and root masses lie scattered around the backside of the sand piles.

Another rise and the full force of the wind hits us–and there is lake Michigan stretching off over the horizon, rolling towards us in long white waves, pulling the dunes back in.

 

early april, delaware bay.

At home spring is coloring the air. You can see the lilacs with your eyes closed. With the full moon coming in a few hours and a big evening tide I decide to head to the bay. To see if any horseshoe crabs are looking to come ashore early in this unusually warm spring.

But there are no blossoms on the bay. The spartina in the meadow are still tan and dry. Only broken chunks of glass and brick add any color to the white sand and black mud of the flats. The cold water and wind off the bay maintain the seasons. As the tide comes at sunset there are no horseshoe crabs, at least not living. Several dry shells lie in reeds, lifeless.

Out in the marsh, between a twisting tidal creek and the bayshore, an old shack leans hard into mud. As the sun drops into the bay over the Delaware coast orange light shines through a hole where the stove pipe exits a wall. It lands on the shoulders of a redwing blackbird. The bay’s first blossom.

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in need of salt.

Sunset from Koh Tonsay. March 2012

No matter what I say,
All that I really love
Is the rain that flattens on the bay,
And the eel-grass in the cove;
The jingle-shells that lie and bleach
At the tide-line, and the trace
Of higher tides along the beach:
Nothing in this place.

-edna st. vincent millay

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world water day 2012.

“Its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of air. It can assume forms of exquisite perfection in a snowflake, or strip the living to a single shining bone cast up by the sea.”– loren eiseley on common water

today is world water day.

think while you drink.

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So we.

First was the heat.  Thick.  Heavy.  All day it hung over the city.  But it is the dry season here.  So we took the heat.

Then, a rolling of thunder and a distant flash of light.  But it is the dry season here.  So we watched.  Heat lighting.

Then, there was the rain.  Echoing off tin roofs. Running over the pavement.  But it is the dry season here.  So we smiled and let ourselves be soaked.

Happy spring.

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give us the wind and water.

The evening has been hazy. What could be smoke is laying out across the rice fields as the sun and moon swap out their earth lighting responsibilities. There are still lots of cows moving around somewhere to the east by the sound of their bells. Somewhere, somebody is drumming. Building a beat that slides its way across the town. Soon a few instruments that sound like clarinets and voices add melody. Dinner is sitting warm in a full belly and a second cold beer is set to put me under covers until morning.

Morning

Before we even jumped off the bouncing motorbike I hear my friend Nga yell out a greeting. Quick shake of the hands, as lots of folks gathered round to take a look at the foreigners in their midst. Though this little boat landing is starting to see its share of tourists coming for a visit to one of the lake’s largest floating communities, Kampong Luong, we tend to attract a few stares and a number of youthful hellos from kids on the way to school.

Nga, whose helping us unload the motorcycle, is an easy going boat man who carries himself gracefully on board any thing that floats. He and I meet at this same dusty dead end two years earlier. Two of my good friends from the city and I had hired Nga to be our transport and kayak shuttle driver for a few days of exploration on the lake before setting us free to paddle downstream to Phnom Penh.

Two years later his boat still looks good and he’s got a new ring on his hand, so I ask “still single?” “No, no money,” he laughs. I, understanding, nod my head.

The morning is calm and we drop off a few other’s who have taken advantage of Nga’s taxi service. The town’s brightly colored houses stand out in the gray toned morning, over the tan water. As we head north the flooded vegetation show signs of a rapidly dropping water level. It’s been dry season for a while now and bands of leafless branches, under leafy tree tops, show the rate the water has changed. We pass lots of fishing boats that are using the flat calm morning to pull in their seemingly endless nets. Knocking tiny fish from the mesh into their boats.

We cut into a small stand of trees and round a bend into Akoal, the village where the small research station we work on is located. The channel into this small town of about 40 floating homes is marked by two long red flags that flank a spirit house perched up in the tree tops. The flags hang limp today. And the ancestral spirits seem to be off on other errands.

Later, after our work is done those flags start to whip on their posts. Waves roll at us as we head back to the boat landing. Water sprays over the gunnels. Before long we are soaked. Cotton shirts plastered to our skin. Finally cool in the tropical heat. Maybe we don’t have any money, but damn if we don’t have the wind and the water.

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Discovered Dance.

Coming back from Indonesia—the restaurant with tasty squid, chilies, and cold beer, not the country—I usually pedal down a long dark street between the Royal Palace and elegant national museum. Aside from the few strolling tourists and dozing street families there is nothing out of the ordinary on this ride. But tonight the road–silent when I started down it–was lined on one side by tuk-tuks, motos, and dozens of still heads turned toward the museum.

I drove passed and suddenly the air was full of music from the other side of the hedge. I turned around, stopping amongst the parked motos. Someone in the bed of a pickup motioned me up. Climbing into the bed and standing on the tailgate I joined two dozen drivers spread across the truck bed and roof tops of parked tuk-tuks. Sitting on (and in) the tall hedge dividing the museum from the road were a dozen little heads gazing towards the music—along the sidewalk their discarded wares (books, sunglasses, and cheap jewelry) sat in piles.

