Monday, August 22, 2011

Paddling Home in the Dark

As I paddle home in the dark, phosphorescence streaks my bow wake, blending with the reflections of stars so it feels like I’m hovering someplace between water and sky. I feel my way along by the solid catch of paddle blades and the dim, familiar shapes of ledges. Out at the anchorage by Hells Half Acre, maybe a mile away, a dozen or so mast-top lights mark the sailboats beneath them, but otherwise, all is dark. It feels good to know my way; I’ve been making this commute often enough.

It has been a long day of guiding. In the morning, Jake and I took a group of nineteen to Green Island, returning to the ramp at Old Quarry where hordes of visitors massed toward the water’s edge as if to flee some natural disaster on shore. The tandems from our morning trip were immediately put back into service. Nearby, a couple of rented canoes rafted-up together, their occupants sitting on the gunwales, ignoring Bill’s warnings to be careful.

Jake and I each had groups waiting for us, and it took some herding to figure out who went with whom... after which we determined we didn’t have enough boats- every single boat was out. Then Nate returned from his three-day trip and we grabbed his kayaks. After figuring who went in what cockpit, we adjusted footpegs and as I did a pre-trip briefing, noticed one of the canoes, now swamped, the occupants swimming for shore. Jake and I looked at each other and shrugged; what did they expect?

My group- nine people, including some kids- wanted to go to that quarry on Green Island, so back to Green I went, where for the second time that day, I stacked kayaks on the beach to make room for more as other groups arrived. On the way back, we stopped by Hells Half Acre, and back at Old Quarry, found the shore covered in a maze of returned boats, waiting to be cleaned.

But I had a sunset trip- a couple and their two kids. Sure, they’d been sea kayaking, the father told me, nodding toward the kids- “but not since they were born.” Getting to Hells Half Acre before dark seemed a long shot, but he seemed driven to get to the island. I could understand. We probably should have turned back, arriving just after sunset- just enough time for a quick photo before turning around. Fortunately, the wind helped push us back.

A hectic day, to be sure, following on the heels of several such days. The day before I’d spent the morning instructing a group in the pond, before taking them out for the afternoon, co-guiding with Jessica. It had poured down rain all day, but near the end of our trip, the rain cleared and we stood atop Little Sheep Island, gazing out at a rainbow over the islands. “It’s moment’s like these,” Jessica said, “that make me look around and think I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Different rainbow, different place & year... but otherwise the same

Paddling home in the dark, I round Indian Point to see the trio of winking red lights atop the windmills on Vinalhaven. At the house on the point, light spills from the windows onto the shallows and ledges. Inside, a television flickers. I could use a day or two off from paddling, even if it means sitting at my desk at my other job. I feel pleasantly worn-out and my brain a bit fried, but it feels good to focus on a clean stroke, and to think, as much as possible, of nothing.


Paddle2See said...

Wow, great description of the guiding life! We did some paddling out of Old Quarry on Tuesday and it was awesome. Perfect weather and, while their were other paddlers, we didn't see the hordes you were dealing with (thankfully).

Michael Daugherty said...

Thanks- the day of the hordes was last Wednesday. Funny how the crowds don't seem to follow any pattern. I was there yesterday (Tuesday- went out to Enchanted). Saw a few paddlers (you, perhaps?) but no hordes.