Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Lake’

On the Wild Side

Friday was just about a perfect day.  The sky was a deep blue, with puffy white clouds, and the air was clear and dry, in the mid-70s.  The breeze was light enough to keep away the bugs (although the blackflies are gone, huge swarms of mean-spirited deerflies have replaced them and can make a walk outdoors an exercise in masochism) but not so windy that there would be chop in the water at the lake.  In other words, a perfect day to go fishing.

Kayaking and fishing on Virginia Lake.  I was the only one there.

Kayaking and fishing on Virginia Lake. I was the only one there.

It was my first visit of the year to Virginia Lake, an off-the-beaten-track sort of place that even most Mainers don’t know about.  While the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocks many local ponds, lakes and rivers with trout and land-locked salmon, they don’t stock Virginia Lake.  Yet because of its more remote location, it isn’t over-fished and I often have good luck there (I’ve caught bass, trout, and white perch at Virginia Lake).

Two days before, there had been a 24-hour downpour of Biblical proportions.  Fortunately I live on the side of a mountain with good drainage, instead of along a river or valley, because there was plenty of flooding.  Virginia Lake was so full from the latest rainfall that the shoreline was covered a good 10 or 15 feet with deep water.

While June is known to be a rainy month in Maine, it has severe implications for the Common Loon population.  The loon is an amazing bird.  Similar to a duck, it has several unique characteristics that make it a favorite.  Its black and white markings and beady red eyes are beautiful; its call is haunting, eerie and magnificent; and its capacity for diving for its food and staying submerged under water for up to 3 minutes is nothing short of remarkable.

Also unique are its webbed feet; the loons’ legs are placed way back on its body, which enables loons to dive as much as 200′ under water.  That is not a typo:  two hundred feet!

The downside of their feet being placed so far back on their bodies is that while they are adept at swimming and diving, they are extremely handicapped when it comes to walking.  Because of this, they build their nests at shoreline, because they are mostly helpless when they are not on water.

The problem is that when heavy June rains flood the shoreline, their nests are often destroyed, and this adversely affects the loon population.  Naturalists have tried to encourage nesting loons by building floating platforms or rafts on the water, and while at first wary, loons eventually come to accept the floating “arks,” as is evident on Virginia Lake.  The platforms are intentionally placed on parts of the lake that are not easy to spot from the ground, so they will remain undisturbed by humans.  Many other lakes and ponds in Maine are experimenting with different types of floating structures to encourage loons to nest and stabilize or increase the loon population.

The loons at Kezar, Kewaydin, and Virginia Lakes, while far from tame, don’t seem to mind sharing the water with kayakers such as myself, and they often swim within 15′ of my boat.  Last year on Virginia Lake I was able to follow the progress of a mama and papa loon and their one chick over a two-month period.   At first the baby would mostly hitchhike on its mother’s back but within a couple of weeks it swam alongside its parents.  I was privileged to see the incredible patience of the parents trying to teach their baby to fish!  The adult loons would swim directly in front of their baby, and then dip in the water.  Then they’d go diving for a fish.  When they’d catch the fish, they would lay it in front of the baby on the water.  As the dead fish would start to sink, they’d urge the baby to dive to retrieve it.  Again and again they placed the fish in front of the baby, trying to teach it to dive.  This went on for days until one day, the baby finally got it!

On Friday I discovered the location of the floating platform, and sure enough a mama loon was nesting there, resting atop her eggs.  It was a good thing the platform was there – – the nest would surely have been wiped out due to the recent storm had it been on the shoreline.

Nesting loon on Virginia Lake.  It is on a floating platform built for this purpose.

Nesting loon on Virginia Lake. It is on a floating platform built for this purpose.

If you want to hear the call of a loon, click here.

This was not my lucky day, however, in terms of fish.  I caught a white perch but it was too small to keep, so I threw it back into the lake, to live another day.

All around me, neon blue and black & white dragonflies and damselflies flew, occasionally landing on my kayak or on my sleeve (they are completely harmless, and in fact help keep the mosquito population at bay).

Suddenly near a more isolated, marshy section of the lake I heard a splashing sound.  I was very excited – – I knew it had to be a moose  (imagine the sound of an adult person walking the length of a swimming pool whose water is 4′ high – – that is the sound of a moose in water).  I quietly paddled my kayak closer to the sound.  There were a lot of marshy plants separating my boat from the area where the moose was wading, so it was hard to see anything except the top of the cow moose’s head (female, no antlers), who was about 50′ away.  What a thrill! Once she heard my paddle in the water, she left the marsh and disappeared into the woods.


