A few years ago, my buddy (whom I refer to as Minsc) and I undertook to explore the countless waterways in Rhode Island and Connecticut in a canoe. I have kept a journal of our excursions, and will occasionally post some of the highlights from it.

We entered the Pawcatuck River near another abandoned mill, and discovered that it had been built over a quiet inlet, so we paddled beneath the collapsing building to investigate. This had once been a magnificent structure, solidly built with huge oaken beams on a massive granite foundation. The stonework itself excited our admiration, and the building atop it had apparently been of similar craftsmanship. The first floor stood some 12 or 15 feet above our heads, and trap doors were visible where the mill workers had once moved goods to and from river barges. The upper portions of the mill have long since collapsed inward, so we demonstrated a rare element of common sense and did not investigate more intimately.

But beautiful stonework became a theme on this trip. We encountered everywhere examples of the stone masonry for which this area was once renowned. Bridges, foundations, walks all along the river bear testimony to the lasting beauty of man’s best efforts. Anything built prior to the latter 20th century had a foundation of native granite, carefully fitted together like a perfect puzzle. Much of what we examined did not even use mortar, the stones being fit together so precisely that it was unnecessary.

We were busily admiring the engineering and masonry of a sluice, a sort of manmade bypass to one side of the river which once concentrated water pressure for a mill, when our attention was brought back forcibly to the fact that we were in a canoe rather than a tour bus. The river runs quite fast through these little channels, and we began to notice that the lovely stone masonry was becoming blurred as we whisked past it at increasing speed.

I became exhilarated with the speed, in fact, and let out a whoop — “Woo hoo!” — whereupon we slammed into a rock. We instantly came to a stop, so sudden and so absolute that I was thrown straight forward over the bow, turning a complete somersault and landing on my feet facing back the way we’d come. I found myself standing inexplicably in waist-deep water, staring dumbfounded at Minsc, holding my paddle above my head like a soldier’s rifle, trying to comprehend how I’d come to be outside looking in.

The water was actually quite warm, and it might have been a pleasant experience after paddling up a sweat had we not recently paddled past two dead cows floating in the same water. An odd smell in the air, coupled with the brown water cascading around me — and the two bovines not far upstream — gave me the needed impetus to scramble quickly aboard again.

Minsc had mentioned seeing dead cows on a previous river trip years earlier, and I had secretly hoped that we’d find one. Be careful what you wish for.

The first one had come upon us unexpectedly (how else could a floating dead cow come upon a person? I mean, is this something anyone would expect?) — it came upon us like a hippo floating just below the surface. This image is actually quite accurate; when I first saw something floating along, I instinctively thought it was a hippo. Not that we see many hippos in this part of New England; I said it was an instinctive reaction, not an intelligent one.

The deceased cow was floating along, more or less on its side, completely underwater except for a small portion of the head. What made it even more disconcerting was that it was floating quietly along like an old log, and we’d very nearly bumped into it before we realized what it actually was. The fragrance and cloud of flies satisfied my curiosity regarding dead cows, and I was content to move along — quickly.

However, having wished to see a dead cow, the fates were overzealous to comply. A few minutes later, I did a double-take as I gazed ahead of us.

“What the heck,” I mumbled, straining my eyes to make sense of what they were seeing. “What is that — a table?” I was pointing at a large black object floating ahead of us with four legs pointing straight up. But it was not a table.

I think I can be forgiven for the mistake, however. The dead creature was very bloated, swollen to at least double its normal size, and its legs were as stiff and straight as those of a wooden table. But what made the sight particularly disturbing was that it shimmered. Even when I recognized it for a dead cow, I was not completely convinced that it was dead, for something about it seemed to be moving.

It was covered with a sort of second skin, it turned out, a complete blanket — of flies. Nasty, blue, iridescent, biting flies, themselves bloated with their unspeakable diet. Bloated, but not satiated we discovered. As we pulled past, Minsc thought it would be a wonderful prank to splash the flies with water — whereupon we were instantly engulfed in a living, buzzing cloud of ravenous insects, eager to supplement the beef course with some fresh human.

I couldn’t help making a mental connection, as we continued on our course, between the dead cows and Minsc’s experiments with the operations of the old dam upstream. I hoped we had remembered to wipe off fingerprints.



  2 Responses to “Adventures with Minsc and Boo, Part 2”

  1. did one of the cows perhaps use the wheelchair?

    • hmmm… hadn’t considered that possibility. Or maybe we should be glad that the only floaters we found were cows.

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