Peninsulae

Flying out of Boston, a day late, the sun sits on the horizon, a squished red ball that hangs there not setting for a long time, even though we are going northeast away from it, so it should set faster, not more slowly. (Because we are rising in altitude? – such things occupy my fervid mind more than they should.)

It gives a flat but even light to the coast, whose shapes I idly watch from my window seat until familiarity grabs my attention.  I am used to looking at this coast from above, not because I fly across the Atlantic so often – conditions are rarely this clear – but because I often look down at the charts for this part of the coast.

Here are my sailing grounds, laid out like a map.  First I recognize the Kennebunk River, where Michael and I and Kathleen recklessly flew a spinnaker before Vagant, soon to be renamed the K’leen, on her engineless maiden voyage to Portland.  What were we thinking?  But it worked just fine, pulled before the wind and easily doused despite our ignorance.

Next past Biddeford, where to my shame, on the shores of Biddeford Pool, I delivered a very lame presentation to the osteopathic faculty of UNE a few weeks ago, one cog in the series of events that are pushing me away from the ‘healers’ and more toward the ‘educators’.

Next came Scarborough, where I can trace, from its sand bar at Prout’s Neck and Ferry Beach, the twists of the Nonesuch River winding all the way up through the marsh to River House on Roundabout Drive where Quan and I lived for the 90’s. I am too high to see the house, but I can see the bend in the river where it looks out across the marsh to the copse of trees.  That copse, almost an island the sea of marsh, is where the Saco Indians made their last stand, only to be chased out and cut down – mostly women and children, in a clean-up operation by the European settlers in the early 1700’s.  Quan, a warrior of spirit, set those souls free at great cost to herself, but that’s another story.

Up along to Higgins Beach where Quan would ride her horse at full gallop down the beach when she was well and kept Dakota on Sprague’s estate. Out to sea from here lies white-edged (from the breakers) Richmond Island where the Spragues kept sheep. Every spring I would boat out there with them and a team of sheep dogs, who would round up the very wild sheep into a pen with expert skill in response to a calm old lady with a whistle on her tongue and a snapping fingers.  It was my job to wrestle them from the pen over to the shearer, a messy but energetic couple of minutes in which I discovered the use of the shepherd’s crook, which up until then had been merely a prop in the Christmas pageant.

Around the corner of Cape Elizabeth the familiar shape of Portland Harbor, scene of my climb out from post-divorce despair, sailing out of Bug Light with a heavy heart on other people’s boats, until Annie got Tribe and our adventure began among the ‘Calendar Islands’ of Casco Bay – there’s 365 of them, supposedly, which made for great sailing.  I have reached and tacked along House and Caldwell, Great and Little Diamond, Chebeague, and Junk of Pork leading to Cliff with its strange currents, and Jewell with the fairy woods I discovered one day and never could find again.

The Basin is visible off the New Meadows River, than Cape Small protecting the Hermit Island passage where my father took my boat in among the rocks at a speed that whitened my hair.  Mighty Sequin sits off the mighty Kennebec River, and then there’s my home along the Damariscotta, a thin arm of the sea framed by Thrumcap on one side and Linekin Neck to the east, snaking up 12 miles into the hinterlamd.

Seguin and the peninsulas, each with a light glowing in the dusk, define the bays.  Mighty Pemaquid divides John’s Bay from Muscongus, and Port Clyde and Two Bush mark the entrance to Penobscot.  In the middle of Penobscot is Vinalhaven, looking from above like the swirl of a hurricane, written in granite.  On the water, it is a series of complex islands and necks with more harbors than you could visit in a month of Sundays.

Next door is Deer Isle, another complicated piece of geography separated from the mainland by Eggemoggin Reach, around which my brother just rowed – 33 miles, 10 hours – to celebrate 10 cancer-free years.

South of Deer Isle is the scattering of the small islands in Merchant’s Row, held down at the bottom by the abrupt mountain of Isle au Haut, which marks out Toothacher Bay, with Blue Hill Bay to the north, and Frenchman’s Bay on the other side of Mount Desert and Acadia National Park over to Schoodic, which marks the entrance to the dangerous, less populous and exhilarating ‘Down East’  – Ship’s Stern, Roque Island, Jonesport, Bailey’s Mistake, Jordan’s Delight, Great Wass with the Mudhole and the Cattle Yard.

I am just writing all this for the names, although to me each of these calls up memories of sailing adventures, close encounters, and lovely evenings – but by this time darkness has fallen, we are easing away from the coast, and I can no longer pick out the detail, and I return to the stale noisy world inside the plane.

One more trip to England, and then I get some time with my beloved rocky islands and my beloved rocky wife.  Dancing ‘tween wind and water on the boat lifts up my soul, while stepping on their granite mantle brings it in again, grounding it to the center of the earth.  Nice to look down on it so clearly from above, making the journey in a few minutes that would normally take days.

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One Response to “Peninsulae”

  1. Joe Lubow Says:

    Sounds like a great revery. I think the reason the sun took so long to set was the result of the northward component of your motion. The farther north you go around the summer solstice, the later the sun sets; if you had made it to the arctic circle it wouldn’t have set at all. Since you didn’t make it that far north, eventually the eastward motion won the day.

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