Toward the end of the summer there’s a day out on the water when the weather changes moods, and it feels like the season takes a subtle but abrupt turn around the corner. The morning feels like summer, but as the afternoon sun fades and the breeze picks-up, you start looking for those extra layers of clothing. A few days ago felt like such a day. I’d guided a mid-day trip and headed out on my own afterward. I didn’t get far. Paddling past a favorite spot – one that had often been occupied by campers for much of the summer, but was now vacant – I opted to stop and hang my hammock rather than paddle farther.
I felt a bit worn-out, lazy – whatever. Maybe I wasn’t sure if that southwest breeze would let-up before I had to paddle back and I didn’t want to get farther downwind. Or maybe it just seemed obvious that the chances to steal a warm, sunny hour or two in the hammock would become increasingly rare in the coming days.
From where I hung, I had a glimpse of the busy Stonington waterfront a couple miles away. A few sailboats were anchored nearby and while I lay there, occasionally looking up from a book, a couple more boats made their way into the anchorage, sails full with the breeze. I’d hung my wet paddling gear on a branch and lay enclosed within the peapod-like cocoon of my hammock wearing nothing, and it felt good to dry in the sunlight. But as soon as the sun went behind the clouds, I dug from my stern hatch the layer of fleece that I’d carried all summer, but rarely needed.
It reminded me of the day exactly a year earlier, in which Rebecca and I finished our nearly two-month meander of the Maine coast. We’d started the day at The Hub, a tiny island off the northwest corner of Mount Desert Island, and it had been warm enough that I’d taken a swim before launching. It turned out to be the warmest day of our whole trip. I even took a swim at lunch, savoring it, knowing how quickly the whole experience would fall into the past. And I was right.
We took our last break on Little Sheep Island, mostly because the wind had increased and I was chilled and needed another layer. We crouched in the lee of a ledge and I ate a granola bar, shivering. And then we paddled the last two miles and finished the trip. At Old Quarry, we found the ground covered with boats that needed to be cleaned and returned to racks; they’d had a busy day. We would be working there again, soon enough.
Not long after that, in Newfoundland, I began writing an account of that journey, which has ensured that I don’t go a day without thinking about it somehow. Rebecca began working from the sketches and paintings she’d done on the trip, and in a way then, our experience evolved into something else, something new. We try to relive it and to understand it, but any account of reality is seen through a filter. It gets shaped and re-shaped. The boring parts get cut, and you look for themes, threads that run through it that might give it more shape than a mere account of a summer vacation. I’m not sure that it’s there yet, but the process itself has been good, the reliving. In a way, the writing process echoes the theme that seemed to come up a lot, and I can’t get away from, which is simply the fleeting nature of experience, how quickly it all passes: how we can try to grab it while we’re living it, but how suddenly it is gone. Certainly that’s how summer in Maine feels.
But one thing from the trip that has persisted is my desire to relax a little, to get to these idyllic places and enjoy them for a while, especially when the air is warm. When you’re worn-out after a day of work it may seem like too much trouble to get the gear together and paddle out there for only an hour or two, but I never regret it. And though we may not paddle as far or get to as many places, we spend a little time getting to know this one place better.
Paddling Magazine used one of Rebecca’s photos in their current issue to illustrate a piece on Cumberland Island.
We went to the Maine Island Trail Association’s annual volunteer party a couple weeks ago and were very surprised when they honored us with their ‘Spirit of the Trail’ award, giving thanks for the volunteering we’ve done, both in sharing my writing and research for the new Bold Coast section, and the island clean-ups we’ve occasionally led. We met wonderful people there, kindred spirits, and it made me wish we’d gone out of our way in the past to go to more of these, to get more involved.
We’re mulling-over our options for our next move, but we’re hoping to spend the next months doing a little house-sitting and just enough work to pay the bills while we work on our own projects. If you have something in mind that might work for us, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.