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On a Huck Finn adventure

Journey is source of documentary film

Cecily Anderson of Philadelphia, left, and Meryl O’Connor of California, check to make sure their docked raft withstood the early-morning thunderstorms Sunday. The pair, along with several others, have rafted for a month on the river from Endicott, N.Y., and will stop in Wilkes-Barre today.

BILL TARUTIS Photos/FOR THE TIMES LEADER

Meryl O’Connor of California, left, and Cecily Anderson of Philadelphia describe their journey along the Susquehanna River.

Meryl O’Connor of California, right, throws a stone into the river as friend Cecily Anderson of Philadelphia looks on.

BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADER

After storms ripped through the area yesterday morning, Meryl O’Connor, of California, and Cecily Anderson, of Philadelphia, both 29, trekked down the muddy banks of the Apple Tree boat launch in Harding, cautiously optimistic that their hand-built rafts were still anchored to the shoreline and in one piece.

“It looks like it’s held together with chewing gum and glue, but it’s actually held up in some pretty intense weather,” Anderson said of one of two rafts, constructed to look like a tent on a platform, made from scavenged wood, canvas and barrels.

O’Connor and Anderson, as well as several other friends, have traveled down the Susquehanna River for the past five weeks, starting in Endicott, N.Y. They will conclude their journey as they float into Wilkes-Barre for the Fourth of July today.

The two rafts are the main boats for the journey, with other people who have joined along the way bringing their own handmade watercraft.

The group has been traveling the river for the past three years, but this voyage marks the longest and the source for a documentary film O’Connor is working on, “The River Twice,” as part of the process of attaining her master’s degree in film at UCLA.

As the group traveled the Susquehanna last year they noticed a change.

“We saw a lot going on as far as the industry goes with gas drilling, fracking,” O’Connor said. “The initial idea for the documentary was to create a portrait of a place, and obviously the change fracking brings is a huge part of that. We want to highlight the people we met along the way, how this is affecting them. It puts in question what direction the river is headed in now, where it will be down the road, and how the changes are impacting the river and the local communities.”

The reaction from riverside inhabitants they visited has been favorable.

“People have come to shore and given us baked goods,” O’Connor said. “They share fresh greens, they give us a place to stay, a place to recharge the batteries for the documentary equipment.”

“They’re all so supportive, and they love this river,” Anderson said. “They know it so well, which is an amazing thing to see.”

O’Connor said she is used to experiencing the natural side of the river while on it, and the frequent trips ashore have helped her see more about the human history behind it.

The watercraft themselves have helped the group compile stories that are part of that history.

“Obviously, when you look at the rafts, a sense of Huck Finn comes over you, of that childlike wonder and excitement,” O’Connor said. “People are drawn to the rafts in that sense, and then they start to talk to us about the river and immediately go into their childhood, what their relationship with the river was as kids.”

Not only will the documentary focus on the future of the river, but also showcase the waterway for what it is.

“It’s majestic,” Anderson said. “The wildlife, the plant life, the scenery. Everything about it is so amazing. People should know just how incredible this river really is.”

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