So I seem to have found it difficult to write about my favorite outdoor pursuit – sea kayaking. I’m well into this blog experiment now, and not a mention of it in two years.
I’ve wrestled with how to approach it. Should I relate an adventure in a far off country and risk losing the activity in the location, or anchor it here at home in Maine? Okay, Maine in a landslide; its’ rocky coast has hosted me on a huge majority of my outings.
I have so many friends and family who don’t paddle. How do I convey how amazing it is to paddle, and what words would I use to describe the elements, the feelings, and the experiences?
Pulling my feet out of a mudflat of indecision, I decided that the best way to convey the experience of a paddling trip would be to take a reader along on a play-by-play through the wide ranging journey of my mind that happens every time I climb into a kayak, especially on a solo trip.
Time in nature is my recharge. My head empties of whichever of lifes’ goings-on are occupying my thoughts, and I am fully in the moment. Paddling a sea kayak demands focus – partly for safety, but by necessity if one’s desire is to travel from Point A to Point B.
Like continuous chanting of a healing mantra, the repetitive action of paddling is incredibly meditative for me, and I can go for long periods with no thoughts other than an awareness of paddle meeting water.
The Setting: I’m on Thief Island, a 9-acre island located several miles from the mainland out into Muscongus Bay, one of the many indentations along Maines’ undulating coast, somewhere north of the City of Portland and south of Acadia National Park.
It’s the last day of a solo three day loop trip that roughly circumnavigated Louds Island, in the loose way you would circumnavigate Jamaica by taking in Florida, the Virgin Islands, and the northeast coast of South America. I camped on a different island each night. Muscongus Bay can get whipped up pretty good because it’s exposed to the ocean to the south, with a wide mouth that narrows steadily, magnifying tides and wind. The weather was ideal on this trip, though, and on this morning there was barely a ripple on the water. From shore, I could look out over the bay and see the rivers of currents between islands sweeping in the tide.
I was up just after sunrise, shaking the salt-tinged dew off my tent, and stuffing my damp bedding into sure-to-keep-them-damp dry bags. Breakfast was an apple and a granola bar…all that I had left after having planned my food a bit too tight. The memory of the evening before was fresh in my mind….largely because that memory hadn’t been dulled by sleep. I hadn’t slept much thanks to a fledgling osprey that had called all night long from a nearby nest on the island. As the evening played itself out, I had sat on an exposed point watching the sun set over the mainland over one shoulder, and a full moon rise over the ocean over the other shoulder. As nice as the sunset was, there’s something about an ocean moonrise that has always grabbed me. The moon seems to be four times its normal size, and the colors seem to shift at will through the palette of a rainbow before settling into the typical streetlight white. I slept without a rain-fly on my tent, and the moonlight through the tent mesh added to the osprey chatter for a restless and uneasy night. The moon was on my mind as I broke camp.
(For most realistic effect, pause often; slowly sip coffee or tea throughout; stare out the window several times; lose your concentration; notice details in pictures; smile freely…)
Okay, I think that’s all my gear. (Taking one last look around my campsite.) I can’t believe that osprey called all night. I can’t believe it’s quiet now that I’m up.
(Pulling on my still-soggy-from-yesterday neoprene paddling shoes, lifting the kayak, and picking my way gingerly through the sea-weed covered rocks exposed by low tide.)
Damn that water’s cold.
Wow, that first push off shore always feels so good.
(Looking back over my shoulder). I’m pretty sure I got everything.
I wonder how far to that first island?
(No thoughts for a couple of minutes and watching my paddles enter the water.)
There sure do seem to be a lot of ospreys around here. Never heard an osprey call as much as that one did last night.
I wonder how deep this channel is?
(Turning on my GPS.) Why are the batteries so low on my GPS? I just changed them.
(Looking again at the now blank screen on the GPS.) Well, I’ll put in new batteries if fog comes out of nowhere and I can’t see the harbor. (Glancing over my shoulder at a fog bank well off shore, and pleased with myself and a little surprised that I remembered extra batteries.) Well, I guess it COULD happen. Good thing I have new batteries. Even though I won’t need them.
I wonder what I did with that lip stuff?
I wonder how few drops I can have fall from my paddle when I lift it out of the water each stroke?
(Watching my paddle again for a while, but quickly concluding that I could never lift the paddle blade out of the water without at least a few drips.)
(Smelling a particularly pungent wave of salty and fishy open ocean air.)
Awesome that the wind hasn’t kicked in yet…unbelievable how calm it is.
I love that there’s so little boat traffic.
I wonder if Tuesday is a slow morning for lobster boats, and if Monday is busier because a lot of lobster guys take Sunday off.
There’s a seal….no… it’s a lobster buoy….maybe it’s a seal….no it’s a lobster buoy.
