The North River at Cornell Lane in Marshfield.

It was a quiet and essentially unremarkable day on the North River — I could get away with saying nothing at all about it. And yet, as river trips go, it was perfect.

“Perfect” is not a word I use casually when describing the North River, which ranks among my Top Three favorite places. Even though I’ve been going out on the river for more than ten years now, I can count on one hand the days I would even consider to be perfect. This was one of them.

On the first day of Fall, I led a small group of family and friends on a paddling trip from Marshfield’s Union Street Bridge to Brick Kiln Lane in Pembroke. The eight of us, some veterans, some novices, filled two canoes and two kayaks, and spent the afternoon riding the tide upstream.

What makes a day on the river perfect? So many things. First of all, you have to have the tides right: only the most adventuresome travelers prefer paddling against the current.

That’s easy enough to plan (once you have some understanding of river tides), but then you must consider the wind. The wind is always a wild card. A refreshing Autumn breeze isn’t so refreshing when you’re steering your boat straight into it. Better to go when the wind is at your back, as it was for us, once we rounded the first bend. Clear skies or a few scattered and non-threatening clouds will add nicely to the scene.

For me, the next element is the company I keep. No one likes extra weight in the boat, and a companion with a wet blanket attitude is perhaps the worst of all cargo. On this particular day, I was with my parents, my Aunt and Uncle, and some friends — including a ten and twelve year old — most of whom had never been on the river before. Despite some technical difficulties (we forgot one set of paddles) and trepidation (my Uncle had never been in a kayak before), everyone was enthusiastic about spending a few hours on the river (although we did have to keep checking the radio for updates on the Patriots’ game). We all enjoyed ourselves, and better yet — stayed afloat.

Equally important for a good river trip is the disposition of other boaters. I’ve seen more than a few paddling trips turn sour in the presence of power boat operators who, when passing a non-motorized craft, don’t have the courtesy to slow down to something at least approaching the No Wake speed limit. But this day was different. Although we encountered several motor boats over the course of the afternoon, upon seeing us, every single one of them cut their speed as they passed, waving in response to our appreciative smiles.

The courtesy of fellow river rats was especially gratifying, because it spared us the trouble of having to run home to retrieve our forgotten (my fault) set of paddles. Two canoeists, just finishing their river trip as we arrived, graciously loaned us their set.

One mustn’t forget the food. Some would say this is insignificant or even unnecessary, but I can’t imagine a river trip without at least a small snack. Given the combined capacity of our four boats, we were able to pack a simple yet satisfying picnic lunch. No matter what it may be (except perhaps mayonnaise on a 90-degree day), food always tastes better on the river.

Add to this some sense of order and ease in transporting the boats to and from the river. If no one gets injured and the boats don’t fall off the car in the middle of the highway, I chalk the day up as a success. It’s even better when the canoes and kayaks are secured so well to their racks that you don’t even have to worry about them.

My companions and I spent the better part of the afternoon on the river. It was a crisp, sunny day, and we saw, among other things, a great blue heron. The marsh, still retaining some of its green, had begun to turn gold, and the leaves on the trees were starting to change color. As I said before, it was perfect. We’re planning to go again this weekend.

Just the other day, someone said to me, “After all this time, I finally got out on the North River.” She’s lived in the area for at least twenty years, and yet she’d never really seen the river up close — only from the road.

She said to me, “You write about the North River all the time, and I always hear people talk about it. I finally got to see it for myself. I’m definitely going back.” She was impressed. Nearly everyone is.

Now is a great time to get out on the river. Any local stream will do: the North, South, Jones, Indian Head, Green Harbor . . . Foliage is nearing its peak, and the colors out there are amazing. Why not skip the long-distance leaf-peeping trip this year and view the foliage from the water? Imagine red, copper, green and gold reflected on the shining surface of a river as you paddle your boat downstream. I think you’ll like what you see.

by Kezia Bacon, Special to the Mariner
October 1997

Kezia Bacon serves on the Board of Directors of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association