Grade Six Canoe Trip
Read about the exciting Grade Six Canoe trip, a letter written to the Grade Six parents by teacher Stuart Summer:
"I have told the outline of the Grade Six canoe trip (from Ashley Falls, MA to Kent, CT via the Housatonic River) many times since we returned on September 28, and I expect many of you have heard various tales, tall or not. I hope they were as positive as the children were on the trip!
That was the best part-- the children were uniformly upbeat, helpful and engaged. There were no conflicts and only minor splinters and a twisted ankle (from a long, beautiful jump in the sand) and an earwig in an ear. Another special part was the weather. On Wednesday and Thursday the fog hung low over the glassy water. We had about 100 yards of visibility sometimes, which brought mystery to every twist and turn! There was a quiet over the river that seeped into us. It sprinkled a little, but it was warm.
Wednesday afternoon, after the adults paddled all the boats through a rapid just barely too hard for the children, was a flat water paddle. Some children tired out, others seemed indefatigable and helped others. We matched some strong paddlers with more tired ones. We stopped for a snack at the riverside cottage of Dale McDonald. I had connected to her through the Farmscape Ecology Program, and she walked down to streamside with---fresh baked oatmeal cookies! With this pick-me-up, we paddled to Great Falls at 5:00 and made camp in a grove of pine trees by the river, just before dark. Roasted, biodynamic hotdogs on the fire were the best ever, as were the brownies after. All asleep by 9:30, and we were sad to send Josh home with his cold beginning to resurrect.
Our exciting Thursday started with a rapid wrapped in fog, with strange white poles hanging down into the water like an aquatic Art Omi. It was in fact a slalom race course like you might have seen this summer in the Olympics. Xiao and I ran it first, and then I jogged back up to tell the children the route. Truth told we hit some gates, but no rocks. It was an exciting beginning followed by a late morning snack near an idyllic summer cottage. The water picked up now, and there were many small rapids from here to Covered Bridge Rapid, the “big” rapid of the trip. We stopped above the rapid, toured the covered bridge, scouted the rapid from below and had an ice cream! We all knew the importance of avoiding the strainer on river left. After staying well right of it, the children guided their canoes down varied alleyways between the rocks. Again, they did very well. The next hour was rapid after rapid, carrying us quickly to our campground, where we arrived at 2:30. The water level had been perfect.
Thursday afternoon was idyllic. After chores of washing out the boats and turning them to drip dry, some of the children gathered wood and made a fire while others began a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Thursday evening challenged all of us with its downpour. We had not yet gotten the tarp up when it started. This turned out to be a blessing. Although we got wet, we also learned that the best campsite in the state park turned into a bathtub. The earth was too compacted from years of car camping to absorb the water. Jaime looked at me and said, “Let’s go to the woods.” We walked out of the camping area, down a slope towards the river and found a place between giant oaks. The forest floor there soaked up the water, there were no puddles and no rivelets, just a downpour! With much effort and ingenuity, Al, Jaimie, David and I got the tarp up. It looked like a cubist circus tent, but it worked. We now had a dry place to eat and sleep, we got on dry clothes, and eventually the cook stove—which had never failed before—got the water out of its joints and heated our soup. Again, the children were wonderful; they appreciated their soup, muffins and buns, and hummus, forgot about dessert (it would have been tough to start a fire for s’mores anyway), bedded down and were warm, cozy and asleep by 9:00.
The forecast of fair weather on Friday bolstered us, but as we stuffed sleeping bags and sorted gear, some children said, “Mr. Summer, WHERE’S the SUN!!!” I assured them that it was just fog and would burn off, and hoped I was right. As we broke our fast at the picnic table and around the campfire, the sun came through. Friday saw many small rapids, much sun, definite tiredness (which I am sure you saw that evening) and some uncertainty on my part of exactly where the takeout was. But it turned out to be where it was supposed to be, and we greeted Mr. Pewtherer’s zoom lens and strong arms enthusiastically (and 5 minutes early!). A last blessing and lunch with a hand squeezing game before, and we headed home!
I felt blessed to be able to take the children on this trip, and I felt especially grateful to so many people who made it possible. Thank you to all the cooks and food purchasers, the shoppers for equipment and the drivers, the lenders of canoes and to Al and Paul, our chaperones. Extra special thanks to Mike Pewtherer for making a canoe trailer road worthy and legal, and beyond thanks to our co-leaders/guides, Jaime Coulter and Lisa Damian, who, by helping make sure the children were fed, sheltered and led, helped make the trip relaxed for me. They make this look easy, but it is not (especially in a pouring rain). Finally, we should all thank the Housatonic for its beauty and all the life it nurtures."