A hardworking Mainer and his dog in stark contrast to us leisurely kayakers on vacation. No wonder they call us “speed bumps!” (This photo from September 2013, Penobscot Bay kayak-camping trip. See more here and here.)
In which we meet adventure and Julie ponders imminent death.
Part 2 of Penobscot Bay, Maine, kayak-camping trip. Part 1 is here.
In 1614, when Virginia colonist Captain John Smith traveled up the Maine coast, he wrote of the Penobscot Islands: “It is a countrie to affright rather than delight one. And how to describe more plaine spectacle of desolation or more barren I knowe not.” To make them attractive to potential English settlers, Smith gave the islands English names. (For example, “Pond,” our Day 1 camp destination…pleasantly vague and admittedly cheerier than “Rock-Strewn Salt Marsh.”)
Below, alle packed up and under waye. Hen, Nick, and State of Maine (the training ship of the Maine Maritime Academy) beside the hardworking docks of Castine.
At midday, we skirted the east side of Nautilus Island (good one, Captain!) and stopped to make lunch at Holbrook Island. Below: Thistles, berries, and delightful colors of September.
Relaunching, we headed to the reversing falls of Goose Pond. Fun… except for those dark clouds over there, which in about 30 seconds were over here—rain, wind gusts, hail and all. Proof that Maine’s weather can change very quickly.
We hunkered down and held our positions (and hats). Ten minutes later, the squall passed, leaving us cold and glad we’d ponied up for that pricey Kokatat storm cag. Next stop, Cape Rosier (Brooksville), by way of quartering and following seas. We arrived at low tide. Below: Nick, Karen (the Maine native, barefoot) and Julie.
Clambering up slippery rocks, we found ourselves at The Good Life Center. Its mission: To perpetuate the philosophies and lifeways of Helen and Scott Nearing, two of America’s most inspirational practitioners of simple, frugal and purposeful living.
Building on the Nearing legacy, The Good Life Center encourages and supports individual and collective efforts to live sustainably. Guided by the principles of kindness, respect and compassion in relationships with natural and human communities, The Good Life Center promotes active participation in the advancement of social justice, creative integration of the life of the mind, body and spirit, and deliberate choice in living responsibly and harmoniously.
Which way to the yurt? (You know there’s a yurt!) We already look like spacefolk in our drysuits… coming out of this thing, it’s totally “take me to your leader.”
Time to make tracks to Pond Island, our first night’s camp. We launched into a silvery afternoon that turned wonderfully golden.
Pond Island. Aptly named, as the tide rises to create a pond in the center of the island.
We pitched our tents on higher ground, under a grove of trees.
The moon kept us company.
Back in our tents, we settled in for the night. Air temps c. 40F (water mid-50s)… and windy. VERY windy! Those who’d set up camp under a grove of pines experienced an “earthquake” — trees shaking to the roots, the earth beneath them humming like a harmonica. Julie (from Alaska) lay wide awake, waiting for the inevitable tsunami. “At least we won’t suffer for long,” she consoled herself… Several feet away, we 2geeks shivered, snuggling to keep warm. And far, far away, Captain John Smith was laughing his foole heade off.
3.3.14 As the wind blows the snow today, our minds drift to happier (sunnier) times…
Welcome to the first in a 7-part series about our kayak-camping week on the rocky, wild islands of Penobscot Bay, Maine. September 2013.
Yes, it is possible to jump into a postcard and paddle in a picture-perfect, blue-sky world. Here’s how: Be sure to invite Hen (aka, Henrietta) who always but always guarantees good weather; Sound Kayakers, Michele and Nick, from Connecticut; new pal Julie from Alaska; and local girl Karen, of Castine Kayak. Go in mid-September when the “summer people” have vanished. And launch from a cozy poem of a town, Castine, Maine (one of the oldest communities in North America and the prettiest village around).
