Stepping Into The Same River Twice

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon PaddleWhen you find something that works, stick with it, goes conventional wisdom, but aren’t we so used to throwing out the bathwater in our quest for the latest and greatest that we end up missing what the baby might teach us?

Yeah, right. I’m the master baby-tosser.

An almost-full moon paddle last week was so transcendent that, uncharacteristically, I decide to do it again.  It’s rare for me to repeat something; I’m more of a seismic shifter. But clearly, the impetus for good fortune was announced in the I Ching reading that day – a metaphorical thunder-clap not only reflected in the coin toss, but in its riverside perch between sunset and moonrise. I knew not its full impact, and perhaps I still don’t, but the reverberations were sonic. The ‘Changing’ occurred and it was enormous, but internal. (No packing my bags for foreign shores this time.) Fortunes truly can flip with a switch, New England work ethic notwithstanding, and I’m ready to meet providence. (Well, I imagine there will be 99% perspiration on my part…)

It had been a less than desirable day, but I redeemed it by climbing inside the kayak I gifted myself a few years ago on my 40th birthday. The luxuries we afford ourselves reap far more than we realize at the time, and I’m ever grateful I treated myself to that little blue boat. For years I coveted one and after I took the plunge, my world widened. Pledging allegiance to enjoyment has made a profound impact on life; I highly recommend it. That small craft has not only altered my perspective, as sitting down low in the water can do, it has also provided opportunity to explore intimacy, balance, trust, and wonder – all while nestled in the watery bosom of Momma Nature.

Not setting out to step in the same river twice, per se, I unexpectedly arrive under the full moon again, albeit in a different body of water, the following evening, soon to don spray skirt and life vest. The bathwater was still warm…

Port Clyde Kayaks

Whenever I crave a change of scenery (as if Penobscot Bay’s world class playground pales) I tour down the St. George Peninsula, roughly following the Georges River out to Muscongus Bay. I pass through Owl’s Head, Tenant’s Harbor (never missing a meal at Cod End’s back deck…fried scallops and belly clams this time),  and round past Marshall Point Lighthouse (of Forrest Gump fame), all the way down to Port Clyde, with its Finisterre atmosphere.

Cod End Tenant's Harbor, MaineThere’s a whitewashed barn across from the harbor with an art gallery upstairs and backgammon tables downstairs that serves shrimp cocktail and bottles of Shipyard Ale for the summer folk. It’s the kind of spot where you walk in thirsty and walk out with a handful of new friends, as I did one June evening. I forsake it this time, however, and consider the clear skies and looming sunset. Maybe I’ll take a Puffin cruise on one of the tour boats…

Port Clyde pierI roam the quaint general store, rueing modern supermarkets with their massive parking lots and bad lighting. Who knew you could buy Spam, motor oil, and oysters all in one creaky floorboard shop? This alone makes me want to settle in for a spell. I ponder an ice cream cone, then see that Port Clyde Kayaks is open and wander in. Cody, the proprietor, who I learn homeschools his kids so he and his wife can winter in locales like Puerto Rico and Maui, strikes up a lazy conversation. We chat about living off-peak, on our own terms, and find commonality, laughing as we realize we grew up only 45 minutes apart…kindred Hudson Valley spirits. I take him up on his offer to brew me a cup of Hawaiian coffee, despite quitting the caffeine habit months ago. Directly imported, these beans are not to be shunned; abstinence seems downright ungracious in this context, don’t you think?

It’s exactly these kind of exchanges that sets Maine apart from anywhere else I’ve traveled: unassuming encounters that seem to have the timeless tucked into them. Completely charmed, I sign up for the night’s full moon paddle, and I’m struck, yet again, by how many people I meet whose fulfillment arrives outside of the mainstream, and wonder why we call it the main stream, when it’s the customized tailoring that counts?

Honeymooners from Northern Ontario and a suburban NY couple with three kids filter in and we gear up. Cody takes his time while explaining safety and technique while the group gets to know one another. Once we put in, we paddle west, heading towards Deep Cove, where the depth reaches 150 feet, enough for the dozens of harbor porpoises that live there. Paddling towards the westward horizon, we watch melting oranges and pinks along the skyline, like softening sherbet, then turn to see the luminescence of the moon framed in darkening lavender behind us.

