Connecticut River

The Connecticut River divides New Hampshire from Vermont, flows through Massachusetts and Connecticut and empties into the Atlantic on Long Island Sound. It doesn't play much of a role in the Darby Chronicles. It's just there. Which for me is role enough.

Though I'm native to the region I never really got to know the river until I became a fly fisherman. I would launch my ten-foot aluminum Johnboat from the public access point in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. I'd see big fish taken out of river–Northern Pike, rainbow trout–but I never caught any big fish. Mainly, I caught six-to-eight-inch smallmouth bass. They were a lot of fun on the fly road because they jumped out of the water. Eventually, I did catch bigger bass at the bottom of the rapids in North Walpole, NH, casting from shore in the spring to spawning beds.

Except for that fast water of what is known today as Bellows Falls, where native Americans of old used to catch shad and salmon swimming upstream from the ocean to spawn, most of the river was slow and, in the summer, even torpid, because of dams built all along it's length. I enjoyed imagining the Connecticut as a wild river instead of a series of brown-water lakes behind human-built impoundments. But imagination has its limits, and the river frustrated me in a way I did understand.

Until I read a particular book, and then I knew what I was missing: it was Life Force. So often the real thing just didn't quite do the job. So many experiences are like that. Reality is sometimes disappointing. Maybe that's why we need the human imagination, and that imagination put to work as art. The book was Tall Trees, Tough Men by Robert E. Pike, which has been described as an anecdotal history of the logging and log drives in the New Hampshire woods in the North Country. "Anecdotal history": that means the bullshit is less disguised than in regular history. Doesn't matter to me. The stories of the loggers, their way of life, their skills, but mainly of the log drives set me on fire.

At one time the Connecticut River featured the longest log drive in the world, or so some people claim. But, really, how would anybody making the claim know that fact? Doesn't matter. It was a long log drive, more than 350 miles to the ocean.

A 19th century log drive in New England, before dams made the practice impossible, is the equivalent of a cattle drive in the old west. Aiming and riding those logs down a wild river was dangerous, requiring strong but nimble men. When they came to a town, the men would cut loose in local drinking establishments. When town officials tried to curtail their escapades the loggers would retaliate by booming the logs against the town's covered bridges. Or so the stories go. Somebody, not me, ought to write a screenplay about a 350-mile logging drive on the Connecticut River, Sergio Leone back from the grave to direct it.

Oh, well, maybe I'll write a novel, fit it into the Darby Chronicles somehow. It's dreams like this that keep the fiction writer hopeful during his years of decline.