Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lunch on Gooseberry

Dick and Kale met me at the ramp in Stonington. Temps hovered around freezing with a breezy north wind, but the sun on my face felt warm. The breeze gave us a push as we paddled toward the sloping profile of Steves Island.


I hadn’t paddled here in awhile. Lately I’ve preferred to car-top elsewhere, getting better acquainted with areas I don’t know as well, a satisfying process as I stare at the chart and see the pieces coming together. The satisfaction deepens when you return and see those places at a different tide, or in different weather, and your experience with a place starts to take on layers, informed by what happened each time you were there. 

A few weeks ago, paddling around Bartlett Island off MDI, I remembered how a group I had guided there started singing. As I paddled, the song came back to me- not the popular rock band’s version, but the students paddling their kayaks version. The song drifted through my head as I slowed to stare at tall icicles dripping down the cliffs. Then, below those icicles there was movement, and a coyote took a good look at me before loping off into the woods. And so another layer was added to my experience of the place.

But in the Stonington archipelago, my adopted backyard, there are enough layers of experience that they all blend together. I've paddled certain routes enough that it sometimes feels like a routine evening stroll, my mind wandering among my thoughts as much as the landscape.  Other times, it’s all still new. Having someone else along adds a whole new dimension. We paddled to some favorite spots: the tiny island paradise of Steves, McGlathery with its boulders perched on sloping slabs of granite, and on to Gooseberry, where we took a break. Out of the wind, with the sun on us, we felt plenty warm.

Meandering into the wind back toward Stonington, we hopscotched in the lee of islands: back to McGlathery, over to Spruce and on toward Hells Half Acre. Wherever we stopped, the beaches looked inviting with little to visually suggest that it was January. In colder months as the water cools, the algae thins-out, and the water turns clear... inviting even, if you weren't moving just to stay warm.

Despite the name of this blog, I sometimes wonder how long I can keep writing about paddling around Stonington and keep it interesting, at least for myself. One way is to get out of Stonington and then return. I like Thoreau's often-quoted statement from Walden: "I have traveled a good deal in Concord...". A case could be made that experience is experience, that it is just as rich to travel in small circles and get to know your backyard as it is to make an extended journey. I love reading accounts of extended journeys, yet I often read with a skeptical eye when the author claims more than he should about a place he glimpsed for a tiny fraction of its (and his) history.

There are too many variables: the tide, the weather and season, and perhaps most importantly- what's going on in the author's head. I think I've been skimming over the surface in these dispatches, and maybe that's all I will ever do. But when we land on some of these islands, or when I let the waves toss me along their shores... it's hard to describe the feeling. I walked among the sun-warmed boulders on Gooseberry and felt something bittersweet, that I loved it so much I didn't want to leave. I could only express this to my friends by saying something like "I really like this place." For now, I'll just leave it at that.


Caroline said...

Another Michael Dougherty article that left me smiling and thoughtful. Keep writing about what you know - the layers of experience can be the most important part of any 'travel' article.

PenobscotPaddles said...

Absolutely love the giant granite marble strewn shores of Gooseberry. It's terrific that you had the chance to enjoy it!

Marjorie Glick said...

I can feel the crisp air just from the photos and your great writing! Thanks.

Caroline said...


"I really like this place".

The best way I can think of to pay tribute to a special place.

BaffinPaddler said...

I visited Stonington, Maine last summer and only a few of those awesome islands you paddle (including Gooseberry - my favorite) with PenobscotPaddles.

Every time I look at all the photos I took while there for only one week, and how much I loved it, I feel like I could write a thousand stories. I love yours!

People who have never been there may not understand the magic, but those who write about it bring others.

I totally understand what you're talking about. You are in a magical place. And you are a great writer and artist. I love your blog!

Cheers from Canada!

Lawrence said...

Great post!

I feel the same way down here in the Mid-Atlantic. I visit the same spots so often that I almost feel guilty, as if I am cheating myself of other adventures that I could be on somewhere else. But I find new things every time I am out. I also find myself being very comfortable when out at the "regular haunts". Like I'm home. Relaxed and suspended in the moment in a very familiar place, yet realizing it's beauty anew all the same.

A man's interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town. - Thoreau

Nothing wrong with knowing one thing well....