|Rich Beams’s Repeatable Narrative — Having been accused of coining the phrase “repeatable narrative,” here’s mine, inspired I must admit, by “ the ‘65s in the Arts Panel” on Friday afternoon, a highlight of our sensational 50h reunion sojourn in Hanover. One of those who spoke then was Dick Durrance, whose stunning photographs included shots from the historic 1,685 mile Danube River trip in the summer of 1964 taken by Dick and eight other Dartmouth students (including classmate Chris Knight, who spoke as part of the panel as well). This in turn reminded me of the annual five-day Ledyard Canoe Club down-river canoe trip, 218 miles down the Connecticut River from Hanover to the Long Island sound, in which he and I had paddled together during mid-May of our freshmen year. The trip commemorates one of the most frequently repeated narratives that I know of about at Dartmouth, the pioneering journey of John Ledyard, Dartmouth class of 1775, who took his hand-hewn canoe down the river in 1773 and later became a world-famous explorer. At every reunion I’ve attended (which happens to be all of them), this inspirational journey is recalled publically in one way or another. This year was no exception.
At a reception later in our reunion weekend, Dick claimed he was just a novice paddler then. This was hard to believe since in years following he’d haul me out at 6 AM to race in white-water rapids in the White River. But newspaper clippings don’t lie (or do they?); I still have some that show we were the last of eight canoes to arrive in Old Saybrook. The heading for one article reads “Dartmouth Students learn a Lesson: ‘Paddling Your Own’ Gets Things Done.” My own lesson: don’t mix pain and pleasure. That is, don’t review “Life Science” notes while paddling a canoe in rapids. My old notes are now a sunken treasure somewhere around Hartford. In those days, the College gave “Deans’ excuses” for all classes missed; but there was no insurance covering such an inadvertent mishap. I try to blame Dick, but that doesn’t work either.
The traditional stops along the way provide much material for numerous repeatable – and unrepeatable – narratives: first night, camping on boulders below the Bellows Falls dam; second night, hunkering down at an abandoned castle, guests of “Smith girls” who treated us to dinner; third night, lodging in a Holyoke jail – courtesy of the Police Department; fourth night, visiting a fraternity at Wesleyan University. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Nick Feakins slept upstairs in the fraternity and failed to wake up when we did. We searched frantically, but left without him. Awakening just after we paddled off, he raced to the landing: “Nuts, they went,” he told a reporter. He continued, “I started hitch-hiking and got two rides from police.” (Where is Nick anyway?) He made it to the Terra Mar in Old Saybrook where the Dartmouth Alumni Club hosted a banquet as well as putting us up before the trek back to Hanover.
And so, the nostalgia brought on by viewing Dick’s canoeing photos, led me to “strike out on my own” (as our reunion flyer admonished us to do) and head down to the Ledyard Canoe Club house on the banks of the river, not far from the tent where two of our class dinners took place. There I had a nice animated talk with a Dartmouth sophomore, who’s name I can’t recall. He would be living at the Ledyard Club house this summer, he told me, taking charge of summer canoe rentals, now a rather lucrative enterprise at $10/hr per canoe or kayak. Indeed the docks were bustling with activity.
I couldn’t help mentioning to him that some 50-plus years ago, my own sophomore summer, in fact, I too ran this rental program, indeed the first summer the Club had rented canoes. I can’t remember what we charged, but it wasn’t much. I too had lived there for the summer, making more-than-tolerable a summer that also included eight weeks of Organic Chemistry. (There I go, mixing pleasure and pain again). But the summer was a great success in every way. I then mentioned the annual downriver trip. He too had just completed it, but then commented that in all probability, this would be the final year for this legendary jaunt.
“What?” I said. This hit me with all the monumental force of sinking Life-Science notes. “How could this be?” I continued. “Not enough interest, he answered. It’s probably too close to exams. We just had seven going this year.” For the record, The Ledyard Canoe Club was formed in 1920 when the traditional trip was first made. For years, the club usually pushed off on the voyage in April, but, avoiding ice and inclement weather, the trip is now in late May, as it has been since our day. I guess my solution of study and paddle is not a viable option. Perhaps cancel exams? What’s more important, lest the old traditions fail? Oh well.
With that I went back to our tent by the River for our Gala Class Banquet. Gala indeed, and rather an upgrade from meals along the river 50 years ago. A highlight of course was after dinner dancing to “The Flames.” (Mahala made a video to prove it). Two nights later, about the time I coined the phrase “repeatable narratives,” I was informed by more than one classmate that I had won the 50th reunion dance award – for the most inert dancer on the floor, accompanied by the most energized dancer. (Mahala’s a ringer – she teaches dance among other things.) I let Jack McLean take over for a while. Mahala’s comment: “Wow, Jack can really dance.” Oh well. I guess I better stick to canoeing.