Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Here & There

It is possible, to get up very early in the morning in Deer Isle, Maine – middle of the night is more like it – and drive the hour and a half to Bangor International Airport in the dark, and after a series of flights, find yourself somewhere in the middle of the day in the middle of the continent, not far from another major airport, but not close to anything at all that would make you feel … somewhere. Certainly very far from the nearest ocean. The lack of somewhere-ness is as strong an attribute to the place as its features: the highways and concrete buildings containing the things people need to live: shelter, food, stuff- all of these offerings wrapped into the same shell- the same shape and color scheme as anywhere else you might find them in North America. And it might occur to you that once upon a time, having returned to the US from a couple of years abroad, you thought maybe I could get a job at that airport and live in one of those… units. Lots of people do it, how bad can it be?

How bad can it be? Most of the people there are obviously more affluent than we are. The highways are packed with new cars, and former farmland sprouts new house after new house, connected by networks of fresh black asphalt. There’s tasteful landscaping- little trees and shrubs rising from tiny islands of artificially-colored bark mulch and acres upon acres of freshly-sodded lawn. There are schools and parks (and lots of big, warehouse-like churches) and mile after mile of strip malls containing things you can buy and even things you can do- movies, nail salons, and well- shopping. There are the schools and other municipal buildings for recreation. And of course there’s stuff on TV, and here I’m just taking a wild guess, but there’s probably a huge television in most of these living units, a TV like the one in the motel room that seems inclined to show me ‘reality’ shows about ‘real’ people out in the rest of the world somewhere doing ‘real’ things. You know, real things like pawn shops and storage units full of stuff that you can buy and sell.

Okay, I’m intrigued by the show about treehouses. Heck, I’m intrigued by it all, especially when it’s after midnight in a motel room and I’m wondering about all this stuff I’m missing. And it will occur to me that our life could have been much different had we made a few different choices along the way. Even the choice, right now, to be here in Maine in January instead of someplace south, someplace warmer. 

But I’m sitting next to a fire (a fire that I built with birch bark and junk mail and logs that I split into splintery strips- not a picture of one on a screen or even a propane flame created with the push of a button) and out the window I see a grey, blustery day, waves breaking over the ledge in the mouth of the cove, and wintery clouds drifting through Eggemoggin Reach. It is freakin’ gorgeous.

We’re here only because of someone’s kindness, because the choices we’ve made have economically limited our options, given us not much money and little security… the lack of security and its corresponding lack of commitment which enabled us to hunker-down here, hoping our savings from summer work tides us over until the next summer while we pursue our personal occupations. But we’re here, and with any luck we’ll go for a paddle this afternoon.

Well, we didn't get out for a paddle that particular afternoon. The wind picked-up, and then the snow and ice followed. Trees blew down, power went out... in other words, it started to really feel like winter. That's when you start watching the forecast even more carefully for those little windows of opportunity, which came over the past couple of days. It's still a little cooler than we would like, but it's a treat to get out at all, and of course, there's nothing like a little travel to more populated and less oceanic parts of the continent to help us appreciate the backyard.

  Even if it's just for a few hours at a stretch, out among the nearby islands...

 Every moment out there is precious. I think we'll be staying put for awhile.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stinson Neck in the Snow

We had an amazing run of warm-for-December weather, and well, I guess it had to end sometime. We've been paddling in 40 and even 50-degree weather... not a lot of big trips- mostly afternoon jaunts out to the nearby islands. We work all morning, and most days I'm pretty restless by lunchtime, ready to get out for a paddle or a walk. We've also had Rebecca's parents visiting for the holiday, and her Mom has joined us for a couple of paddles. I haven't been looking forward to snow in any particular way, but not really dreading it either. Bad weather makes it easier to stay in and get work done, but I get a little stir-crazy after a bit. This afternoon I suddenly found myself done with work and alone. We'd just had our first real snowstorm, and though the temps were below freezing, there wasn't much wind. I got my gear together, left a note on the counter and headed-out.

