Monday, September 8, 2008

Downeast Sojourn, Part 3, The Great Heath.



Sunday a.m.:

Well... this is it. I'll take a Heath walk and be back in time to hit Route One by noon.
I walked in foul weather through the Barrens skirting the edge of Pineo. This consists of a sculpted gravel moraine interlaced and skirted with wavy edges like landform sized scalloping. You can't see into these due to tree density. This is comprised of red and white oak, aspen, sugar maple and other wt soil hardwoods. I'll check it all more thoroughly when I have USGS topo maps instead of DeLorme.

My tracking was sloppy and I wandered with no idea of direction. The overcast stole visibility so I couldn't use Schoodic or Lead Mountain as a benchmark. And by mistaking the alignment of an east-west power line, I only sank further into confusion. The wind might have an answer but I didn't get it.

I flushed a spruce grouse as soon as I stepped onto the Barrens. There were few signs of mammals. I hiked through one plateaus patchwork of side lanes sprouting clusters of portable migrant shacks. I looked into one. It's a crude plywood box frame with an average roof pitch and a stove hole, pallet frames for bedding and a few windows. The bunk frames are two tiered.

The road to Deblois looks ok on DeLorme but it's really only fit for high clearance vehicles capable of fording a stream. Four wheel drive may even be essential. A long slope section is washed out and Schoodic Brook needs a bridge. Bear and moose appear to find it more useful than people do.

It was awful and late by the time I stumbled onto 192. A twelve-mile walk in cold, grim rain dark beckoned. But, another kindly pair of old locals saved my dim bacon.

Yvonne and Wendell Otoury have a flatbed truck and are blueberry tenant pickers. Yvonne is a Mic Mac lady with a fondness for Camels. Wendell has a corresponding fondness for canned beer. He sports a small hat and a large gray beard.

They were pissed because they had leased a field from its owners and were dragooned into picking a lamer one while theirs went fallow. All of this, according to Wendell, smacked of blueberry harvest office politics.

This was a record blueberry year for the Barrens but the local blueberry barons got cold feet early and contracted to purchase cheaper blueberries from Canada as a hedge. They ended up writing off a number of their own fields. Wendell had gathered a crew and lost some due to the slimmed pickings.

Another complaint addressed the crews' supervision. Bosses had em all fan out from the center instead moving in from the edges like a closing seine. This left boxes scattered everywhere.

Last nights rain led a minor stampede of elements, particularly wind. There, under the frail bubble of tent in waning autumn light, I felt an urge to immerse myself in it all. Reveling in my embrace of insignificance I strove to belong to this howling Living World. I battened the tent against the wind and layered a poncho over it to hedge the rain. 

Then I slid into the sleeping bag and read passages of St. John Perse aloud to it all choosing excerpts from "Winds", "Rains" and "Exile". Perse lived for a while along this coast after the Nazi's drove him from France and the texts have a marvelous resonance.

"...very great winds over all the faces of this world,
Very great winds rejoicing over the world, having neither eyrie nor resting- place,"
"These were very great winds questing over all the trails of this world,"
"For a whole century was rustling in the dry sound of it's straw, amid strange terminations at the tips of husks of pods, at the tips of trembling things. Like a great tree in its rags and remnants of last winter, wearing the livery of the dead year. Like a great tree shuddering in its rattles of dead wood and its corollas of baked clay-- Very great mendicant tree, its patrimony squandered, its countenance seared by love and violence whereon desire will sing again,"
" The banyan of the rain takes hold of the City,
A hurried polyp rises to its coral wedding in all this milk of living water,
And Idea, naked like a net fighter, combs her girls mane in the people's gardens".
"Sing, poem, at the opening cry of the waters the imminence of the theme,
Sing, poem at the milling of the waters the evasion of the theme..."
" Hatching of golden ovules in the tawny night of the slime
And my bed made, O fraud! On the edge of such a dream,
Where the poem, obscene rose, quickens and grows and unfurls."
" I have chosen a place glaring and null as the bone-heap of the seasons,"
"...To desire the barest place for assembling on the wastes of exile a great poem of nothing, a great poem made from nothing..."
" I have built upon the abyss and the spindrift and the sand-smoke. I shall lie down in cistern and hollow vessel,
In all stale and empty places where lies the taste of greatness."

There it was, the distant percolation of the bog stream, the robust incessance of raindrops, branches and soaked leaves shivering in the wind to the hem and haw of a flapping tent. The lone little voice floats old words in a corresponding percolation to the stream. This is what 'to be' means. The voice fades with the light, as the pages grow dim.
When sunrise returned this morning, the birds rooted for it strenuously. It's just now rising over the trees.

Wow! Distinct shadows!

Sunday: Midday.
Made it!! I walked to the Pleasant River canoe launch. I found an inspired cabin owned by R. Lambrek about 100 feet up road from the river. It had a spring well, bunk beds, gas and stove hookups and a downhill outhouse. On one wall was a faded cartoon of a boy and a girl with the girl's hand in the boy's pants. The boy looks dismayed. The caption: "Now I know why you can run faster, you have a stick shift with two ball bearings". Clever.

The Pleasant is quiet, slim, somewhat bog tannic and obviously perfect for birding and quiet canoe drifting. There is a rickety log bridge that might bear certain kinds of vehicles, a jeep maybe. A stretch of meadowland fringed with acres of hemlock, fir, larch and birch faces westward. Upriver toward the Great Heath an alder corridor makes an awning for the river as tree tips from both banks meet in the middle.
This is the last river in the U.S. with a remnant native Atlantic Salmon population. They once ranged all the way to Chesapeake. Facing north, it's possible that the distant summits are Boarstone or even Katahdin.

The most remarkable thing about this astounding semi-wilderness vista is its provenance. The vast tracts shepherded by these silent mountains exist by default. The region has defeated a few centuries of human effort to wrest much more than comfortable subsistence from it. It punishes speculation and is too far from urban centers, too inconvenient to be wrecked for recreation.

The Pineo Delta marks a glacier's retreat. Boulder trains form eskers running all the way to Katahdin. The moor slopes are strewn with erratics up to the size of a small garage. The moraine lines are wavy and still distinct while the plain is pocked with kettleholes. It must have been a jaw dropper when the glacier first departed.

The ridge top wears aspens searing yellow with detail work provided by fir and birch. Colors elsewhere mottle, dapple, splatter and splash a counterpoint of red, straw, lime tinged evergreen and a flock of varied browns beneath a white laced azure. The pale blonde sand ribbons weave a slender trace of lanes and trails through all.

This is land overlooked. A meager and diminishing road net with a few modest scuffs from the Human Boot Heel are minor intrusions. The living world has room to stretch and express itself with a wealth of ecotones, habitats, patterns of succession and the many attending serendipitous surprises.

This is a scruffy way to hike. The complete absence of any infrastructure to accommodate the usual bloated and boisterous form of American Outdoor Recreation makes it all resemble the way Thoreau wandered through the Maine Woods rather than the RV incongruity of dragging a compact slice of suburb to the edge of Nowhere. It really is Away.

Having got what I wanted, thoughts turn to return along the long run back. I turn back to the campsite to pack it up for the highway. With luck, I'll make Boston by midnight.
The walk back to camp provides an opportunity to collect. Along with pine cones and stones, I find someone's blueberry quota book, an Innu religious pamphlet, (Christian), rules governing employment of migrant farm workers, an odd sign warning of bee swarm hazards and, in a ditch, another about pesticides applied. That completes documentation.


At camp I finish a meal of crackers, cheddar, sardines and wild mushrooms and began road stowage.