Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Moonlight on Thomas Island

I’m not crazy about waking-up in the middle of the night to pee – one of those things that most of us can look forward to with increasing frequency as we get older – and it is certainly complicated by the need to climb out of your sleeping bag, find your shoes in the tent vestibule and stagger-off over unfamiliar terrain, but it also gives you the chance to experience this place you’ve gone to some effort to get to in yet another sublime moment. You could call it a bonus moment, or perhaps more of an interlude.

Rebecca Daugherty photo - Greenlaw Cove

Late on Saturday night, the full moon shone over a calm stretch of water, high tide lapping only a few feet away from my tent. To the south, Thomas Bay – an area that had been an enormous mudflat when we’d arrived – glimmered brightly, and headlights snaked up and down the road on Cadillac Mountain.
It was a good moment. One might theorize that beyond biological function, these increased mid-night interludes as we get older are meant to give us more opportunities to enjoy life; that with our remaining time on this planet constantly decreasing, we need these opportunities to have a little breather and look around, enjoy the moment, take stock of where our kayaks have brought us.

It’s autumn, and I’m prone to these autumnal thoughts, the ones where you wonder how much life you have left and what you ought to do with it, but I’m more prone after a trying couple of weeks that left me feeling particularly uprooted and detached. We moved from one house-sit to another, but before really moving-in, went to a reunion of sorts for R’s family and well, a reunion of sorts for my own. 

There were ups and downs. One late-night interlude found me with two of my sisters in a non-descript motel in a non-descript highway-side sprawl in the Midwest, at least a thousand miles from any ocean, but is across the street from the place where my mother, whose memory of me is intermittent and vague at best, now lives, often wondering how she came to be there. 

But I also paddled (in canoe and kayak) on Squam Lake and hiked in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, standing alone atop familiar peaks and with an old friend, walking a trail to a waterfall that I thought I’d never been on, but became increasingly familiar. 

There’s something vaguely unsettling about that- about realizing how much you’ve forgotten, and it reminds me of at least one good reason to keep writing this blog, since I do constantly wonder why I am doing it. But I think it’s akin to the journals I kept for the first part of my life and finally abandoned when I decided my writing time should be focused on more productive writing pursuits. With the journals and the blog, I can at least look back and see where I’ve been, but with the exception of my guidebook, most of those “more productive pursuits” are as forgotten as the trail to the waterfall that now feels only vaguely familiar after I’ve been on it for hours, inspiring more of a sense of deja-vu than anything particular. A dream we dreamed one afternoon, long ago.

And I suppose I get some comfort out of the sense of continuity that writing brings. I’m sitting in a new place (a wonderful place with a view over a placid cove and Mount Desert rising in the distance) (I’m sitting on the deck where the railings are festooned with drying kayak gear) and I’m engaging in this process that both connects me to the past and helps me move forward, but most of all, connects me to this moment.  

Come to think of it, this process has some similarities to the process of paddling. With all I had to do over the past couple of weeks – the traveling, the ups and downs, I’d come to view guiding and teaching this weekend trip as a hurdle before I could relax a little, after months with very little down-time. I returned “home” late Friday night, my first night there, only to pack my kayaking and camping gear and strap a different kayak atop the car, getting only a few hours of sleep before I had to drive to Bar Harbor. But even if it’s work, getting on the water is a balm, and I quickly began to feel like myself again.

Saturday’s forecast was mellow, but Sunday’s called for strong winds from the southwest. I had a small group of College of the Atlantic students learning kayaking and leadership skills, so I put the choices into their hands, and we paddled the northeast coast of Mount Desert Island to a campsite and a route that kept us mostly sheltered from Sunday’s winds. 

I tend to think of MDI’s northeast shore as one of the less interesting parts of the island’s shoreline, but I paddle it every now and then, usually when southwest winds make the wider expanses of Frenchman Bay livelier than desired. Most of the shoreline is sprinkled with homes, and there’s not a lot of public access, but a couple of areas stand-out.

Just east of Sand Point and Salsbury Cove, The Ovens are a series of steep cliffs with undercut hollows along the high tide line. Steeped in Wabanaki mythology, the features were a more popular tourist attraction in the Victorian era, before private property limited public access.

It’s still private, and of course Maine riparian rights laws extend private land to the low tide line, so access remains tricky. At high tide though, you can get right into The Ovens, and at a very high tide even paddle through a natural arch. And if you’re quiet about it late in the season, you might even get away with lunch on the smooth, flat stones.

Hadley Point is a town-owned launch and picnic area. On Saturday, we ran out of energy just short of our campsite and had a picnic at Hadley Point, but it’s also a good place to launch if you want to explore the Mount Desert Narrows area or The Ovens. Judging from the litter and the occasional headlights I saw pull into the parking area that night, I’m guessing it’s also a good spot to watch submarine races.

Thomas Bay turns to mudflats at lower tides, but it is sheltered from southwest winds, and popular among birds, including the bald eagles that nest on The Twinnies, a pair of wildlife refuge islands. Just across from them, also attached at low tide by the massive mudflats, is Thomas Island, owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. When Sunday’s winds picked-up, we got into a couple of windy spots, but for the most part were able to paddle back to Bar Harbor in the lee.

The arch pictured above is in front of the gorgeous campus of the MDI Biological Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research facility in operation since 1898. 

“I went outside to take a leak underneath the stars – yeah that’s the life for me.” The Poet Game by Greg Brown,

“It’s all a dream we dreamed one afternoon, long ago.” Box of Rain by Phil Lesh & Robert Hunter

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