You may have to use your imagination for this one. The red arrow points to the head of the moose. There was heavy vegetation separating me from the moose, and since I was sitting in the kayak it was hard to see up over the plants. I wasn’t about to stand up in my kayak for a better picture – – I would have capsized!

Returning to the shore where my car was located, I stowed my boat  and went for a dip in the lake.  The water was freezing at first but I soon got used to the chill and relished the clear, clean water.  Bass were swimming under me, flitting away as I splashed!

As I left the lake, I saw a (non-poisonous) snake crossing the dirt road, and a snapping turtle looking for a place to lay its eggs.  A huge grey heron flew in front of me.  A porcupine scuttled off into the woods.

What a show!  It was almost as if the wildlife were welcoming me back to Maine.


Maine Wilderness (Rant)

In New Hampshire, there is a wonderful tourist destination called Lost River Gorge.  They’ve taken a magnificent gorge filled with flumes, waterfalls, and caves, and carved a pathway built with a complicated set of staircases and safety railings so people of all ages can explore this natural wonder.  It allows people who might never be exposed to nature a chance to discover nature’s joys and miracles.  But – – the horror! – – it’s “developed.” (You can see pictures from a previous blogpost here.)

The “holiness” of wilderness is often taken to extremes in Maine. You can see similar gorges and waterfalls not far from where I live, and I enjoy them tremendously.  But unless you have some serious safety equipment or 4WD, they aren’t easily accessible and few but the most avid and experienced hikers and climbers even know about them.  With today’s eco-correctness, development of natural areas like Lost River Gorge will never happen today.  I guess that’s the point – – restricting access to keep things pristine – – but ultimately I believe it to be self-defeating.  I believe that HaShem gave us a world of amazing wonders, and it was created for all of us to cherish, respect and enjoy.

This year I found out that the Forest Service intends to restrict access to my two most favorite nearby places:  Great Brook, and Virginia Lake.  Readers of this blog know how much I enjoy fishing and kayaking at Virginia Lake, and that will not change, but the beach there will soon be closed to campers and the so-called  dirt “access road” will be made inaccessible to anything but foot traffic.  Even walking the 1/2 mile to the beach will be difficult, however, since they will be removing the culverts, allowing the road to wash out and those persistent wild trees, brush, bushes and thorns to grow right in.  Essentially, if you have a family with young kids and are shlepping towels, sand pails, and a picnic lunch, you have your work cut out for you if you want to enjoy a day at the beach, because just getting there will be an ordeal. (You can view pictures of Virginia Lake from a previous blogpost here.)

The other place –  Great Brook – – is an amazing place to camp, and I took my grandchildren there this summer for an overnighter.  Great Brook has a series of clear, pristine pools, water-filled potholes, and waterfalls that make it ideal for cooling off on a hot day (in fact, before our house had plumbing or a drilled well, we used to go there to bathe!).  Salmon and wild brook trout spawn there in November.

4 grandsons were in the orange tent; my husband and I slept in the green tent

4 grandsons were in the orange tent; my husband and I slept in the grey tent

The kids loved building a fire.  Behind them is Great Brook, with its natural falls, pools, and flumes.

The kids loved building a campfire. Behind them is Great Brook, with its natural falls, pools, and flumes.

The huge swimming hole with its icy water.  My 8-year-old granddaughter was the only one brave enough to jump into the water, which even in August was freezing cold.

The huge swimming hole with its icy water. My 8-year-old granddaughter was the only one brave enough to jump into the water, which even in August was freezing cold.


The pool is fed by a waterfall

Another beautiful section of Great Brook

Another beautiful section of Great Brook

There is no sign from the road or at either site telling you of their existence, or that there are campsites there (and the campsites are free of charge!)  – – it’s mostly a locals’ secret.  Consequently, you might see one other person using the area on a “busy” day.  That’s because the area is designated as “wilderness” – – so signs are a no-no and maintenance is minimal.  Eighty-five percent of the times I’ve visited, I’ve been the only one there.  Hardly a case for “overuse,” as the Forest Service claims.

So why does the Forest Service want to shut these places down by restricting use, even though it’s public land?  There are several reasons:  1.) the Forest Service hopes to do some major logging in the area,  to generate revenue from cut trees that will be sold for lumber; 2.) to clear 25 years of accumulating brush and fallen trees which are a forest fire hazard; 3.) to clear-cut some areas so new meadows will encourage  growth of beech and establish more moose-friendly habitat; and 4.) the other reason for limiting use – – much more unfortunate – – is that a few people have abused the campsites.

By “abuse” I mean the worst possible things:   trash left at campsites, as well as – – ick — the presence of human feces, which besides being unsightly and disgusting, is a health concern.

