Looking Back

This blog features poems by a native New Englander and octogenarian, as he looks back on the stomping grounds of his youth -- Chaffee's Woods, Kent Heights, Beach Pond, Escoheag, Wood River -- and his army days in Europe towards the end of WWII.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wood River

Up at the Wickaboxet Farms
There stands the Wickaboxet Lodge
And ‘cross the road from this old inn
Lies lily padded Hazard Pond
And from this pond a stream does flow
Known as Falls River on our maps.
It crosses Liberty Hill Road
And flows just right, not fast, not slow.

But when it reaches Step Stone Falls
It there becomes a noisy stream
It roars and tears along, then makes
A frenzied, frothy downhill plunge
Thru rocks and logs, then starts to slow
With darkened eddies here and there
That hide in back of rocks or logs
And make great hideaways for trout.

But soon it meets with Breakheart Brook
And these two waters do combine
To form a larger, slower stream
We call Wood River, and it flows
From Exeter, where it begins
Thru miles of wooded land it runs
Twisting, turning as rivers will
Until it meets the Pawcatuck.

Now there’s another pond I know
Off to the east of Falls River
This pond is known as Breakheart Pond
And from it flows the Breakheart Brook.
‘Twas here I learned to fish for trout
Taught to me by an older friend
Who often fished the stream alone
But wanted company that day.

I must have been about fifteen
When first I saw this wondrous stream
And learned my casting rod was not
The best for catching wary trout.
Get a fly rod, he said to me
And then you can stand out of sight.
It lets you float your bait downstream
To catch those trout behind the rocks.

And so I took him at his word,
I bought a fly rod as he said
Then got a fly reel with fly line
Along with net and wooden creel.
And then I learned the way to fish
And ever since that time of old
I’ve fished the Breakheart all the way
Until it met that other stream
And as Wood River now is known.

These are the trout streams that I loved
All in the town of Exeter
And these, Beach Pond and Escoheag,
Are where my summer days were spent
And later on as I grew up
I’d be found on Breakheart Brook
Fishing, often by myself,
For fishing is a way of peace.

Or maybe on Falls River where
I’d find a quiet place to fish
Then let a fly with current drift
A silver doctor or a black gnat
Until I saw the swirling rise
That bigger trout would often make
When taking flies they thought were real
They mostly ended in my net.

But then some days I’d move around
And try Wood River for a change
For here there was a tangle thick
Of trees blown down in thirty-eight
A hurricane that left a mess
But to the trout was heaven sent
For now they’d hide most anywhere
And let the fisherman beware.

For often in late afternoon
And when the sun was getting low
I’d go across the Ten Rod Road
And slip into Wood River, where
The tangle left by hurricane
Had then become a paradise
For trout that hid beneath the logs
Of trees blown over in the past.

It’s not the fishing that I liked
For logs and brush so tangled up
Leave little room to drop a fly
And then it must be done with care
So trout won’t see from whence it came
And fish thus hooked will always try
To tangle line around a log
Before the net has brought them in.

This type of fishing’s difficult
And climbing over logs a chore
For though the trout are always there
The logs and brush are oft’ too much
And only those who love to fish
Will take the time and effort make
To reach infrequent open spots
Where it’s a joy just to be there.

So time did pass, I took a wife
And though I did not fish as much
I usually did make the first day
But that was just a hassle too
For good fishing would never start
Until Mayflies began their hatch
But then ‘twas difficult for me
To fish, for I had growing kids.

I stayed at home until the kids
Were grown enough so we could take
Them out to picnic at a spot
On Falls River where they could watch
As dad once more tried fly casting
So in I went, then waded down
And while they watched, I’d take a trout
Much to their joy and my delight.

And when my boys were old enough
I’d take them out to camp with me
We’d eat a meal near Step Stone Falls
Then drift down to the stream to see
If anyone was fishing there
Then back again to spend the night
In Beach Pond Park, where whip-poor-wills
And crickets put us all to sleep.

I love the memories of these streams
Of fishing them in spring and fall
Of using worms when just a boy
But when I grew to manhood then
I’d try the many flies I had
Until I found the one trout liked
Then I’d fish ‘til the sun went down
And then just watched as darkness neared.

Now in my elder years I wish
My boys had found that same desire
To take up fishing as a way
To find that inner peace we seek
By watching sunsets in the west
And listening to the evening birds
And all the sounds of coming night
Thus coming closer to their god.

Pool at Wood River

Friday, March 25, 2011

Beach Pond

Way down in old Connecticut
And partly in Rhode Island too
Lies a peaceful, quiet lake that
Those who camped there remember still
As just Beach Pond, though pond it’s not.
‘Tis three miles long and half as wide
With pines and hemlock all around
Its giant rocks and pad-filled coves.

This lake I’ve been to since a child
Where parents pitched a tent to dwell
With children on a sandy shore
But got rained out and so we spent
Most of our time inside the tent
And nearly drove our parents wild
And all the fishing plans we had
Went by the board, so we went home.

Since then my parents often went
Back to this lake but did not tent
For cottages were there to rent
And one of these would be our home.
No fear of rain or other ails,
We’d fish for bass in daylight hours
Or spend the night out on the lake
Just catching horned pout for the morn.

