Sunday, December 4, 2011
Long Island, Blue Hill Bay
I take my first break at a beach at the south end of the island, a crescent of sand curving out toward a small hub island, bristling with spruce trees. A pretty spot: a good place to walk around while I munch my PB&J, sip some tea and try to stay warm. I’ve been paddling for an hour and a half in the sunshine, sweating in my layers, but now the cool air is catching-up. I made the one-mile crossing from the South Blue Hill launch, and for the past few miles I’ve paddled against some mild current and wind, checking-out the shoreline with its deserted summer houses amid leafless hardwoods and occasional spruce.
Long Island in Blue Hill Bay is one of the larger less-developed islands around: 4.5 miles long by 2 miles at its widest- around 4,800 acres. The island is privately-owned, but Acadia National Park holds a conservation easement on it, so the public is allowed access to the unsettled portions... like the entire eastern shore.
As I’ve stood here on the beach, a huge front has moved-in from the west, and the first puffs of clouds start to obscure the sun. I launch and make my way around the southern end, past meadows with clusters of red-berried bushes and beaches, places I’d like to spend a little more time on a warmer day. With two hours until sunset and over eight miles to get back to the launch, I can’t linger, but, now that I’m headed north, the waves and current should give me a little push.
I’m wearing three thin layers of wool and microfleece beneath my drysuit, but my fingers, in thin neoprene gloves, have been numb and tingly for awhile. I try to envision some of that heat from my core pulsing-out to where I need it. Maybe it works. Or it could be that I just get involved with handling my boat as I let the waves turn me to follow the eastern shore. Or it’s the shore itself- I get a weird joy, discovering one wild beach after another, pocketed between arms of stone that I glide past. Whatever it is, at some point this paddle went from a bit of a slog- entirely too conscious of whatever progress I was making along a shoreline half-settled with summer homes, to, well, this.
I no longer notice my tingly fingers. Could be that they’ve warmed-up. Or I just don’t notice because there’s too much else to pay attention to. I don’t want to say I’ve lost myself to the moment. That would be a bit grandiose, and besides, once you think “I’ve lost myself to the moment,” well, that moment’s gone. It could be that the act of paddling and checking-out my surroundings has become more all-encompassing. I’m having fun.
To the west are meadows on another large island- Bartlett, and behind that, the small mountains of Mount Desert Island- nice background, but I’m mostly focused on my immediate surroundings. The shoreline turns steep with rocky slabs sloping down into the water. Occasionally, a cascade of fresh water pours down from the forest, falling over the ledges into the sea. I stop at one of these for another tea and sandwich break and admire how the creek has sculpted the stone.
There’s an entire other world up there in the forest, and I feel bittersweet to leave it behind- yet another place to spend warm days with plenty of sunlight. For now though, I have more time for paddling in the cooler, darker months. The sea has turned calm, and as I round the north end of the island, Blue Hill comes into view, rising over the town and the bay that are named for it. Here and there along shore, lights are twinkling on: time for me to turn on my deck light and get back to the launch.