A letter from camp: The 2017 Maine Canoe Symposium

Mom and Dad’s home was four tents down, where we sat one evening sharing smoked salmon that Dad had brought back from his workshop on smoking fish with Shawn Burke.

Wouldn’t you like to be a boy, away at summer camp in Maine?

Enjoying late-night loon calls, ice cream heaped with strawberries, summer breezes, and the pull of the paddle?

Gathering for the morning Parade of Canoes

This letter from camp has taken a few days to arrive, but this past weekend, I christened another summer of possibility in the company of friends, old and new, famous or not-so-much, at the annual Maine Canoe Symposium. Somehow this event manages to be old-fashioned and far-reaching, restful and yet challenging everyone to try new skills.

“Dear friends,” I might have written from Camp Winona, on the shores of Moose Pond in Bridgton, Maine…


Today I tried poling under the tutelage of Harry Rock, well-known at MCS for leading us all in a chorus of huzzahs from time to time. “Your boat might be a little tender,” he told me, by which he meant I might end up tipping into the chilly water. It felt very strange leaving shore without a paddle! “Huzzah!” I stayed upright. It was all about leverage and angle, as we stood up and propelled ourselves around with just a 12-foot aluminum pole.

Learning to identify edible woodland plants with Ray Reitze, who also shared the effectiveness of Japanese knotweed in fighting Lyme disease, a surprise to me!

The two evening speakers lived up to MCS tradition. This year, we heard from Winchell Delano about the Rediscovering North America expedition, 5,200 miles by canoe with five friends, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. They redefined perseverance and conquered unforeseen challenges like raging forest fires in their 8-month odyssey.

Did you know that the 2020 Toyko Olympics will be the first to include women’s canoe sprint, as well as kayak events? This victory owes much to the fight of our other evening speaker, Pam Boteler, the first woman to participate in canoe sprint (against men) in the 2000 U.S. National Championships. She brought home two medals, a gold and a bronze, and the dream of breaking down the barriers at the Olympic level.

Sunday morning, I had a chance to try the high-kneel stroke, first on the dock and then on a paddle board. With Pam teaching me! I can testify to the power and physical demands of this racing stroke, which I experienced once or twice, before taking a swim.

So, it’s never too early to put dates on the calendar. Next year’s MCS will be June 8-10, 2018, and I’d love to have you join me. This year, I tent camped with friends, ate all six meals in the dining hall, and experienced all the above and more for just $153. Hope to see you at Camp Winona on the shores of Moose Pond under the towering pines.


Spring morning, a poem

Spring morning

 If you would know the pond today, come early.

Hasten with deliberate slowness,

hurry, linger, before the now becomes the when.

Clouds shift, light evolves, each moment more, each moment less.

Faint and ancient epoch now is winter,

that held the world in its unyielding grasp.

Breathe and all is new, unfurled, colored, textured, gone.

Nature writes her poem anew each morning,

and erases it at night.

Canoe glides a path and with it pens a verse,

Plucking twang of bullfrog chords,

Grackle’s iridescence hidden in silhouette against the sky,

Old men turtles in a line plop away, and I must go.

Headed home, flowers dust the shore with white.

Each tiny cluster speaks the pace of spring.

Round pink buds of promise

turn to stars of white perfection,

then fade to fuzzy frazzle.

If you would know the pond tomorrow, come early.


Upwards: The life of an author 3 months out

Three months out from what, you ask? Actually, many of you are deliberately NOT going to ask, as you’ve heard about little else from me for many months!

Just in case, though – three months out from holding Upwards in my hands. That shiny new cover, those color photos, my words in print. Actually, the cover won’t be shiny. One decision firmly made is to have a “Matte/Satin” cover. And color photos? That’s my hope and dream, but I’m waiting anxiously for cost estimates for a center section of photos.

No matter how thrilled I am about publishing, the whirlwind of life goes on. The end of the school year is upon us, bringing field trips and frenzy. This week, we visited the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. Run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the park cares for and exhibits only animals that are unable to live in the wild.

The more natural habitat areas were fascinating, while I struggled to watch two black bears panhandling for treats beneath a machine being fed by an endless stream of quarters, the huge glass window above obscured by a wall of captivated children.

