"If Mr. Thoreau Calls, Tell Him I've Left the Country."

God help us, refugees in winter dress Skating home on thin ice from the Apocalypse.

—Verandah Porche

To one who habitually endeavors to contemplate the true state of things, the political state can hardly be said to have any existence whatever. It is unreal, incredible, and insignificant to him, and for him to endeavor to extract the truth from such lean material is like making sugar from linen rags, when sugar-cane may be had. Generally speaking, the political news, whether domestic or foreign, might be written to-day for the next ten years with sufficient accuracy. Most revolutions in society have not power to interest, still less alarm us; but tell me that our rivers are drying up, or the genus pine dying out in the country, and I might attend.
Henry D. Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Friday: Portsmouth, N. H.

The farm in Vermont had fooled us, just as we hoped it would when we moved there in early 68; it had tricked even battle-scarred former youth militants into seeing the world as bright clusters of Day-Glo orange and red forest, rolling open meadows, sparkling brooks and streams. I had lived in industrial, eastern New England all my life, though, as well as worse places like New York and Washington, D.C., so I might have known better. But Vermont had blurred my memory, and when we finally left the farm for Portsmouth, I was all Thoreau and Frost, October up North, ain’t life grand, all fresh and eager to begin rowing up the Concord and Merrimack rivers in the vanished footsteps of Henry D. himself. Verandah Porche, queen of the Bay State Poets for Peace, packed the failing ‘59 VW, and we went tearing down the mountain, kicking up good earth from the dirt road and barely slowing down for the eighteenthcentury graveyard and all manner of wild animals now madly racing for shelter against the sharp winds of autumn in these hills. The frost was on the pumpkin, it was our second autumn together, and warm vibrations made the yellow farmhouse fairly glow in the dying daylight as we pointed east, over the Connecticut River, heading for our rendezvous with what he called “the placid current of our dreams.” Knockout October day in 1969 in Vermont. All the trees had dropped acid.

The idea had come to me in a dream. It was one of those nights after Steve brought the Sunshine (wotta drug) when I’d wake up and sit bolt upright, alarmed at a sudden capacity, or power, I had acquired to see far. I could see eternity in the vast darkness outside my window and inside my head, and I remembered feeling that way when but an infant. In my dream, I was floating silently downstream in a birchbark canoe, speechless me watching vistas of bright New England autumn open up with each bend, slipping unnoticed between crimson mountains, blessing the warm sun by day and sleeping on beds of fresh leaves under a canary harvest moon by night. I was on the road to no special place, but no interstate highway with Savarinettes and Sunoco for this kid; I was, in my dream, on a natural highway through the planet, the ever-lovin’ me-sustainin’ planet that never lets you down. Said Henry: “I have not yet put my foot through it.”

It was the farm that allowed me the luxury of this vision, for the farm had given me the insulation from America which the peace movement promised but cruelly denied. When we lived in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington (you name it, we lived there; some of us still live there), we dreamed of a New Age born of violent insurrection. We danced on the graves of war dead in Vietnam, every corpse was ammunition for Our Side; we set up a countergovernment down there in Washington, had marches, rallies, & meetings; tried to fight fire with fire. Then Johnson resigned, yes, and the universities began to fall, the best and oldest ones first, and by God, every thirteen-yearold in the suburbs was smoking dope and our numbers multiplying into the millions. But I woke up in the spring of 1968 and said, “This is not what I had in mind,”because the movement had become my enemy; the movement was not flowers and doves and spontaneity, but another vicious system, the seed of a heartless bureaucracy, a minority party vying for power rather than peace. It was then that we put away the schedule for the revolution, gathered together our dear ones and all our resources, and set off to Vermont in search of the New Age.

The New Age we were looking for proved to be very old indeed, and I’ve often wondered aloud at my luck for being twenty-three years old in a time and place in which only the past offers hope and inspiration; the future offers only artifice and blight. I travel now in a society of friends who heat their houses with hand-cut wood and eliminate in outhouses, who cut pine shingles with drawknives and haul maple-sugar sap on sleds, who weed potatoes with their university-trained hands, pushing long hair out of their way and thus marking their foreheads with beautiful penitent dust. We till the soil to atone for our fathers’ destruction of it. We smell. We live far from the marketplaces in America by our own volition, and the powerful men left behind are happy to have us out of their way. They do not yet realize that their heirs will refuse to inhabit their hollow cities, will find them poisonous and lethal, will run back to the Stone Age if necessary for survival and peace.

Yet this canoe trip had to be made because there was adventure out there. We expected to find the Concord and Merrimack rivers polluted but still beautiful, and to witness firsthand the startling juxtaposition of old New England, land and water and mountain, and new America, factories and highways and dams; and thus to educate ourselves further in the works of God and man. We pushed on relentlessly, top speed 50 mph, in our eggshell Volkswagen (Hitler’s manifestly correct conception of the common man’s car) , 100 miles to the sea. The week following, the week we’d spend in our canoe, was the very week when our countrymen would celebrate Columbus Day (anniversary of the European discovery of Americans) , the New York Mets in the World (American) Series, and the National Moratorium to demand an “early end to the war.” Since we mourn the ruthless extinction of the natives, have outgrown baseball, and long ago commenced our own total Moratorium on constructive participation in this society, our presence and support were irrelevant to all of these national pastimes. We hoped only to paddle silently through the world, searching for traces of what has been lost.

Portsmouth was in an uproar.

George and Martha Dodge are the parents of the revolution as well as of seven sons, all of whom have now come home to Portsmouth, one of the oldest ports on the Atlantic side and of some importance to the United States Armed Forces. Gus, as he is nicknamed, is a respected physician in the city; Martha was a Nichols and still fries her own October doughnuts. Both are descendants of the oldest New England families, both old-fashioned, hospitable, warm, full of common sense, both admirers of Eldridge Cleaver and passionately involved, almost racked, in attempts to right some of the American wrongs. In short, they are good candidates for an old homestead in Vermont, and yet themselves the most attractive natural resource left in Portsmouth. Another feature of the town is its extraordinary number (and quality) of seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century houses, built with virgin lumber which has yet to begin rotting or even chipping, but many of these houses are being stupidly and arbitrarily destroyed. (More about this in a moment.) Their sons, youngest first, are Peter, fourteen, who claims he can drive a motorcycle; Hovey, sixteen, who puts together electronic systems, including piecemeal stereo systems capable of blasting out “Goddamn the Pusher Man” and other hits from Easy Rider at astonishing volume and fidelity; Frank, nineteen, an accomplished cellist; Mark, twenty-two, a soulful painter; Laurie, twenty-five, a New Age carpenter; David, twentyseven, a man of many pursuits, who at the moment is restoring his house on South Street; and Buzzy, the oldest but no particular age, who can do anything.