And once we set forth on the trail
And walked for miles to Escoheag
Then ‘round the road past Tippecan
Until we cut the trail again.
Then descended until we came
Back to the cottage and the pond.
And swam to clear the dust and grime
‘Til mother called “it’s supper time.”

These are the memories I have
Of Beach Pond days now in the past,
Of swimming, fishing, sailing too
Wherever Green or Briggs girls came
And took us out on their swift boat.
We’d sail and tack, then sail some more
And after many hours of fun
Would once again come back to shore.

The summer next was ‘forty-one
The cottage rented in advance,
 But each of us had grown a lot
And wanted friends to join our fun.
Too many came, there was no room
So Larry, my best friend, and I
Just put our things in my canoe
And paddled down near Pine Tree Point.

It’s there we stayed, in the same spot
Where rain had devastated plans
My parents had for all us kids,
Who now were safe from heavy storms.
Same parents who had left their kids
Had gone back home, and then returned
With tent and poles and other things
We would need as we camped alone.

We raised the tent, and stowed our gear
Then went to sleep out on the lake.
We settled down under the seats
He at the bow, I at the stern
And deeply slept, mosquito free.
We’d wake, and oft as not would find
A fog so thick we knew not where
We were, and so went back to sleep.

When we awoke, the fog was slight
With sun and warmth just burning thru
Sometimes we’d drift close in to shore
While often we’d be near the end.
But where we went it mattered not
For we could always paddle back
To eat our breakfast, have a swim
As naked as the day we’re born.

The time was short, it went by fast.
We’d hardly used the tent, but spent
Our nights out sleeping on the lake.
But often as the nights came on
The lake would still, and moon would rise
And we, like most amorous youth
Would ask the older girls if they
Would like to paddle ‘round the lake.

My father once did question me
And asked me what was my intent
When I had asked my sister’s friend
To take a ride in my canoe
When Patty, for that was her name,
Intervened, and told my dad
That she was sure that I’d behave,
She’d known me for so many years.

And so I asked her out that night
But saw her in a different light
No longer little sister she
But one who'd found maturity
Who had developed graceful ways
And with a smile that now did say
That she no longer saw in me
The brother figure of the past.

Now in those days the best canoes
Had four long pillows with backrest too
And for this purpose were designed
To give sheer comfort to a girl.
So when my Pat was covered well
With blankets hiding chilly legs
I knelt and paddled toward the rock
That loomed so bright on yonder shore.

We paddled southward for a while
And then turned west, so Pat could see
The rising moon, so full and round
Pat Paulson's graduation picture, June 1944
That spilled its light out on the pond.
We moved along more slowly now
With just a hint of light gray mist
That touched the surface here and there
As wraiths upon a surface still.

No words were said, for she and I
Would not disrupt the beauty of
This night. While somewhere off along
The shore, a whip-poor-will did call,
And broke the spell of quietness
That seemed to hover over all.
And when the quiet was disturbed
‘Twas then that I began to sing.

I sang to her so quietly
That only she could hear and know
The song, though using different names,
Was meant for her, and only her.
I sang a song so often heard
Of “How I loved the kisses of
Dolores,” but changed the name and
Sang “Patricia” to her instead.

These were the words I sang to her
And when I’d sung this made up song
She murmured back, “How would you know?”
I looked at her and then I asked
If it was time that we should kiss.
She nodded, and with paddle in
I leaned toward her, both hands on thwarts.
We met halfway, our lips did touch

And as we kissed, a long sweet kiss,
We did not touch, except our lips
Yet never gentler did I feel
Than toward this girl before me now.
I’d meant to lie down by her side
And hold her softly in my arms
But passion started welling up
So I leaned back and paddled on.

Most men, less tactful, would have tried
To take the innocence from her,
But she had stated to my dad
That she had trust and faith in me,
And I had stated to him, too,
That I would show respect to her.
And so I paddled her back home
And went back to the tent to sleep.

I guess that here I should explain
Why Pat and I did not pursue
That tender sweetness that was ours
The love we’d found in early life.
My dad was wise in all his ways
And now he took me to one side
And spoke to me as man to man
About Patricia and our love.

Of all the girls that I have seen
She is the one for you, by far.
She loves to roam the woods and trails
With me alone or all of us.
A daughter she has been to me,
Who listened well when e’er I read
A story, or a poem to all
And always was so close to you.

But in your love there is a catch,
She is Catholic – you are not.
And marriage of two different faiths
Generally does not work well,
Unless you’re willing for your kids
To be raised as Catholics, too.
So that’s the problem facing you
And caution now I do advise.

We saw each other after that
At home, at school, yet did not date
And together were often joined
When she and I were both alone
With neither having dates that night
Yet were a part of larger groups.
So we reverted to our roles
As brother, sister once again.

Roles that neither cared much for,
And though the wisdom of this stance
That mixed marriages often fail
Was clearly seen by she and I,
We knew our dreams could never be.
And so she wed an army friend
But still remained so close to me
With Beach Pond memories intact.

