The canoe launch at Brick Kiln Lane in Pembroke, on the North River.

A high school friend of mine who now lives in Los Angeles was visiting on Labor Day weekend. We had planned to go swimming in either the North or South River, but the weather just wasn’t warm enough. So instead, my friend suggested a canoe trip.

At first I was reluctant. I used to canoe and kayak on the river all the time, but in recent years, I’ve gotten out of the habit. It’s a lot of work — determining a route that will work with the tides on a given day, figuring out how to secure the boat to the roof of my car, hoping that the wind is in our favor, not to mention all that paddling!

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s Labor Day weekend, so there will be a lot of motor boat traffic – that could make for a stressful trip. And who knows if the tides will even be right.”

I was thinking I could find a way to talk her out of it, perhaps come up with another suggestion.

The next morning, I was out doing errands. It was a perfect September day, not too hot, not too cool. Driving over the North River Bridge on Route 3, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the river looked. Of course we had to go canoeing!

We already had plans to meet another friend for lunch and a visit. Assuming that we wouldn’t be able to get out on the water until at least 4 p.m., we’d only have a few hours before sunset. Luckily the tides were in our favor. We’d be able to launch from Brick Kiln Lane in Pembroke and paddle an hour or so downstream and then turn back. The tide would be slack at that point, so if the wind was right, we could expect a fairly easy return to Pembroke.

It took us longer than we expected to get the canoe secured to the roof of my car. The clasps on the ties had become corroded from too much exposure to salt water and not enough regular use. But eventually we figured it out. We packed life jackets, paddles, drinking water, and warm clothes, and were on our way.

It was 5 p.m. before we launched the canoe. The tide was still coming in, but barely – it was easy to paddle against. On certain bends of the river, the wind was stronger than we would have liked, but in other places there was no wind at all. The sun was still quite warm, so even though it hadn’t gotten above 75 degrees that day, we were comfortable in our shorts and t-shirts.

I had been expecting heavy river traffic, but on our way downstream, we only encountered two motor boats and a pontoon boat, all of which slowed down considerately when they passed us. A lone kayaker paddled past us, headed upstream and smiling. The river was serene. Other than our conversation and our paddles in the water, the only sounds were the reeds clacking in the wind and the distant hum of traffic.

I kept saying to my friend “This was such a good idea. I’m so glad you thought of it.”

Two hours paddling a canoe gave us plenty of time to chat and catch up. We passed under Route 3, then stopped for a break at a friend’s dock just past Two Mile Reservation.

The sun was beginning to set as we turned back toward Pembroke. A large flock of blackbirds flew over the marsh, separated into several different groups, and then – completely in sync — landed on top of the marsh grass. Then all at once, they took off again, in a different formation. They didn’t go far, but instead began to hunt. When it occurred to us that they must be looking for bugs to eat, we realized we hadn’t encountered a single mosquito.

My arms and shoulders, unaccustomed to so much paddling, were growing tired as we neared the take-out at Brick Kiln Lane. But it was a good kind of tired, the kind that comes with the satisfaction of having done something worthwhile.

I hope I can get back out on the river in my canoe before another five years pass.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
September 2004

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.