A Welcome from Joan H. Lee,
2009 Conference Coordinator
Bienvenue and welcome to La Vallee, the St. John Valley. As I write this in my living room I look at the frozen river and think about July when it will be running cheerily along and canoeists will be paddling toward Fort Kent as they enjoy the wildflowers along the steep banks. The St. John River starts in north western Maine, flows northeastward to Edmundston, NB, and Madawaska, Maine, then turns south and empties into the Bay of Fundy where the highest tides in the world are found. Aptly named Wolastoq (good and beautiful river) by the Maliseet, the river was renamed by Samuel de Champlain after St. John the Baptist in 1604. As beautiful as the river is it has some gruesome and exciting tales to tell from the first people right up to the present time — but that is for a couple of books.
People often ask me, who know a little about my background, what on earth brought me to La Vallee. The shortened version is that I was trying to get used to being a widow, and had taken one of those must get away vacations and drove from New York state to the GaspÉ Peninsula. On the way back I stopped in Madawaska, Maine, then Fort Kent where I wanted to relax for a week or so then get back to patching my life back together. I stayed two weeks. I stayed for an Acadian festival. All the people around Fort Kent were hospitable and I began to really enjoy the area. As a lark I looked at some property for sale. A month's stay turned into two months then three until I found 23 acres bordering wilderness on the St. John River. This is a place for recreation, for sure, but also it is a healing place. So here I am.
Over time I have learned that the River is not only beautiful it is powerful and unforgiving of mistakes. Last spring I stood on the bank where my house overlooks the river and watched the iced river rise silently and slowly begin to move eastward. It suddenly smelled like nothing I have ever experienced before and it sounded like a zillion little glass pellets rubbing against each other. Next it began to break apart. Huge boulders of ice tumbling and shoving, we estimated at eight miles per hour, toward Fort Kent, ripping at the banks, taking trees, my iron stairs that led down the shore, and anything else within its reach for a lethal ride. It tore up part of the road to town and I was stranded for a couple of days. Then it flooded Fort Kent, one of the worst floods ever. I was never so impressed with the power of water. Even Niagara Falls seemed benign compared to this river. So here I am.
I am in love again — with this River. It is my metaphor for life itself, so breathtakingly beautiful, so peaceful, so powerful, a killer and a healer all in one. May you fall in love, too, during your stay here when the River is a celebration of summer. The Valley welcomes you. — Joan H. Lee, 2009 Conference Coordinator