Off to the east, Western Mountain on Mount Desert Island rose into the clouds, where it appeared to still be snowing. It was nearing high tide as I followed the shore of Stinson Neck: icicles dripping down from overhangs, fresh snow on spruce boughs. Most of the lobster boats still out have been fitted for scallop dragging. One of them motored in slow circles out beyond Crow Island as I crossed the mouth of Conary Cove and headed out to the Lazygut Islands.

 A few days ago out there (I guess it was Christmas) we were out at Lazygut at a lower tide and a very small swell. There's some really nice ledges out there where we find the occasional wave and some rocks to play around. Today the tide had covered the ledges, but I rode some waves through the narrow, shallow slots between the Thrumcaps. I took a break for a cup of hot chocolate.

I've enjoyed paddling with others, but there's something about getting out by myself that I don't get when my journey is shared. The experience becomes more intuitive, making choices without discussing them, just going. No conversations or observations, just the thoughts passing through my head, and with any luck those thoughts eventually get replaced by pure action: paddle paddle paddle, edge, turn, oh look an eagle, rock, turn, wave, etc, etc.

I do find myself thinking about what I'm working on, and that can be good too. Who knows where thoughts will go- as much a part of the trip as the physical route. I'd like to be able rationalize my paddling that way, that some of the best writing happens in my head when I'm not holed-up with a computer.

I headed around the west side of the neck, following the rocky shore below the Haystack School and into Billings Cove, where it was calm, getting close to sunset above that thick layer of clouds. A bit of snow had started spitting down again, and it felt good, invigorating, fresh. I paused in a still stretch of water and listened. Unfortunately, I can't quite experience silence anymore- just the ringing in my ears that descends when there's no other sound to distract my brain. But it felt quiet.

I carried over the Sunshine Causeway and made my way around Plumb Point. Lights had come on in the house, and I made my way toward them.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Around Mountainville & Stinson Neck

From the window, we look down across a hillside meadow, over a screen of shore side trees, and on out to a stretch of water and islands: the west end of Eggemoggin Reach. But just beyond those trees, maybe a couple hundred yards from shore, lies a ledge that, at high tide is probably not much larger than most living rooms, furnished with a collection of erratic boulders that gleam with light particular to the angle of the sun. When the sun comes up they burn with a rosy orange glow, cooling to gray and white tones as the light turns stark. It’s funny how, despite the breadth of the view, my eyes are so often drawn to those rocks. It’s a bit like how some art grabs you and some doesn’t. or why you want to look into some people’s eyes more than others; you find a thereness that makes your eyes want to linger.

We paddled past those rocks, Barb, Rebecca and I, as we started a route that would circle Stinson Neck and Mountainville; a longer paddle than any of us had done in awhile. Lately Rebecca and I had been getting out mostly for one or two, maybe three hours- what we could fit-in at the day’s end, after our work, usually returning after dark.

But Saturday promised to be a little warmer – in the high forties – and we decided to take a day off and make the most of it. Barb joined us and off we went, paddling against a little wind as we followed the shores of Bear and Campbell Islands. Both islands are open to the public and free from development, with boulder-strewn granite ledge shores. Campbell is for sale and we fantasized about buying it- preserving the MITA campsites and public access, of course… but a yurt inland of one of those little coves would sure be a nice spot to hang-out for the summer.

That’s become a bit of a joke. We look around and comment about what a nice place it is, and then “Yeah, I bet it would be really nice in the summer.” We’ve been saying this for a few winters now. It not that it isn’t nice in the winter. It’s just, gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have this leisure time when it's a little warmer and we could stretch out on those rocks or that beach without developing hypothermia.

We paddled up to the head of Greenlaw Cove at high tide and carried over to Long Cove, where we explored a pretty little inlet that we often drive past. A black plastic culvert pipe led beneath the road, and naturally I headed right for it and went in. 

I got about half-way through before my hull started dragging, and I backed-out. Maybe we’d had enough pretty scenery and needed a challenge.

We caught the current draining out of Long Cove, out through Brays Narrows and into Southeast Harbor. We ate our lunch on Polypod Island and followed the granite shore around the Tennis Preserve - both IHT properties – and wound our way through the Freese Islands.