The year was nineteen forty-two
We’re out of school and summer’s here
Larry and I lay on our grass
And watched the stars, our thoughts out loud.
How quiet this night of stars would be
If we could watch while floating free
Upon the waters of Beach Pond.
“Let’s camp,” I said. “Let’s go,” said he.

And so we packed our camping gear
With high school past and service near
To spend the summer of forty-two
Upon the lake we loved so well.
His mother’s car we loaded up
And putting my canoe on top,
Put in the tent with poles and pegs
With fishing rods and paddles, too.

We said goodbye to family
And headed out away from town
His mother driving while we spoke
Of when she’d come to pick us up.
We made the journey to the lake
And parked the car close to the bridge,
Then loaded my canoe with gear
And headed out across the lake.

We had about a mile to go
He at the bow and I the stern
We crossed thru afternoon’s mild chop -
The breeze was coming from the west.
But even with our Old Town low
We made good time, and soon put in
To that hidden sandy cove
Where we had camped a year ago.

We unloaded our gear at once
And set to work upon the tent
Then after that we built a fire
For suppertime was drawing near.
We ate and then went for a swim
Then after worked upon our beds -
Well off the ground our bunks must be
In case of rain or creeping things.

The rest we left until the morn
And put it either in the tent
Or ‘neath the overturned canoe,
Then watched the fire ‘til coals turned dark
And heard the sounds of night begin,
Mainly crickets and whip-poor-wills.
Thus as we climbed into our beds
We sighed and knew our dreams were true.

Now Larry was a baritone
Who had a strong and well-trained voice.
He often sang around the camp
Or hummed while daily chores were done.
But when at night and lake was still
He’d raise his voice and sing a song
And hoped that someone ‘cross the lake
Would hear and ask, “Who sings like that?”

And so one night he sang his song
“In the Still of the Night,” I think,
But when another verse was due,
That verse came back from o’er the lake.
We were startled to say the least
That someone heard, a baritone
Who knew the songs that Larry knew
And sent his voice across the deep.

We hurried into our canoe
And crossed the lake in record time.
With Larry singing now and then,
And with the unknown baritone,
They filled the night with many songs
Of Nelson Eddy’s repertoire
Paired with Jeannette McDonald’s voice,
A pair that none could ever best.

As we got close, we heard a voice
That called for us to come on in.
We did and met our baritone,
The father of these goodly folks.
And after all were introduced
We went into their cottage home,
And while a daughter played the tunes
We sang and sang, in harmony.

When all were tired, we said goodnight
And slowly plied our way across.
We knew we’d met a wondrous group
Of people, all who liked to sing
And harmonize when e’er they could.
And after crossing we did swim
Then made our way to bed, and slept
Uninterrupted ‘til the dawn.

And so the days did pass us by
We fished, we swam, or simply loafed.
We’d gotten tanned, and I mean dark
With bacon fat rubbed on our backs.
We picked a lot of blueberries
To make the slumps which Larry loved
And oft’ we’d simply paddle ‘round
The lake to gaze upon its shores.

And as we paddled ‘round the lake
We noted bluffs and giant rocks
With sandy beaches interspersed,
With hemlock growing near the shore
And quite close to our camping place
Were ledge-like rocks where we could dive
And so we found our swimming spot
With water deep and oh so clear.

And here it was we saw the girls
Perched on rocks not too far out.
Dropped off while father went to fish
And they were left to tan a bit.
Larry whispered, “I dare you to
Swim out there to see if they
Would like to join us here to swim
Until their dad returns for them.”

And never passing up a dare,
I swam to them and let them know
Who I was and what we proposed.
One was younger, her name was Joan;
The older simply beautiful,
With tanned up skin, and long dark hair.
“I am Paula – Paula Ballou,
And we must stay ‘til dad returns.”

And so I stayed and talked with them
And soon I learned that she was proud
To be a majorette at school
And would be here for one more week.
Would I be here that length of time?
“Yes,” I stated, “and would you care
To see the lake when evening comes?”
Yes, she answered, that would be fine.

I did not know her very long,
Perhaps an hour, or less I’d say,
And yet we got along so well
That we could end up as a pair
And so she did not hesitate
To answer yes, when I proposed
To see her early Monday eve.

And so I swam back to the rock
To find a Briggs boy waiting there
With a message from my mom
That said my dad was very ill,
That I should come immediately.
I left with nothing on my back
And hitched a ride to Providence
And soon was back to my own home.

I entered and went up the stairs
To my father’s room, where he lay
So pale yet happy I was there
For dad and I were very close.
He said to me, “I’m glad you’re here,
But go back soon and stay your time.
I’m sure I’ll last 'til you get home
Then we can talk of what’s ahead.”

I stayed two days, then headed back
That’s what my father said to do.
I went by bus to Hope Valley
Then hitched my way up to the lake
And did the last four miles on foot.
I got back in time to see the
Bacon Larry put in a pan
And with my help mixed pancake dough.

We ate, then swam to get cleaned up
I dressed in jeans and clean white shirt
Then placing backrest against the thwart
I put in pillows and blankets too.
Then telling Larry I’d be late
I shoved off quickly from the shore,
Slid quietly toward setting sun
And headed down to Paula’s home.