It was Buzzy we had come to get, for Buzzy was our Native Indian Guide to the Concord R: Merrimack Rivers, and Buzzy could do anything. Had not Buzzy camped out at 60 below zero in Alaska? Wasn’t it Buzzy who ran the rapids of the Pemigewasset? Didn’t Buzzy fix the freezer with a clothespin or something? Buzzy can build a fire out of wet pine, sleep in a hollow log, make a shed into a mansion, or scale a snow-peaked mountainside. If you are thinking of some perilous undertaking, my friend, my advice is to take Buzzy along. He is gifted with a calm and intelligent temperament, and a general all-around competence which is nothing less than astounding, particularly to half-freaked former militants trying gamely to live the life and discover what the planet is made up of.

We went over to the main house, the Dodge Commune I called it, where the canoe was waiting for us, stored in the garage alongside children’s bicycles, rakes, spare parts, nuts-and-bolts jar, the accumulation of seven sons’ childhoods in Portsmouth by the sea. Our old friend Laurie, who lived with us in Vermont before the inexplicable magnet of Portsmouth drew him away, took us aside for a long walk through the Desolation Row of fine old buildings scheduled for demolition by Portsmouth Urban Renewal, and he showed us these houses from a carpenter’s careful perspective. We touched the beams fourteen inchs thick, the planks wider than an arm-span, and gingerly stepped over broken glass where vandals had wrecked and robbed after the tenants of these buildings were forced to leave. There had been no protest over the demolition of the seventeenth century in Portsmouth, not more than a whimper really, and I felt my long-dormant sense of outrage beginning to rekindle, and I knew I had to split. For outrage leads to action, and action leads . . . where? Uusally into a morass. It was strange, though, my outrage reborn not over some plan for future progressive society, but over concern for preservation of ancient hoary stuff from way back. That kind of stuff, I had always thought, is for Historical Society ladies. But when the whole world becomes one McDonald’s hamburger stand after another, you too will cry out for even a scrap of integrity.

Back at the Dodge Manse, everything was in healthy chaos as the entire family readied for a trip to Martha’s mother’s farm in Sturbridge, Mass. The driveway was lined with vehicles which showed the scars of their years of heavy use. Laurie’s red pickup was chosen to carry the canoe, first to Sturbridge, then back to Boston (Cambridge) , from which it would be driven on a friendly Volvo station wagon to Concord, Mass., where the river trip would begin. Laurie danced in his boots as he painted OCTOBER 15 in big black letters on the sides of the upturned canoe; good advertising tor the Moratorium, he said.

Porche and I hadn’t counted on a Dodge excursion, and we found ourselves with two days to kill as Saturday dawned. To stay in Portsmouth with the Dodges all gone would have been too depressing, we agreed, so we repacked camping gear and artifacts of outdoor living into aforementioned VW, and decided to wait it out in old college hangouts, blast from the past, in Cambridge.

We split the map south along the green line designated as the Atlantic, uncomplicated by route numbers and little Esso markers, went to hole up in of all places Cambridge.

Sunday: Cambridge, Mass.

I was reading the Boston Sunday Globe financial section for lack of other employment or reading matter when I came upon a news account of the spectacular success of a chain of artsie-fartsie shops called Cambridge Spice and Tea Exporters (or something close to that) . These shops sell ornaments for the home, bamboo dingdongs to hang over the window, incense, colorful but useless items of all sorts; and the proprietor was there quoted to the effect that the word “Cambridge" on the shops gives them a magic quality which brings in the bread right quick. And of course! Funny I never realized it before, but Cambridge is the home base, one of the centers at least, of useless conceits for the affluent American, including the long-haired variety. Harvard University, if I may say so, could vanish tomorrow (in fact it may) with no appreciable loss to the physical or intellectual health of the nation. Those who wished to study Catullus would continue to do so; and those whose lives are considerably less earnest would doubtless find some other occupation, perhaps more rewarding, than hanging out in the Yard.

The great irony of Cambridge is that despite its vaunted status as a center of the arts, education, technology, and political wisdom, it is in reality a Bore. It stultifies, rather than encourages, productive thought and employment, by throwing up countless insuperable obstacles to peace of mind and simple locomotion from one place to another. Why, if all the creative energy expended in Cambridge on paying telephone bills, signing documents, finding a cab, buying a milk shake, bitching at the landlord, and shoplifting from the Harvard Coop could be channeled into writing, playing, loving, and working, the results would probably be stupendous. At the moment, it is simply a marketplace of fatuous ideas and implements for those who seek to amuse themselves while Babylon falls around them. Thoreau on Boston: “I see a great many barrels and fig-drums—piles of wood for umbrella-sticks—blocks of granite and ice—great heaps of goods, and the means of packing and conveying them—much wrapping-paper and twinemany crates and hogsheads and trucks—and that is Boston. The more barrels, the more Boston. The museums and scientific societies and libraries are accidental. They gather around the sands to save carting. The wharf-rats and customhouse officers, and broken-down poets, seeking a fortune amid the barrels.” (Cape Cod)

Although we grew up, intellectually and emotionally at least, in Cambridge, and once made the big scene there in scores of apartments and houses, V and I now could find only one friendly place to lay our heads and weary bums, and that was Peter Simon’s. Everybody who sees his best work agrees that Peter is an extraordinary photographer, mean competition for Cartier-Bresson and Arthur d’Arazien so to speak, and only a kid at twenty-one. We went looking for Peter’s head of wild curly red hair, he looks like a freaked-out Howdy Doody really, sure that when we found it there’d be new Beatles and Band music, orange juice in the fridge, place to take your shoes off; and so there was.

We had brought along for the canoe trip the kinds of things that made sense: sleeping bags, tarp, tools, cooking utensils, potatoes and other vegetables we’d grown in the summer, several gallons of honest-to-God Vermont water (safe bacterial content) in the event the waters of the Merrimack should be beyond boiling. We couldn’t bake bread on the riverbanks, surely, as we do at home, and sensing that Henry’s advice on buying bread from farmers just didn’t apply these days, I went to a local sooper-dooper and acquired two loaves of Yah-Yah Bread at 20 cents the loaf, and almost as an afterthought, got a jar of Skippy Peanut Butter for about 40 cents. The Yah-Yah Bread was packed in a psychedoolic magenta plastic with cartoons of hipsters (one boy, one girl) on the outside and Avalon Ballroom lettering, the kind you must twist your head to read, so it did catch my eye. And I have liked Skippy since I discovered (1) peanuts will not grow very well in Vermont; (2) the jar can be used as a measuring cup (but only when it’s empty) : (3) the Skippy heiress is twenty-two and some kind of pill freak who busts up cocktail parties in New York. I noticed that the Skippy contained no BHA or BHT but that the Yah-Yah Bread did; these chemicals are often called “preservatives,” and although I can’t responsibly suggest they will kill you, they do contain the element which makes most commercial foods taste dead. We have found that an astonishingly wide variety of food items contain BHA or BHT or both, so I can only conclude that most of my countrymen subsist on the stuff. They are hooked. The sole advantage of preservatives to the consumer, it seems, is that he can now save money by buying day-old or month-old baked goods and be certain that they will taste like cold putty no matter their birthday. We did spend a goodly part of the harvest season giving away all the fruits and vegetables we couldn’t use to city people (old friends and family) , who freaked out on what a tomato, or a peach, really is. The middle-aged and elderly ones remembered; the young ones learned. One and all reflected on how sinister & subtle the Dead Food craze came on, how you didn’t notice it taking over until it was too late. The old Victory Garden thing may be in for a revival, friends, but I suspect it will reach only a marginal part of the population; the others will be too busy at the shop or office, dump DDT or other chemical killers on their crop, or be afraid to eat an ear of corn that’s white, a tomato with a hole in it, a carrot with dirt on it. Tough luck for them what think it’s easier to go to the sooper-dooper and get those nice clean apples wrapped in cellophane, uniform in size and shining like mirrors, the kind I have never seen growing on any tree. How about you?