The west wind gave us a spirited push along Stinson Neck’s southwest shore, past the Haystack School of Crafts and on out to the Lazygut Islands. We stopped for a cup of tea and admired the scenery. Rimmed with steep, sculpted granite, the Lazyguts are a chain of islands, three of them connected at lower tides by sandbars, with boulders and ledges littering the nearby shallows- fun places to meander through, and exposed enough to get a bit splashy when seas are running. 

We don’t get there much when we’re launching from Stonington, usually drawn out to the archipelago instead, but from Stinson Neck, they’re an obvious destination. It’s worth mentioning that both Lazygut and Little Lazygut are private, with houses on them, but one of the Thrumcaps is (in 2015) accessible to MITA members. As far as we’re concerned right now though, one of the best things about these islands is that they’re less than an hour’s paddle from home. We arrived back just before sunset.

Thanks to Rebecca Daugherty for the photos.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Good Places to Eat Lunch

A few days ago we went down to Popham Beach for some surf. It was a warm, moderate day with messy, confused seas, and strong winds shearing off the wave tops. Cold enough water to feel bracing when it slaps you in the face, but warmer than it will be for the next 8 months.  

It took a few attempts and some harsh beat-downs before we finally found the right spot and got into a groove that rewarded us with long rides. We felt drained and good during the long drive home in the dark, drinking coffee, re-living a few choice moments.

I go back and forth between touring and looking for excitement- usually a little of both. Lately we’ve gone on mostly calm excursions with friends, exploring Stinson Neck and Jericho Bay.

We’ve found new places to eat lunch and for Rebecca to paint, usually- it seems – returning home just after sunset, getting the most out of these fall days. We’ve been lucky to have abundant warm-ish days, and though plenty of people have put their boats away for the season, the water is warmer now than it will be in the spring when they put their boats in the water again.

When a friend visited last week, we took some drives to favorite spots: Mount Desert, Schoodic Point, The Bold Coast.

We hiked and gazed-out over big, impressive views.

There is something satisfying about looking out over vistas and understanding what you’re looking at because you’ve been in so many of these places, but I mostly find my eyes gravitating to the places I haven’t yet paddled, and there’s something satisfying about that too, knowing there’s no end to it.

But mostly we just paddle around, looking for good places to eat lunch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Andrews Island

We had one last big weekend of classes through Pinniped: a calm day in Frenchman Bay, searching for features among rocks and ledges, a day at Sullivan Falls with a fifteen-foot tide range, and an incident management class out around Bass Harbor and Great Gott Island. On that last day, we carried over the sandbar between the Gotts where a chilly north wind stung the face and I found myself imagining that warm cup of gas station coffee I’d drink for the ride home. I felt a little relieved that it was the end of my teaching season. 

Almost on cue, those last days of October brought strong winds- warm, tropical air with fifty, sixty – knot gusts. Good days to stack firewood and go to the library to catch-up on the Internet. But with winter coming, one can develop a mildly desperate sense of purpose; make the most of every warm day. Chris wondered about a Sunday trip in Muscle Ridge, maybe look for a rock or two. Sounded good. 

Chris and Nate are both preparing for a Level 5 Instructor assessment. I did the Instructor Development Workshop for this in the spring with them, but hadn’t planned on assessing this year. As I see them preparing, I feel both a sense of regret that I’m not doing it (nothing like knowing you’ll be on the spot to get your skills sharpened) and relief that I can just go out and have fun. 


Sunday morning we met Chris, Justin and Erin at Ash Point, just south of Owls Head, and headed out. We’d seen forecasts that suggested strong winds and lumpy seas. But at the sandbar stretching from Ash Point out to Ash Island, the sea was fairly calm. We paddled into a ten-knot headwind as we crossed the channel out to Otter Island, past Dix, and took a break on Birch, before donning our helmets and heading out to Andrews Island. 

Andrews is privately-owned, with most of the cottages concentrated around the cove on the more sheltered northwest side. But the southeast shore of the island- from the northern tip, stretching over a mile to Nash Point at the southern end- is all undeveloped, probably because most of that shoreline is steep and rocky. In the middle of that stretch, the rocks turn particularly steep, with vertical pinkish granite cliffs that drop straight down into the sea, and it’s all exposed to open ocean. 

It’s a dramatic place to paddle, even on a calm day. 

