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June 25

Through Howland to Passadumkeag

From roosting with the eagles to laying about with the bums


  I woke early to a pink sunrise behind the tall pines. I heard the cries of a raptor in one of the trees, then watched as a bald eagle flew out of it. Quite an honor to "roost with the eagles". Eagles were everywhere on this stretch, probably saw a dozen as they dropped out of riverside trees and flew off downstream, then circling around.

The pink sunrise was a harbinger of the dreaded weather, the nasty, heavy, south headwind. We paddled valiantly as it built throughout the day, but it got just plain ridiculous eight miles above Howland. Digging in for all I was worth, I watched the little whirlpools spin off my paddle, each one advancing the canoe about a foot. I knew there was scant profit in that.

I spied a sidestream on the right, with a bridge over it. The sidestream was out of the wind. I pulled in and Jumbo followed, close behind. I didn't need a crystal ball to see he was ready to kill me if I didn't stop. We decided to do yet another "headwind portage", like we did in Masardis, only this time it would be eight miles, not three.

We ran the gear up to the road, turning to see a "No Trespassing" sign posted by the road. We chose to ignore that and continued running gear up, in preparation for a long walk. As I dropped the second load, along came a Ram-van with a ladder rack on the roof. With a grin, I stuck my thumb out. Damned if the guy didn't stop and agree to take us and all our gear to Howland.

Dennis was a short, dark-haired solid guy with tattoos of grim reapers and stuff all over his arms. He wore little mirrored shades. He obviously worked hard at his landscaping business, and would be a formidable opponent in a barroom brawl. But his manner was mild and he loved to talk about fishing. By his knowledge of the area, he must have grown up in Howland. All the landmarks were fishing landmarks to him. He took us to a good fishing hole behind the American Legion, where we could put back in below the dam.

Howland, Maine: A place not to visit.

We left all our gear strewn around the way it came out of the van and headed for the local store. It was windier than ever so we added a sixpack to the shopping list. We also tried to stock up on some traveling food. The best cheese they had was orange American. We went back to the river, an access we never would have found without the help of Dennis, and hunkered down on the log-strewn sandy beach to outwait the wind.

I noticed that as we traveled down the Penobscot, there was a gradual but definite transition from sporting camps and clear water to failed industry and floating garbage. The inhabitants seem to get their cues from the river and become all the more derelict. The kids of Howland, already bored with summer vacation, migrated through, chucking rocks and picking through the flotsam. First to visit us was four boys, ten or twelve years old. After quietly sitting on a log twenty feet off, one finally asked us what we were doing. When I told him, he was dumfounded and asked "Why?" as if it were the stupidest thing in the world to do. I had to wonder how it compared to the exciting life of milling around Howland.

Soon after, another ten year old boy silently drifted up behind us and quietly perched on a log. Josh wore khaki and camo, with a big knife strapped to his thigh and carried a pellet gun. "I just shot another kid in the arm and the neck by accident." Was his first words to us. He also explained that the first group of kids thought we must be gay and wanted to shoot our gear full of holes, but Josh wouldn't let them. We thanked him for his restraint. Soon, a group of girls showed up and told Josh he better go home, he was in trouble for shooting that kid. No shit.

Next in the procession was Henry and Noel. These guys were about fifteen or sixteen years. Noel worked for his dad in the roofing business. He hated it but figured he'd work up to running it one day. They both sported the little sunglasses that were all the rage ever since Medway. Henry's were small, blue and octagonal, and went nicely with blond-tipped and greased down hair. He was multiply pierced, had the huge shorts that started half way down his boxers and ended just above the ankles.

Henry went camping once but got "unjustly accused" of selling fireworks to the other kids at the campground. Then he got in more trouble because they tied him to a chair and he cut himself loose with a pocketknife. Poor kid. Just when I was starting to feel sorry for him, he offered me a pack of firecrackers.

To round out the experience, Noel pulled out his new dope pipe he bought in Bangor. "Yes, that's a beauty." I told him and handed it back. From where I sat, I could see the Route 6 bridge over the river. I looked up and said "Is that a cop car?" They confirmed it was and suddenly stood up, getting antsy.

Jumbo's years of experience working in the human services was putting his hairs on end and he finally said "Let's get the Hell outta here." And we did, in spite of the unabated wind. These guys had clued us in about a diner across the river so we headed for that and had dinner. Still, after that, the wind continued to howl into our faces. We strenuously put Howland behind us.

No way were we going to make it to Cummings Island. It was amazing we had come this far in the screaming face of old man headwind. About eight o'clock, exhausted, we pulled ashore just below the mouth of the Passadumkeag River. We carved a small campsite out of the thick woods and slept.