We escaped the supermarket, thus, without being tempted by the Meat, Poultry, or Vegetable departments, not to mention the paperbacks and plants. And we then did what everybody does in Cambridge, which amounted to what Bob Dylan called Too Much of Nothing. We waited for the morning to come, the daybreak which would put us on the rivers in our canoe at last; we got stoned and listened to the Beatles; we got bored and went out to spend some money, finally choosing a hip movie house on Massachusetts Avenue and killing some hours in old Orson Welles. We did not get raped, mugged, or robbed as it turned out. We heard the noises and smelled the smells, drank the water and breathed the air. It was altogether quite a risky adventure. Our guides, Plucky Peter and his lady friend Nancy, who is only seventeen, could not have been more hospitable and reassuring; in fact, they agreed to accompany us on parts of the river trip, grateful for some excuse to cut boring college classes, they said. And Nancy even cooked a fine meal out of some farm vegetables, on a stove which produced instant heat from gasoline which comes from under the street!

The canoe arrived after dark, good old Buzzy with it, spinning yarns of rapids and dams, islands to camp on (the name Merrimack meant to the natives “river of many islands”), wild animules, the likelihood of rain. He and Verandah went to sleep early; I stayed up nervously watching commercials on television (including the post-midnight Stoned Voice urging kids not to smoke dope because it’s illegal) , went to sleep on the floor, and dreamed of wild muskrats and other creatures of the past.

Monday: Concord, Mass.

Monday dawned quietly even in the Hub of the Universe, for Monday this time around was a holiday, the day after Columbus Day. I guessed that those who had gone off on three-day weekends had not yet returned, and the others were all sleeping late; because here it was Monday morning and Central Square was not putrid with humanity, just a few winos hanging around and no policemen for traffic. The canoe advertising OCTOBER 15 was loaded onto Peter’s Volvo while I hurryhid my VW in the neighbor Harry’s backyard; Harry was not around anyway, Harry had split to Vermont, but I left Harry a note explaining that since his backyard was full of garbage anyway, it might as well have my VW. Our canoe was eighteen feet long and three feet wide, bright orange, and aluminum. Buzzy had fashioned wheels for it out of a block of wood and two old tricycle wheels, not unlike Thoreau’s contraption, I thought. They gave the canoe a faithful if bumpy ride around dams and such.

We took Route 2 past the shopping plazas and biochemical warfare factories out to Concord. There are two sets of signs in Concord, one leading to Walden, the other to the Concord Reformatory. The former is a state park with rules and regulations posted on the trees, the latter a prison for boys with a fancy-pants highway sign in front: “Welcome to Concord, Home of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts.” The Reformatory, a vast gray dungeon, is complemented be a farm where, I am told, the Boys learn vital agricultural skills. And not a few other tricks. Pity the Boy who grows up in Massachusetts, if it has as many gray stone towers to enclose him as it seems.

We stopped for advice, which way to the Concord River please, at a gas station. The man there obliged us, but all the while acting like we were wasting his valuable time. There were no other customers. The spot he led us to proved to be a park, full of monuments and walkways, grass mowed as with a Gillette Techmatic, but a lovely spot notwithstanding. As we readied the canoe for embarkment, a uniformed gent approached us grimly, and I was sure there’d be some Commonwealth law against canoes, but no, he merely wanted to admire the rig and satisfy his curiosity. It is quite legal to launch your boat in Concord still, though they have placed speed-limit signs on the bridges (“River Speed Limit: 10 MPH. ENFORCED”), and so we rolled ours to what looked like a good place and waited a moment, very like the moment you take before diving off a high covered bridge into a gurgling freshwater pond in July. Peter took funny-face pictures, while a small band of strollers, tourists or townspeople, who can tell the difference, leaf-peepers we called them because they took Kodak Brownie shots of this or that red tree, gathered about to watch and wave. There was no obvious animosity between us this bright morning, tor unlike at the gas station, we were together in the beauty of the place and it was a great day for a boat trip. Something in all men smiles on the idea of a cruise up the planet. We knew we’d be heading downstream, or north, to the mouth of the Merrimack, but the river itself had no easily discernible current; rather it looked from the shore like a quiet and friendly scar on the earth, made of such stuff you could put your foot through. Buzzy knew by some mysterious instinct which way was north, but I argued the point for a while. Then, as we were climbing into our silent craft, a noisy crowd of Canadian honkers drifted into view overhead, flying V-formation (V for victory, Vietnam, Verandah, Vermont) due south, and I declare even the tired holiday crowd broke into smiles. Canada geese over Concord; it’s enough to make you believe in God.