But on Sunday we had some moderate swells rolling-in- a bit big to be working-out tricky maneuvers among the rocks, but perfect if you wanted to find spots to let those waves roll beneath you and explode on the vertical rocks. As people like to say, there was a lot of energy hitting the shore. 

Erin is fairly new to sea kayaking, but thanks to Chris she’s been getting a lot of good instruction and gradual exposure to lively conditions. She was the one beside me on the “Killer K” section of the Shubecanadie who expressed my assessment of the steep haystacks (“holy shit”). 

After a little encouragement, she nosed her bow in close to a steep slab of granite, and held-on as a bigger wave slammed into the cliff. The sound alone was daunting- an explosion of surf on hard, hard granite. Her bow lifted high and then dropped down as the wave rebounded. Erin looked back at us with a huge smile.

Landing for lunch was a challenge in itself, but afforded us a gorgeous place for a picnic atop a flat slab of pink granite, with views along Andrews’ shore toward the familiar trio of wind turbines on Vinalhaven. Out to sea, Matinicus was a low smudge on the horizon. 

It was the first day of Daylight Saving, and the end of the day seemed to come quickly. We paddled back to the launch with the wind at our back.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Neighborhood

As the season at Old Quarry wound-down, we pondered our next move. Returning to Georgia was not much of an option. When we left in June, the owner of the business was ill and it seemed a long shot that Sea, Surf & SUP would begin to thrive enough to provide ample work. The owner died over the summer and the business has since gone into yet another phase, with another name. So we weighed our options.

We'd worked really hard all summer- barely a day for a break, and, while the pace was sometimes a bit stressful, we loved it. We loved being active, kayaking all the time, in good shape, in close touch with the natural world.  I loved the tan lines from my sandals and the constant sore-muscled feeling of being a bit worked. And money in the bank. When we returned from the symposium in Nova Scotia, it felt obvious that summer was over and it seemed prudent to get south while the getting was good. We might find some kayak work in a warmer place and just keep at it. Or lay low for a bit in the Everglades.

We weighed this dream of warmer climes and more frequent paddling with our love for the Maine Coast, even in the colder months. Several people had very generously offered us winter living accommodations. We couldn't quite make up our minds. Rebecca needed a good spot to paint- a large enough space with good light. The ability to get out and kayak frequently would be a bonus. It seemed we would probably go south for the winter.

But then one day I was giving a lesson and my student told me she had a house that needed sitting for the winter... and it was on the water.  It would give us long months to focus on painting and writing. So here we are, still on Deer Isle. The house is in Sunshine, looking out over Mud Cove toward Eggemoggin Reach and Brooklin. We've been here about a week and a half now. (The first time I wrote that it had been a week, but we don't have internet here).

Last weekend I led a camping trip for College of the Atlantic, and with winds from the northwest gusting into the 30s, we looked for a more sheltered area. We settled on Naskeag Point and camped about two miles from our new winter home. It had been awhile since I'd paddled around here. For the past couple of years I haven't had a lot of personal paddling time to explore semi-local Maine waters. I've usually either been teaching & guiding or researching the guidebook, which took me away from Maine for awhile. So it's been with particular joy that I've found myself revisiting familiar islands, some of which have changed hands since my last visit.

Which isn't to say we don't have second thoughts. I woke up in my tent Sunday morning and it was pretty cold- just under freezing. Okay, it could be worse- it will be much worse, but you find yourself thinking "is this really necessary?" My outlook improved with a little coffee and oatmeal.

So we're getting into a routine here. Most days we stay put for the morning and get work done. At some point after lunch we head out for a paddle, getting better-acquainted with the neighborhood, gaining an understanding of what we're looking at from the living room window. Between us and Plumb Point are a couple of islets and ledges. One is barren of trees, with only a few distinctive boulders that catch the light just so. It already looks like a painting, and I find myself looking toward it compulsively, as if waiting for subtle changes to re-arrange it somehow.

A little farther out there's Bear Island, ringed with pocket beaches and a trail running its perimeter. There's Conary and White Islands, and across the Reach we visited the Babson and Torrey Islands. Little Babson has become a MCHT preserve since my last visit. And the Torreys now have posted signs welcoming responsible use.