I reached the sauna at her home
Where all her family did wait
To see this boy who was to take
Their daughter out upon the lake.
I docked, with introductions made
Her father, mother, brother too,
Her sister Joan, the one I knew,
Then father said, “Don’t be too late.”

And after we were settled in
We waved goodbye and moved away
From setting sun, and toward the east
Where moon was rising o’er the hills.
We paddled quietly at first
Then spoke a little of my dad
Who had insisted I come back
To take this girl out on the lake.

Then after talking for a while
And slowly paddling up the lake,
We listened to the evening sounds
The lonesome calling of the loons,
The whip-poor-wills whose songs were low
But carried well, to fill our hearts
With quiet longing we both felt
To be together here, and so.

I slowly brought the paddle in
And moving forward to her side
I turned and lay beside her, then
I placed my arm around her back.
Her head she rested on my chest
And thus we lay with hands entwined
Saying nothing yet we knew
That love had come to each of us.

We lay that way for quite some time
She with her thoughts and I with mine
And watched the climbing moon that shone
Upon the stillness of the lake.
We spoke at last, and wondered how
We seemed so natural as a pair
As though we’d known each other years
When overall it was just hours.

‘Twas then we turned, came face to face
And knew our love was meant to be.
I kissed her forehead, hair, and cheek
While she just waited there for me
To take her in my warm embrace
And for the first time kiss those lips.
I did, and ‘til the day I die,
I will remember that first kiss.

We stayed out there upon the lake
And drifted with the slightest breeze
Until the great horned owl’s hoot
Reminded us that it was late.
And so, I once again began
To paddle, past our silent camp
Past Pine Tree Point, and past our rock
Until we came again to home.

I held her tight before she left
And said I’d come in two more nights -
I’ll wait, she said, no matter what -
Then I kissed her a final time
And watched until she closed the door
Then left, and with my thoughts on her
I paddled back to darkened camp
And finally to bed I went.

The sun arose, the day went past
And though we swam, and fished, and tanned
My thoughts of Paula always seemed
To turn me from the work at hand
And then to get my thoughts on track
We decided we ought to fish
The open pools at Tippecan
Where dad had told me fish were huge.

The next day, though, we did sleep late
But rising we did swim, and ate
Then shouldering our good canoe
We started up the trail to fish
The backwoods pond of Tippecan
Where lily pads and reeds abound
With open water here and there
Permitting space for our canoe.

We fished for perch at first to get
Their yellow bellies that were great
For catching pickerel when cast
And wiggled back, so like a fish.
Larry paddled and I fished first.
I cast the bait and watched it fall
Just short of lily pads and then
I let it sink, then did retrieve.

Nothing happened for a while
Then on another cast, I felt
The strike, then let him chew the bait.
And when I saw the line begin
To move, I knew he had it well,
So set the hook, then fought as I
Had never fought a fish before
That he was big, was all I knew.

He headed for the lily pads
‘Twas all that I could do to keep
That fish away, and in the clear.
The rod was bent in a great arc
And though Larry sculled so hard
The fish still pulled the boat around
And headed for the depths to sulk.

He did not leap, for pickerel don’t
Nor the steel leader could he cut
He just stayed deep, but gradually
He began to tire, and finally
He surfaced and we netted him.
His length was twenty-four inches
Just two feet, that up to then, was
The biggest fish I’d ever caught.

Now it was Larry’s turn to fish
And so we traded end for end
I got the paddle, he the pole
I sculled until the boat was set.
He fixed his bait and made his cast
And to our surprise he got a strike
In the same spot where mine had hit
What followed then, had gone before.

And finally when in the boat
He measured just the same as mine
That was more fish than we could eat
And so we packed up all our gear
But stopped to watch two otters play
Romping near the swampy shore
Oblivious that they were seen
Ted with both fish
By humans who so rarely came.

And so we left, for the hike back
But first took pictures of our fish
So people in a future time
Would know our fishing tales were true.
We left and took the fire break back
The trail that runs between the states.
It was a chore in getting up
And over rocks that blocked our way.

But once we’d gotten our canoe
Up and over this high crest
We made much better time and so
Reached our camp ‘ere sun did set.
We swam again before we ate
Then had one fish, which was enough
And so we put the second out
Where foxes could eat to their content.

The mosquitoes were thick that night
So we slept out upon the lake
Waking early, then paddling in
To take our usual morning swim.
Then had a sumptuous morning meal
Of flapjacks, bacon and cocoa.
We watched the sun rise in the east
And were ready to start our day.

It was that night that I would see
My Paula at her lakeside home
So Larry planned on dropping me
At her place while he crossed the lake
To visit with the folks we’d met
Who liked to sing as well as he.
And so with plans made for the night
We spent the day just resting up.

The day passed slowly, at least for me
And shadows lengthened gradually.
At last we ate, then took a swim
To get cleaned up before we left,
He off to sing, and I to see
That girl I’d come to love so well.
He took the stern, and I the bow
So each could go his separate way.

