I swam in the Androscoggin River today.
It may not seem like much of a milestone — but despite living near the banks of the river for fifty years it’s something I have never done. It’s also something that I would have considered unthinkable for most of those years.
Grace and I put the canoe into the Pleasant River at the campground in West Bethel around 9:00 AM and made our way the short distance to the confluence with the Androscoggin. Wide mountain views greeted us, along with the sound of distant traffic on Route 2 as we made our way toward Bethel.
Despite the width of the river here, depth was a problem — and in choosing between routes we got sidetracked onto a narrow side-channel that bordered the farm fields off Route 2. It gave me a chance to point out the place where my cousin and I once set afloat bottles from a riverside farm dump and fired at them with BB guns until they sank in the murky, polluted water.
We emerged from the side-channel just upstream of the Route 2 bridge in Bethel. After an early lunch in town we were back on the water.
I have a mental block about the Androscoggin. It almost never pops into my mind as a place to paddle or fish — although I have enjoyed both activities there in the last few years. People my age, and older, in western Maine have clear memories of the river in the bad old days. We remember when you could smell the river as you approached by car — even before you were within sight of it — and everyone rolled up their windows. It’s easy to recall the great rafts of discolored foam that covered the surface. We were all forewarned by our parents that slipping into the murky depths of that industrial sewer would mean certain death.
Today the river offers everything the Saco does to canoeists except the crowds. Grace and I saw no other boaters on our 17 mile trip to Hanover, near Rumford Point. We saw eagles, ducks and herons, fish jumped in the shallows, the mountain scenery was fantastic, deer tracks marked the numerous beaches.
We pulled over to a shaded sand beach late in the day and I got out of the canoe to pull my shirt off.
“Why are we stopping, Dad?”
“I’m going for a swim, want to join me?”
“No thanks,” she replied. The story about the bottle shooting was not the only one I had shared with her about the bad old days.
The water was at least as clear and warm as the Saco. There was no odor and the sand was soft and luxurious under my feet.