A tale of friendship and canoeing down the Connecticut River
October 08, 2009
The last time David Morine was in the North Country was six years ago. Then, he and his canoeing companion, Ramsay Peard, were at the beginning of a trip that took him down the Connecticut River from Colebrook all the way to Long Island Sound. He was back in Littleton at the Village Book Store last Monday, this time traveling by car, to promote a book about this experience.
Two Coots in Canoe is a whimsical book about two old college buddies reuniting to meander through an ancient passage way with eyes trained on what they see, but also what they have become. It is more than a nature book, although Morine is knowledgeable (and for two decades employed) in this field, in the end the book becomes a sad final adventure for Peard, whose depression leads to him committing suicide.
The story – and the 407 mile trek -- is hatched by Peard, a recently retired business executive, who appears bored with life since a business he hoped to purchase eluded his grasp. He calls his old college chum to join him on trip. Morine, a writer, had occasional communication with Peard, but they hadn't seen each other in twenty years. Morine takes the bait without knowing this was Peard's final wish, but makes one demand: no camping. Peard agrees and suggests that they find locals along the way to put them u,p or as Morine called it, "mooching down the river."
Through his conservation network and little bit of local publicity, the men find an interesting, diverse group of hosts. There only thing they want from their stay is a cold beer and warm bed. They get so much more. The two men row about five to seven hours a day and enjoy the company and spend the rest of their time visiting. And of course, everything in the North Country is intertwined with everyone else– in Colebrook, their plans with John Harrigan fell through (although Morine met him during the return visit), but they stayed the night with Earl and Irene Bunnell. An innocent question by Morine about a photograph of the Bunnell's daughter, Vickie, causes the unfolding of the horrific multiple murders that occurred at the hands of mad man Carl Drega 10 years ago. Later downriver, the men stay with Scott Williamson, in North Stratford, only to find that he adopted Vickie's dog.
Along the way, Morine is ever the environmentalist, frequently noticing the destruction of the river and sharing tidbits of local history, some of which I was surprised to learn. He is casual and comfortable story-teller. Peard, on the other hand, often comes across, like odd ball – explaining how he learned to cut his own hair and how foxes get rid of fleas (by immersing themselves in the water with a stick in their mouth. Purportedly, the fleas jump on the stick.) Nonetheless, Peard, in his own way, is an attractive character. He would probably fit in better here, than Morine.
As someone, who has never traveled the Connecticut River, the scene seems oddly out of place. I'm embarrassed by my ignorance. As they pass through Lancaster, Morine was horrified that hundreds of old cars were stacked along the bank to stabilize them. "You have to admit," Pead said, "it works."
The men were the guests of Chester and Lorna Eaton's dairy farm in Lunenburg. Eileen Alexander, then-editor of the Coös County Democrat was there covering it all, and according to Morine, asked Lorna a poignant question. "
Whatever prompted you to offer these two freeloaders a room?"
She responded, "We're always taking in strays."
Morine and Peard also spent the night at Village Book Store owner Jeff Wheeler's home in Lyman (and were treated to breakfast at Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill). In the book, Peard, the consummate businessman questions Wheeler about the likelihood of a big box store, like Wal-Mart coming to Littleton and ruining his business. The casual observer will remember that Wal-Mart had been in Littleton well before Wheeler bought the Village Book Store. Morine had a harsh assessment of the Moore Dam ("ten feet below the surface… no living thing can survive." so much so that he and Peard pulled their canoe out and put it back in below McIndoe Falls. Possibly, the pair had heard the stories from the late 1960s about the glowing monster that lives in Moore reservoir.
The appeal of Two Coots in a Canoe to me is the river and the pair's observations of what they encountered. Trying to understand the dark forces that lead a man to suicide are beyond my comprehension. More than anything else, the book is a healthy reminder of the historical and cultural importance of the Connecticut River and the interesting people that live on it. It has played a role in every stage of the region's development and should today garner both our respect and occasional use.