It is as if there are two Connecticut Rivers.
There is the beautiful Connecticut, picturesque, spanned by covered bridges, framed by mountains, rich with cultural history, with large and luxuriant marshes at its mouth.
There is, too, the Connecticut that is choked by 17 dams, still fouled at times by poorly treated sewage, its forested banks increasingly pocked with commercial and residential development.
Call it the contradiction of the Connecticut. Two new books illustrate this dichotomy nicely.”Two Coots in a Canoe: An Unusual Story of Friendship,” by David E. Morine, (Glove Pequot Press, $22.95) is a sprightly and revealing account of a canoe trip Morine and his old college buddy, Ramsay Peard, took on the Connecticut in 2003 when they were 59 and 61 respectively.
“The Connecticut River: A Photographic Journey Through the Heart of New England,” (Wesleyan University Press, $35.00) is a visual tour of the river in 136 full-page color photos taken by Al Braden.
The Braden book is for the most part a celebration of the river, one that mostly gives us the scenic Connecticut, the one we all cherish. It does not, however, ignore the other Connecticut – Braden’s captions address thermal and sewage pollution head on, and an afterward by Chelsea Reiff Gwyther, executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, an environmental group devoted to the protection of the Connecticut, is a plea to address the problems facing the river.
Having said that, if you want the Connecticut in all its sparkling glory, grab the Braden book. You’ll understand why people like Peard and Morine wanted to paddle the whole river. Whatever the issues, much of the Connecticut is still easy on the eyes.
Two Coots gets to the nitty-gritty of the Connecticut in an account that is at times funny, at times angry, at times poignant. When Peard called Morine and suggested they canoe the Connecticut, Morine agreed with one condition. No camping. They would rely on strangers along the river to welcome them into their homes. They would mooch their way down the river.
They pulled it off. The Watershed Council put out a news release and e-mailed its membership. Morine and Peard were inundated with offers of lodging for a night. Those nights with strangers along the 410-mile length of the Connecticut are literal and figurative windows into life along the river, and enrich Morine’s book.
For two decades Morine was the head of land acquistion for The Nature Conservancy, and he well knows the harm that dams do. “There are seventeen dams on the Connecticut River. All the dams are degrading, but the one at Holyoke is the worst by far: dirty and disgusting, like a ball of hair clogging up a drain.”
As for the marginal water quality in some sections of the Connecticut and many other American rivers, Morine says: “One of the great fears of Homeland Security is that terrorists will contaminate our water supply. If clean, potable water is so important to our homeland security, why aren’t we aggressively cleaning up our rivers?”
But Two Coots is no jeremiad. It is an honest, enjoyable, playful and ultimately insightful account of their trip, one in which the highs and lows of each day – and a long river trip will have many highs and lows – leave us with a real feel for the river – both rivers.