Penobscot River Song continued
Tiny drops of rain falling down the mountain side whispered as they went, "You are mighty, but you should see the ocean. Like you, it is grand and lovely and fearsome, but it has depths greater than your height."
"The ocean is, indeed, vast and is filled with creatures you can barely imagine," said the eels who came each spring to the lakes at the foot of the mountain. "The ocean is so deep that there are places where the seaweed cannot cling to rocks. Great mats of seaweed float free on the ocean surface. That is where we come from, a place called Sargasso Sea."
The mountain pondered this.
"Is it true, what the eels and the tiny raindrops say?" the mountain asked the black bears who hunted in the forests on the mountain flanks.
"We do not know," the bears replied. "We do not need to wander that far from your generous sides."
Is it true?" asked the mountain of the moose who fed on the roots of the water lilies floating on the silver ponds that mirrored the grand mountain.
"We do not know," said the moose. "We only have to go far enough away to hide from the blackflies that come out for a few weeks after the snow is gone."
"Is it true that the ocean is deeper than I am tall?" asked the blue mountain of the black-and-white loon who nested on the lakes which ring the mountain.
"Yes." said the loon. "The eels and the raindrops sing the truth. Every winter when the lakes freeze over, we loons fly south to open waters of the bay, where it meets the ocean. We dive deep under the salt waters just as we dive deep here with you. We have met whales and seals and lobsters and crabs. We have seen."
"How strange," said the mountain, being quite unfamiliar with such creatures. "If we have met before, it must have so long ago that the memory has faded. Perhaps I should follow the rain drops and go see for myself."
"Oh, no," complained the eagle shaking its handsome white head. "You would get quite lost. These rain drops are not to be trusted. Water is so lazy it is always perfectly happy to go any way that feels like down."
"That, too, is true," said the loon. "You know how many lakes and ponds and pools linger at your feet. Small rivers play around both your western shoulder and your eastern shoulder, while streams trickle down your lap."
The mountain said, "Yes, I see that the East Branch and the West Branch came from far off through the woods to the north. Water is as you say it is."
"So, you would lose your way," the eagle said, "because the river meanders, turning back and forth, singing so many songs, taking its time finding the way south to the sea."
That winter, when the snows began to fall and the loons and eagles had fled, the mountain had a grand idea. What if it snowed and snowed and snowed, until the snows piled miles deep? From the mountain's lofty peak to the flat expanse of sea would be a toboggan slide, vast and white and gleaming (if there had been anyone there to call it that, which there was not).
A mighty glacier did pile up, white and vast. And indeed it was miles deep. Looking out over the vast white sheet with its blue shadows, the mountain remembered the words of the eagle, "You'll get lost." So from its peak the mountain piled rock after rock, boulder after boulder, onto the grand toboggan.
"All along the way down to the ocean, these gray stones will mark the way of the great ice toboggan ride," murmured the mountain.
And so it happened, not in a single winter but over eons and eons of winters. Then, at last, came a great melt and great traffic up and down the river.
In the spring the sea sang to the river, "Let us send up to the mountain a message of young eels, clear like glass."
The river smiled and sang, "Yes, I will send them on as a chorus of elvers to go up the river and streams and spend the summer growing."
Year after year in fall, the river waved good bye to older eels returning to the Sargasso Sea to breed, and sent them on their way with a rainy song.
Atlantic salmon, alewife, sturgeon, shad, smelt, striped bass, and brook trout all came up from the sea each spring. Eventually ten kinds of fish mastered the trick of coming up from the ocean to spawn in the fresh water, and then sending their young back out to sea.
"Here they come," sang the mountain ponds to the streams.
"Here they come," sang the river to the bay.
"I'm sending you birds," sang Katahdin. "Great blue herons, bald eagles, merganser ducks even the kingfishers who make such a big noise for their size. They will all learn where to wait by the river to catch their dinners as fish come swimming by."
"Here come humans," then sang the mountain and the river and the sea to one another.
The people called the mountain Katahdin, and the river Penobscot. And these People, too, learned when and where to wait for the salmon to come upriver. With spears, and with clever sorts of traps they harvested the fishes, each in its time and place. And the People did not forget to sing their thanks to the waters and the mountain and the skies.
Over time, each of the large rivers tracing the land to the ocean began to sing of itself by its own name. And each of the groups of people who traveled along a river and made their home near its banks began to sing of themselves by that name as well. Among the Wabenaki who roamed from Katahdin to the sea, the People of the Land of the Dawn took the name of their river, and they called themselves Penobscot People. They sang of themselves as Penobscot Indian Nation.
The Penobscots loved to tell each other stories of how the world came to be the way it is, and how Gluskabe paddled their river in his stone canoe.
"Listen and look," sang the river. "If you look in the right place, you can always see Gluskabe's canoe waiting for him."
Katahdin saw it from a long way off. Penobscot River and Penobscot People saw it very close; they felt the change when new people came riding over the ocean to make their homes along the clear waters, under the clear skies. The color of the new ones' skin was different; their languages were different, and their ways were different.
"Watch out," sang the ocean to the tall pines along the river. "These French and English have come all the way across me, from Europe. They will cut you down to make masts for their sailing ships."
They fight with each other. The ones who sing in English wish to settle along this coast. The ones who sing in French are farther down-east, but they want this coast too."