After taking the above photo, I decided that I would learn about the Canada lynx. (That’s Canada lynx, not Canadian lynx, just like the goose). The bobcat, also found in Maine, is a different critter. Similar in size and appearance, there are differences between the two species: Bobcat = shorter legs, smaller ear tufts, smaller paws, more likely to look spotted or striped and Lynx = the opposite. The tip of a lynx’s tail is solid black, the bobcat’s black on top and white below. Plus, in the deep snows of the north woods, a sighting will probably be a lynx, well-adapted for life there.

Somewhat of a picky eater, the lynx dines on snowshoe hares at least 75% of the time, eating 1 to 2 per day. Historically, lynx populations have cycled up and down in rhythm with hare populations. In Maine, however, both have been booming for years, as young spruce-fir forests grow back following devastating waves of spruce budworm mortality. The young-growth timber provides ideal cover for the lynx’s favored prey.

I can’t recall having seen a water snake in Maine, until my visit to the wildlife park. Research seems to indicate they live only in the southern half of the state, so my best chance will be during my excursions close to home.

Out on the pond this week, it was cool and my sightings were all avian. It’s too early in the season to take the leaves for granted and the maples were particularly striking. Vivid red clumps of maple keys jumped out among the shoreline greens and pinks, and I tried to draw in calm as I paddled and let go of some of the excitement that is keeping ME keyed up!

One afternoon, swallows had overtaken the water and swooped in acrobatic dance, surely happy to find many squadrons of mosquitoes on patrol. They can also drink mid-flight, quickly scooping up water from the surface. On shore, a solitary spotted sandpiper winged from stone to log ahead of me, the first time I’d observed this species on McCurdy Pond. Now, today, a quiet Saturday, I rose with the dawn again and hope to squeeze in another paddle among the expense-filing, permission-requesting, photo-choosing tasks of a busy soon-to-be-published author.


Upwards: Going Public with Publishing

What a long-awaited post this is! The time has come at last to officially share my plans for Upwards, the story of my 2015 NFCT thru-paddle. Some 81,000 words over which I’ve struggled, rejoiced, and labored for many months. The book manuscript will arrive at the publisher for editing on June 1.  

Every author should have a cat to sit near the keyboard purring, at least for a delightful interlude. I’ve had Maggie Jane and her riverside home to enjoy while I put the finishing touches on what the editor calls my “inspirational adventure memoir.” We had a surprise visitor right outside our windowsill on Sunday (or two if you look behind the flower).

My feet felt fabulous on a couple of weekend forays out on McCurdy Pond in the spring sunshine.  There were breezes to keep the bugs at bay, blueberries in bloom, an osprey, a heron, and the first kingfisher of the year.   

Publishing a book certainly qualifies as one of Laurie’s Adventures, so expect to hear from me often this summer. And always remember…Every day is a gift!

Together for far too short a time

Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone – Andy Stanley


Wednesday evening, the bus delivered us safely home and we climbed the steep road to the Unbound center in the soft darkness. Another full day of visits – to a school, coffee plantation, and native animal rescue center – had left us weary, but content. For me, this was the moment that I had been anticipating for a very long time. Dixie was here somewhere, perhaps getting ready for tonight’s “fancy dress” dinner.

A cluster of people stood waiting, though, and there she was, wrapping her arms around me in a huge hug that might have lasted forever. It had been a long bus ride for Dixie, her mother Dalia, and social promoter Maria. And, it turned out, Dixie was just recovering from a virus and almost hadn’t been able to travel. Dinner was dressy in a casual, summery kind of way, made special by colorful decorations, abundant food, and an escort to our table. We visited and talked, all of us feeling a bit shy, then headed for bed. I was happy that we would have a whole day of activities together tomorrow, too.

I hope you’ll understand when I say that Unbound’s philosophies resonate within the context of much of what they do. For our day of fun, the activities were simple, creative, and brought us together in laughter and sharing. It’s best to tell the story in pictures:

One of Dixie’s biggest smiles of the day, with me and her mother Dalia.


Lifting our voices in a song that transcended the barriers of language…it was Kum Bay Ya!


Zumba lessons, and then a piñata, brought a festive end to the day.


