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)

The House Of Light

Funny thing is, though I live so close to the sea, I’m tucked far enough inland, in a rural, farmland community, that I sometimes forget the nautical beauty nearby.  One of the prettiest places to walk, which I do like a mail carrier:  through rain, sleet & snow – is out on the St. George peninsula.  Tenant’s Harbor, Port Clyde, and Spruce Head are all lovely places to wander around, gazing out at the water and watching lobster boats heading in and out of the local harbors.  I’ve had a sumptuous lobster roll at Cod End Market and a Food Network-recommended burger at the Owl’s Head General Store and Post Office.  Balanced precariously between out-of-towner and resident, I relish the insider’s window of the local community and look forward to days when I’m greeted as warmly as either proprietress does at both eateries.

The highlight comes as I walk off lunch at Owl’s Head State Park.  Sometimes I head straight for the lighthouse, with a view over Penobscot Bay that hasn’t ceased to induce long moments of meditation verging on bliss.  Other times, a short jaunt through the spruce woods leads down to a small beach, with picnic tables on the low cliffs that look over it.  In warmer weather, I find this a perfect place to write.  However, I somehow find myself more often here during inclement weather, which I strangely prefer.  It’s a misty, forlorn promontory that evokes romantic notions of a literary-led Maine life.  It is here that a sense of place most reverberates.

I often catch myself realizing that I actually live here now, like it’s some sort of surprise, and when it does wash over me, it seems so natural, so right.  With regards to geography, I’ve never felt so at home, at peace.  I wonder how that will evolve in the new year?  And what little corner of the mid-coast will seduce me next…

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