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Testing the Waters

Four days on New England's idyllic waterways. Is it enough to win a father's blessing for his daughter's new life?

“I have nothing against girls,” Dad allows as he settles into the bow and we push off onto the 30-foot wide, mushroom-brown Magalloway. I take my place in the stern, and my seven-month-old standard poodle puppy, Ptarmigan, is in the middle, straddling a dry sack on his gangly legs. It took us all of 20 minutes to leave the outfitter’s in Errol, drop off my van at the Errol Dam, and get a shuttle to our put-in; now we have 6 miles to our first camp.

Our route starts by following the Magalloway’s course as it tucks back onto itself, lazily dipping between Maine and New Hampshire. Around us, steep dirt banks give way to a dense red spruce and Belgian fir forest. A flock of Canada geese clusters in the shade around the second bend, strung together next to the riverbank with their heads peeking out like Christmas bulbs. We see an otter and a belted kingfisher, and almost capsize twice, from Dad spiraling his whole torso toward the stern to talk to me. We’re the only ones on the river—which is good because no one sees us zag along, trying to find our rhythm as Dad rudders in the bow.

We finally spot our camp—Diamond Peak—by a half- submerged wooden dock. We’re the only party, and we survey the dozen sites before settling on the one closest to the water, out in a slight bend in the river so we catch the breeze. We unload and set up our tent by 6 p.m., and by 6:20 it’s clear I didn’t pack enough wine and cheese to give us adequate rations of either. We decide to salute our first night in full style anyway. Dad holds forth his plastic cup and offers a toast: “To us, to a great trip, to the poodle, and to the mosquitoes staying asleep.”

I raise my cup to meet his. “And to New Hampshire.”

My dad cocks his head. “Possibly. But aren’t we sleeping in Maine?” I roll my eyes, and concede the point. Our glasses make a thunk as they touch.

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