At the mouth of Greenlaw Cove, Campbell Island is in the hands of the Chewonki Foundation and still on the Maine Island Trail, despite it's being for sale. As we paddled along its shore I remembered my first visit there, looking for the campsite as it grew dark after a long day of paddling.

Toward the end of Stinson Neck we visited some of the smaller islands, savoring them, taking comfort in their nearness to our winter home. Of course, we don't take that nearness for granted, realizing that at any time the weather might turn cold enough that we won't want to paddle. But for now we're reveling in the abundance of both time and less familiar shoreline to explore.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Shubie

We gathered near the shore, floating in our kayaks, waiting: nine of us- coaches who'd got together after the symposium to share a shuttle and a ride on the Shubecanadie's famous tidal bore. We'd met in a dark parking lot at five am and drove for four hours, a caravan of car-topped kayaks winding along a quiet Nova Scotia highway. We didn't even know who were in all the other cars until we pulled-off for a coffee and stood in line, a group of tired, but charged-up ruffians in stinky clothes. Finally, the caravan snaked along a smaller network of roads and arrived at the put-in in Maitland, near the head of the Minas Basin. Just after the full moon, or the Supermoon as everyone was calling it, the tidal range was anticipated to be around 54 feet- the largest in eighteen years.

Some had paddled the Shubie before- Rebecca had ridden the chocolate-brown waves the previous year- but for some of us it was hard to imagine the tidal bore- a wave that would, according to prediction, come surging toward us and rapidly fill the basin of the tidal river. "There it is," someone shouted, and it took me a moment to see how the distant water surface had turned bumpy.

We weren't really sure where to position ourselves. A group of Zodiac tour boats also waited nearby and a guided group, led by symposium organizers Committed 2 The Core coaches occupied a stretch in the middle of the river. We didn't want to get in their way, so we held position near the edge, not really comprehending what would happen when the bore reached us. But then the wave came. It seemed to descend almost in slow motion at first, lifting the guided group and propelling them down the middle of the river. Some of us managed to surf the wave as it caught us, but others were piled-up along the edge, pushed higher along the bank by the tide like so much driftwood, unable to maneuver in the shallows, subject to the whims of the current.

I managed to avoid the knot of boats, but still wound-up stranded in shallow water, watching a couple of boats surf away ahead of me. There were a few capsizes in this stretch, and after I got loose, I watched as a standing wave ahead of me rapidly increased in size, roaring as I bounced through it. We all finally gathered on the opposite side of the river and caught our breath. Rebecca's boat had a crack in it- presumably from the weight of the other boats that had ridden over her in the pile-up. I quickly patched the gash and inflated a flotation bag in the front hatch. The water level rose very quickly.

But the tidal bore is just the first of many features. For the rest, we paced ourselves, letting the water fill-in, developing stretches of standing waves that we drifted down into and surfed. I only took pictures in the quieter moments between features, but it's a gorgeous area: tall red cliffs, eroded like the sandstone I usually associate with the southwest US deserts. A rainstorm came and went.

One stretch, known as "The Killer K" (K=Kilometer) produced massive haystacks of red standing waves. Balanced on the crest of a tall mound of ochre, foamy mayhem, I had a moment to think about all the things that might happen next before I was propelled down a steep wave face. I really just had one thought, and I heard it come out of someone else's mouth: "holy shit!" I'm glad someone else said it.

We took some long rides, some through stretches where you could feel the enormous volume of water surging overwhelmingly around you. At times I couldn't tell if I were flying forward over the waves or if they were rushing backwards beneath me: usually a bit of both.

We took short time-outs in the eddies to make sure everyone was accounted for, and kept moving with the amplified current up the river. The sun came out.

We went around the last corner, a reddish bluff protruding into the river, and gathered in the eddy. On one hand I felt like I wanted more- it had been just a few hours of focused paddling. On the other hand, I felt exhausted. The others seemed a bit spent as well; we drifted around the last turns with a dream-like slowness,  paddling up a tributary creek, savoring those last moments on the water before we had to pack our cars and go our separate ways.

Here's another Shubie video from the Committed 2 The Core crew.