Ashuelot River, Keene, NH

The Ashuelot River, like any river, has two sides. You can access the east side of the Ashuelot River by parking in the lot for Blockbuster Video on West Street, where you’ll find the river tumbling over a dam right behind the long-out-of-business Taco Bell. There is a landscaped park on this side of the river which culminates in a smooth gravelled fitness path. This path enters the woods and skirts the river all the way to Route 9 on the edge of town, where it crosses the river on a walkway and then snakes under the road toward Wheelock Park, where it ends.

If you cross the bridge from the landscaped park, though, you’ll find yourself on paths that are unimproved and multiple. These typically muddy footpaths wend their way along the river but also venture into the weedy fields under the electrical pylons: at any moment, you can look up and see the backside of any of a number of West Street businesses. This side of the river isn’t untamed–it is, quite literally, a wasteland choked with litter, criss-crossed with electrical lines, and droning with traffic noise. This western side of the river, though, always feels wilder than the eastern side: the people who walk here are purposefully shunning the joggers, dog-walkers, and other weekend recreationalists to crowd the other, more park-like side.

This morning Reggie and I walked early, around 6:30 am, on this western wild side. Civilized folks were still in bed, it being too early for either church or Mother’s Day brunches. Reggie and I had the muddy woods to ourselves: in the parking lot, we saw one of the homeless guys who lives in the woods making his rumpled way into town, and just across the bridge was a slightly more respectable-looking fellow who was eating a fast-food breakfast out of a bag. By the time Reggie and I had snaked through the woods and walked out under the electrical pylons, this same fellow was walking the tractor-gutted path toward us, toward the woods, where we eventually lost him: if he intended to follow us for nefarious purposes, he should have walked faster.

Ashuelot River, Keene, NH

Although I’m a mud-loving wild-child, I always end up calling Reggie back from his explorations of the western wild side. Today after crossing one tannin-rich rivulet and ending up in a muddy confluence of woodsy trails and streams, I ultimately turned back at the edge of a 4-foot wide dark black stream. Although Reggie forged ahead through the mire, and although someone had made a feeble attempt to span the stream with a sparse pile of saplings and boards, crossing the tributary would have meant wading, and the morning was cold. So I called Reggie back and we returned, but not before we’d both muddied our feet and stumbled upon not one but two different cardboard lean-to’s, the erstwhile resting place of that homeless fellow and his friends. It seems there are more than a few of us who like to walk on the wild side.