There was so much that I wanted to know about this goddaughter whose letters take months to travel back and forth. Her small nephew Dilan Jesus came to life in videos on their surprisingly nice phone and I learned he would be joined in a month by another baby nephew. I tried to describe snow and they a village close to Nicaragua where life was so much different. But in our laughter and my terrible Spanish there was community and a yearning to become family. In the end, they missed their bus and I’m not sure why. Thus they stayed another night, a blessing that let Dixie sleep away the time from late that afternoon to early the next morning. She was still ill and even had a fever. In the morning, there was no putting off the goodbyes that came so hard. I will just have to come back!





There just aren’t words

And for the rest of our time in Costa Rica, there were no words, at least not on WordPress and my blog. The internet went down and never came back the same. I’m safely in Charlotte now on the way home. The story continues, beginning with the post I was writing as the sun rose on Wednesday morning.

The first hug just might be the best!

To reach the Guanacaste area, we traveled northwest, losing elevation and gaining some impressive heat and humidity. We passed the Pacific port of Cartera and saw the sea. A showy flowering tree in yellow or pinkish-white (Corteza amarilla or blanca) kept company with plantain, mango, pineapple, and teak trees for lumber export.

We were welcomed with such love into three villages. There were heart-wrenching stories and heart-warming fellowship, home visits and Circles of Hope hard at work. And if you gave us music, we had to dance!

This photo is for Dad!


The Guanacaste tree inspired the name of this, the farthest west of the country’s seven provinces. In the local indigenous language, the word means “ear,” the shape of the tree’s shiny brown seed pods.

A friend for the day, in a village where we drank fresh coconut milk straight from the coconut.

And if you gave us food, boy could we eat. Fried fish, fabulous fruit, local cheese, and below, samples of local treats, the gift of a group of mothers. I tried their rice pudding and papaya salsa on tortillas – both yummy!

The Juvenile Leadership Academy brings two young people from each project together to inspire and equip them to teach their peers back home. Within Unbound and also the universities, volunteering is a huge component of their programs. All of our young translators earned nothing for their week of helping us to understand not only the words, but also the culture and realities of life there. Just one of many reasons to rededicate myself to the mission of Unbound. More soon! 


Within a Circle of Hope

Yes, Maine, there are still flowers and ferns. Blue skies, intense sun, low humidity, a breeze – I could be writing an alluring travel brochure. That was Sunday’s weather. Today and tomorrow (Monday/Tuesday) will take us on a four-hour bus ride for an overnight stay in the hot and humid Guanacaste area. Today the first of us will meet our sponsored friends.


On Sunday,  we explored the history and evolving future of Unbound. It was 1981 when four Catholic siblings and one of their friends had the courage to act on a dream. They were a housewife, a lawyer, a banker, and two long-time missionaries…each with talents to bring.

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, as the organization was called then, had their first office in Bob Hentzen’s basement. The five sent their first letter soliciting sponsors to the people on their Christmas card lists. All five are gone now, but we are blessed to have Bob’s wife Cristina (top left below) as part of our group for the whole week.

Unbound’s work is personalized to the needs of each country. Here in Costa Rica, the framework for achieving change within communities is found within the Circles of Hope, parent groups who focus on fellowship, building self-esteem and starting local businesses. Mothers organize the letter writing, and even track finances. In a monumental change, parents have been given the authority to spend their benefits themselves, although spending by category is little changed as a result. 

Below…four mothers brought their coffee-roasting business to us for the day, showing us the process from beans toasting in an iron pot over a fire to the finished packaged product. They buy high-altitude coffee beans and go from there, producing as many as 100 small bags in a day. At the end, we tried the freshly brewed café with tamal asado, a local dense, moist bread reminiscent of flan or corn pudding.


The evening brought a travel serendipity that all began when my hand shot up of its own accord, volunteering to be a reader at mass. Never mind that I am not Catholic and even all my new Catholic friends weren’t sure what worship here would be like.

Hours later I was processing in through the arch below, with incense and altar boys, berobed priests and a friendly woman who I was to follow in reading a responsive psalm. It was strange and wonderful and, if I survived without messing up, it was going to be a fabulous memory. Soon, I was standing inches from the priest as clouds of incense engulfed us and I peered over his shoulder at a beautifully decorated Bible.