“The Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River,” Henry writes, “though probably as old as the Nile or Euphrates, did not begin to have a place in civilized history until the fame of its grassy meadows and its fish attracted settlers out of England in 1635, when it received the other but kindred name of CONCORD from the first plantation on its banks, which appears to have been commenced in a spirit of peace and harmony. It will be Grassground River as long as grass grows and water runs here; it will be Concord River only while men live peaceable lives 011 its banks. To an extinct race it was grass-ground, where they hunted and fished; and it is still perennial grass-ground to Concord farmers, who own the Great Meadows, and get the hay from year to year.” Of course, get the hay! But the Great Meadows are mostly woods now, called the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, according to the brightly painted signs posted here and there on the banks, obviously intended for the information of those who would ride the river in boats. And as we paddled along, we did meet other boats, speedboats mostly with vroom-vroom motors and gaseous fumes. The drivers circled our canoe and laughed as it rocked in the unnatural waves of their passing. One old couple, strictly Monet, paddled a tiny wisp of a canoe. Despite everything, though, the land did, goddamn it, open in a great vista, rising up on both sides to support scampering squirrels and the like, and while it lasted the National Wildlife Refuge seemed to me a worthy piece of territory. Kerouac came back to Lowell after all those years making scenes, and that has scared me crazy since I’ve known who Kerouac was. “It all else fails,”I thought, “we could always go see Kerouac, maybe he’d put us up.” Game back to Lowell even though nobody goes anywhere from there, he must have come back to die, that’s the only thing makes sense by the gee. Stopped writing he did, just sat there in crummy Lowell with beer and television and the Lowell Sun at four in the afternoon, delivered by the local altar boy at Saint Ann’s, or Sacred Heart, or Saint Pat’s. Was he an altar boy, choirboy, chief Boy Scout, candidate for the priesthood; did he win a Ladies Sodality scholarship, play football, play hooky, play on the big bad river? Kerouac, did you have a paper route and hit all the bars on Christmas Eve? Christ, Kerouac, you’re blowing my mind living in Lowell, will you never go back to Big Sur? Kerouac, listen: Frost came from Lawrence too, but he got out, man, and he didn’t come back. Robert Frost walked our neighborhoods, friend! Kerouac, see: Leonard Bernstein came from here, but he got out! Everybody from Lowell & Lawrence had half a break in this world split. You stay here, you’re as good as dead, baby.

Buzzy tired of the paddles before Porche and I did, and over our protests, elected to turn on his pint-sized outboard which went bap-bap rather than vroom-vroom and moved the canoe no faster than the paddles but with less effort on our part of course. I used this respite from work to survey the terrain with the close eye of loving ignorance, and I watched the Wildlife Refuge become plain old Concord and a pastel ranch house come into view. Everything moved so slowly, it was like a super-down drug, and we were spared no details of this modern American prefab architecture—and, beyond it, the rising towers of yon civilization. Fishermen began to appear, at first alone and then in groups; and though we dutifully inquired of each what he had caught that morning, we never found a man with so much as a catfish to show for his efforts. Clearly, I thought, it is Columbus Day (or the day after) and these people are fishing for old times’ sake and not in hopes of actually catching something. The last group of fishers were segregated—a half dozen white people on one side of the Concord, and as many black people on the other. The river was narrow and shallow enough at that point to walk across, so I guessed that these people wanted it that way, preferred at least to do their fruitless casting among friends. Soon enough, several hours later, we were in Carlisle, at the Carlisle Bridge, and I’d become concerned that the river still showed no sign of a current. It was just about standing still and we the only moving things in the landscape. Verandah trailed her fingers through the water from the bow. From my perch in the center, I remarked, “It’s pretty, but it’s dead.”

“Maybe we’re all dead” was all she said.

From Carlisle, where we met Peter Simon and enjoyed a Skippy and Yah-Yah lunch, we went on to Billerica with high hopes of making Lowell that day and thus getting over the New Hampshire border the next. For reasons obviously unassociated with fact, I expected the scenery, colors, and water in New Hampshire must be superior to those in Massachusetts, and we reassured ourselves that, bad as the Concord was now becoming, we were at least taking the worst medicine first. The entrance to Billerica by water resembles the old MGM view of distant forts in the Wild West; for the first sign of the approaching town is an American flag flapping in the breeze like somebody’s long joints on the line, planted on a hideous red-brick mill with a mammoth black smokestack. No smoke today, though, for it was a holiday, remember (and we do need constant reminders on days like Columbus Day and Washington’s Birthday, so difficult has it become for us to relate to them), and the only sign of life was a wilted elderly watchman, who sat behind the factory gates merely watching cars go by. The mill, called the North Billerica Company (presumably manufacturers of North Billericas), was built on a dam, which we didn’t notice until we very nearly went over it, and seemed to be rooted in the water itself. That is, the sides of the buildings extended below the river line, making the banks absolutely inaccessible except through the mill yard itself, for several hundred yards. And the watchman, clearly, was the old Keeper of the Locks whom Henry had charmed into letting him pass on the Sabbath. Thus did this kind man unchain the gates of the North Billerica Company and lead us through to the sale side of the dam—where, for the first time, we paddled through water actually being used, before our very eyes, as an open sewer. Worse yet, we recognized that the scuz & sludge pouring forth from the mill through six-inch drainpipes would follow us downstream, that it was, in fact, better to navigate on dead but quiet waters than on water teeming with Elimination, at times even belching out gaseous bubbles, and smelling like fresh bait for tsetse flies and vultures. From North Billerica to the end of our journey, we would see only two other craft on these waters, one a crude raft bearing three boys (more or less ten years old) and a smiling dog, straight Huck Finn stuff, but the kids said not a word as we passed them by, and the other a hardware-store rubber bathtub floating two thirteenor fourteen-year-old boys who were headed for Concord Reformatory, you could just tell. This latter pair were reincarnations of the Bad Boys I’d known back in Lawrence, which is on the Merrimack, boys whom I had joined in some Bad adventures on the river until I finally couldn’t make their grade.

Boys will find charm in junk, as every redblooded small town scoutmaster knows; boys will hang around burnt-out houses, old railroad yards, town dumps, the backs of breweries, and find there unlimited access to toys for the body and mind. We met these two as our canoe bumped to a stop against huge rocks surrounding a factory which had burned to the ground, only the smokestack erect, nobody else around, as we hauled our gear out of the boat onto broken glass and pieces of brick and charred timbers that fell through when you stepped on them, in this unspeakably North Vietnamese place, Dresden in Billerica, this corner of Massachusetts which could be the scene after World War III. The boys informed us in a heavy local accent—Oh, yah, Oh, yah—that we’d pass “three rapids and a dam” before the Concord emptied into the Merrimack in Lowell, then left us alone again. Buzzy ran the first set of rapids alone while Verandah and I hauled knapsacks and sleeping bags, paddles and outboard through the wreckage to tire place where the river deepened. It was then that we began to notice the trees; even the trees in this place were palsied and skinny, their colors muted. An old stump I was using for support caved in on me. And to venture anywhere near the trees or brush meant to be covered with clinging brown dead burrs, pickies I call them, that fall into your socks and irritate your skin. We were grateful to get back in the canoe and leave that nightmare once-andpast factory behind. It was the worst place I had ever lived, a place where nothing could be salvaged, not even a piece of wire or useful stick on the ground.

