Posts Tagged ‘kayaking’

Loving the Lakes

Kezar Lake

Kezar Lake

This past week while people in my home town sweltered with high heat and humidity and rain of biblical proportions, here in Maine the weather was in the 70s F during the daytime, 50s F during the night, and dry.  Other than those pesky deerflies and midges, it was just about perfect.  So I decided to make the most of my day and do some serious kayaking and fishing on 3 nearby lakes:  Kezar Lake, Kewaydin Lake, and Virginia Lake, located 2 – 6 miles from my home.

I didn’t last very long on Kewaydin Lake.  The wind picked up and the water became very choppy.  I love adventure, but when I’m out on the lake by myself with no people around, I don’t take chances. I always wear a life vest, even when it’s very hot and the water is calm and it would be more comfortable to not wear it.  In the colder months especially,  I keep my kayak close to the shore.  If the sky turns ominous and looks like there might be a thunderstorm, I head back to the car.  And if the wind produces lots of chop, I also call it quits.  Being safe is a lot more sensible than death by drowning, hypothermia or electrocution.  (I’m not being melodramatic here.)  Fortunately for me, there are always other opportunities to go kayaking on more favorable days.

I decided to try Kezar Lake by the Upper Bay.  Much of it is protected by coves and islands, although there is often chop in the middle of the lake or sometimes a lot of turbulence caused by speedboats taking joyrides.  But I was lucky.  Other than a father and son fishing by the dock, there were no one else around and no boats on the lake, and the water was smooth like glass. It was fun to watch the little boy – about 8 years old –  catch and release fish after fish (perch, hornpout (the local name for catfish), sunfish, trout, and bass!), with his dad puffed up with pride at his son’s successes.

I was so mesmerized by the silence, the beauty, the fresh air, and the rhythm of my paddle, I completely lost track of time until the sky turned pink and orange as the sun fell behind the mountains, and the water glowed with the sky’s reflection.   I remember thinking how I wished I could have taken my blood pressure at that point because it had to be at a record low; I was so completely relaxed and at peace.   It was dark when I loaded the kayak into the car and headed home.

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The next morning I headed to Virginia Lake.

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Friday morning on Virginia Lake

 

This is a bit more off the beaten path and again, I was the only one on the lake.  After a few hours of blissful paddling, thick puffy clouds in white and steel grey started forming, and I realized that I’d soon have to leave lest I get caught in a downpour.  So I paddled back to the put-out and fished for two 20″ trout who teasingly swam around my boat.  The water was so clear I felt like I could have reached down and grabbed them.  They did manage to nibble and steal my worms but I failed to hook them.  As I packed up, I could not help but think that the past two days had been a huge gift, fish or no fish.  I felt a profound sense of inner peace and purity of spirit.  At the risk of sounding corny, dumb and naive, it made me wonder why anyone anywhere in the world would seek to wage war or choose conflict, if they could choose this.

Virginia Lake panorama, Stoneham Maine (click to enlarge)

Virginia Lake panorama, Stoneham Maine (click to enlarge)

 

Camp Savta* 2014 – Day 1

* “Savta” means grandmother in Hebrew

It seems almost surreal that only a week ago, I was in my hometown celebrating the bar mitzvah of my second-oldest grandson. It’s remarkable to me to realize that over the course of the next 12 years, at least once – and sometimes twice – a year, I will be attending a bar or bat-mitzvah of a grandson or granddaughter, and by the time the last one takes place, we will be well on our way to attending the older grandchildren’s weddings, G-d willing!  That is truly the reward of old age.

Immediately following the celebration (on the Sabbath my grandson read beautifully from the Torah, as well as a lovely dinner on Sunday night), we piled into my daughter’s 12-passenger van – 9 of my 15 grandchildren from 2 families – and we headed up to Maine (my son-in-law was on a business trip, and my son and daughter-in-law, parents of two of my granddaughters who were along for the ride, could not come).  My younger daughter had flown in specially for the bar mitzvah from Kansas City, and I felt sad that we couldn’t spend more time together, especially since she had brought my youngest grandson, who is only 1.

Providing the designated drivers manage to get enough sleep the day of the trip, traveling by night with young children is ideal.  There is less whining, screaming, talking, and boredom, not to mention bathroom stops, since they are usually fast asleep within a couple of hours.  There is also less traffic and cooler temperatures.

We arrived in Maine around 8 a.m. the next morning, and while my daughter, husband and I felt like zombies (my husband had driven up separately the same evening with our dog), the kids were excited to be in Maine and couldn’t wait for their adventures to begin.  I decided to put them to work (they are still of the age where chores can be construed into being something fun to do) and had them harvest my garlic crop.

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Next they cleaned off the dirt and we set the bulbs out to dry.

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The kids wanted to go on a hike.  Since several of them had no actual idea of what this entailed, I decided to start with a simple walk along the road in front of our house, where surely we would find something of interest next to Little Pond.

