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Lange: Quiniktikut

Rick Shreve of Orford, NH
A muted pallet in water and sky encourages drifting and dreaming.

Thanks to Daniel Webster, the border of the United States in New Hampshire is a few rods north of a tiny abandoned beaver dam that's the source of the Connecticut River.

You can step across the river at the outlet. A geocache is hidden there under a half-rotten log. At its mouth, the river, now a mile-wide estuary, debouches into Long Island Sound near Katherine Hepburn's famous mansion and the site of a pre-contact Indian village. Its aboriginal name, Quiniktikut, means "long river." And it is long – more than 400 miles from its source to the sea.

The river wanders through woods till it reaches the 45th parallel, where it becomes a giant zipper that both separates and connects New Hampshire and Vermont all the way to the Massachusetts border. New Hampshire owns it over to the Vermont shore; but Vermonters can fish in the river to the New Hampshire shore and even a short distance up the tributaries. The icing on the cake is that New Hampshire owns the bridges, and gets to maintain or replace them.

The Connecticut's flow is controlled today by computers and dams that monitor its volume and release water as needed to maintain minimum flow rates for flood control or electricity generation. But for many years it was a springtime highway for millions of logs from the northern forests to the mills in Massachusetts. The annual log drive, with its daring rivermen, floating cookshack, and bateaus, was a great event that everybody gathered on the shore to watch.

When we first moved to the Upper Valley in 1968, I took a kayak-rolling course at the Ledyard Canoe Club in Hanover. After we practiced for a while, our eyes stung. The updated Clean Water Act was still four years away, so we all took showers to rinse off the river water. Now, on hot summer days Dartmouth students lie on a swimming dock beside the river thick as seals on a beach. I've taken a few dips myself since 1968 - mostly inadvertent.

Today the river still isn’t out of the woods completely; it's troubled by increasing population density and releases of sewage and polluting storm water. But it's monitored by several really sharp volunteer organizations, and it's still the Northeast's best-kept recreational asset. To paddle from its source to the sea is an unforgettable experience.

Willem Lange is a retired remodeling contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in East Montpelier, Vermont.
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