A mile or so downstream, just south of Lowell we reckoned, the second set of rapids began, and the canoe quickly became trapped between rocks, which shared the water now with old tires, a refrigerator, a washing machine, wrecked cars and trucks, metal hoops, and bobbing clumps of feces. Verandah had to get out in midstream to lighten our load, and she disappeared into the pickies. A little later, I too got out as the canoe turned sideways, broadstream, and Buzzy warned in a calm and dejected tone, “We are going to capsize very soon; we will capsize it we don’t get out of here.”Boots tied about my neck and dungarees rolled up over my knees, there’s me slipping on rocks slimy with who wants to know what, making for a bank which appears impossible to scale. I lost sight of Buzzy as the canoe bounced and careened downstream, but caught Verandah in my free eye, silently waiting for me at the top ot the rise. The current which was imperceptible before was ferocious now, as the shallow water rushed downhill over rocks left there by the Billerica dams; and more than once I felt myself falling over them too, breaking bones, I thought, in my mad rush to the sea. The bank, when I reached it, was knee-cleep in garbage of all kinds—metal, paper, and glass. Rolls of toilet paper had been strung like Christmas tinsel on the brittle limbs of the trees, and cardboard containers by the hundreds, flattened by snow and made soggy by rain, had formed layers of mush. I was the creature from the black lagoon, or a soul in purgatory, stretching forth his hand for a lift out of my slime from the mysterious beautiful lady Up There.

When the ascent was made and breaths caught, we discovered ourselves in a railroad yard whose tracks were varnished amber with rust, and freight cars left there, open, to suffer all weather and never move again. Union Pacific, they proudly announced. Nobody was around. I fancied myself a television reporter for some new galaxy, bringing the folks back home a documentary of the continent on Earth that died: “It all began to break down, folks, in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. To an extinct race, it was grass-ground river.”

We walked the graveled planet now for maybe a half mile, shouting for Buzzy from time to time. We found him at the end of the third set of rapids with gloom all over his face. The canoe took a bad leap, he said, the outboard was lost somewhere under water too black to reveal it, the Yah-Yah bread soaked to the consistency of liquid BHT, all the bedding and clothing and food dripping wet.

And the sun was setting somewhere but we could not see it.

And the air was turning colder though we couldn’t say why.

And the land was impossible to camp on; it would be a bed of broken glass and rusty nails.

Clearly we could only push on to Lowell, where Peter Simon had been waiting hours for us, no doubt, and push we did until we floated into the heart of that town after dark, almost bumping the edge of a vast dam in our blindness, then groping and paddling back and forth across this Concord to find a bank that was neither solid vertical concrete nor sealed off by a high chain link fence, operating by the light of the Lowell Sun neon billboard and finally hauling October 15 from the water behind a taxicab garage and wheeling it through the crowded center of town, wondering where we could safely be alive.

Lowell is a sister city to Lawrence and Haverhill, all three being one-river towns born of the “industrial revolution and very close in spirit to those almost charming images of factory towns in British literature from Blake to the Beatles. Ethnic neighborhoods remain, and national churches (mostly Catholic) thrive there still—the Greeks are still fiercely chauvinistic, the French Canadians still hard drinkers, the Italians still foud of block parties in honor of the Three Saints. There is a strikingly nineteenth-century downtown area, but despite the energetic promotion of the oldest merchants in town, it is slowly corroding as it loses ground to the highway shopping plazas. Lite there is sooty, and even the young people look hard and wrinkled. Though it is only a stone’s throw from cultured, boring Boston, it may as well be a thousand miles away for all the intellectual influence it has absorbed. We didn’t know it at the moment we were strolling down Central Street with the canoe between us, but Peter Simon had earlier fled the city, terrified at the fierce looks and obscene catcalls which his long hair had provoked. I was not afraid, though, for I knew that the natives, while resenting our freedom, were yet too pacified and dulled by their daily lives to risk energetic hostility on us. Strangers may securely enough walk the streets of Lowell, Lawrence, or Haverhill, for the locals will kill only each other. Arriving in Lowell was for me a grand homecoming.

And while I thought these vibrations and rehearsed this conversation with the great author of On the Road, indeed at the very moment we were rolling our canoe down Central Street, the man himself was dead, though we didn’t know it and I still can’t say why. He was dead in Florida of too much Lowell, may he rest in peace under that holy graveyard soil on the edge of town. May he not smell the Merrimack River from where he lies. May we, his survivors, escape his fate.

We were befriended by a corpulent Boston Record American reporter (Hearst sheet, cheesecake & crime mostly), who put us and the canoe on the back of his truck, which he normally uses for carting secondhand furniture; man’s got to make a living. He was also, he said, a member of the Lowell police force and found out about us from the police radio’s moment-by-moment broadcast report of our progress through the city. He called the cops on a side-street phone and arranged for us to sleep on the Boulevard riverbank, past all the dams and fetid canals of Lowell, and there we took our rest at last. The Boulevard traffic passed several yards from our heads at 60 and 70 miles per hour, and some local teen-agers drove their jalopy up to our encampment with brightlights on at 2 or 3 A.M., and the bank was littered with broken beer bottles, but I slept soundly nonetheless. We had no food now, so I got up in the night and walked up the Boulevard to where I knew an all-night pizza stand existed, and in the process, bumped into a parked car with two kids fucking noisily in the back seat. Of course, I thought, Lowell is the last place on the planet where kids still ball in Dad’s car because there is no place to go, there are no private apartments for kids or independent kid-societies. Walking back with coffeecake and hamburgers, I noticed dozens of parked cars just off the road, a road without sidewalks, where nobody but me had walked for a long time. And just before I got back to our encampment, I met an old man with whiskey on his breath who looked me straight in the eye and said, “Going to Lawrence?”

Around midnight, a group of married couples had arrived with Dunkin’ Donuts for us to eat; they had heard of the legendary canoe, it was all over town, they wanted to see if it was really so. One man used to fish for salmon in the Merrimack, but he “wouldn’t piss in it now.”His wife blamed the rich people who own the mills; they are the ones, she said, who have destroyed the water. All who came to talk with us that night said how many years had passed since they last saw a real boat seriously navigating up the Merrimack River. “Are you sure,”one woman asked in a harsh voice, “nobody’s makin’ ya do it?”

Tuesday: Lowell, Mass.

Culture-hero Steve McQueen has said, “I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”Naturally, I second that. Morning in Lowell cannot properly be called “sunrise,” for it is the General Electric plant and not the burning star which first appears on the horizon. Our Record American reporter friend returned to take pictures of us for his newspaper, but we waited around a long time hoping for Peter Simon to arrive in the magic Volvo, which could both fetch new groceries and go searching for the lost outboard. We would be paddling upstream now, and in the face of a stiff wind, so the motor might have proved useful in a pinch. But there was no Peter, no coffee, no breakfast, and no hope, so we shoved off at g A.M. with only the Boston Record American for witness. We had camped, it turned out, next to a row of garbage cans on which somebody in Lowell (maybe someday she’ll come, come, come along) had painted peace signs and slogans like “Smile on your brother” and “Let’s clean up Big Muddy.”It was a noble but pathetic gesture, this youthful assumption that the Dirt in the Merrimack was nothing worse than Mud, and that it could be cleaned up if only each of us smiled more. As the rows of factories proved beyond doubt, and there is something hard and undeniable in this, Lowell would cease to be Lowell if it did not pollute the Merrimack River. Lowell and its sister cities create shoes, textiles, and paper for you and me—who, as literate people, do not live on the Merrimack River anyway. The industries in Lowell pay their employees very poorly indeed, yet their profits cannot be what they used to be, for the shops are slowly and one-by-one dosing down. We paddled furiously against the wind to get the hell out, aiming ourselves toward Tyngsboro by noon and Nashua, New Hampshire, by nightfall.

