The Peripatetic Reviewer
AROAD is like a river, with familiar landmarks but the bed of the stream changing each spring. In the words of that most observant book by R. H. HaigBrown, “a river never sleeps,”and that is true of a road, too, particularly of the road which takes us north for our annual sojourn in the New Brunswick forest. It is crowded at first with holiday seekers like ourselves, the cars loaded with children, bedding, and cameras, radios blaring, and a spaniel muzzling the wind. We leave behind us the white spires of Newburyport, Portsmouth harbor seen from the bridge over the Piscataqua, and the Kittery Navy Yard. In no time the Maine toll road speeds us to Portland, and its vistas alert our city senses for the wilderness ahead. We slow down for Brunswick, that lovely college town with its Bowdoin pines— what it must have been like when they hemmed it in ! — and then wo enter the long avenue of resorts, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Rockland, Camden, Searsport, with the stately white homes of the sea captains such a calm backdrop for the gaudy slacks and halters of the summer visitors. Could the skippers return, which do you think they would find the odder, the fannies or the dark glasses? This is a Gluyas Milliams comedy and we are part of it as we pass.
North of Lincoln the traffic has dispersed, and we are alone on the spruce-pointed road whose winter heaves and billows are made tolerable only by the occasional glimpse of wild life: a porcupine enjoying his evening salad, his rear quills a warning to wayfarers; a red-tailed hawk startled by our approach; and always the deer, half-grown does, mostly, and as unpredictable as cattle in their sudden preference for the other side of the road. Like Mr. Milquetoast we slow down for those signs which say “Deer Crossing.”
Then you re in Canada and it’s another country with its different colors and emblems, its frank civility, and — I hate to say this — with its much more evident respect for land and law. You see no such roadside litter as ours once you cross the border; the graveyards of dead automobiles which deface so many of our communities are inconspicuous (these maritime people have less to do with), and the rivers you see are blue and unpolluted. The corruption of our famous American streams is, I suppose, an inevitable result of wealth and progress but I do wish the States would give recognition to those counties which begin to clean up what industry and sewerage have poisoned. Maine has made a beginning: the salmon have come back to the Dennys and the Narraguagus and there is talk of depollution and a fish ladder for the Aroostook, but the Kennebec, the Penobscot, and the Bangor Pool, lovely as they still are to the eye, have lost most of their underwater vitality because of industrial waste—most damaging of all, the lignin of the paper mills. Here I give a special award to the Brown Paper Company of Berlin, New Hampshire, for having installed at considerable expense a chemical process which has made the Androscoggin a clean, live stream again.
It is not easy to protect a river or a forest, and Canadians when they go on the warpath can be just as wanton as any American. I have in mind one thirty-mile stretch of New Brunswick forest which was cut, bulldozed, and ravaged within the past two years — the rape was supervised by an expert forester, condoned by a great paper company, and mildly censured by the Province. I wish more of the top brass could see this devastation, for it is a sight that makes you cry out in indignation. It is, of course, an exceptional case, but it shows how far the greed for dividends can go north of the Border.
The particular river we are aiming for lies more than a hundred miles north of Fredericton and the approach to it is something to dream of on a winter’s train. At Boiestown we coast down into the valley of the broad Southwest Miramichi and into pleasant memories of Jack Russell’s famous camp; of Bliss Perry and the dawns and dusks he wrote of at Burnt Hill; and of the Half Moon trip—a fifty-mile canoe run downstream, fishing and camping as you go — which still can be arranged if you say the right word to the right man, Clayton Stewart. (The canoes are loaded aboard the evening train out of Boiestown.) Then comes Doaktown where Wallace Doak ties the most captivating flies for this watershed — look for his leaping salmon sign on the left-hand side of the village street; and so to Newcastle, where we turn sharp left and head for Trout Brook and the Gatehouse where we must register before entering the forest. Frank, who has welcomed us before, gives us the news and we compliment him on the 400pound bear whose hide is stretched on the shed. Frank’s wife keeps their log cabin as neat as fresh scrubbed wood can be, and it is a standing joke between us that we shall move in here when we retire.