Full Moon rising over Muscongus Bay, St. George Peninsula, MaineWe float amid flourescent lobster buoys while glistening fins crest a gently undulating surface.  Sounds of their breathing, of exhaling, shiver me into gratitude and I am awed by their proximity. These gorgeous creatures breach repeatedly within feet of my kayak and I am spellbound.

Psshh.           Psshh.           Psshh.

I follow with my eyes, watching intently for the next surfacing. Over and over they crest and dive. I’m riveted. And then a harbor seal playfully pokes his head up.

What a glorious evening, yet so different from the previous night’s paddle. A sudden shift has definitely taken place and I can feel gestures of fluidity both around and within.

In fact, my whole day has been a series of blessings, each one almost making me blush in embarrassment as they accumulate like moths around the porch light.  I struggled with some prioritizing the last few days, and knew the answer would only be found by seeking relief. Once I cleared the air and let go, I relaxed into spaciousness, leaving tension and dilemma behind. As soon as I chose the better path, which was to step away from a form of income that wasn’t proving beneficial anymore, a new revenue stream miraculously propositioned me within hours. When one door closes…

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon Paddle Muscongus Bay

As I paddle across the bay, I reflect on how my day unfolded – each time I turned a corner, a desire manifested. I lost a top of the line knife (given to me by a chef I used to work for) and I found an exact replacement that afternoon. I admired a blue t-shirt a woman was wearing last week, and Cody, for reasons unknown, decided to give me one, the same shade, right off the hanger. I finally achieved a move in yoga I’d just about given up on. And I’d been wanting to get up close to some of the islands lately, get off the coast and explore, and that’s exactly what we did, vigorously – we paddled around Caldwell and Little Caldwell Islands, billionaire-owned Teel Isle, and larger Hupper Island, where we needed a power bar break after crossing the channel  – not easy working against the tidal currents at 10pm. Was I really out on the open water at night?

I even got up close to Andrew Wyeth’s house, which I’ve pined to see since becoming a member at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland. His paintings evoke a windswept and lonesome life whose origin I wanted to understand better. Cody shared the story of the island house being pushed across the frozen bay from Caldwell Island for relocation to the mainland many years ago. After spending the past winter here, I am at no loss to imagine such a thing. I’ve felt windswept and lonesome, too.

Perhaps I’m getting closer to the life that beckons, and I don’t need to make such drastic changes anymore. Maybe I’ll just keep paddling around under the moon and see what happens. It seems to be working out well.

Port Clyde Kayaks Full Moon Paddle Muscongus Bay


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Sea Smoke & Mirrors

What do Mainers do when the thermometer starts to dip below zero?  They start rooting around the back of their closets for winter coats.

Or, like the couple at 9:30am this morning, they sip from steamy mugs on the porch of their Rockland harbor house, yes – outside, stocking up on Vitamin D and waving at bundled up passersby like me.

And so the hardy-soul anecdotes roll in, like sea smoke on these brisk and windy mornings out on Penobscot Bay.

I only saw the ocean for the first time at fourteen, so this foggy phenomenon remained unknown to me until now.  A late sea bloomer, I’ve come to adore  the water, sailing on it, swimming in it, and climbing up mountains to gaze back down on it, yet its mystery still remains.  I’ve ventured both to near and far off seas:  the Adriatic, Caribbean, South China… and there will be more, I’m sure, but I forget I live so close now I can contemplate the sea smoke and other vagaries of life from its shoreline daily.  Without fail, my breath intakes sharply as Route 1 veers down along inlets and coves while blue-green vistas open suddenly, generously, before my eyes.  Like a Buddhist goldfish, I am all presence and no memory each time, reverent and new.

This magical circumstance of hydrogen and hydrogen and oxygen, between floe and water, has me in its trance, and like a mirror it reflects back my own mysteries I realize I don’t need to solve anymore.  I think I prefer the hovering, an enigma balanced between earth and sky, of form and formlessness.