The night was cool as we approached
The landing where I soon would meet
The girl I had been pining for.
The sun was way down in the west
The moon just rising in the east
The whip-poor-wills began their calls
As we came in to dock and saw
Her standing on the sauna deck.

We moved the boat into the dock
I took my coat and rifle too
For I must make the trek that night
Back to the camp on trails unknown.
I gave the boat a shove, then turned
And climbed the steps to Paula’s side.
She turned and came into my arms
And then I knew she loved me too.

We stood a while, before we kissed,
Her arms were tight around my neck
Her cheek was nuzzled to my chest
While I in turn just held her tight.
I stroked her beautiful long hair
Then tipped her face up for my kiss,
I kissed her then, so hard and long
And knew she understood my love.

We were alone, so arm in arm
We sat upon the glider swing
And watched the moon which rising high
Was casting shadows o’er the lake.
We talked of what our future held
As she went back to school, and I
Worked ‘til I had reached an age to
Select a service of my choice.

We talked then held each other tight
And kissed each other in between
Then talked some more, until her dad
Did call and say the hour was late,
She should come in and very soon.
And so I walked her to her door
Embraced her in our final hug
There on the shores of our Beach Pond.

She slowly climbed the cottage steps
And paused to look at me once more
Then disappeared into the house
And left me standing there alone.
I stood a moment ‘fore I left
Then donned my jacket for ‘twas cool
And slinging rifle ‘cross my back
I made my way back toward our camp.

Thru woods I went, then by the trail
What light there was, was from the moon
Which cast long shadows on my way
And caused me to watch warily
Until I came out in the field
Where we had picked our blueberries
And thus returned once more to camp
To find my friend was fast asleep.

We had a day before we left
But Paula’s family did go
That morning. So the two of us
Just did the things we came to do
We swam, we fished, we loafed around
And waited ‘til the sun went down
Then out we went in our canoe
To sleep our last night on the lake.

When we awoke and paddled in
We ate, then went in for a swim
Our last in quite a while we felt
Not knowing what the future held.
We packed our gear, knocked down the tent
Then packed it all in our canoe
And paddled slowly ‘cross the lake
To meet his mother, then depart.

That was the last that we would see
This lake we loved, and carefree days
Until our service years were done
And we returned to its fond shores.
That summer was the best of times
I’d found a girl I loved so well,
That fall would be the worst of times
I lost a dad so dear to me.

But time goes on and years go by
And Paula’s gone far to the west
Although we managed four good years.
She finally wed, and I did too.
We often bring our children here
To wash off salt from Moonstone Beach
Then run and play in all the sand
In this my lake, my old Beach Pond.

The Ten Mile River

A long time past when I was young
I got to know a river well,
‘Twas called the Ten Mile River and
It ran from the Old Central Pond
Down through Rumford and to Hunts Mills
From where our drinking water came,
And then through our old swimming holes
To end up in Omega Pond.

‘Twas ten miles long, that’s what they said
And often when my dad and I
Would walk along its brushy banks
To fish, then I believed it was
The length they said, and maybe more.
The water ran so slow and deep
But just two rapids come to mind
One at Hunts Mills, one at Cole’s Bridge.

It was a place where we would see
The signs that muskrats often left
Fresh water clamshells on the bank
Gave evidence that they would eat
Most anything that they could reach.
And often saw the grass they pulled
Into their holes for living so
Their young would have a cozy nest.

And so we grew, and loved to swim,
For as hot summer days grew long
We went down to our swimming holes:
The Ledge, which was one huge flat rock
Where mostly boys from Seekonk swam;
And down the river just a way
Was the Sandy, and it was here
That all of us had learned to swim.

But still the one most used by far
Was the Mudhole with tree so tall
That overhung the river’s depths
So boys could climb and dive at will
With no fear that their heads or hands
Would strike the bottom and get scraped.
And so we dove or cannon balled
As fast as we could climb that tree.

How many times did we set out
When after all our chores were done
We headed north on Irving Ave.
Then cut across through Barney’s lot
Past Patty’s on Pawtucket Ave.
Then through the gate at Agawum
To skirt the golf course till we met
The trail that led to the Mudhole.

And there we’d swim the day away
Without a thought for missing lunch
Until we saw the sun was at
A point where we must head for home.
So back we went, the way we came
And always got there just in time
To hear our mother’s clear, strong voice
A call that supper would be soon.

But as the summer days did wane
Our swimming slowed down quite a bit
Then stopped as we went back to school
And we were left with memories of
Days without a single care that
Belonged to us for near three months.
And so we studied through the year
Thought perfect pupils we were not.

But ‘ere the summer came again
I bought my first Old Town canoe
From a boat house near river’s end
That was shutting done for good.
They had just two canoes unsold
One brand new – in perfect shape;
The other nice, but with a hole
Up in the bow that could be fixed.

The price for one canoe was high
Much more than I could then afford.
The other though, with gaping hole,
Could be had for a lesser sum.
Twenty dollars I paid to them
And with a friend, who willingly
Turned the boat and on shoulders strong
Off we went back to my home.