The bay said, "I will be the boundary between them, where Penobscot River pours into the ocean."
But still the people quarreled and could not share. The English drove the French back and they moved the Penobscot People upriver, as far as the waters felt the tides.
"Have you seen that these Europeans are building a city where they anchor their sailing sloops?" sang the river to the mountain. "They call it Bangor. You will see. They are coming closer to you."
In their birch bark canoes, the Penobscots retreated to their island above the waterfalls at Bangor, to the island now called Indian Island, to the place called Orono. The Penobscot Nation people shook their heads at the dams the white men were building across the singing river.
"How," trilled the river, "are the fish going to get back to their breeding places in the shadow of Katahdin?"
"How, indeed?" chorused the mountain again and again, as the loggers felled the forests. The pools made by the dams helped gather many logs. At high water the men sent the logs downstream with a mighty rush. They sang their own songs and danced on the logs with hob-nailed boots as they drove the logs down-river. Other dams powered the waiting saw mills. Penobscot men were called to work the awesome log drives. Lumber barons grew very rich. The young city of Bangor bustled about its business. But everyone was so busy they could not hear the song of the mountain looking on from a distance, or hear the river as it passed by.
White men in search of the old songs went to the Great North Woods. They hired the Indians to guide them. These "sports", who came to fish, toured the waters in the birch canoes. They enjoyed the sweet murmurs of the streams, but they took too many fish from the waters. They were wasteful. The white men were also careless. They dammed the river again and again, and let the bark from all the logs pile deep and smothering on the river bottom.
Katahdin frowned, and the waters told frightening stories to the rocks.
The giant rocks each had their own names, as did the rapids, the pools, and the falls along the way. The first men had listened and called them all by name. But when the rocks and rapids stopped singing their names, when all along Penobscot River the great gray boulders stopped their singing, then the boulders cast long shadows on the river.
Kathadin wept. The river cried.
The new men had to make up other names, and they learned to read the scratches, the messages written on the rocks by the glacier as it rode down to the sea. But still, men scarcely knew the river. They did not understand its songs.
Under the water where you could not see, fewer and fewer fish swam up and down Penobscot River. Up on the surface, where things did not look as worrisome, the Penobscot Nation people still sent their men upriver to work in the woods as lumberjacks. They sent their women downriver to gather sweet grass at the shore for making fancy baskets to sell to the vacationers there. The Penobscot People did notice that the waters and their special mountain were not singing to each other. They did worry. And they too stopped singing.
In time the lumber mills were replaced by factories for making paper. Short pulp logs now rode to the mills in trucks. Harsh chemicals were thrown away into the waters. More dams were built to generate electricity. More trees were taken away from the forests. No harm was meant. But the river grew sick and people grew poorer. Hard times came to the river, to the people, and to the bay with the shared name, Penobscot.
"You should have been here yesterday," the rocks seemed to whisper to the passing waters.
As chemists in the paper mills learned to make paper in ways less poisonous, so too ecologists learned how to treat the forests. Others saw that the salmon and other fish which once had seemed as numerous as stars now needed help. Along the river banks - even up to Shad Pond on the West Branch - shadbush still bloomed to welcome spring, but not many shad were running. The list was long of the fish that were few. No, the river was not singing happy songs.
Without the laughing riffles of a clean and running river, the mayflies, stoneflies, and many other insects could not survive. And without them, what would feed the fish which fed the otters and fed the birds who all had helped to sing the river to the sea?
"You should have been here yesterday," the waters murmured.
More hikers came to climb Katahdin. They saw how lovely its waters were. More canoes - and kayaks too - floated on the river, and the paddlers heard the warning song. More fishermen, more birders, more vacationers, more homemakers and more cottagers came.
The people not only heard the warning from the waters, they heard each other. "We can let the forests grow on the mountain. We can join together and clean up the river. We could take away the dams which strangle our lovely river's song," people said to one another. And they began to do just that.
Out on the broad ocean, the clouds still gather to return the raindrops to the mountain. Down the mountainsides the waters still make their ways back to the sea. The trickles and rills and streams still join to make a lovely river. And under the silver surface of this water, every spring now run a thousand silvery salmon, making their way back upstream to join the shaggy brown moose and glossy black bear at the foot of Mount Katahdin.
The black-and-white loons and several kinds of ducks still make their annual winter-summer trips up and down the river from the blue shadows of the mountain to the green deeps of the bay. There are more eagles now than the river knew a few years back. Many more kinds of people today watch the birds from the leafy river banks. Many more kinds of people come to the river to hear its song.
Lines of gray boulders point the way from the ocean back to the mountain. You can see them still in the blueberry fields. The peak of Mount Katahdin may be somewhat more humble these days than once it was, back before the Age of the Grand Ice Toboggan, but the mountain stands alone and proud, smiling toward the sea.
"You should see us tomorrow," the waters of the River sing happily on their way from the mountain to the sea.
Gluskabe's River Song
All the night long
as the storm tracks by,
the southerly winds from out at sea
push the ocean back into the bay.
paddling by in his stone canoe.
With shouts and smacks he urges
the Penobscot back, back by waves,
past the Eggemoggin Reach, back beyond the quiet
Bagaduce, rippling up to Indian Island, Orono, and on
threading through Maine Woods,
till pure and clear
the river reaches
for yet another schussing
run downriver through the town and mills,
back to the singing sea.