The Merrimack is substantially wider and deeper than the Concord, a real river and not just a stream, so for the first time I felt that flush of anxiety which comes after knowing you are too far out to swim back in the event of trouble. It was backaching work, but we could manage about two miles per hour, which seemed to me last enough for any sensible voyage. I set myself little targets, such as the big drive in movie screen on Route 113, and overtook each one in my stride. I enjoy slow progress and gradual change in my own life as much as I deplore it in social trends; but I am sufficiently tuned-in to the century to realize that we men never really get anywhere. It’s always more of the same, so to speak—birth, life, death, walking abroad in a shower of your days, how soon having Time the subtle thief of youth stealing on his wing your three-and-twentieth year, etc. etc. Life does move exquisitely slow, all the crap in newspapers about “revolutionary developments” aside, and we do tend to end up where we started. The absurdity of our situation, too, lay in the fact that we could have gotten from Lowell to Tyngsboro in three minutes rather than three hours, but there was no reason to go to Tyngsboro anyway as none of us believed it would be the idyllic spot Henry described; thus we never felt we were wasting time.

Two or three miles up from Lowell, as we paddied through water absolutely white with swirling pools of some awful chemical substance, we heard Peter Simon’s voice calling us from afar. He and Nancy were on the opposite bank, trapped in the Volvo by a pack of ravenous house dogs, yet overjoyed to have found us again. We paddled over to them and mutually decided on a spot just up a piece to disembark and confer. Verandah and Nancy stayed behind to cook a breakfast of oatmeal and eggs, while we menfolk took off in the car to look for that outboard, got a flat on the Boulevard, got soaking wet, got in trouble with an elderly French-Canadian lady who objected to Buzzy’s using her backyard as an approach to the river until I calmed her in the best LawrenceLowell half-Canuck accent I could muster from memories of my grandmother. In all, got nothing accomplished and returned to the breakfast site close to noon, Peter swearing it was gonna rain and Buzzy just swearing. The outboard had cost B his last $60, and was purchased especially for this trip; moreover, he was beginning to feel sick in the stomach, and wondered just what poisons we might be picking up from the fair Merrimack.

I wanted Pierre to join us at that point, abandon his car and get on the boat. Fancying myself Kesey and all of us Merry Pranksters, I said, “Peter, you must be On the Boat or Off the Boat.”But Tuesday was a Mets day, Peter said, and though he would follow us upstream and generally watch out, he must stay close to the car radio to keep tabs on Tom Seaver and so-and-so’s stealing third. It meant nothing to me. but since Peter thought it was important, who was I to belittle it? Some people get their energy off Kesey & Kerouac & Thoreau, others off Seaver and Sloboda; stocks and bonds, movies and periodicals, movements and rallies, rivers and oceans, balls and strikes; you name it, somebody lives on it. Friends of mine have been addicted to such dangerous drugs as television, bourbon, and the New York Times, daily and Sunday. I myself have been addicted to Pall Mall cigarettes for years, and have more than once gone hungry to support my habit; I am also a Black Coffee freak, and have been known to drink fifteen to twenty cups in a day. Everything in me which responds to reason prays for the imminent day when mass-produced and commercially distributed goods will simply stop coming, all the bright red Pall Mall trucks will break down in North Carolina and all the Colombian coffee boats rot in their harbors. Then we, poor weaklings, will have at least a chance to aspire to that personal independence which we all so desperately need. We will be addicted to making do for ourselves; each of us will be President of the United States and responsible for the social welfare of the whole world; we will rise to our godheads at the same moment we stoop to gather scrap wood for the fire. We will be able to afford, then, to offer and accept a little help from our friends.

So Peter was hooked on the Mets, and there seemed no solution but to plan the rest of the trip around this handicap. Peter had to break camp early, drive to towns for newspaper reports of the previous day’s game, leave the canoe to its own progress while he sought out television stores where the American Series would be coming across display color sets, return to us radiant with news of the latest victories. The Mets were winners at least, that’s more than I could say for Pall Malls—which I consumed, though moderately, throughout the journey.

These pathetic addictions came together in Tyngsboro in an odd fashion. When we arrived at the bridge there, Peter was nowhere to be found, off watching the Mets; and we three were out of cigarettes and of course carrying no money. Buzzy, to the rescue, found a selection of old two-cent and nickel soda pop bottles embedded in the silt bank, and cashed them in for a pack of smokes at the variety store conveniently located on top of the bank. All else we found there was a single halfrotted sunfish, five inches or so, washed ashore.

We were always looking for “a nice little island” on which to camp. The only one we found that day was King’s Island, which is now a golf course with buildings, garages, a bar, and a bridge to the highway. Three lady golfers, the kind with jewelencrusted sunglasses roped to their necks on aluminum chains, spied us from the ninth hole, and one chirped, “Well, isn’t that adorable.” A painted sign on the bank read “Watch out for golf balls,” and the river around the island had obviously become a God-made water trap for the wives of the LowellNashua managerial class. It became evident near here, too, that many of the houses along the banks had eliminated the need for septic tanks by flushing directly into the river through underground pipes.

Both Buzzy and Verandah being now sick at their centers, and the prospect of sleeping in industrial Nashua too bleak to consider, we elected after much procrastination to drive around that city altogether, and thus ended up resuming the trip and camping out in Bow Junction, New Hampshire, birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy. Peter parked the Volvo on what we assumed to be a lonely access road, and we paddled to what looked like a stretch of serious forest, arriving there just in time to spread out a few tarps and start a fire before dark fell. Stumbling about in the night in search of a place to Eliminate, I discovered that the woods were only 30 to 40 feet wide, bordered by the river on one side and a real, if dirt, road on the other; and they were only a quarter mile long, bordered by immense machines of one kind or other on either end. The access road was studded with houses suburban-style, whose lights shone brightly at us and were reflected in the water, and the traffic on it sounded high-speed. We had been once more cruelly tricked. Sirens filled the air and our heads. Brakes screeched and a metallic thud bounced off our ears. The quiet but persistent rumble of technology charged the atmosphere, never letting up; it was the trembling of the earth which you, friend. can hear tonight if you but focus your attention on it. The earth is crying; what can I do to help it? Give it a Demerol?

Wednesday: Bow Junction, N. H.

