This weekend, I’ll be taking my six year old backpacking. This means that sporadically this week, my four year has broken down, sobbing, “I’m big and strong too! I can backpack! I want to know what it feels like! I don’t…know…what…it feeeels like!”
To make up for this hole in his life, I tried to offer an outdoor diversion of a magnitude he can actually handle. We went kayaking on the Exeter River, putting in at the McDonnell Conservation Area in Exeter, which looks like a promising place to walk. Another day perhaps. Someone was fishing under the bridge, and we dodged her bobber as I began laboring against a respectable current. The river here runs between a hemlock-cinnamon fern woods on one bank and a trailer park on the other. We paddled past some bright, airy backyards where old ladies with little poopsie dogs sat on lawn chairs amid plastic flowers in plastic pots. There were also less sunny sections, where rusting trailers and trucks and ripped tarps were piled nearly to the water’s edge under a dank canopy of trees. The water is tea-colored and murky. There are snags of fallen trees submerged and half submerged everywhere. We had to negotiate several logjams where debris of every sort was snagged and pressed hard by the current. In such places, it began to seem possible that most of the soft thuds at the boat’s hull were logs, but that one might be a body.
Exeter is very commonly associated with the prep school in town, and outsiders tend to scoff at it as a rich, snobby place. There are lovely, quiet, tranquil stretches of the Exeter River where you might glimpse a stately old Colonial in the distance, to be sure. But if you want to see this town for what it is in its entirety, slink along the turbid river through its lesser visited stretches. You can get all the solitude and vistas you want any day; this is New Hampshire, after all. Once in a while, turn it over and look at its underside. It’s worth a morning’s paddle.