Finding my London-by the-creek
To a State-o'-Mainer brought up to believe in ham-and-eggs, home-fries, cream-tartar biscuits, and blueberry pie, the watercress sandwich appeals only slightly, and is frivolous to boot. I have experienced the watercress sandwich twice; first at the Dorchester in London. In Paris one visits the Louvre, I was told, and in London one goes to the Dorchester for watercress sandwiches. Some day I may return to Paris because of the Louvre. But I have found a better place for watercress sandwiches, and have no plans to revisit London. Come, and we will all the pleasure prove. . . .
Kennebago Lake, far up in the corner of Maine, a smuggler's step from Quebec, is about as good trout water as we have left. For many years the brooks and streams that flow into the lake have been closed to fishing. The idea is that these brooks are nurseries for fingerling trout, and after a happy youth the little darlings move down into the bright lake to entertain the anglers, so Kennebago remains about as fine trout water as we have.
It is even so, and I like to work down the shore from Blanchard Cove to Pyramid Rock and prove the pleasure. I am an equal opportunity angler, but I always pay extra attention to the gurgle where Wilbur Brook comes into the lake. If I approach carefully and adroitly lay my professor on the third circle of that gurgle, my breakfast will run about a foot long, and I have always been partial to Wilbur Brook. It was out of pure curiosity that I forewent my angling one lovely day, left my rod with the canoe, and with goodies in my pack basket walked up the ridge along Wilbur Brook to see what a trout nursery might be like.
The ridge is steep. Wilbur Brook is 1.75 miles long, and in that distance falls over 800 feet. The brook is a series of short cascades, rock to rock and pool to pool, with much tinkle-tinkle under tall hardwood trees, The waterfalls are short enough so a trout can ''ladder'' them, and here and there in a pool I could see the small fish philandering their childhood and getting ready for the lake. Some of them were not so small. And, as I expected, because it is usual in that region, I came soon upon the beaver dam. The pond was maybe an acre, and the beaver house in the middle was at least a four-family condo. Trout in the pond announced themselves as they rose for mayflies, and jeered at me from their protected situation. Above the beaver pond was a swampy flowage that I had to walk around before I found the brook again.
When I found it, I found, too, a beautiful spot for my nooning. There had been a brow here in the long ago, a place where a lumbering operation stacked logs, and the area had not grown back to timber in the same way as the surrounding woodland. I had a grassy bank with wildflowers, and no sooner had I reclined and opened my pack basket than a cock-o'-the-woods flew in and tore a tree apart. The Auduboners deplore the chainsaw but applaud the pileated woodpecker, but the destructive capacity is about the same. This fellow whacked into the top of a dozy old yellow birch and chips flew all over the place. There's no such entertainment at the Dorchester. Then I walked over to the brook to fill my drinking cup, and made an interesting discovery.
The brook divided, one branch going upstream NE and the other NW, with a huge boulder between. I dipped in the nigh branch, and found my watercress. The stream was clogged with it, extended up as far as I could see. There was none below the big rock. So I found a place whre I could stand and look around the big rock, and in the NW branch there was no watercress. Not a wisp. The sharp, crisp, cold water in my tin cup told the story. The watercress likes cold water. I waded over to run my hand into the NW branch, and the water was nowhere near so cold. I had no thermometer, but I'd guess a difference of ten-fifteen degrees. Within ten-fifteen feet. The two branches mixed their waters at the big boulder, and between there and Kennebago Lake there had been no watercress. I gathered cress and loaded it into my sandwiches, and as I always carry on a conversation with myself at my private picnics, I thought of the Dorchester that noon and affected a Cockney accent.
But think - had I gone up Wilbur Brook on the other side, and missed that cress, there would be only the Dorchester.