Photography lesson

Penobscot Elder Chip Loring’s Most Important Life Lesson


By Ann Pollard Ranco
Photograph by Alberto Lopez
From our November 2021 issue

On a recent afternoon, paddling Birch Stream in the Old Town, Penobscot Elder Chip Loring stopped to take in the scenery. While he was doing so, an otter surfaced to greet him, just an arm’s length from his canoe. Nearby, her cubs waded happily in the current. For a moment, time seemed to stand still.

It’s the kind of scene that Loring enjoyed countless times during his seven decades on the waters of Maine. Now an internationally renowned canoe racing champion and mentor to the young paddlers of the Penobscot Nation, he was just four years old when he learned to paddle that same stream – or, as he remembers it. , “How to get back into the canoe.” ”After his father overturned their traditional cedar boat, teaching him and his siblings the most important paddling safety lesson. These early trips ignited Loring’s passion, and he spent his formative years traveling the many waterways around the Indian island, following the routes of Penobscot’s ancestral paddlers.

In 1967, at age 19, Chip Loring enlisted in the army. He quickly realized a childhood dream of becoming an Army Ranger, and he became a sergeant within a year – “before my voice even changed,” he laughs. He was injured on his second tour of Vietnam, and when he returned home in 1969 he was awarded the Purple Heart. He roamed the country for some time after that, re-adjusting to civilian life, living in and outside Maine. At one point, he took a desk job with an electric utility, but couldn’t imagine looking out of an office window for the next 30 years, and left after a day’s work. Instead, he learned the roofing trade from an uncle.

In 1990 Loring read about Hawaii Ironman Triathlon and decided to register. He trained for months, and when he crossed the finish line it was with new enthusiasm for competitive athletics. He rekindled his love of paddling, and over the decades that followed, he competed in hundreds of river races, including high-profile competitions like the Canada 1000 Mile. Yukon 1000. His name is recognized and respected on the international canoeing circuit, and at 73, he’s hardly slowing down. This spring, he and a teammate arrived first in their class at the venerable Bangor Kenduskeag Creek Canoe Race.

But Chip Loring is admired for more than just his racing achievements. In the greater Old Town area, he is known for his community service and willingness to help those in need, from fixing a leaky roof to donating a vehicle to shoveling waste. neighbors in winter or financially help a friend or acquaintance during difficult times. He is also a regular attendee at Orono community paddles and a mentor for Wabanaki youth, teaching paddling skills as well as life lessons. Most importantly he learned as an Army Ranger and then again as a non-athlete turned Ironman competitor. “You can do whatever you want,” Loring says.

Coming out of the water, Loring settles down on a bench under a gazebo. As a thunderstorm arrives, I ask him what drives him to paddle after so many years. He looks towards the river. “Serenity,” he replies.