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Over the Rivers

A trip back from Boston the other day, and then a talk we heard on the Native American “highways” of Maine, reminded us of our rivers again. We focus so much on the Atlantic, here on the Mid-coast, and on the “oceanside memories made in Maine” at Spruce Point(where we greet the dawn over the ocean every day), the great rivers of the lands Down Eastcan get overlooked.

Until you’re driving north to get here.

Then, like so many of our summer visitors crossing the Piscataqua from New Hampshire to Maine, that highway sign that says “The Way Life Should Be” seems a special greeting. By the time we get to the Mousam River and Cat Mousam Road in Kennebunk, we’re among the spruces, on the right road home.

To drive north to Boothbay is to time travel through the history of Maine. The great sweep of Penobscot Bay, the Androscoggin in Brunswick, the Sagadehoc (where the Popham settlement was made in 1607), and the broad depths of the Kennebec and the Bath Shipyard off to starboard — their names alone remind us of the Wabanaki, “people of the first light.” (In the movie, they hid the “Red October” in the Kennebec after needing the Laurentian Abyss Trench to hide her from the Russian fleet.)

Now, around Thanksgiving, we can think about the actual holiday feast and know that the Wampanoag were accidental guests (who went out for deer when they realized the gunshots were celebration, not the Pilgrims needing help). We can think of the Plimouth trading station up in Cushnoc (now Augusta) and the Penobscot, Mailseet, Passamaquoddy and Micmac who traveled the rivers the way we choose 295 or Coastal Route 1. We might guess at what life in these woods was like for the two 17th century homesteads of Boothbay settlers.

As author Kerry Hardy in his “Notes on a Lost Flute” suggests, to find the First Nations in the early history of the place we call Maine for a Thanksgiving salute just match the place names to their Abenaki meanings. Seguin, “horseshoe crab” – the island, in profile. Damariscotta, “place of many alewives”. Monhegan/Manihigan, “Micmac for THE island”.

Or travel “over the rivers and through the woods” to Maine. Happy Thanksgiving!