Sunday Morning ~ Walking the Land
M’dziko umayenda, umaona agalu a micombo. ~ When you walk in the land you see dogs with different navels.
~ Chewa proverb
October 24, 2021
One of the personal perks of this pandemic is an appreciation of staying close to home. There is a little moss growing on my north side. This is the longest I have stayed in my own country since I was in grammar school and even then we used to go to Canada every year. Now I’m domestic country and state, most of the time on my own island. Well, not my own island, but the one where I am lucky enough to live. My wanderlust has been remarkably subdued and it hasn’t bothered me as much as I thought it would. I’ve become more of a homebody, something I used to consider a potential character flaw when dating someone. I feel badly about that now. I understand more the attraction of staying in the familiar. It feels good to stay home and feel safe. I never thought I’d say that. Sometimes I worry that I’ll never have the urge to travel again.
I’ve spent time exploring my own state more than ever before. Living in a beautiful place, I usually just stay here when I’m not traveling abroad; there is so much hiking and beauty to be had. But Maine is a big state and large chunks of it are preserved and protected, for which, I am very grateful. Wandering this vast backyard is my new passion.
When I was at Baxter State Park with my friend Polly in September, I talked with some folks who described some remote lakes accessible only by canoe or kayak where they were planning to do some canoe camping. I’d never heard of them and intrigued by their description wrote down the name, Debsconeag, so I could look them up when I got home. After reading about this place I became obsessed with going there. The three lakes are connected by streams which aren’t navigable by canoe. In fact, the word Debsconeag translates to “carrying place” referring to places the canoes must be carried to continue on the waterway.
I told Zack about these lakes and after researching them he was eager to go, too. We studied the maps which had the dirt roads and put-in spots clearly marked. We found the camping places and planned our trip. Last weekend we set off to look for dogs with different navels. After a month of gorgeous, dry weather the forecast was for rain, but he’s working so we couldn’t spontaneously maneuver around it. We packed up meals, gear, and a few tarps, borrowed my neighbor’s canoe, and set off. It was a bright sunny day when we left, though the clouds were predicted for evening, and rain showers for the next day. The drive north was glorious; the colors spectacular. It was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it: a fleeting, showy, spectacular blaze of beauty before the oncoming retreat into a bare cold slumber.
Just before getting to the town of Millinocket we saw a few vehicles pulled over so Zack slowed down to see what was up. We turned to see a female moose and her calf munching away in the brush. That seemed a good omen for the trip, and I felt sorry Polly wasn’t there to see them. She’d really wanted to see a moose. I mentioned that it was moose hunting season and I’m surprised no one is shooting at them. Zack said there was probably some regulation since we were so close to the town. Then I thought a minute and turned to Zack and said, “Wait. Did you bring anything orange?” He said, “No. I just thought of that.” Not wanting to get shot, we turned into the Katahdin General Store, which has everything you could possibly need to survive in the Maine woods, and each bought a hunter-orange rain hat. I think they could probably see us from space. We also bought some really cool tent stakes and a folding saw. I love that store.
We left there, and proceeded to find the road to the put-in spot on the Penobscot River. I’d still be looking for it if I were alone; it’s unmarked and in the middle of nowhere. Rivaling some of the roads in Malawi, it took thirty five minutes to go two miles. But we came to a gorgeous beach with camping sites and a calm river with a gorgeous mountain backdrop. As we lifted the canoe off the roof of the van Zack said, “Uh, I can see daylight”, meaning there was a crack in the canoe, which, my neighbor told me, hadn’t been used for years. Okaaay….here we are in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of really cool camping gear, and a hole in the canoe. We patched it with duct tape and put it in the water. “Well, it floats!” Zack said. “Think it will be ok with all our gear in it?” I asked. “We’ll see in the morning I guess.”, he replied. It was starting to get dark and we needed to set up camp. It was beautiful enough there that if we couldn’t do the trip with our gear I would have been happy to just stay there and do the canoe part another time. Maybe checking out the canoe BEFORE we left home.
The next morning was drizzly with low hanging clouds looking like they weren’t going anywhere. It was beautiful in a Scottish sort of way. Pouring rain was something I hoped held off until we were asleep that night. Or maybe until we got home. We loaded up the canoe and walked it into the water. We looked at the patched spot and it wasn’t leaking. “Well, let’s give it a try”, I said, “but go slow in case we need to turn around.” The duct tape worked! Not a single drop came through. That stuff is amazing. Never, and I mean NEVER, go anywhere without it.
Neither Zack nor I are expert paddlers but we decided the only way to get better at it is to do it. This seemed like an easy trip, no rapids and only six miles, but once we got to the lake it did seem a little daunting. When the wind picked up the paddling got more challenging. We hugged the shore and marveled at the clear water and huge boulders. I felt small. I imagined an earlier era and finding your way without maps or navigational devices. We got to the campsite at the far end of the lake and unloaded our gear. We set up camp and draped a tarp above the picnic table so we could eat out of the rain. It seemed so comfortable compared to what I’d been imagining. We paddled to the portage trail to the second lake and got out to walk. It was nearly a mile and we both thought carrying a canoe that distance would warrant a longer stay than just one night. Maybe another time. We barely noticed the misty rain by that time. It’s amazing what I can get used to. At home I would have been reluctant to go walking in it. There, it felt fine. We knew we could get a fire going and dry out. We had dry clothes to sleep in and good tents. Again, I imagined an earlier time when pine boughs were all there were to sleep on. The second lake looked like a trout fishing paradise. We stood on the rocks in the mist and looked around at the ancient forest. Humbled. Quiet. Grateful.
Later, we dried out in front of a blazing fire with the view of the lake beyond. We cooked our supper and drank wine as the sun set. It was magnificent. We convinced ourselves it was clearing up! Absolutely! It even seemed like the moon was shining through the clouds which were surely breaking up. We went to our tents content and full of visions of sunny skies for the paddle out. I’d say ten minutes after we were tucked into our sleeping bags the heavens open up and I barely slept for the noise of it. I stayed dry but envisioned the rainy paddle out of there and how the duct tape was not going to matter. The rain would fill the canoe. But by daylight, the downpour had turned to showers, then to clearing skies, and we soggily and happily packed up for the paddle out.
Love to all,