Quiet Paddling in Western Maine
My all-time favorite mode of transportation is by canoe. This ancient way of travel leaves me feeling peaceful and present in no time as I leave the work-a-day details behind with a few short paddle strokes. Experiencing the floating support, being suspended on water, another body, holding me up and carrying me along is powerful and healing. The sound of the wooden paddle slicing through the water’s surface, plunging down silently, propulsing me along the slow passing scenery, the perspective gained from being on top of the water, a place no one has walked or driven before—it’s simply magical.
Abenaki Indians, “The People of the Dawn,” relied a great deal on waterways of this area for easy and swift transport. Maine has 7 major rivers that tribes used as super highways to explore, gather resources, trade and enjoy the bounty provided my Maine’s epic natural resources. The rivers served as trade routes and also helped the Abenaki to make seasonal migrations from south to north to help ensure greater success with hunting and gathering. Many tribes spent their summers on the coast taking in the ocean’s bounty. By early fall, they would paddle and pole back upstream to their winter home, rich with game, shelter and resources.
I get to live near the serpentine shores of the Saco River, one of these 7 gems. The Saco River begins in Crawford Notch, NH, as Saco Lake, descending out of the White Mountains, traversing through 24 towns, carving its way through south western Maine all the way to the Atlantic between the towns of Biddeford and Saco.
Our cities and towns used to turn their backs to the rivers, using them a receptacles for industrial waste, including paper, tanning and textiles. Thankfully, waterfronts are now being cleaned up, honored and featured, as the beautiful resource that it is.
The Saco has been a hot bed for conservation drawing in the Nature Conservancy and the Saco River Corridor Commission to protect is shores and waters. Because of its seasonal flooding and intense water level fluctuations after sudden storms, it is home to rare plants and animals that sustain and thrive in these varying conditions. The receding glacier left the river with a thick sandy bed that acts as a water filtration system, providing some of the cleanest water on the planet. Over 250,000 people and multiple bulk water extraction corporations tap into the aquifer surrounding the Saco’s sandy surroundings.
The quiet paddler has an opportunity to drift into some amazing wildlife along the Saco and its connecting streams, bogs, ponds and lakes. I have been directly escorted by river otter, swacked into attention by beaver as they slap their tails adamantly letting me know who’s turf I am in. I have paused to watch dozens of painted turtles sun bath on a river-worn log. Around bend and curve, I have followed the flight and distinct King Fisher’s song. Being mesmerized by the stillness and majesty of the great blue heron, bald eagle and osprey is humbling and inspiring.
Magic happens when one just shows up and joins the circle of what is already going on, tuning into the natural rhythm and natural world. Canoeing provides a life-long opportunity to access the wilderness we still get to experience and witness. Paddling totally shifts my mental state. There is still deep quiet in western Maine, off the hub-bub of major highways, out of town just enough to smell the trees, see the sky and hear the birdsong strong.
Text & Photos: Jen Deraspe
Founder of Nurture Through Nature Retreat Center, Maine’s first Green-Certified lodging retreat, Jen Deraspe lives off the grid on the slopes of Pleasant Mt. in Denmark. Her passion is leading earth-friendly retreats and holistic life coaching.