And until I earn a native’s wintry hardiness, I’ll keep buttoned up, and drink my coffee inside.

(photo courtesy of Elizabeth Henckel Poisson, Rocky Coast Ramblings)

PechaKucha Night

“Whose coat is this?”

“Mine,” I say, to the thin, grey-haired woman marking the chairs on either side with various winter accoutrements.  “Oh, sorry.  I went to get a glass of wine.”

Another woman, coming up behind me, leans over and says, “It’s alright Sandy, I’ll sit on the end.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.  “I can slide down so you and your friends can sit together.”

“No, dear, we’ll all be friends by the end of the night,” she declares, smiling.  “Hi, I’m Georgeanne.”

And so my first PechaKucha commences.

Born in Tokyo in 2003,  PechaKucha, which means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese, is the brainchild of two designers who wanted an efficient yet lively forum to present their work and new ideas, as well as mingle and network.  Each presenter gets to show 20 slides for 20 seconds apiece, and share their passion with the audience.  The concept has taken off worldwide, and there are now events in hundreds of cities.  I have the good fortune to attend one just down the road in Thomaston, at Watts Hall Auditorium with an overflowing crowd – just another example of the creative economy’s momentum, even, or especially, in Midcoast Maine, far from any dense urban locale.

The room is a who’s who of local talent and leadership, and is enthusiastically  emceed by Senator Chris Rector, an amiable man with strong local ties and support.  (I hope he takes kindly to my letter opposing the Governor’s environmental hatchet job).  Eight people take center stage over the course of an hour, and the topics range from texturally sculpted forms (Jacques Vesery) to equatorial coffee-picking (Yvonne Smith, Roaster at Rock City Coffee) to the history of women in Champagne (Jane Barnes, wine pro and partner on the Schooner, Stephen Taber).

(Sculptures by Jacques Vesery)





While the presenters are both oral and visual storytellers, their styles swing from scripted to off the cuff.  Peter Digirolamo, soapmaker at Trillum Soaps, is cheeky as he flips leaf-shaped notecards downstage à la David Letterman after reading winter-related haikus from each one, while colorful slides of almost-pretty-enough-to-eat soap blocks charm us.  Elizabeth Greenberg, Director of Education at the highly regarded Maine Media College in Rockport, waxes poetic about memory and nostalgia while her ephemeral photographs seduce us with their dreaminess and longing.

Abbie Read, Artist and Garden Designer

There’s more than a glimpse at rich and interesting lives behind the cross section of those gathered and my view of all the resources tapping away here is blown wide open.  I learn how Maine coastal and island communities are leaders in US alternative energy solutions from Suzanne Pude, Community Energy Director at the Island Institute as she shares documentary-style scenes of wind turbine installations on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay.


photo by Karen Oakes, Vinalhaven resident

The action is equally compelling on either side of me, perched on folding chairs.  To my left I meet a longtime local newspaper columnist, Georgeanne, who covers the Home and Garden beat, among other newsworthy topics and after inquiring about my earlier life in restaurants, fills me in on all the best tables from Belfast to Rockland.  On my right is Sandy, who I learn is a caterer and massage therapist, just another one of those cool, many-hat-wearing personalities tucked into towns with names like Friendship, Owl’s Head, and Port Clyde (formerly Herring Gut, not the most appealing moniker in Vacationland).  I take her number down right away – a good masseuse should always be on speed dial.  I’m beginning to think that vibrant isn’t just a word reserved for downtowns and springtime – because smack dab in the middle of what might seem like nowhere I find a hotbed of creativity, vitality and homespun community, with an open bar and no posturing.

Like flipping through a guidebook to the Renaissance Lifestyles of the Self-Reliant and Visionary, my first PechaKucha cheers me with its generosity and lack of pretentious agenda.  A roomful of strangers is just a group of friends I haven’t met yet, and I leave with a couple new ones already.  Who says there’s nothing going on in February?