I love mankind but I hate the institutions of the dead unkind. Men execute nothing so faithfully as the wills of the dead, to the last codicil and letter. They rule this world, and the living are but their executors. Thoreau

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

When we were babes in college and thought ourselves the only people in America smart enough to be unilaterally opposed to the United States’s presence in Vietnam, we’d sit around the Protestant house at BU, though we were none of us Protestants, and say, “This war won’t end until every mother who loses a son, every wife who loses a husband, knows that their men died in vain” As long as the families of the 42,000 dead in fruitless combat could congratulate themselves on giving a boy to the good cause, more deaths would be unavoidable, we analyzed. It seemed the very will of the dead that America continue its genocidal assault on the East, the voices of those Southside Bad Boys crying out, “Get him back, Emile!” to the runty kid from Sacré Coeur Parish. I’m not sure when this attitude began to corrode, sometimes I flatter myself with the thought that I did my part to bring it about (though a fat lot of good it has done over there) ; but I see with my own eyes that the wife of a dead Marine in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the Merrimack, refuses to have her husband’s coffin draped in the Stars and Stripes. There is great mourning in New Hampshire over a group of six men who came back in boxes; five are buried with all attendant military honors, the sixth with Bob Dylan and angry rhetoric. In Manchester, New Hampshire, the most reactionary town in all of New England. So the will of the dead is now that we take revenge on the government, on Lyndon Johnson (remember that stinker?) and Richard Nixon and Lew Hershey, McNamara, Rusk, Rostow, Clifford, Laird, Westmoreland, Abrams, as if these men together and alone caused it to happen, and not the entire lot of us. The American people, in taking revenge on the gooks, have all but destroyed the paradisal terrain and refined culture of Vietnam; now they will turn on themselves and do the same at home. What is ambiguously called “the system” will crumble and fall, it is all too clear. The economy, military effectiveness, control and discipline of the young, none of these is looking too good for “the system.” What will replace it? Does it matter?

After Marshall Bloom’s suicide last week,1 I was exhorted by some old friends to come back to Washington, where my personal adventure with Bloom began, and rip up a cloud in the streets; have a reunion with my former allies in the movement. I declined, just as I have avoided Chicago, Berkeley, New York City, even Woodstock, where all the heavy scenes have been going down, I shall absent myself from Washington on November 15. For I am choosing to refuse to execute the wills of the dead. Marshall had asked me, in his note, to be an executor of sorts, distributing his personal things from a second-floor closet at the farm to his friends around the country & on the farms; but I can’t even do that, at least I haven’t been able to yet.

The New York Times seized on Marshall’s death to print a five-column headline, “Suicide Puzzles Friends of Founder of Radical News Service,” and an article which mocked his conviction that activists will move to rural areas because “the city burns people out.” The Times suggested that the last laugh was on Marshall & his friends, for while the citified branch of our Liberation News Service was still churning out propaganda from Claremont Avenue in New York, we were running vacuumcleaner hoses from exhaust pipes into vent windows and expiring of despair. And it is true winter is here, Michael’s toe was broken by a cow, Richard is in the county hospital with an esoteric fever, John’s VW was turned over up on Route 91, Peter’s lather died last week in Pennsylvania, Pepper is in Rochester waiting for hers to go, the freezer broke down and much of the harvest moved to another house until we can fix it, no storm windows for lack of money and howling winds outside. But it has nothing to do with the city versus the country, it has only to do with the strange twists in our lives which yet excite the attention of the newspapers who display our photographs and write our biographies as professional hippies and postrevolutionaries; and it has to do with Marshall himself, and there will never be another.

Marshall’s death was the logical extension of the Concord and Merrimack rivers trip; indeed, it followed hard on the heels of the boating. Sensitive as he was, he no doubt saw the opportunity to embellish the awfullest October in history and couldn’t pass it up; get all the bad shit out of the way, he must have thought, before the new decade begins. What bad angel, thus, has elected to sit over our chimney? When your crop don’t fail and your house don’t burn down, your best friend will leave you stranded and helpless. Winter will come and snow you in, yet you can’t move back to the city despite it because any natural hardship is better than an unnatural life. Every winter the hospitals in Vermont declare dead those old men who one evening simply neglected to light their stoves.

And here I had the chicken house one-quarter shingled too when it happened, and after that Saturday it rained day and night for six days. Everybody stared at each other, each was broken down in his unique way. Nothing got accomplished, and yet there was nowhere to go.

Death generates death, then, though we know in our remaining animal instincts that organic material makes carrots grow. It will be a long winter with ghosts behind the walls, and what wise man could be certain that we will make it to the spring? Spring, or life, is always a surprise and a gift, not something we have earned any firm right to.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird,
So close all the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.

Robert Frost

So the army of corpses, some freshly laid in the ground and others now grown cold and bony, led the people of my country to create a Moratorium, which was nothing more or less than a Memorial Day of the new regime. Didn’t Ho Chi Minh have generals? Thus will the Provisional Revolutionary Government have its holidays, and the time of Vietnam will be marked in history books in Skokie, Illinois, as an era of great plague and disaster in the nation. And monuments raised to the great men who “gave their lives” in the service of destroying the old. Marshall wasn’t like that, he searched for the life in things, but found it unsatisfactory in the end. He was always taking us down with him. demanding a group involvement in his pain, and he has done it again; and all in the course of living like crazy and kicking up, as John said, a lot of shit for twenty-five years old.

Was he serious about it or is this just SuperBurn? Will he show up in the cucumber patch next July, and will we say, “Marshall, you son of a bitch”? Or will this empty numb halfheartedness go on forever, and will we always be sailing the River Styx in our canoe, surveying the damage? Spring is right around the coroner.

From Bow Junction all the way to Plymouth, further north than Thoreau ever managed to get, we jumped from canoe to Volvo as sections of the river gave out underneath us, became too foul to navigate, turned into a bed of high, sharp rocks, and trickled weakly through dams and obstructions thrown up by cities like Concord and Manchester, the latter being, as one and all recognize, the worst city on the planet. We drove to Plymouth at last, determined to find some water worth paddling through, and believing that the Pemigewasset, which runs through that town and becomes the Merrimack just north of Manchester, would still be relatively unspoiled. But in the course of the afternoon’s rowing from there down to Ashland, we encountered more rapids alongside a sandbar which, when we sank into it, proved to be quicksand mixed with putrefaction impossible to describe. And we passed a yellow machine engaged in pushing trees into the water and despoiling the air with vast clouds of exhaust, so that even the atmosphere was no longer enjoyable and the sky invisible.

