Monday, March 23, 2009

Ice Breaker

This PPH story about the U.S. Coast Guard deploying cutters to the Kennebec River for their annual ice-breaking duties reminded me of an account of the icy Kennebec from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812:
Hallowell folks remembered the openings and
closings of the river the way people in other towns remembered earthquakes or
droughts. In 1785, the year of the long winter, the ice was still firm
enough on April 22 to hold a sleigh bearing the body of Samuel Howard, one of
the original settlers of the town, to his burying place at Fort Western. Not
until May 3 did the first vessels arrive from "the westward," bringing corn and
pork to the straitened town. People both welcomed and feared the opening of
the river. In bad years ice jams made ponds of fields and rafts of fences,
backing up water in the mill creeks that cut through the steep banks on
both sides. In good years, the opening water sent mill hands through April
nights, ripping logs and securing lumber unlocked by the spring thaw. Sometimes
the greatest danger was not from the river itself, though high water might pitch
a man from a raft to his death before his fellows could reach him, but from the
raging creeks on the shore.
Full disclosure: I serve in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.

- John C.L. Morgan

Related: How Real Maine Men Sleep (February 5, 2009)
Related: Quote, Unquote: Robert P.T. Coffin (January 21, 2009)
Related: Quote, Unquote: Robert P.T. Coffin (December 3, 2009)
Related: On Maine Ice (February 28, 2008)

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