Sunday, September 9, 2018

Whitmore Neck

For the second day in a row I had a no-show for a scheduled trip. When you wonder why they haven’t arrived and you look for the paperwork so you can call them, and then realize that there’s no paperwork to be found, it seems a safe bet that you’ve been waiting in vain after planning your day around this non-existent trip. And then, while you’re standing there in the office in your gear, your packed boat waiting down by the shore, your employer does his usual ‘who’s on the clock?’ mantra (I wasn’t, though I should have been). 

This is all business as usual at Old Quarry, except that it occurred while a thunderstorm was passing through and the office was suddenly packed with more idle employees than usual. I didn’t really mind the ghost clients’ tardiness – the trip would have been delayed anyway – but after the storm was gone I was ready to paddle, so I headed out.

Before I launched though, I got a curry started; we were having an employee ‘we survived the season’ potluck that evening. So by the time I was on the water I had about three hours ahead of me to paddle. I spent a minute just floating, wondering where to go. It was an hour after low tide, so the current was coming in, and I began imagining a route: islands I hadn’t been to for awhile which were also, conveniently, MITA islands that I could add to my #mita30in30 Challenge list. I would head around Whitmore Neck.

The first part of the paddle was perhaps a little too familiar. I’d already guided a morning trip out to Little Sheep Island, and this stretch went past like a commute in which you arrive with little recollection of getting there. Maybe it wasn’t the fault of the scenery. I had a lot on my mind, mostly involving our plans for the immediate future. The season at Old Quarry was coming to an end. I was weary of how tenuous our way of life sometimes feels. The storm had passed, but grey clouds still streaked the sky, slipping eastward. It wasn’t a great day to lie in a hammock – a little cool and breezy still, and besides, I just felt like paddling, focusing those frustrations into the physical mantra of the clean and efficient forward stroke I seldom have opportunity to engage while guiding. I passed the bulbous granite humps of Whaleback Ledges and turned into Southeast Harbor, catching the inland current.

There’s two MITA Islands up this way, and I stopped on both of them. Polypod Island, owned by Island Heritage Trust, lies just offshore from a few homes on the peninsula leading out to the Tennis Preserve. Like all IHT preserves, camping isn’t allowed, so it’s strictly a day-use spot. I usually get up to this area when it’s stormy or foggy and I’m looking for a more sheltered trip, but now, with the clouds skidding away eastward, the sun shone through, lighting the island’s oaks and birches, the ground littered with acorns.

Inner Harbor Island lies, of course, in Inner Harbor. This stretch of water, nearly surrounded by sheltering fingers of land, was a busy shipping hub in the 1800s until a devastating fire tore through the South Deer Isle port. Given its shallow depths, the harbor would seem a challenging destination for a fleet of granite and lumber schooners. As I sat on a rock at the height of the island, I tried to imagine what it looked like, busy with canvas sails. I also read MITA’s trail log, mostly signed by day visitors, like this one:

That made me smile. I was thinking of writing that it was my 25th island for the #mita30in30 Challenge until I read the last entry stating it was the author’s 57th. So instead I wrote that I liked how the challenge had brought me to this peaceful place when I might not have otherwise gone there.

There’s a rickety tent platform on the island, leftover from pre-MITA island days. Replacing the platform would be a good volunteer project for someone one of these days. Another logbook entry stated that the island had been known as Lard Island.

I paddled past one of my many fantasy cabins, a dream house with lots of potential. I've observed it every now and then over the years, gradually rotting. 

I’d taken my time to ensure that the incoming tide would fill Hatch Cove, enabling me to get through, and by now the evening sun lit the cove’s numerous smooth granite ledges, and the current bore me gently past them. 

This is another very sheltered stretch of water, and though the banks are mostly privately owned, most of the homes are tucked into the woods, out of sight, and it feels wild and quiet. I drifted for a bit, in no hurry to return to Old Quarry, but, oh yeah, I had that potluck to get to.

Despite whatever mixed feelings I had for this place where I’ve worked off and on for the last eight years, I wanted to spend time with my co-workers and maybe have a laugh or two about the various ups and downs the summer had brought us. We would concur that overwhelmingly, the people we’d taken on our trips really had been great, especially once we got them on the water. So I headed back, once again, toward Webb Cove.

Mita's 30 in 30 Challenge is open until Columbus Day. There's still time to get to document your visits to 30 islands to celebrate the Maine Island Trail's 30th year - and you may win fabulous prizes!


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