Paddling Vermont

I grew up with a green wood and canvas Old Town canoe bought by our Dad in the mid Sixties.  In the Fifties, our dad spent several summers doing extended canoe trips with Camp Kapitachouane in Quebec.  My brother and I would paddle his canoe around waterways in Vermont. In the summer of 1987, following in our Dad’s footsteps – or paddle strokes – my brother and I went on a month-long canoe trip in Quebec with other campers from Camp Kapitachouane.  Every day we paddled wood and canvas canoes across lakes and rivers and portaged across black-fly infested woods.  We carried our canned food in wooden wannigans, baked simple bread called bannock and caught and fried delicious walleyes.  We paddled rushing rapids and passed Cree villages, even meeting a Cree man skinning a bear.  It was an amazing and indelible experience.

Because our Old Town canoe is a real bear to lift, I recently bought an eleven-foot Northland canoe made in Huntsville, Ontario.  This summer I have been paddling more, both solo in the Northland and with my wife Natasha and our dog Mazy in the Old Town.  We’ve paddled past loons at Maidstone Lake at sunset, past beavers at Goshen Dam and welcomed the first rays of sunlight at Grout Pond and Lake Ninevah.  Though both my Dad and brother are both gone now, they are never far from my thoughts as I paddle the quiet waters of Vermont in these wood and canvas canoes.

West to New Mexico

“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”

-Aldo Leopold

I went to New Mexico to wander the dunes of White Sands National Monument and savor the crystal blue skies and perfect geometric shapes of the desert.  The afternoon I arrived a wild wind whipped the sands into swirls of murkiness and visual frustration. I camped twenty miles away because the military was conducting missile testing next door to the monument at the military base. In the morning, dawn rose calm and clear and I went back to White Sands, entered the park for free – it was National Parks Week – removed my flip flops and climbed the cool white dunes of sand looking for the best angles on this other-worldy landscape.




I went to New Mexico to hike fourteen miles in the Gila Wilderness. (With strong advocacy by Aldo Leopold, the Gila was the first designated wilderness area in 1924.)  I waded across the Middle Fork of the Gila River fifteen times to reach the warm waters of the Jordan Hot Springs. In twenty four hours I saw only five hikers. At the springs I saw nobody, except the two bright yellow eyes of an animal – reflected by my headlamp – as I was hoisting my food bag for the night. There aren’t too many places left where you can go and experience nature unaffected by humans.

I went to New Mexico to drive endless roads and give the one finger wave to three cowboys in three pickup trucks in three hours. I went to New Mexico to eat green chile stew and fresh tortillas at breakfast.  I went to New Mexico to have a beer at the classic Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos. I went to New Mexico to arrive in remote Reserve at twilight and check in by telephone to the Frisco Motel, the only place in town.

I went to New Mexico because I lived there before in Gallup in 1999, working at a newspaper, covering the gritty town and surrounding Navajo Reservation. But because the state is so big, I never made it to White Sands or the Gila Wilderness. My brother Roger also lived in New Mexico in Las Vegas, attending United World College in the 1980s. I have strong memories of soaking in hot springs there, inhaling the cold crisp air and fragrance of Ponderosa pines all around.