Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lunch on a Ledge - SKS After Five Years

Five years ago, on Saturday, April 14, 2007, I posted the first installment of Sea Kayak Stonington, titled Launch. It featured a few photos of Todd and me getting ready to launch at Colwell Ramp. My drysuit was brand-new, bright mango, and behind us the faded red Colwell building still stood on heavy timbers over the water, yet to be torn-down. I’d had my sea kayak- a goldenrod-yellow Impex Diamante- for about a year and a half, but I’d been paddling obsessively- without long gaps from one excursion to the next, for less than a year.

That first blog post included a few snapshots and details of a trip out into the Stonington-Isle au Haut archipelago. In one shot, I’m floating in the water just beyond the ramp, wondering how I’m going to get the camera from Rebecca. Behind me, Todd is doing the sort of edging that, at the time, I could only aspire to. My paddle is huge, its blades feathered at different angles- to create less wind resistance went the theory, but most of the time we just avoided such wind.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a commemorative excursion out among some familiar spots. The day looked to be a bit breezy, so I kept my ambitions mild and headed-out for Steves Island. I landed and did my usual litter patrol. The island probably had few if any visitors since the last time I walked its shore last month, but I found a pile of the usual plastic bottles, styrofoam cups and the remains of crumbling foam buoys. The wind had picked-up, whitecaps from the southwest rolling in with streaks of spindrift, so I launched and aimed roughly toward Hells Half Acre, figuring the wind and waves would do much of the work, and my return to Stonington would be mostly sheltered by islands.

As I approached Bare Island, I passed a ledge-y islet, and it occurred to me that, though I’ve paddled past it many times, I’d never landed. It was low tide and the landings were easy on the non-wavy side, so I stopped and had a look. It seemed bigger than I’d expected, especially at low tide. If you were desperate for a place to camp, you could at least find a bivvy ledge here. Bare Island, maybe a hundred yards off makes a meadowy backdrop, and you get a little glimpse of Stonington framed by Spud and Potato Islands: a slightly different perspective of some familiar sights. 

A short paddle brought me to another ledge, just north of Coombs Island. Again, I’d been past it many times, but usually intent on getting somewhere else. I landed for lunch -  PB & J, and a Thermos of hot tea. I sat just barely out of the wind, enough to feel warm in the sun. Sitting there on a ledge where I’d never landed before - only two miles from home, made me think. In the early days of this blog I often exclaimed how one could paddle in the same place again and again, but that it could continue to reveal new sights. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of car-topping to less familiar areas, driven by the joy of discovery. And it is a joy: getting the lay of the land and sea, letting the geography etch itself into my consciousness. (Or something like that). But in a way, discovery, newness- appreciating where you are - is a state of mind. 

A few days ago a visitor came into the gallery and asked, a bit skeptically, if we still “saw” our surroundings. In other words, "sure, it’s pretty here, but after awhile does it get to be the same old, same old?" I quickly replied that yes, we do still “see” our surroundings here. That’s more or less Rebecca’s job as an artist, and it’s tough somehow for those paddling excursions to turn into the same boring commute.

You’d think, the closer I paddle to town, the harder it would be to find new spots. I stopped at Hells Half Acre and aimed back for town. Just past Camp Island, focused on Russ Island ahead, I was going past the big ledge... and I had to stop and have a look around. Again, my first visit. Within sight of town and Old Quarry. 

Sea Kayak Stonington began as a group project, an extension of the logbook we left in “the clubhouse”- the storage area a group of us share at the launch. Also, the blog on my art gallery’s website had started getting infected with paddling snapshots. In the early days, Todd responded to posts and to other people’s comments, usually under a pseudonym, but the blog never really worked as a group endeavor. We weren’t much of a group. The “clubhouse” turned-out to be just a place to store boats, and the logbook more of a way to figure-out who had been there. Sea Kayak Stonington became my own personal logbook.

I didn’t know why I wrote these trip descriptions and posted them online with photos, but it seemed to motivate me to paddle and write and try to understand it all better. Maybe there isn’t a lot to understand about sea kayaking, or the ocean, or a guy slowly realizing that most of his life is probably behind him and looking for some way to navigate the rest of it. But the experience feels richer when I spend some time revisiting my excursions and thinking about them- even to try to see the whole endeavor from someone else’s eyes. Of course people write to connect with other people, and I’m sure that’s part of it. I occasionally hear from readers, which is cool. But most of the writing is akin to the paddling: solo, quiet, meandering- not looking for anything deep or meaningful, but once in awhile it feels like I’m right there at the edge of something. It makes a few ripples and disappears.

Paddling, guiding, teaching and blogging: where's it all going? I wrote a few thousand words more than I'm posting here, but it was a few thousand words too long. I start-out headed for lunch on Steve's Island and I find myself somewhere I've never been before- a place I hardly knew existed. I trust my selfish instincts best; as long as it's fun, I'll keep at it


Sandy Stott said...

Ah, here's hoping you keep enjoying the solitary work of paddle/writing; Sea Kayak Stonington is a bookmark I visit during the distant seasons. Somehow both the paddling and the writing carry a good (the right) spirit. Thanks for keeping on.


Caroline said...

As always, I finish reading with a smile on my face. Evocative writing, beautiful photos, pleasant thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I've been following this blog for years and I consistently enjoy both your excellent writing and the quality photos you take. When there is a window of opportunity for a trip, I will consult your blog when figuring out routes and deciding on which areas to visit. Great pointers, an invaluable resource- thanks and keep it up!