These young street vendors, the drivers, and I had all arrived to watch a performance of traditional Cambodian dance and music. Young, brightly dressed men and women swayed to a live orchestra. Spinning and jumping between long wooden sticks that slapped together towards any ankles that might miss a beat. We in the truckbed moved along with the dancers and cheered after each piece.

Between 1975 and 1979 nearly 90% of Cambodian artists (amongst many others )were killed by the Khmer Rogue—to see young people resurrecting their culture’s arts—and so many of their country people watching in awe from the other side of the hedge made my trip to Indonesia well worth it.

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At the end of a year.

The mid day sun, alone in the sky for most of the morning, is slowly being overtaken by the broken white clouds of a mackerel sky. The tide is way out and though there has been some rain the creek is still low. The mud flats are several feet above the surface and every submerged stick, bottle, rock, and tire is visible. Though with a uniform coating of mud only a rough outline of their shape differentiates each object. Even though the new year is hours away the air is warm, springlike. Only the lack of color from ripening leaf buds and young skunk cabbages place the day in late December.

Out in the flats three young boys are following the channel around a wide bend. One drops onto his knees, firmly sinking himself in the mud, and reaches forward. He pulls up a handful of something, showing it towards his companions. A pinecone, he exclaims with genuine joy. The other boys look back, then turn their eyes to the ground, searching for something of their own.

Nearly a dozen years before along the same wide, muddy bend I paddled a borrowed cedar strip tandem kayak, built around an old Klepper folding frame. A friend and I had just set out into the muddy waters and humid summer air. We spent the day chasing ducks and exploring the sinuous side channels of the South Branch of the Big Timber Creek.

That trip, with hundreds after, lead me down the Ohio and Mississippi. Each stroke, each friend, each watery mile moved me downstream.

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The river kept going.

Before I left Maine this summer I picked up a collection of poetry by Don West titled O Mountaineers!  In it I found this tribute to the river and those men and women who live, work, hunt, fish, love, breath, and die along it.

I’ve heard men on the river talk-
as we pulled the barges,
as we sat our watch
through long night hours
by muddy waters…

The river’s like us,
they said-
a live thing,
a slow thing
with many little forked branches
bundled together,
depending upon each other,

The river is a sluggard-
but she knows where she’s going,
she gets there!

The river wears out many a steamboat,
but she’s still here-
and will be tomorrow
and the next day.
She’ll be here next year
and next life-time!

The Mississippi bundles up
a lot of little waters,
and she knows where
she’s going…!
The river’s like us,
they said.

-1948-

Below are a few bundles of my own from the river.  They are expanded from my notes the last few days.

Slap!  There’s that beaver again.  Out for an evening swim amongst the drowning young willow trees.  For a second I thought the ripple on the water might have been a small gator.  Still too cold for their taste I guess.  With frost on the tent each morning I’d wish it would warm up.

Passed an outflow from a chemical plant today.  We picked out the steam clouds from across the river.  It look like a gyser rising into the blue sky.  It must have made for great fishing.  Gulls and egerts fought for space among the dozen fishermen along the bank downstream.

Oil tankers look big from a distance.  Up close they are enormous.  Cutting across upstream of one, even when it was far away, is not an experience I need to repeat.  Though I am glad one pushed us towards the bank near Paulina for a few hours of rest and river gossip.

There are less pelicans around here.  But many more herons, egrets, and cows.  The rafts of ducks fly away when the tankers pass but hardly move for us.

When you camp behind a levee you never know what’s on the otherside.  In Luhling we lucked out and found a fully stocked Vietnamese grocery.  All the esstentials for an evening meal in the bushes–poboys, peanut butter crackers, candy, fried rice, cold beer, and some of the best fried chicken on the river.  The chicken was so good that it never made it back to camp, an appetizer on the levee.

More big boats as we neared the port of New Orleans.  Passing a freighter I tried to estimate how many thousands of kayaks could fit on board.

Stepped out of the river across from NOLA at mile 98.  

The river kept going.

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Welcome to New Orleans.

One last long windy day.  Now we wait for a lift into the bayou for some welcomed rest.
 
Thank y’all and the river for a safe journey.

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College Point. Mile 155.

The oranges and yellows of sunset are giving way to the purple sky that precedes the stars.  Our fire crackles to life.  Though the days have been much warmer the mercury drops when the sun goes down.  

From our campsite, perched atop the remnants of a sand dune, the river seems as wild and remote as ever.  The sharp bend hides the frieghters from Hong Kong and Panama.  The thick stand of willows hides the levee and town.  The darkness and light breeze hide the haze from the refineries and chemical plants.

We share the river with more and more commercial traffic and effluent as we approach New Orleans.  Blue herons and raptors watch us all from atop stationary cottonwoods and massive pieces of floating driftwood. 

Each bend brings us closer to the gulf

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