Pecha Kucha Night






Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving the whole start a new life, follow my bliss, Bergdorf-to-Bean existence, but really now.  There’s only so much Thoreauian solitude a Brooklyn girl can take.  Where’s the spicy hand-pulled noodles with cumin lamb?  The millenia-old South Pacific sculptures? American Museum of Natural History, SculptureBeth Orton singing at the Bell House?  Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be pushed around by a sweaty hipster drinking overpriced PBR in Gowanus right now.  Hell, I’d even poach a shift at the podium.  (Blasphemy!)

Truth is, I miss people.  I’ve spent more than 5,000 days working in rooms brimming with gourmands, celebrities, friends, tourists, drunks, malcontents, striving artists, movers & shakers…and now all I have keeping me company are pesky squirrels scratching around the chimney and whatever four-legged nocturnal critters left these tracks last night.  It’s a bumpy transition for a social creature to make.  And it’s not even February yet.  What’s a scribe to do?

Animal Tracks in the SnowI knew going into this the whole rural writing life would be in sharp contrast to my life formerly known as a  globetrotting sophisticate… and I know that it was ME that broke up with New York, but criminy!  Zen’s only gonna get me so far; then the rum will have to take over.  And that won’t be pretty.

Phew.  I’m glad I got all that off my chest.

Because this morning, I threw a down vest over my flannel pjs, plunged outside, and was confronted by heavenly paradise ~ and all is right with the world once more.

Winter Sunrise in Maine

Drag Racing In Vacationland

snow covered barn Maine winterSo THIS is Maine in the winter, huh?  I woke up earlier this week to find a few dents and scratches – overnight lows of -30F caused the kitchen pipes to freeze, internet service would be down for a few days, and I’ve (unknowingly) been driving around since November with no car insurance.  After four months of easy living, I was hip-checked by this sudden confluence of inconvenience.  At least I had heat, a stocked pantry, and my Blackberry.  But I’m a bastion of tying up loose ends, so what slipped?

Several years ago, I was driving north at night on the New York State Thruway, a notoriously speedy roadway, where the slow lane goes 75mph.  A friend was with me as we began to notice all the cars around us slow waaaay down, almost to a standstill, but there was nothing ahead to account for this bizarre occurrence.  I jammed my brakes and tried to find equilibrium, both of us worried and confused.  What the hell?  Suddenly, engines growled, tires squealed and several dozen cars sped off, as if at Watkins Glen, leaving me with white knuckles and a rapid pulse, as I tried to keep my car on the road amid the vehicular mayhem.

Later, as I reflected on the spontaneous drag race, a lesson crystallized:  how crucial it is to be ready when life unexpectedly speeds up.  Now, I’ve let up on the gas pedal for quite a while, with quitting my job and the recent move to Maine – a land where two pickups stop and chat across the double yellows – and I’ve developed a meandering pace: all carpe diem and proverbially rose-smelling.  But my insides have stirred lately.  I want more torque, more rev.  How can I ever get up to speed with my controls set at cruise?

What does this have to do with frozen pipes, you ask?  According to the Chinese system of energy alignment known as Feng Shui, when there’s a water leak in your house, there is a corresponding leak of money in your life.  I have experienced this, and believe it to be true.  I wonder then, if ice in the water lines is a sign of constipated financial flow?  And the lack of online access?  Plugged up information, perhaps?  And the unsubstantiated cancellation of (NY) auto insurance?  Maybe it’s time to consolidate my life, here.  A tune up is in order, so I get to work.  I spend a day going through piles of files, organizing, prioritizing, and eliminating what does not support my prosperous writing future (optimism counts, yes?).  I lay under the sink blowdrying the copper pipes until H2O gushes forth.  I turn in my NY Driver’s License and put Vacationland plates on my Toyota.

Afterwards I feel clear.  Detailed, waxed and gassed up.

I’m shifting into second gear now and already I’ve got some grip.  Income opportunities are coming my way.  I’ve taken on the role of Media Liaison at my local non-profit land trust.  I’m writing up my resume and pursuing a weekly column at a local paper.  My pulse is quickening and life is escalating, all with my hands firmly on the wheel.

Other than becoming officially a Mainer, nah, not too much going on here this week.  How ’bout you?

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