We placed it on two saw horses
And went to work immediately
We sanded all the inside ribs
Then used puttied wood for the hole.
When dried we shaped it to the ribs
And planking till we could not tell
Where hole began and what was real
The outside then was sanded clean.

Some final touches did we make
By gluing silk over the hole.
The inside then was varnished well
Including seats, both newly caned.
And then we finished up the work
By putting on three types of paint
Thus camouflaging my canoe
With green and grey and brown and black.

We let it set ‘til all was dry
And was inspected by my dad,
Who once his own canoe had owned
A St. Laurence of shorter length.
And on the Ten Mile River too
He fished and swam as we did now
And took my mother for a ride
Up the river in his canoe.

When we were done refurbishing
This canoe did look as though it
Had just come down from Old Town, Maine.
It was a beauty to behold.
At age fourteen, I was so proud
I owned a rifle and this boat.
None given, all earned by my sweat
A feat in those depression times.

When done we carried my canoe
To the river to try it out.
It handled as an Old Town should.
And soon we learned just how to kneel,
To tilt the boat on tumblehome
And bring the gun’le down until
It almost touched the water, then
We could paddle so easily.

I kept my boat in the backyard
Of a friend who by the river lived.
And from then on when we would swim
Up the river in my canoe
With a spinner out behind, we
Paddled and fished all at one time
And often caught a pickerel
Before we reached the swimming hole.

As fall days came, and summer left
We thought about what we could do:
Should we hunt ducks, or trap muskrats
Now that we had this fine canoe.
I asked my dad and his reply
Was that good shotguns cost too much
But for a start, some Victor traps
Might let us start a trap line now.

So for a start two traps we bought
For that is all we could afford.
My father gave us instructions
In how to handle such a trap,
So that fingers did not get caught,
Of how to use an apple lure
And how to stake the line out deep
So that the rat would quickly drown.

But then he cautioned that we wait
Until the time for trapping came
And get a hunting license first
For that also permits our traps.
And so we did the things we must
And when November did arrive
We went on foot just after dark
To the river to set our traps.

My dad did set the first for us
To show us how we should proceed.
He set the trap four inches deep
Then ran the chain out on a stake,
With a piece of apple for the bait,
Angled on a slender stick that
Was set a foot above the trap.

We moved upriver a short way
To reach the Sandy swimming hole,
And here we set our second trap
Just as my dad had shown us how.
And so we headed back to home
To wait for morning’s early light.
Larry met me at five o’clock
And so we went to check our traps.

We took a shortcut to Sandy first
And here we found our trap intact.
Not a thing had touched the bait
And so we pulled up trap and stake,
And moved downstream to our first trap.
There the bait and trap were missing.
And when we pulled the stake back out,
We found a muskrat neatly drowned.

This may sound cruel now-a-days
But this was in depression times
And what we had was not enough
But muskrat fur was in demand.
So after dad had shown us how
To skin and stretch a muskrat hide,
We purchased ten more traps to start
Our first trapline in my canoe.

We always stayed above Cole’s Bridge
And left the river down below
To others who might want to trap;
And in that way we stayed at peace.
But soon the weather turned too cold
To paddle or to just get wet,
And so we ended our careers
As trappers, for another year.

We packed our muskrats when they dried
Along with two good skunks we’d caught
And sent them down to Sears-Roebuck
In Philadelphia where they
Would always pay a higher price
Than any buyers locally.
And so for twenty rats plus skunks
Ninety dollars was our reward.

And so our traps were put away
To wait until November days.
We did the things that students do:
Went to dances, to plays and games
And often even tried our best
To study hard before a test
And just awaited for the time
When summer rolled around again.

At last it came, and with a whoop
We left our school with all its books
Then thought a bit of what we’d do
And always reached the same result:
That we’d do what we always did
And that was work, then fish and swim.
We worked to help our parents out,
Then fished and swam on our days off.

The weekends were the best we had
And so we left on Friday nights
And paddled our Old Town canoe
Up the river, or sometimes down,
Looking for bullfrogs’ eyes which
We would plunk with the twenty two.
And when we thought we had enough
We’d build a fire and eat their legs.

But often as we paddled ‘round,
We’d see upon this old dead log
A great big snapping turtle lay
Just taking in the noonday sun.
And so we set about to catch
This turtle, then to make a soup,
It having seven types of meat
And which we heard was very good.

And so we took a length of line
Our strongest and just long enough;
A steel leader and largest hook
Were next attached, and then the head
Of a fish we’d caught, the big hook
Fastened out of sight. This we dropped
Till current caught and carried deep
And there it stayed throughout the night.

The next day we did ply our way
Up the river and to the spot
Where we had set our line and bait.
And sure enough we found we’d caught
That snapper, and a fight we had
To get him into our canoe.
So when our day was finally done,
We lugged him home to make our soup.

My dad was pleased when he did see
This snapping turtle’s size and said:
“He’ll make a soup beyond compare
And I will show you how to start.”
He put a stick up to its nose
That turtle reached and snapped the stick
And dad with sharp axe held up high
Did clean that turtle’s head so neat.

