Collecting Dream Orbs on Woonasquatucket River. Photograph by Mike Knoll.

On nice cool nights, I like to get the kayak out and go for a paddle in some local spots. One quiet Saturday night in August, I decided to bring my brother along with me and paddle up the Woonasquatucket from the hurricane barrier. As we approached the basin/cove we came across the Eos, one of the Waterfire boats, tied up alongside Waterplace restaurant. The Waterfire volunteers aboard the Eos informed us about the floating blue Dream Orbs being released from Donigian Park down the Woonasquatucket as part of the Woonasquatucket River Greenway Arts event and the finale of the Fringe PVD Festival.

When we told them we were going upriver, they told us two things: that we’d never seen anything like it before and that we may seem some orbs trapped along the river. Boy, were they right, on both counts. They asked us to kindly free any orbs we found. Hopeful to see something truly magical, my brother and I paddled under the mall, under I-95, and upriver for about 30 minutes. But we still didn’t see anything. As we continued on, the river became shallower and shallower. At times, we would run aground, have to back up and probe for deeper sections of the river. Finally, off in the distance, we saw a faint blue glow. I told my brother, “that’s got to be them!” But between us and the glow was dry land, with the all of the water flowing through a 4-foot wide section of mini rapids.

As we waited for the orbs to come to us, we realized something must be wrong. The glow was not coming any closer. Not wanting to give up on what was promised to be an excellent display, we got out of our kayaks in the middle of the Woonasquatucket and portaged around upstream of the mini rapids. It was smooth sailing from there all the way to the orbs. What we saw was amazing, rivaling any Waterfire lighting I’ve ever seen. Hundreds and hundreds of blue glowing orbs floating in a river that I’m used to only seeing rusted bicycles and old car tires submerged in. And above all the glowing orbs hung true-to-life lighted moons every 150 yards across the river. Once we got over the awe of the spectacle, we realized that every single orb was stuck and not moving downriver. You see, the timing was rather unfortunate. The low tide that night was around 10:30 pm, which exposed all of the downed tree limbs, rock formations, and yes, tires upon which the orbs were stuck.

As the crew of Eos had kindly asked, we began freeing the orbs only to watch them get caught again a few meters downriver from where they were originally caught. So, we did the only thing we could. We started filling our kayaks with the orbs to ferry them back to Waterplace Park and turn them over to the crew of the Eos. To be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had on the river! We couldn’t collect them all, but we filled our kayaks to the brim and then some and began to paddle back downriver. Being after midnight and our kayaks weighing about 30 pounds heavier each at this point, I wasn’t overly excited about the portage, but it was easier to navigate the second time.

Photograph by John Nickerson

We made our way back to Waterplace where the crew of the Eos was waiting for us. Someone had seen us back upriver and radioed ahead to let them know we were coming. They were incredibly thankful for our assistance and helped us empty our kayaks, even going so far as to lift mine out of the water and into their boat to fully empty the nose and tail. When we told them we would make the journey upriver again to get more, they let us know that others had been called in to wade the river and collect the rest. Candidly, I’m glad, as I was not looking forward to another round!

The dream orb event was spectacular from the water, and the fearless crew of the Eos that night, Donna Noonan, John Mongelli, Erick Schmidt, and Doris Briggs, are some of the nicest, funniest folks I’ve met after midnight on a Saturday evening.

Will definitely look for this event next year!

— Mike Knoll
Providence, RI

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