It is our dearest wish to keep the Northwest Miramichi as unspoiled as it is today. Thus far the only commerce to affect it has been that of the lumberman, the fisherman, and the hunter. The breakup of the ice and the spring drive of the logs make noticeable changes in the river bed, deepening some pools, filling in others. The forest feeds the stream and when forty years ago the budworm devastated the spruce here the river became vulnerable to the fast run-offs. Slowly the forest grew back, and last year when the pest again threatened, an airstrip was built and planes called in to spray DDT at fifty feet above treetops. Some birds were silenced and the black flies this year are conspicuous by their absence but the trees are saved. The Northwest, like so many other Canadian rivers, runs close to mineral deposits: this year new claims have been staked and prospectors have paddled past us with their samples. Does this portend new roads, new settlements, more changes?
Our camp is one hundred miles from the mouth of the river, and the salmon who leap our falls on their way upstream are making for the redds, their spawning grounds at the headwaters. The redds should be out of bounds for all anglers, and those who poach should be penalized, but this is just one of many needed precautions: the trawlers in Miramichi Bay must be restricted or there will be an ever-dwindling run of bright fish; the deep channel—salmon will not travel the shallows— or at least a portion of it, must be kept free of set nets. On some stretches as little as 30 per cent of the water is unnetted, except on Sunday when the nets are up. The balance of nature must be maintained, and this is better understood in Canada than anywhere with us, though how to enforce it leads to heated argument at Ottawa. By the balance, I mean this: that of the fish returning each year to their native river, say approximately 4000 as an average run, an uninjured majority must be preserved to reach the spawning grounds, deposit their eggs, and eventually return to sea. It is the truest of paradoxes that the devoted angler is more concerned with protection than with the kill. There are many things to think about, when you try to protect a river, and there are too few citizens like Dr. J. A. M. Bell of Fredericton, who never ceases thinking about how to do so.
I always take one new book with me to the woods to read after my nap in the afternoon when we are “resting” the pools, and this year it was a group portrait, The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill by Hermann Hagedorn (Macmillan, $5.00). Sagamore Hill, on the outskirts of Oyster Bay, was the capacious house which Theodore Roosevelt had planned for his first wife, Alice Lee, and which after her death became an endearing reality to his second wife, Edith Carow, and their five children. It was a conglomeration of gables and dormers, piazzas, chimneys and colored glass, with ten bedrooms on the second floor, four fireplaces on each floor, and trophies of the hunt everywhere. For thirty-five years it was the most prominent family seat in the United States, and this is the story of what went on under its eaves.
It is by its nature an intimate story. The bright sayings of other people’s children are boring to most men; I am no exception, and I must confess that for the first fifty pages the Roosevelt prattle did not interest me. But with the Rough Rider’s return the noise from the nursery is subdued; the adulation of the Colonel brings politicians and the press to Sagamore Hill, and the customary summer program of tennis and riding and rowing and bathing and “stagecoach ” on the raft and wild snap-the-whips down Cooper’s Bluff, which T. R. and his children so adored, was broken into by perspiring delegations in striped pants and frock coats. From then on Sagamore was the sanctuary where he fought out some of his hardest decisions and where, once the mind was made up, he threw off care.
In this familiar setting we are shown T. R. for the enchanting, Paul Bunyan-ish creature that he was when untrammeled by polities. Often unaware of his own strength, as when he “toughened ” young Ted to the edge of a nervous breakdown, and sometimes reckless of the elements, as when he took six youngsters with six guns on a shooting cruise from which they all returned with heavy colds, bronchitis, or infected ears, he could be meek as a mouse when his wife spoke out. In family crises, it was Edith, reserved and resourceful, who calmed things down. It was Edith who kept the peace and counted the pennies, Edith who conciliated the rebellious stepdaughter Alice, Edith who put in a restraining word when “the big I-Am" threatened to become too big even for his own breeches. Her portrait is one of the finest things in this ample and affectionate book. This was a time and a place for happy parenthood, and what fun they had with their picnics, their family tennis, and their Fourth of July celebrations. This was life with Father̬and Father was the most provocative man in the United States.
Sagamore Hill became famous for its hospitality and high spirits, but for the Colonel and Edith it was also a place where both turned in their intensest happiness and heartache. When the GOP fell away from him, and his popularity seemed on the wane, it was at Sagamore that he bound his wounds; and it is there that he and his wife found fortitude when the news of Quentin’s death reached them from the front.