Saturday, October 1, 2011
Around North Haven
I woke up in my sleeping bag. The sky was lightening already. I’d left the fly off the tent, so I could drift to sleep beneath the stars, and now across East Penobscot Bay, where the Mark Island Light had flashed all night like clockwork, the horizon clouds were turning pink. The seas were calm, the air warm for late September, and I had all day to paddle around North Haven.
I felt lucky to be there. Rebecca was taking my place in the gallery for a few days, and the weather just happened to be perfect. I’d pitched my tent atop a grassy bluff on Little Thorofare Island with asters blooming between the rocks and a view so sweeping I wanted to just sit and stare. Not for everybody, judging from the MITA logbook- the steep, rocky banks are a bit tricky. I had unloaded my kayak, hauling gear up in mesh duffels, then shouldered the boat up to my perch.
Getting around North Haven would take a minimum of 18 nautical miles, and I figured I’d check out a few coves as well. It would be a big day. I ate my oatmeal and launched. When you know you have a long way to go, it’s tough not to start off with an almost frantic pace, thinking of the destination more than the scenery at hand. This is especially senseless when the destination is the place you’ve just left, but I settled into a quick rhythm, soon passing Mullen Head, Marsh Cove and the bluffs below Oak Hill, the northeast point of the island.
To the north, with the Camden Hills and Islesboro as a backdrop, schooners tacked back and forth across the bay. I followed the shoreline: dark bluffs rose directly from the water with an occasional stairway poking down from the woods to a cobble beach. After a couple of hours, I paddled into Pulpit Harbor, following the shoreline past well-kept old homes all the way to the end, which at high tide had the feel of a farm pond surrounded by grassy meadows.
I continued along the coast, dipping into the coves and harbors along the way, and the hours and miles went by. I would think about how far I had to go, forcing myself to focus on a fast and efficient stroke, only to be distracted by the usual stuff: rocks, the perfect cottage- often the guest house on a larger estate, and sunbathing women whose curves, on second glance, transformed into sensuous limbs of driftwood. I rounded the southwest end, pointing toward the next mansion on a headland.
Finally, halfway into Southern Harbor, my hull ground to a halt on a sandbar and I sat for a long moment before getting out for a stretch and a Snickers. I was tired and had miles to go. Instead of following every remaining inch of shoreline, I took a more direct route for town, landing at the North Haven town dock. I walked into town. I bought an ice-cream cone at Coopers and walked, following the road out of town. Everyone who drove by waved like they knew me.
I found the trail and walked uphill across a field, through some woods, and emerged at a rocky protrusion called Ames Knob. I stood and marveled at the view, watching the comings and goings in the Thorofare until I had a strong desire to be back in my kayak, headed back to camp, where I arrived just as a couple of schooners anchored nearby for the evening.
As I made dinner, I realized I felt tired, not only from a 24-mile paddle, but from all I had seen. It was a lot to take in- even the small details, like the lack of tire tracks on North Haven's quiet streets. And learning, once again that the more I see, I understand how much more there is to be seen. I would get to a bit more of it the next morning, at high tide when I paddled into some inlets that are otherwise inaccessible, but I still feel like I'm just getting to know the place.