Thus into mother’s biggest pot
With water boiling did he go
Until we deemed that turtle done,
So took him out and pulled him hard
And out of shell he came so neat.
Then we did skin and clean him out
Then cut him up, and in the pot
While mother added things soups need.

We had that night our turtle soup
And it was good as it could be.
We tasted all the different parts
And swore as others had before
That part was chicken, part was beef,
Part could be fish, some parts unknown,
Which must be turtle, yet was good.
And to this day, we have his shell.

And when that episode was done
And turtle soup became a norm
We decided that we would spend
A night on old Omega Pond,
For we had never spent a night
Out on the deep in my canoe.
We got from parents their consent
And down the river did we go.

We fished a while to no avail
Then watched the setting sun go down.
We heard some ducks come whistling in
To land quite near and up ahead
But swam off as we glided near.
We heard a muskrat splash nearby
Then caught the croak of a bullfrog,
Which told us night was coming on.

‘Twas dark that night, there was no moon
And so we paddled quietly
Out to the middle of the pond
And for our supper we did eat
Some chocolate bars of bittersweet
That never did agree with me
And to this day I cannot touch
Dark chocolate of any kind.

The night came on, the water still
So we unrolled our sleeping bags.
Beneath the seats and thwarts we slept,
He in the bow, and I the stern.
And never once did we awake
Until the dawn broke o’er the trees.
Then we rolled up sleeping bags
And paddled quickly to the shore.

We swam to get the sleep from eyes
Then wondered what we’d have to eat.
Fish were there but must be caught
And so while Larry gathered wood
I quickly caught some pumpkin seeds.
We skinned them out, then fried them well.
They tasted great to hungry boys
Who ate them up in nothing flat.

After eating we packed our gear
And paddled up the river where
We stored away the old canoe
Until we wanted it in fall.
Then went on foot back to our house,
Were greeted by our parents, who
Breathed anxious sighs with some relief
For we were back without a scratch.

So back to school again we went
But this time in our junior year
And when October’s end came near
We planned on having all our traps
Set after midnight on the first.
But Larry had a dance that night;
He could not leave the girl at home
And so I planned to go alone.

We brought the boat up to a spot
Where I could find it in the dark
And loaded it with traps and stakes,
With waders, flashlights, apples too.
Then we agreed we’d meet at two,
Sometime after the dance was done.
So he took off to get his girl,
While I went to the river bank.

The night was dark, the river damp
But I was warm in winter clothes
And when the time was close at hand,
I moved the boat, so carefully
Into the river did we go.’
And I commenced to paddle up
As far as I could go then turned
To drift while setting out the traps.

I knew the river very well.
Its twists and turns, I knew by heart.
I had no trouble drifting down
And setting traps along the way.
I set in holes without the bait
And set on banks with apple o’er
Until I’d set out all the traps,
Then turned around and paddled back.

It now was very close to two
And so I did not check the traps,
But glided straight back to the spot
Where we agreed that we would meet.
He met me there and climbed right in
And took the bow and I the stern,
And paddled up where I’d begun,
Then drifted down to check the traps.

We drifted slowly as we went
Using flashlights only at
The places where the traps were set
And where we found we’d caught a rat.
Then we’d reset and paddle on
And by the time we reached the end
Fourteen muskrats were in the boat,
So we turned and back we went.

We kept this up until the dawn,
Moving upstream in total dark,
Then drifting down our traps to check
And by the time our last trip came,
By total we caught nineteen ‘rats.
And so we finished for the night.
We pulled up all the traps and stakes
And left no sigh that we were there.

We hid the boat in the same spot
And taking all the gear in bags,
Hiked back home to leave our things
Then back again for the canoe.
And paddled down the river where
We put the boat back on its racks.
Then headed home to start the chore
To skin and flesh and stretch the rats.

It took us most of Saturday
To get the rats in selling shape
And as I watched our Airedale Pal
Eating up the rats’ hind legs,
I thought how little was the waste
With Pal around to gobble up
The parts that Europeans do eat
And still consider them a treat.

We went trapping three times more
Before the ice began to form.
Then hung our traps up on a nail
Until the next fall came around.
Thirty muskrats had we in all,
A good year’s catch for such as we.
Then carried back our good canoe
Until the summer came again.

We did not know it at the time
That Larry would be called so soon.
He left, October forty-two
To fill his voluntary time.
So I was left to trap alone
And though I managed I did find
No joy in trapping now you see
I’d lost my dad and Larry too.

That was the last time my canoe
Was in the river ‘fore I left
Just four months after Larry’s call.
The boat was covered and tied down,
The traps were put away for years
And when I left it was in tears
For dad, for mom, for siblings, yet
That Ten Mile River just flowed on.

Kent Heights

There is a standpipe on Kent Heights
That rises far above the land
And gave its water to the folks
That lived in houses found nearby.
Now this tank, three miles from home, ‘twas
Surrounded by some great red oaks
Where Gordon Soderlund and I
Hunted squirrels when we were young.

