A detour through the woods


Being a daily newspaper reporter means, to me, that you’ve always got to be ready for the unexpected, because, almost always, it happens.

Like heading into work to cover a meeting, but ending up chasing breaking news about forest fires, accidents and crime.

But on Thursday, I’d long anticipated a leisurely float down the Androscoggin River, writing about the experience of seeing people stocking 1,700 brown trout from floating inner tube pens attached to drift boats, rafts and canoes.

Eight-year-old Justin Freda of Leeds expected the same thing. Neither of us was ready for the unexpected, but, we both learned something from it and each other.

I was to catch a ride with a boater, Freda was to ride down the river in his grandfather Rocky Freda’s boat.

Things began to go wrong from there.

There was no room for us in the boats, but, we were told to be at the Peabody Brook confluence with the Androscoggin. That meant a mile drive with Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce member Wende Gray, who helped organize the event.

The three of us then had to hike across a field, through puckerbrush and woods to reach the designated meeting spot, where, we were told, some media members would be exiting the boats.

There were no waiting boats.

They’d all gone downriver, but Rocky Freda yelled to us to head down there. Gray headed back to the car to try and catch up and stop the boaters, while Justin and I wended our way through the woods toward the second stop.

I’ve known his grandfather for several years, so it didn’t seem odd to be suddenly alone with his grandson, who wore his zipped-up yellow life jacket over a jacket for a mile before taking it off.

I kept Justin focused on the walk, pointing out nature things. He revealed his knowledge about animal tracks, showing me where moose and deer had walked along the river like we were doing.

He said his grandmother takes him for walks in the woods of Leeds, teaching him about nature.

Justin also shared some knowledge about pine needles that may or may not have been correct. I’m no tree expert.

We then came across a large vernal pool, in which, I pointed out, were several wood frogs, merrily quacking away like ducks. But, we were bummed not to find any salamanders, frequent vernal visitors.

Long story short, we never caught up to the boaters, who cruised obliviously downriver.

Disappointed, we headed out, stopping only at a small pool where I pointed out clusters of frog eggs to Justin and Gray, who had caught up to us.

Later, while at work and talking to Rocky Freda on the phone, he thanked me for staying with his grandson, who talked about things he had learned from me and stuff we saw.

For me, it was great to be a kid again, experiencing nature from a child’s point of view. But, boy, my feet sure are sore.