The best part, though, was to kneel and say a prayer for Dixie. 


Bienvenido… with Unbound in San José de la Montaña, Costa Rica

Another adventure awaits. Yesterday I flew in over Cuba to the capital of Costa Rica, San José.  Staff and fellow travelers from our Unbound group were waiting with warm smiles and a bright and familiar sign as I came out of customs. My $100 became almost 50,000 colorful colones.

Unbound, the wonderful organization through which I sponsor Fredy and Dixie, offers awareness trips in the 19 countries where they work. This will be my first one. Waiting in my comfortable single room with bath was this welcome letter from Dixie. Our hearts are so full as we anticipate meeting each other. That will happen Wednesday!

The Unbound center where we are staying looks down over the city from an elevation of over 5,300 feet. This morning, we sit visiting at the start of a glorious sunny day, cool from the elevation, drinking rich local coffee as a blend of Spanish and English surrounds us.

I’ve learned a new expression. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say, “Pura vida,” life is good.

One last weekend

One last weekend

Pulled from summer’s grasp into the chilly hands of fall

Our gear, gathered from the jumble of adventures past, rejoices to venture forth just one more time

The lake, discovered by friends who camped there first and generously shared the story of its wild, empty shores

The surge on windy crests of white to find our home, where some good soul has left us firewood beneath a tiny roof of birchbark

Dreams of swimming lie buried under wooly hats and added layers and we scramble over jumbled rocks to a woodland trail instead

A garter snake, like us, seems unwilling to surrender the feisty warmth of summer and defends his trail with fierce tenacity until we slip away

Hotdogs drip, above the glowing coals, beneath the toasting buns, and we eat with gusto

Later, the wind has calmed and water gently laps the shore. Does it dream of summer’s radiance or long for peaceful snowbound sleep?

In quiet unity, we write, we draw, we scoot ever closer to the living glow that wrestles with the icy night, as stars emerge

Dawn pulls us from the best of sleep, as crazy, restless calls surround our narrow point. Then, paddling out, the echoes become a bouncing dot of black and white, a loon to say farewell until summer comes again.

(by Laurie Chandler, Tunk Lake, Maine, September 2016)

Summing it up – 35 days aboard the Rotterdam

Well, it wasn’t the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, that’s for sure.  I think you’d agree , though, that I am a look-on-the-bright-side kind of person and the cruising life has more than its share of bright sides.

Here are my top ten…

10. The carpet in the elevators changes daily and tells you what day of the week it is. (Not that it matters, because there is NO WORK)

9. The amazing, caring, friendly crew

The Filipino and Indonesian crew members each held a daytime show featuring their country’s music, dance and traditional dress. Rehearsals were done on their own time, often late at night after working a full and tiring day. Our wine steward turned out to be an accomplished singer and our assistant dining room steward played a mean bass guitar.

8. Swimming when the pool has ocean waves surging from one end to the other in rough seas

7. Rediscovering reading as a means of gleaning information

6. For example, learning about fulmars, which accompanied us for days at sea. I had identified them from my birds of Europe book, but found a great book on the Arctic in the ship’s library. Breeding season finds fulmars in isolated cliff colonies, where the female lays a single egg on the bare cliff, then incubates it for a long 2 months. Potential predators are attacked by vomiting a noxious stomach oil on them, which impedes flying and ruins the insulating properties of the feathers.

5. The art on the ship

On the Rotterdam, works of art await discovery all around the ship.


4. Crossing the Arctic Circle

My official certificate brings back fond memories of the evening we spent watching the GPS as we approached the Arctic Circle, that imaginary line of latitude above which there is at least one day each of total darkness and total light every year.


3. Passing the final resting place of the HMS Hood, sunk May 24, 1941 in the Battle of the Denmark Strait. The captain sounded a somber, respectful signal as we gazed out over the ocean, empty except for the memories.


Declared a war grave by the British government, the HMS Hood lies 9,200 feet below. Only 3 sailors survived the sinking.


2. The large, colorful atlas takes on new meaning when you are on its pages.

1. Walking the promenade deck to work off all those Belgian waffles

So, farewell Vikings, at least until we can return to Newfoundland to visit the settlement that was located there, not so far after all from Maine!