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Even though we didn’t see a moose, the children were not disappointed.

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By now I was feeling the effects of the previous night’s drive.  So I set the kids up with some chalk to decorate my driveway, and went inside for a 30 minute nap.

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My two granddaughters who were without their parents in Maine are ages 5 and 8.  This was their first time in Maine and they were complete novices to outdoor experiences.  I hadn’t planned on any overly exciting activities for Day One; the idea was to transition slowly and build anticipation and excitement.  So after the chalk activity, we packed up sleeping bags and a couple of tents and I took everyone to a White Mountain National Forest campsite that is only 3 miles from my home.  It’s a favorite of mine because not only is the area almost always completely unpopulated;  the campsite abuts a river, a natural pool, and two waterfalls; and best of all, it is completely free of charge.  It’s also what one would call “rustic;” it has no drinking water nor a pit toilet.  I was pretty sure the girls would not be amenable to camping if they knew they would have to use a shovel to dig a hole in the ground if they needed to go to the bathroom.  There was another complication:  the area is known for its bear population and we were in the midst of bear hunting season.  But I also knew that the bears would not bother us as long as they did not have a food source, nor a whiff of food.  I therefore outlawed meal preparation or the bringing of snacks.  I figured we could do a cookout at home and then, tummies full, head to the campground for sleep; when they’d wake up in the morning we’d head back home for breakfast.  I planned a Boys Night Out (my husband would accompany them) and a Girls Night Out (with me as the guide) the following night.  But right now this was all theory.  First they had to learn to set up a tent.  So, while my daughter caught up on some desperately needed rest,  I piled all the grandkids into the 12-passenger van and we headed over to the campsite.

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From there we popped over to Kewaydin Lake for a quick swim, which the kids loved.  By now the kids were getting hungry.  So we returned to our house and I had them search for kindling.  The older boys remembered from the previous year how to build a fire, so I let them get started on this while their mom fixed dinner.  In no time at all we  had a roaring campfire, and were toasting marshmallows for dessert.
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Soon it was time for a few bedtime stories and of course they all wanted to know what we’d be doing tomorrow.

“Kayaking,” I said.

“Yippee!” they answered, jumping up and down.  “We can’t wait!” they squealed with joy.

Alas, little did we know that the day would not turn out quite the way we had planned . . .

 

 

Impromptu Tour Guide

Due to cutbacks by the United States Postal Service, our local post office has dramatically reduced its hours.  Now it’s open for transactions only M-F from 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m, and 2:15 pm  – 4:15 p.m. in the afternoons.  The post office delivery truck drops off the mail around 8:30 a.m., and it’s placed in PO boxes around 9 a.m., so the window to get one’s daily mail in the morning is very narrow indeed.  The lobby without counter service is open during the middle part of the day if you have a post office box, but if you get a notice in your box that a package has arrived and you aren’t there during counter service times – – too bad.  You must return during one of the two-hour windows to claim your package.  It gets worse:  the routes of both FedEx and UPS work out so that they arrive at the post office between 12:30 – 1:30 pm, when the post office is closed, so packages headed to the post office cannot be delivered or redeemed if they are being delivered to your post office box as an address.  A solution to this problem would be for UPS and FedEx to place a delivery box outside, so the postmaster could access it during open hours, but UPS and FedEx have so far been uninterested in doing so.  It is very likely that in the next 2 years, our local post office branch will cease operating altogether.

I try to coordinate a visit to the post office with our transfer station – – also known as the garbage dump — which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 – 4.  We have no trash pickup here – all self-generated refuse must be taken to the dump in our car. The post office is 6 miles away and the dump is another 2.5 miles further up the road, and what with the cost of gas nowadays, I try to limit my visits.  Also on Tuesdays, our tiny library is open from 5 pm – 7 pm (the other day is Shabbat, so I can’t visit then).  It’s a 3-mile trip one way from home to the library but it’s on the way to the post office and dump, so I try to stop by the library on the way home.  Still, I do have time to kill from the post office closure at 4:15 to the library’s opening time of 5 p.m.

So yesterday I stopped by the lake.  I couldn’t go swimming or kayaking due to it being the Nine Days (leading up to Tisha B’Av), but I was content to sit there and watch a 5-year-old boy fishing with his father.  The look of joy on the little boy’s face when he caught a fish (as well as the proud dad’s) was priceless, and I never tire of the serene view of the lake, clouds, and surrounding mountains, and the quiet.

Suddenly a minivan with Illinois license plates turned into the parking area, and a married couple with 2 preteen daughters stepped out and started taking pictures of the beautiful view.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were from Chicago – – one of my daughters lives there and I will be going there to visit next week.

“No, we rented this car from New York,” the man replied.  “We are from Denmark.  We are doing a driving tour of the eastern United States.”  He explained that one of his daughters had hurt her ankle, and as a result they had to cancel many of their planned activities for the day.   They were limiting themselves to sightseeing from the car on this day, and had driven about 90 miles from western New Hampshire, extemporaneously wandering the scenic mountain roads.  He had many questions about what there was to see in this part of Maine, as well as questions about Maine culture, the people, the lifestyle, etc.

