Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Last Five

Parked beside the road at Reach Beach, I took my kayak down from the car, and placed it on the sand, just a dozen or so feet away, where the water lapped at the bow. It was nearly high tide on a placid mid-afternoon, the last day of September, with three or four hours before dark, and I had a goal: to land on the five Maine Island Trail islands at the east end of Eggemoggin Reach. To get to them I’d need to paddle a loop of about ten miles and not dilly-dally too much along the way. I loaded my boat and headed out.

It had been at least a week since I’d last paddled, and I could tell; it felt like work. Maybe it was that I was so focused, paddling faster than usual, thinking about how I barely had enough time to cover the route before sunset, but how I really wanted to get to these islands. These would be the final five islands I needed to land on to meet the Maine Island Trail Association’s 30 in 30 Challenge. The deadline was still a week away, but we would be heading to New Hampshire for a bit, so if I wanted to meet the challenge, this was my chance. 

Campbell Island, #27
If you’re just tuning-in, the 30 in 30 challenge is MITA’s way to celebrate the Trail’s 30th year, offering a rare, special edition piece of headwear for those who land on 30 islands before Columbus Day. All you have to do was set foot on the island and then document it. Man, I really wanted that hat. (Of course, what they’ve failed to mention is that the hat is what some would call a lampshade with the number “30” scrawled on it with Magic Marker). It was rare for me to have such a goal. Most of my personal, non-work paddling this year had been fairly leisurely, mostly to get away from it all, in pursuit of hammock time as much as exercise. I’d become a bit of a slacker.

The mountains of Mount Desert Island rose to the east, beyond Blue Hill Bay, their peaks cloaked in a low layer of cumulus, but here it was absolutely clear and sunny, a crisp autumn day with a mild breeze. A couple of small sailboats crisscrossed Greenlaw Cove. I weaved among near-shore rocks below the houses on Oak Point. I realized I was still thinking of the goal more than enjoying the moment, maybe not enjoying it as much as I could, but whatever – I had places to be. Ahead, at the mouth of Fish Creek lay Apple Island, and I thought ‘that will be number 26.’ I looked over at Campbell Island, off to my left and thought ’27.’ I looked at my watch. 

Sheep -Stinson Neck #28
But then, up ahead, a seal popped its head above the surface and looked at me. The water near it roiled with movement, and I steered toward it, arriving amid a school of densely swarming foot-long fish. They swam beneath and turned, as if of one mind, like a cloud moving through the water, catching silvery flashes of sunlight. The cloud moved to the surface, breaking through with fins and tails, a mob of fish, and circled around. This was unusual. If I saw fish around here, which didn’t happen often, they were usually finger-sized, corralled into shallow coves by terns. These were big, fat fish, thousands of them, and I sat floating for a while, watching. I thought vaguely of my schedule, my need to get to five islands before dark. And I lingered a bit longer – so what if I came back in the dark? If need be, I had lights. 

Sellers Island, #29
I continued toward Apple Island, perhaps a bit slower-paced than before. But I felt more ‘there.’ Maybe then I felt some of the stress of the last week begin to slip away. As our season at Old Quarry wound-down, we got the news that we needed to move out of the space in Stonington where most of our belongings were stored, and Rebecca would need to find a new studio. We’ve been transient for nearly four years now since we moved out of our gallery and apartment in downtown Stonington, and we’ve lived either in outfitter housing or in house-sits, but this approach was only possible because we’ve lived with a tiny fraction of our belongings, the furniture and most other household items stored away. So for more than a week we’d been moving from one storage unit to another – an exercise in futility if there ever was one – and to a new studio space for Rebecca.

I arrived at Apple Island and walked around, looking for a photo to document my brief visit. It can be tough to find something interesting when you only hop out of your boat for a few minutes. I felt hungry, but I didn’t have any snacks – I usually paddled with granola bars stashed away in various pockets, but this time I had none. But there were apples on the trees. The lowest had been eaten by deer, but I found a stick and knocked one from a higher branch, and it tasted perfect: sweet, crisp, as fresh as it gets. So I knocked down a few more and stashed them in my day hatch.

Apple Island, #26

I went on to Campbell Island (27) and Sheep Island - Stinson Neck (28) and then headed across the Reach, where I landed on Sellers (29) and finally Little Hog (30). Somewhere in there I found my rhythm and the paddle strokes came more naturally, with less effort. Then, with the current against me, I stayed on the Brooklin side of the Reach, skirting the edges of Babson and Little Babson Island to where I could paddle against a little less of the flow to cross back to Deer Isle. The sun was sinking in the west – right over Grays Cove. I pointed my bow below it and headed back.

Little Hog Island, #30

There’s still a few days to take part in MITA’s 30-in-30 Challenge. You too could wear one of these hats.

In mid-September, I paddled a tandem with Joseph Rosendo, host of the PBS series Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope. We were followed by a film crew in the NIGH DUCK who recorded our conversations, including a stop on Hells Half Acre, where I had a lot to say about the merits of the Maine Island Trail. The episode will air sometime later next year.

This wasn't our year for doing big kayak trips, but we were able to enjoy the trips of others vicariously, and sometimes offer a little assistance. Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson, who together travel the world teaching, mostly Greenland skills, under the auspices of Kayakways, came through Stonington on their way downeast on a long coastal trip, and we just saw them a few days ago while they were driving home. I saw bits and pieces about their trip on Facebook, and hope someday to hear more about it.

In addition to moving stuff between storage units and studios, we've moved from Old Quarry into a an apartment we'll be sitting until next summer. It overlooks Stonington Harbor and is a short distance from the launch there.


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