There’s a cormorant up ahead. (Getting closer…) No it’s a loon. Wait there’re two loons. Three! They seem pretty chill. (Slowing my paddling.) Maybe if I just drift, they’ll let me get close. (Drifting except for small course adjustment to stay straight.) That one doesn’t seem the least bit nervous. (Drifting within about 20 ft.) WOW, I don’t remember ever having one let me get that close. It probably sensed that I have a special bond with wildlife. Uh huh, right.
Why does a dogs’ bark sounds so loud over the water?
I’m glad the shorelines are so undeveloped in Maine.
Are those eiders over there? No, gulls.
I wonder what it would have been like to paddle this before it there was any development at all on the coastline?
Look at that huge house. No way I’d want a house that big on the water.
(No thoughts for a bit.)
Well maybe it wouldn’t totally suck to have a house like that in that spot. But I wouldn’t be so pretentious. I’d be different for sure. Is that a hot tub? A hot tub would be okay.
Why is there so much sea weed here? (Stopping to yank some seaweed from my paddle blades.)
(Resuming paddling and passing a bunch of gulls.)
Seems like a lot of laughing gulls here.
No way I could get over these rocks at low tide.
(Thinking of all the places along the coast that I scraped off tiny bits of the bottom of my kayak onto unseen rocks.) Remember how smooth the bottom of this kayak was when it was new?
(No thoughts for a while.)
The lobster buoys don’t seem to be dragging that much in the tide. Huh. Its mid-tide, seems like they should be out straight.
When’s the last time I ate lobster?
(Rounding a point of an island between here and there.)
Hmmmm….there’s the harbor over there. There’s that ridiculously big house I saw when I left. Guess it’s not that far.
Awesome that there’s no boat traffic.
(Looking at houses along a shoreline road.)
I wonder how high up the water would go if sea levels rose 20 feet. That house would probably be under water.
(I stop paddling for a while and I glide in silence.)
Sure am lucky the bad weather didn’t decide to come in early.
I’m not hungry at all.
Why do bees fly over open water?
Maybe I can get a smoothie when I get to the town. No I don’t need a smoothie.
Sure is hazy this morning. Maybe I’ll get a lobster roll.
All the campsites were awesome. Probably more people on weekends. I definitely have to come out here again.
(A tiny fish jumps. I paddle for a while using deep strokes, so that my hands alternately dip into the water along with each side paddle stroke. The water feels chilly at first, but each time my emerging hands greet the now-stirring breeze, the following cool plunge becomes gradually more agreeable. Every time I lift a hand from the water, a few drops fall and a puddle starts to form above my lap on my spray skirt, and it’s not long before it fills and I feel an electrifying jolt down the side of my hips as the cold water finds a gap between the spray skirt and the cockpit of the kayak. I stop paddling and pull the spray skirt up to drain it.)
Man I’d love to see a striped bass jump right along this shore.
I wonder if any of those eiders were this years’ chicks?
(Hearing music faintly from a lobster boat in the distance.) I’d have reggae on if I were him. Listening to reggae while pulling lobster traps – how cool would that be?
(No thoughts for a couple of minutes. A Decemberists song enters my mind, but, having nothing to do with anything in the moment, leaves before stringing together a single line.)
I wonder what the name of that island is. (Looking at my blank GPS screen and remembering the dead batteries.) That’s okay, it’s good that some don’t have names.
I’ll have to come here again, this is a great spot.
I wonder what this is like to paddle here in bad weather. Probably no problem west of this island, but I bet it gets wild on the other side.
(Starting to enter the harbor, winding my way through moored boats.)
That one’s named Oldsquaw. (I picture the duck, and remember that the new PC name is “long-tailed duck” and I defiantly vow to always call them oldsquaws.)
That one’s named Even Keel.
Both from Round Pond. I wonder if there’re many tourist boats in here….mostly looks like a working harbor.
I wonder if I’ll see that woman again who was there when I left? Maybe she works there.
Is that boat leaving? Hmm…probably not a good idea to be in the middle of the channel so much.
Where was that ramp again?
I love to glide between anchored boats.
(Undoing my spray skirt.)
Man it always feels so good to stand up!
Wow….not many cars. Maybe it was busy because it was a weekend when I left. Wait, it was a Tuesday. Huh.
That’s pretty much it. You just accompanied me on a 2-hour paddling trip.
And that’s why I paddle.
No thoughts of work, no thoughts of the government violating our privacy, record profits for the oil industry, traffic jams….
Pure and glorious empty blather. Even if a serious thought tries to enter my head, something happens in the moment to push it out. Something really important, like a bird surfaces unexpectedly in front of me, or a lobster boat turns toward me at full throttle for just a second before veering off, or I pass a particularly colorful buoy. The kind of stuff that demands your full and immediate attention.
I admire folks who can meditate sitting in a chair.
I respect those who find introspection and mindfulness while cutting vegetables, or while weeding in the garden.
I find it gliding across the ocean.
To the cadence of my silent paddle strokes.
Under a big sky.
Watching the birds and buoys.
My mind wandering where it does go.