(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange loves northern New England, but he likes to get away from time to time, too.
(LANGE) It’s just a photograph of a man in a beached canoe with some islands in the background. Very colorful: red canoe with a yellow spray cover, the man in a red shirt with an orange life jacket. Behind him, sea and sky both gunmetal gray, and a far-off rocky shore, black as coal. Pictures should tell a story. This one does not appear to. Except, perhaps, for someone who was there.
A topographic map lies on the map table in my office. No towns on it at all, and no way of knowing where it is without noting the latitude and longitude. A river flows across the map. The only name on the map is printed beside it. “Hayes River,” it says. At one point, it narrows, and a few contour lines crowd in beside it. Small black bars indicate rapids. Nothing significant about that spot. Except, perhaps, for someone who was there.
When I step into my office, there’s that photograph on the wall. My canoe partner took it. He set his camera on “panorama” and later printed the result two feet long and a foot high. We had just completed a long salt-water crossing and were safe again, cruising the coast looking for fresh water and a campsite. The shore follows a dramatic geologic fault. Caribou cross the ice in early spring to calve here. For centuries, the Inuit intercepted them with kayaks and spears. One of the islands has a plaque commemorating two Americans who were speared to death by natives. An investigating Mountie declared it justifiable homicide. And there’s a lot more in that one picture, which nobody will ever appreciate as much as as will those of us who’ve been there.
The Hayes River on the map, far from the site of the photograph, got its name in 1879 when an American party, searching for traces of the lost Franklin Expedition, stumbled across it and named it for their pres- ident. Those little bars across the river show where another friend and I suddenly found ourselves in a heavy rapid that gave us an unforget- table ice-water swim.
“Get an education,” our parents told us. “That’s something you can’t lose.” They didn’t mention travel, which, in their time, was for the wealthy. It’s not anymore and, like education, trips you’ve taken, the places you’ve been, are things you’ll always possess. Travel is a perfect circle of anticipation, experience and reminiscence.
While traveling, I don’t write in complete sentences. There’s too much going on. Sentence fragments will do. One photograph, like the one on the wall, can evoke weeks of rapids, huge fish and friends huddling together out of the wind for warmth. And the map – I’ll never see it without remembering that swim. A wonderful experience because we both survived; but he’s never gotten into a canoe with me again since that trip.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, back at work, but dreaming of traveling.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.