We also discovered that Route 93, which runs from Boston up through Lawrence and north, follows the course of the Merrimack exactly, so that no camping spot or island left on the river can be free from the vroom-vroom noises of hell-for-leather diesel trucks and all-night passenger cars tooling up and down the planet bringing people their Pall Malls and Kentucky Bourbon, DDT and mass-produced foam rubber parlor chairs, and a million other things. And these monsters unkindly refused to declare Moratorium since they are not people anyway and thus insensitive to the needs of the living and the demands of the dead. Peter left his car, though, at a place in Ashland or Bridgewater where two bridges crossed the Pemigewasset, one for the railroad and the other for traffic, and we found ourselves all together as night fell on a forest glen in which all the trees were marked with surveyor’s identifying paint, signifying that they were scheduled to be bulldozed in the near future. We made the last wood fire that place will know.

The stars were out despite everything, and I gave them my thorough uneducated scrutiny (I have never been able to find the Big Dipper, though I can immediately recognize the Northern Lights when they come around in March) as I thought and thought about the war. For the first time I could remember, I felt not the slightest indignity at being punished for an evil I did not create or support, “You get what you pay for,” as the fat Texans say. We lived off the destructive energy in Vietnam even though we were opposed to it, and now our efforts to find and encourage life are of doubtful promise at best. But we’re still alive and trying, and I suppose you are too. Do you suppose it is too late?

Shall we go out and rebuild this thing together? That was on my mind. Will we be able to start anew without nature, with only mankind, to support us? Dresden in ashes was yet potentially a prosperous center for the manufacture of Volkswagens; what will come out of an Atlantic Ocean which casts death and waste on the beaches as well as foam and salt? For lack of anything more overwhelming to tackle, I am willing to try to prevent it. At least most of the time. Do you have the strength to join?

Thursday: Ashland, N. H.

Breakfast was hearty and the coffee was strong, so this kid was raring once again to go, though by now with no illusions of having a pleasant or honestly working experience. He longed for his dog, Barf Barf, and thanked whatever stars put him in Vermont for the fact that Mr. B didn’t have to drink this water. He wondered what the point was in further subjecting his body and soul to such a diseased and hopeless piece of the earth, but pushed these reservations aside to climb into the stern for more of Buzzy’s dead-serious lessons in steering. He was not prepared to discover, a full mile from the camping place, that Peter Simon had lost his wallet somewhere among those doomed trees, with money, driver’s license, and BankAmericard; and to eat up a large part of the day in searching the banks for the exact spot in Ashland where we’d camped, and then finding the missing papers. God forbid that we should wander the rivers and forests of the planet without our papers in order! Why, friends of mine have been incarcerated for weeks simply for lacking the right papers while passing through Cheyenne, Wyoming. As much as we might philosophically contend that we are free creatures on God’s earth, we do not question when a brother says, “Turn around, bow-man, for my driver’s license and BankAmericard.”

Great confusion now ensued as we considered which way to go: north to the White Mountain National Forest, south to the Concord again, east to Portsmouth, west to Vermont? It hardly made any difference, we’d so badly botched up Thoreau’s itinerary by then, and so much of the original waters were now inaccessible to living creatures. The question was resolved by paddling back to where we had left Peter’s car so he could drive to Plymouth and watch the Mets win their Series. Somebody hit a homer and somebody else got hit by a pitch. I imagined our party in a Camel ad (we’d paddle a mile, etc.) and loudly said, “You other guys, start walkin’.” We fooled around in Bridgewater, Ashland, and Holderness until we found a small tributary which led us to a stand of virgin pine holding out majestically in full view of an abandoned homestead and a railroad trestle. Buzzy guessed that the pine was on too great a pitch to be of use to 1930 American lumbering equipment, but in this nuclear age, we knew, it would not long go on rising. I hugged one of the trees and could hardly stretch my arms around it.

With all the time lost in wallets and such, darkness seemed to fall inordinately early, but of course we were approaching the solstice with every day and might have expected as much. While I was in the cities, I lived by night and slept all day, for the streets of town were always more bearable under thin cover of gray; their lights made it easy to walk, and all the enclosed spaces were brightly lit with fraudulent sunshine, so I had the impression that I was alive. In the woods, though, nightfall is literally the end of the day. The degree to which you may perform outdoor chores depends on variables like the temperature, the moon, and the stars. You must make your hay while the sun shines. It terrifies me at times, so ill adjusted am I to progress, to think that these very terms (names for the planets and stars) are just about obsolete in the day-to-day language of working people in Manchester and Lowell, professional people in L.A. and Paris, even greenhouse farmers in Pennsylvania.

The waning hours of afternoon also brought rain; and, disgusted, we set out in the car for— somewhere. The conversation in the back seat was in the quiet tones you can imagine defeated football players using after the big game. Buzzy spoke of real rivers he had sailed, most of them outside the United States; and I protested mildly that Vermont was still OK, then wondered how long it would take for my words to be ready-to-eat. The general talk rested on the subject of expatriation, the hows and wheres of it, I mean. I imagined a family in Greenland taking in Verandah and me as “refugees from America”; it would not be an extraordinary scene in history. National boundaries mean nothing in the New Age, of course, and all we know of American history would make us anxious to leave, were the genuine natives not so thor oughly destroyed and the prospect of finding an untarnished culture and geography so dismal. Besides, our leaving would be the same as our staying, just the shifting of bodies from one spot to another on the checkerboard, and the land never noticing.

And that’s where the story ends, I suppose, with the land, though the trip ended in Dr. Gus Dodge’s house in Portsmouth, Peter getting injected with gamma globulin as protection against Merrimack Hepatitis. (As a Merrimack native, I am immune.) The land, at this writing, is alive and well, if soaked with rain. It stretches out as far as my eyes can see, forming exquisite perspectives on all sides and limited only by the open sky, which protects it. It generates new life at a furious pace, such that our main problem is keeping the forest from reclaiming itself; trees, saplings, grass, hay, vegetables, spices, flowers, and weeds crop up in riotous confusion, making oxygen and protein for deer, muskrats, coons, owls, porcupines, skunks, bobcats, snakes, goats, cows, horses, honeybees, rabbits, mice, cats, dogs, and people, and a million other fine fellows and gals great and small. “Live off the land,” our fathers said, and so we do. They didn’t tell us to live in groups, they preferred the lonely family circle, so we have rejected that part. They didn’t care enough about living off the rivers, oceans, and skies. We’ll burn no oil or gases in our houses, or in our cars. We’ll bury our organic waste as deep as we can. We’ll try to stay alive, for what else can we do? Friend, we are talking up the right trees. □

  1. Marshall Irving Bloom was the founder of the Amherst Lccture Series at Amherst College in Massachusetts, editor of the student newspaper there, one of the founders of theSouthern Courier newspaper in Alabama, leader of the London School of Economics student uprising in 1966, executive director of the United States Student Press Association, and founder of a farm-commune in Montague, Massachusetts. With Ray Mungo, be began Liberation News Service in Washington, D.C., in 1967. He took his own life on November 1, 1969, in Montague, Massachusetts.