Monthly Archives: June 2013

A River Runs Nowhere

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford —
For my birthday this past March my husband gave me a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP).  I’d been renting them the past few summers over in the Adirondacks, so I was thrilled to own one I could use here on the North Shore. SUPs are magical mini-islands, the perfect escape when terra firma grows tedious with snack requests, dinner needs and trips to Costco. 
I couldn’t wait to use mine . . . so I didn’t.
The weekend after my birthday, when the snow was mostly (but not totally) gone, and the marsh in our back yard was mostly (but not totally) unfrozen, I geared up in my Wellies and hip length winter coat and propelled myself out onto the water.  I had to break ice to get anywhere, so it was a short ride, but it was still wonderful.   Not a single frozen reed asked me for the iPad or to find its shoes. I couldn’t wait for summer.
This past Saturday I finally got my chance, and, since I drive along the Ipswich River 10,0000 times a day I decided it was ideal for my inaugural Tri-Town SUP outing.  I studied a river map full of cheerful symbols indicating landmarks, bird sanctuaries and bridges with comments that promised a well traveled, easy, river.  I decided to paddle the two mile stretch between Thunder Bridge on 62 in Middleton, and the Salem Road Bridge in Topsfield. 
My husband and daughters dropped me off at the Salem Road Bridge and watched me muck my way through the wet, grassy bank and take off.  I had a backpack with a bottle of water and my phone, safely ensconced in two zippy bags, just in case.   I waved at them and paddled away into serenity.
Right away my serenity was interrupted by water bushes, submerged logs and trees that cropped up with low hanging branches every few feet.  I paddled around bush after bush while scanning ahead for the break where, surely, the river cleared out.   Where was the map symbol for ‘extremely annoying spot on river’?  Further, where was the symbol for, ‘here there be spiders,’ because as I trawled through the watery jungle they skittered across my board, crawled up my legs and fell onto me from the tree branches.  That wasn’t normal, was it!?
How had I go from New England river to Louisiana bayou?  What on earth was going on?  Better yet, where on earth!?  After about twenty minutes of paddle-based, bush whackery, I pulled out my phone from its zipped layers and called my husband. 
“I can’t find the river.” I announced.
“What?” he said trying to make sense of my statement given he had left me  . . . on the river.
“I’m paddling through shrubbery.” I flicked a giant brown spider off my shoulder. “There is something really wrong with this river.”
We agreed that I’d return to the Salem bridge, if I could find it, and hung up.   I next flicked open my Google maps to sort out where I was in relationship to, well, just anywhere normal.

At last, clarity. 

It turned out, I was SUPing in a field, mayhap a meadow, somewhere in Topsfield. I know some of you hearty, outdoorsy, Regular Readers may be rolling your eyes at this point (to which I say:  this is print, roll as much as you’d like).  Obviously you know that sometimes after historic rainfalls (like the one we had the day before my paddling adventure) the river floods into nearby fields.  I, and about twenty million stranded spiders, did not know that.

Now I do.

When I finally made my way back to the launch bridge, and found the real river, it was, of course, lovely, fast and wide.  It was spider free, and full of happy people meandering along.  I waved and pretended I hadn’t just paddled through a cow pasture, and in return, they didn’t ask me for a snack.   I think I’m ready for summer!

Winning at Field Day

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford —
When I was a kid I didn’t play sports or even understand them. My athletic abilities were honed in the woods and fields and lakes of the outdoors. This paid off exactly one day a year when my rule-following, team-playing, uniform-wearing friends simply couldn’t keep up.  I refer, of course, to Field Day.
I won at Field Day . . . a lot.   And when I won, I got a ribbon that said first place, because that’s what happened when you won.  Field Day was made for children like me — it was a series of physical events not tied to a coach’s whimsy or the ability to know where some nebulous place called ‘off-sides’ was, but instead tied to a child’s innate ability to jump, throw and dash. 
I loved Field Day.  Let me clarify, I loved winning on Field Day.
So this year I volunteered for Field Day at our daughter’s school and was assigned to the Broad Jump.  In this event, students stood with their feet together and jumped as far as they could — perfect for the child who often leapt across streams or, here in the Tri-Towns, slushy, wet puddles.
As each child jumped, my event partner and I measured the length, called out their distance to be recorded and . . . filed it away until next year.  No winners.  No prizes. 
What was a former Field Day champion to do??
I know, I know, society frowns upon pushy parents at sporting events.  And I knew it wasn’t about who could jump the furthest, but whether they tried their best.  Yawn.   What I really knew was that a little competition would push them to jump further.   
I began to show the kids how far they had to jump to create a new record. I cheered, I waved my arms, I whooped and I encouraged them to jump like they’d never jumped before.
At one point two fourth grade boys were neck and neck.  The one would out-jump the other on each of their three turns. 
72 inches. 
73.5 inches. 
And  then . . . the final jump.
I placed my sneaker at the record holder’s mark. 
“You have to jump past my shoe to hold the new record.” I said in a firm voice.    
The class held its breath while the boy with the current long distance paced on the side.   The boy sprung up and . . . 
“74 inches!!” I hollered.
They kids went wild.  The children to whom God gave a pass on jumping skills weren’t crushed, they didn’t feel badly for themselves, they were genuinely thrilled to watch their classmate soar through the air.  The boy whose distance was beat, laughed and was a good sport and clearly planned to come back next year and tromp the record. 
I was proud of my jumpers, and it was with this attitude that I grabbed a fellow mom and entered us in the grown-up’s Three Legged Race. 
“Ok,” I said as I tied the white cord around our legs . . . “We’re winning this!”
We lined up with other moms and teachers.  And . . . we were off. 
The white cord immediately dug into my ankle and I gritted my teeth.  No pain, no three-legged race gain.  We were in total sync, we were tearing down the field, the finish line was in sight and then . . .  our rhythm failed.  I went down in three-legged tangle.  Down, but not out.  I clawed at the ground while my friend dragged me by the arm through the goose-poo strewn grass, and we crossed the line.
I might have fist pumped into the air screaming like I’d won Olympic Gold while my friend lifted me with her arms.  There might be photographic evidence of me going slightly crazy.  It’s possible that this is why parents and sports (let alone Field Day) are not a great mix. 
But I’ll leave that to the experts to sort out.  I’m already practicing for next year.