(State #20/50) The day started rough; I woke up next to a busy blacktop road in Maine on a drizzly and bug ridden morning. Breaking ‘camp,’ I didn’t bother to stow the tent properly as it was sopping wet and because I was exhausted after scaling Mount Katahdin the previous day. I drove down the highway, making the mistake of listening to news verses music. All was rotten and depressing — a hate crime murder in Portland and talks of the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords.
I pulled into a McDonalds on the fringes of Augusta around noon to write. A woman informed me, with too much delight for my taste, that there were no outlets in the dining area. I tried to be productive as I watched my laptop battery drop, but my computer went into a 40-minute spell of freezing, lagging and colorful spinning wheels. After an hour I had accomplished little and found myself holding my head in my hands, muttering aloud like a lunatic. Mad at the computer, the weather and the employee mopping near my booth, I was on the verge of a grumpy meltdown.
Boo freaking hoo, right? Well, that’s absolutely right. Knowing it was all shit I needed to get over made it more irritating. I closed my computer and went to the bathroom to wash my face. Returning to my seat, I had a conversation with a stranger and felt a tinge of good humor return. Then, feeling the sudden urge to move, I got in my car and set off for New Hampshire.
I drove serval hours, through thunderstorms and passed cloud-shrouded Mount Washington before the sky to the west cleared and the sun shone. During the drive, I spoke to a Ranger, which provided an ideal location for my float — a secluded place in the White Mountains called Elbow Pond.
I arrived at the pond by mid evening. There was a single jeep at the landing and I saw a man paddling away from shore in a kayak. He ignored me, resentful of my presence and his now broken solitude in nature. I can’t blame him; 5 minutes before, he had the evening and entire pond to himself.
I loaded up, cracked a beer and set out onto the shallow mountain pond. The sun played on the remaining clouds as sunset neared and the water offered a perfect reflection of the sky, green hills and the birch, pine and willow growing at the pond’s edge. The air hung heavy with moister and small clouds drifted around portions of the valley, against the wooded hills, over the hollows, just feet above the tree line. The kayaker vanished to an unseen portion of the pond and I paddled the other direction to give him space. Then a large black diesel truck lumbered down the road; it drove up to the landing and set idling there for a few minutes. I looked over my shoulder a few times, resentful. Soon, the truck turned around and left the valley, knowing 2 boats was maximum capacity for the pond.
I snapped photos of the landscape and scanned the shores with my zoom lens for creatures. Then, as I reached the bottle neck between the two main sections of the pond, a large black moose wandered out of the willow marsh. He stared at me as I drifted, still as possible, on the water. Mr. Moose took a few awkward high steps into the water, thinking of crossing, before turning and heading back into the thicket.
I met the kayaking fisherman in the middle of the second pond. He was a tad more social now that he was paddling back. I asked what there was to catch in the pond. “Just pickerel,” he replied as he lit a cigarette. I assumed that was a fish and then asked if he knew the campsite. “Haven’t been there in years, but your canoe’s pointed right towards it.” I thanked him and glided across the pond towards the dimming shoreline.
I found the camp, eventually. Two trees lay across the main opening — a beaver’s clear message for humans to stay out. Stepping over the beaver blockade, I found a little open area with some bullet-ridden rusted barrels, beer cans and a cinderblock/granite staircase, which led to a long-gone structure. A single boot, covered in moss, stood atop a stump by the beaver chopped tree. The ranger thought that the spot was an abandoned Boy Scout camp*, which had sounded pretty damn creepy over the phone and it certainly was at dusk. Beyond camp, I found the rusted-out chassis of a 1930’s automobile, pocked with more bullet holes. Adjacent to Bonnie and Clyde’s final moments was a birch lean-two, covered in degrading plastic tarps. If ghosts exist, I thought, they exist here. It was time for another beer.
I put up the still-wet tent before dark and gathered water-logged wood. Even with a little lighter fluid and a fire starter it took me 45 minutes of intense maintenance before I could leave the fire alone. In the process I singed off the remaining hair on my hands (and here I thought this trip would put hair on my knuckles). I ate a re-heated sandwich while listening to the chorus of crickets and frogs and the steady drip of condensation falling from the leaves. A bright quarter moon rose and a few bright stars breached the humid night’s sky. For the first time, I packed my guitar in the canoe. I pulled it out and sang for the creatures and a troop of Boy Scout ghosts, whose unsolved murders, I theorized, were the reason the camp closed.