Ted and Pal
I hunted with my bow and dog
The Airedale Pal with whom I’d grown,
And Gordon with his B-B gun.
We made a threesome hard to beat
For when we spotted squirrels high
In those big oak trees, I would shoot
And if my arrow missed its mark,
Then he would try his B-B gun.

And often as the case would be
That squirrel ran right down the tree,
Where Pal was waiting all agape
To grab that squirrel with a shake
Or two, and then would bring to me
Until we had enough for stew.
And then a fire we would build
And eat those squirrels then and there.

Lots of squirrels went in that pot,
A pot we carried with some salt.
We always ate what we did shoot,
And always for our noontime meal.
But one year later, when we’d grown
Enough to hunt with twenty-twos,
We ventured forth in woods and fields
That surrounded old Kent Heights.

I can remember the time that Pal
Started a rabbit some way off
And chased him way across a field
Until they disappeared from sight,
And just as quickly came back out
To cross the field and come toward us
Who followed him, our rifles high
Then shot together, no word said,
Both shots hitting an inch apart.

And so we tried a rabbit stew.
We skinned it out, then built a fire
Then sat around 'til it was done.
To us it tasted oh so good
And to our dog, who shared with us
All we ate, regardless what, for
It was he who did the work and
Made it easy to fill the pot.

There was that woodchuck Pal had found
The one that bit him through the tongue
Which made that dog so very mad
That after feinting here and there
He grabbed that woodchuck by the scruff
And tossed him high into the air.
He landed hard and Pal jumped in
And just worried him to death.

So for two seasons we did hunt,
Shooting squirrels, which we ate
Along with rabbits when we could.
Then one day we crossed a stream
And near the woods, along a wall
We saw a fox, all bushy tailed
But Gordon had first shot that day
And killed that fox with just one shot.

A fox was rare for anyone
But for two boys just turned fourteen
It was a feat so hard to beat,
And so we gloated when his folks
Did look upon that red fox fur
And thought, how did these boys so young
Even ever see a fox? Yet
Here’s the proof, the skinned out fox.

Now Kent Heights will always be close,
For here it is I learned to hunt
And learned that squirrels, rabbits too,
Tasted great, after they were skinned
And put into a pot to stew.
I also learned that Pal, my dog,
Would tackle anything in sight
For this Airedale just loved to hunt.

Now I’m in my elder years
My hunting partner has passed on
And Pal, my faithful old Airedale,
Has reached his happy hunting ground,
And I no longer care to hunt.
I haven’t now for fifty years
But always will remember that
Kent Heights was part of my young life.

Chaffee's Woods

When I was young, a boy of ten
I often walked along with Dad
And sometimes our whole family
Up the road and cross the fields
Until we crossed Pawtucket Ave.
We’d open up the oaken gates
Then head on down the old cow lane
With its stone walls on either side.

We’d pass that giant cherry tree
And always stopped when fruit was ripe
And each time found, though beautiful,
Those cherries were so very sour.
We’d see a killdeer near her eggs
Out in the open, on the ground
And when we neared, she’d always go
Into her broken wing decoy.

But we would just continue on
Down the cow lane, toward the pond
Passing shrubs and tufts of grass
Where all the cows had fed “en masse”
Leaving cow flops we’d try to dodge,
But weren’t successful all the time
And often had to clean our shoes
With grass and leaves or with a stick.

We’d often sit on that huge rock,
The one that overlooks the pond,
And watch the silvery dragonflies
That flew erratic paths among
The lily pads and weeds that grew
Around the pond, and pollywogs,
So newly hatched and with long tails
Would always stay just out of reach.

But often we would simply hunt
For fossils found by splitting rocks.
We oft’ uncovered ancient ferns
And sometimes found a trilobite,
But never did we fail to find
Some type of fossil, for those rocks
Were just as full as they could be
Of ancient fossils, we could see.

And ‘round us were so many trees
That held my father’s interest
And often I would join with him
In looking over types of wood.
We’d look at ash and maple too,
Along with hornbeam of both types,
Wood he could turn upon his lathe
To make good handles for his tools.

And when our rest upon the rock
Was done, and we would travel on
Across the brook and thru the trees
'Til we came to the lower fields
And if we had our bows with us
We’d shoot blunt arrows made by me
At sugar bags just stuffed with hay.

And after shooting 'til we tired
We’d walk out to the traveled way
Then up the road until we reached
Old Chaffee’s store, where we would stop
And all would have a soda pop
Before we started off for home,
Justly tired from our long walk, thru
The lanes and fields of Chaffee’s Woods.

But often on a Sunday morn
When others headed off for church
My dad and I would take a walk
And down to Chaffee’s Woods we’d go
To sit upon the rock that looked
Out over Chaffee’s pond. Dad would
Read the bible then expound on
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And that is when I first did learn
Those facts about our Lord the Christ,
The facts that I would seldom get
In church at Haven Methodist.
I often thought about Dad's words
And what the bible said were true
And then I met with those who taught
The same as Dad had taught to me.

I still have memories of those days
The walks we took through fields and woods
Where we would sit upon the rock
To watch the birds and dragonflies.
I often wondered if my Dad
Loved those walks as much as I.
Though he’s been gone these many years
We’ll be united sometime soon.