Penobscot Bay is Maine’s largest bay. Of Maine’s 4,613 islands, some of the largest are here, including North Haven, Vinalhaven, and Isle Au Haut. Our plan: Paddle south from Castine on the east side of things, loop down around Vinalhaven, then return up the west side. Total of 5 days, 4 nights, and infinitely beautiful scenery.
Of course, if you’re going to be out and about like that, you’ll need a few things. Karen master-minded the packing of supplies (tsk-tsking at our low-volume boats). We’d need to carry 3 gallons of water per person (that’s 24 pounds + whatever your kayak weighs), tents, dry bags full of clothes, gear, personal stuff, coolers of food, cook stove, utensils, etc. etc. etc. Starting tomorrow, we’d get to haul it all over yards of slippery rocks before bedtime, six weary people to each heavy boat. Below, Hen and Karen pack their yaks.
Before we launch, let’s take a stroll around town. As our tourist map claims, “Castine is truly a unique Maine village, occupied continuously since the early 1600s as the site of numerous trading posts, forts, missions, and permanent settlements of France, Holland, England, and colonial America.” The slideshow (below) gives you a sense of what Castine looks like. But The Steeple Jack by poet Marianne Moore (below slideshow; line breaks hers) really nails what it feels like.
Dürer would have seen a reason for living
in a town like this, with eight stranded whales
to look at; with the sweet sea air coming into your house
on a fine day, from water etched
with waves as formal as the scales
on a fish.
One by one in two’s and three’s, the seagulls keep
flying back and forth over the town clock,
or sailing around the lighthouse without moving their wings —
rising steadily with a slight
quiver of the body — or flock
a sea the purple of the peacock’s neck is
paled to greenish azure as Dürer changed
the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and guinea
gray. You can see a twenty-five-
pound lobster; and fish nets arranged
to dry. The
whirlwind fife-and-drum of the storm bends the salt
marsh grass, disturbs stars in the sky and the
star on the steeple; it is a privilege to see so
much confusion. Disguised by what
might seem the opposite, the sea-
side flowers and
trees are favored by the fog so that you have
the tropics first hand: the trumpet-vine,
fox-glove, giant snap-dragon, a salpiglossis that has
spots and stripes; morning-glories, gourds,
or moon-vines trained on fishing-twine
at the back door;
cat-tails, flags, blueberries and spiderwort,
striped grass, lichens, sunflowers, asters, daisies —
yellow and crab-claw ragged sailors with green bracts — toad-plant,
petunias, ferns; pink lilies, blue
ones, tigers; poppies; black sweet-peas.
is not right for the banyan, frangipani, or
jack-fruit trees; or for exotic serpent
life. Ring lizard and snake-skin for the foot, if you see fit;
but here they’ve cats, not cobras, to
keep down the rats. The diffident
with white pin-dots on black horizontal spaced-
out bands lives here; yet there is nothing that
ambition can buy or take away. The college student
named Ambrose sits on the hillside
with his not-native books and hat
and sees boats
at sea progress white and rigid as if in
a groove. Liking an elegance of which
the sourch is not bravado, he knows by heart the antique
sugar-bowl shaped summer-house of
interlacing slats, and the pitch
of the church
spire, not true, from which a man in scarlet lets
down a rope as a spider spins a thread;
he might be part of a novel, but on the sidewalk a
sign says C. J. Poole, Steeple Jack,
in black and white; and one in red
and white says
Danger. The church portico has four fluted
columns, each a single piece of stone, made
modester by white-wash. This would be a fit haven for
waifs, children, animals, prisoners,
and presidents who have repaid
senators by not thinking about them. The
place has a school-house, a post-office in a
store, fish-houses, hen-houses, a three-masted
the stocks. The hero, the student,
the steeple-jack, each in his way,
is at home.
It could not be dangerous to be living
in a town like this, of simple people,
who have a steeple-jack placing danger signs by the church
while he is gilding the solid-
pointed star, which on a steeple
stands for hope.