Well, I had nothing better to do until the library opened . . .

“We didn’t care for New York too much, to tell you the truth,” he confessed.  “Such a big city is not really our thing; we really prefer being in nature.”  He proceeded to tell me how surprised he was “that many of the natives we encountered there spoke English with very strong accents that we couldn’t understand.”  I had visions of him encountering chassidim who not only dress differently than the mainstream, but speak “Yinglish.”  But he said, “I’m talking about Hispanics and Chinese people.  I couldn’t believe it, but we met people who are Americans who could not even speak English!  That was very surprising to us – – I don’t understand how citizens can live in a country and not speak its language!  How is this possible?”

As we chatted,  I made several suggestions of places they could visit nearby that were off the beaten track and were known only to locals.  “You won’t find these suggestions in any tour book,” I said, “but if you love nature, you won’t want to miss them.”  Still, I realized that many of the places lacked signage and were accessed by hidden dirt or gravel roads, and he was unlikely to find them based on my directions alone.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I will take you to some of these places if you’d like.  You can just follow me in your car.”

I guess I looked trustworthy, because they were game.

I had a great time taking them all over the place – – I probably used up $20 out-of-pocket in gas.  I would stop my car every so often and they’d pull up behind me.  “Look – here are some moose hoof-prints!” I’d point out.  Or, “Check carefully along the road – last year at this time I saw a bear cub foraging here for blueberries.”  And:  “This little library was a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s until 1963.  Now it’s used as a library, and the author Stephen King, who lives nearby, helps to fund it.”  And:  “This area used to be a heavily forested valley, until 1983, when a severe storm with 100-mph winds created a blow-down. The entire forest was destroyed.  Then the beavers took over, and gradually the dammed area became the desolate bog you are looking at now.  Isn’t the power of nature amazing?”  I also took them to a hidden glen with a beautiful stream and small waterfalls.  “Salmon spawn here in November!” I gushed.  They were impressed!

Again and again, they thanked me profusely at each new stop for being able to see things and learn things that would otherwise not have been possible.  Together we ended up spending about 90 minutes touring the area.  We developed quite a rapport.  I discussed everything from logging and woodsmen, to moose and bear hunting, hiking, fishing, locals’ acceptance of strangers, politics, racism (the lack thereof), local education and jobs, cuisine, odd Maine laws – – you name it.   I said that the motto of Maine should be “live and let live,” since people are quite accepting of letting people do their own thing, as long as they don’t try to stuff their personal agenda down another’s throat.

“Oh, you mean everyone in Maine is very liberal!” the man exclaimed with glee.

“Well, I guess that depends on how you’d define ‘liberal,'” I replied.  “I mean, just about everyone here owns a gun,” I said.  The poor man’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  Then I realized:  who knows what they were thinking as I led them with my car through narrow mountain passes, through pocked and pitted gravel roads, through forest lanes so laden with foliage that you needed headlights to turn the shadows back into daylight, in places where no other people or buildings were in sight?  And now that I had said that everyone in rural Maine owns a gun, they probably felt like they were in a replay of “Deliverance,” only I was the one who could have been the bad guy!

Alas, it was now 6 p.m. and I still hadn’t made it to the library.  I recommended yet another isolated mountain road that would ultimately lead them back to their point of origin in New Hampshire, and after ensuring that their GPS recognized my suggested route, we wished one another well and said our goodbyes.

I don’t know what made me offer this impromptu goodwill tour to a family of complete strangers from a distant land.  I know they loved it – – they told me so, repeatedly, and remarked many times how fortunate I was to live in such a place.  But I confess, I do not know who enjoyed it more:  I had a wonderful time sharing the beauty and lore of my surroundings, and making my experiences a part of their experience, however vicariously or fleetingly.

Amazingly, after we parted, I realized that neither of us had told one another our names!

Only a week before I had read a wonderful book called “All Natural:  A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier” by Nathanael Johnson.  The concluding paragraph reads,

It wasn’t the Yosemite sunsets that had filled me with such hale energy as a child, it was watching those sunsets with my family, the four of us huddled together, windbreaker against windbreaker.  It wasn’t the close clarity of the stars, but Mom pointing out the Milky Way, that gave me the vertiginous feeling of falling into the vast heart of our galaxy. It was not only the place that mattered, but the fact that in that place the family was together and uninterrupted. I’d gone looking for Eden in the places where human fingerprints disappeared, but paradise was empty without the human touch.

Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into the Wild,” writes about Christopher McCandless,  the young American adventurer who (naively and tragically) planned to live alone with a minimum of supplies in the Alaskan wilderness.  His body was found dead of starvation only 4 months later, along with a meticulously kept journal.  In one of his last entries, trapped there as he lay dying in isolation, he scribbled:    “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”