I awoke at 6 to the splashing — heavy thuds like someone was chucking 10 pound rocks into the pond. I unzipped the tent to a bright and blinding fog. Upon Elbow Pond I saw the head of a beaver. His tail went up and slapped down upon the water. If the message wasn’t clear by the large downed tree, he was making sure I knew that I wasn’t welcomed at their reclaimed forest camp (maybe the beavers killed the scouts???).
Unable to fall back asleep, I dressed and hit the water at 7:00 for a canoe. The sun scatted the fog and the pond’s surface steamed. The air was cool and fresh and dew frosted all grass and vegetation to max capacity. Spider webs, bejeweled with droplets, clung to the highest willow branches, like corny gas station dreamcatchers. Thousands of mosquitoes floated above the water, as harmless as dandelion parachutes and they didn’t bother me. I passed a beaver lodge, taller than me and then shot out of my pond and canoed towards the third section of the Elbow Pond — the willow marsh.
Redwing Blackbirds kept tabs on my invasion, calling and spooking as I wound through the marsh, reminding me of the Everglades mangrove maze. I scared up noisy ducks, flitting songbirds and another beaver, which showed his displeasure by going out of his way to splash as he dove under. All of the creatures were annoyed with my presence; I was now the woman at McDonalds, mopping too close to their table.
After an hour I headed back to my site to stoke the coals, cook breakfast and relax by the fire. I saw an osprey glide above, zigzagging through the air as if injured. Then, nose pointed down, the raptor plummeted towards the pond. Splash! The osprey returned to the air, empty taloned, and repeated the entire spectacle.
After a few hours at the haunted camp, I loaded Rider, doused the fire and canoed back towards my car. Though the creatures of Elbow Pond may have been glad to see me leave, I was sure glad I had come to a place where my loathing the world had dissipated like the morning fog. Sometimes a change of scenery, a change of weather and a change of mind is all you need.
*I found out later the camp was actually a series of private hunting camps from the early 20th century. They were abandoned in the early 70’s, when a paper pulp company sold the land it to the National Forest.
Pond Stats and Fun Facts:
- Elbow Pond, New Hampshire
- Miles Canoed: 3
- Date Canoed: 6-1/2-2017
- Weather: Humid, mostly cloudy and cool first evening, with lows in the 50’s. Warmer with sunshine the next morning, increasing cloud cover as day progressed
- Elevations: A little over 1400 feet
- Launch/takeout Point: gravel boat launch off access road (43.982882, -071.735707)
- Campsite: Old fishing/hunting camps (43.975433, -071.737257)
- Furtherest Point in Marsh Reached: (43.97733, -071.724809)
- Songs Sung on River: A Little Uncanny by Conor Oberst, Torn by Natalie Imruglia and Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills and Nash
- Big thanks to the Forest Ranger with the White Mountains NF for sharing this spot and giving me great directions. Often, I’ll explain my parameters to someone and they’ll start listing canned options; “There’s a great hiking path with camping a mile from the trail head. Oh and there’s a river to raft with class IV rapids!” I’ll hear. Those sound lovely, but I said I wanted to canoe on a pond… Well, this ranger did the opposite. “Well, there’s no camping around Long Pond allowed. You’d have to go a quarter mile from shore.” He said and then paused to think. “You might try Elbow Pond near Lincoln. There’s free camping at an old Boy Scout camp or something right across the lake and it’s free!” It was the perfect spot.
- Wildlife Spotted:
- Birds: Osprey, woodpecker, redwing blackbirds, morning dove, swallows, mallards, other duck species
- Mammals: 1 Moose! 2 beavers
- Noted Species: Black bear
- Dominant Vegetation: willows, white pine, yellow and white birch and fir
- Ecoregion: Northern Highlands (58p) White Mountain/Blue Mountains
- Current Threats: Could not fine any specific threats to pond
- Trash collected: Beer cans (old, from the 1992 Olympics) and glass bottles