You see, these areas are “wild” – – so that means whatever you bring in, you must take out the resulting trash.  Also, there are no bathrooms – – so if you have to go, you need to dig a “cat hole” in the earth some 6″ deep with a small shovel and poop in the hole, and then cover and bury your poop.

I can guarantee that whomever did not treat the campsites with respect, were not locals.  Locals view the wilderness as their very own backyard, and they will not trash their own backyard.   The campsites will be as pristine, or more so, when they leave as when they first arrived.   Now, I don’t blame the rangers for being really, really mad.  It should never be the job of a ranger to clean up after someone’s dirty business.   So how to prevent this from happening in the future?  Is closing down the campsites really the answer?

I don’t believe that people who leave trash and feces at a campsite do so out of maliciousness, but rather, ignorance at best and laziness at worst.

But how can one educate in the wilderness?  Clear instructional signs would help; that addresses the ignorance part.  How many of you reading this had ever even heard of a “cat-hole” (or would want to!)?

But what about laziness?

Let’s face it.  There are going to be people who will, if the road is really bad or non-existent,  consider it to be too much trouble to pack out their trash when they return to their cars.  But there are solutions!

1.  Provide a bear-proof dumpster (but the Forest Service doesn’t want to pay for trash removal, even though the amount of trash generated on site would require only monthly service), or,

2. Improve rather than remove the dirt access road, so people could actually park their cars at the edge of the beach, and would be more inclined to put the trash into their nearby car, rather than being overwhelmed at the thought of walking  a .5 mile bushwhack back to the car  with their garbage.

3.  Provide a composting toilet at the site.  Unlike outhouses, which stink and require weekly emptying, a composting toilet does not smell and requires maintenance only 1x – 2x year.

Alas, the Forest Service’s interpretation is that the area is designated a “wilderness area” and therefore no signs, no composting toilets, no roads, and no dumpsters are allowed.  And since a few irresponsible people can’t take care of it properly, better to shut it down completely.

Another example of “wilderness area” short-sightedness:  climbing Speckled Mountain.  You can climb it from Rte 113 in Evans Notch, on the Maine-NH border.  But if you climb it from the side near my house, you are suddenly in “wilderness” (the Caribou-Speckled Mountain wilderness, to be exact) and suddenly trail signs and blazes on trees showing the way, disappear, and the trails themselves are poorly maintained, or not maintained at all.  If you are lucky you will see cairns (piles of stones) that mark the trail, left voluntarily and charitably by a previous hiker.  Apparently trail signage is thought to desecrate “wilderness.”  Does the forest service prefer spending scarce funds on costly rescue operations for lost hikers, rather than a few dabs of paint on a tree trunk to mark a trail?

Does this make sense?  Are we really ensuring an appreciation of wilderness for future generations by making it inaccessible – – and dangerous! – – to the average person, perhaps precluding them from the chance to experience what wilderness is?

While I am by no means an “expert” outdoorswoman (if I had to rate myself, it would be “advanced beginner”), I have, thankfully, acquired skills and knowledge that allow me to venture forth and explore and enjoy wild places that are basically off the usual maps.  It seems foolish and short-sighted to discount novices who are no less enthusiastic about experiencing the joys of the great outdoors, without giving them the tools and accessibility that will make it easier for them accomplish this.

There are going to be many people reading this post who will disagree with me about making wilderness more accessible to the public, especially life-long Mainers who are very protective of “their” outdoors.  By clicking on the highlighted items you can see some interesting links that discuss the Forest Service’s plans for my immediate area, known as the Albany South project,  as well as the strong feelings in the debate about keeping Maine’s wilderness wild.

To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.



Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.


The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860


Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.


(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.

“That’s Fishing!”

Every fisherman has his “the one that got away” story and now I have mine.

My husband and I took our daughter and her children to Virginia Lake for a day of swimming and kayaking.  It’s only a few miles from our house, yet the great thing about it is that it’s in a remote, not-so-easy-to-get-to location.  Few people besides locals even know of its existence, despite its presence on any map of Maine.  Much of the land around the lake was owned by the Diamond Match Company, but they relinquished their hold to the Forest Service and it was designated as conservation land.  The few cabins around the lake were similarly sold to the US Forest Service and the cabins were either physically removed from the land or allowed to decay to the point of no return.  There is one “holdout” – a wealthy family from Maryland who owns a sprawling, rustic yet luxurious lodge/family compound there — but they are the only residents amidst hundreds of acres of timber and mountains along Virginia Lake, and they are there only during the summer.  Whenever I kayak there, I  almost always have the entire lake to myself, with the exception of Common Loons.  Their haunting cry is both ethereal and mystical; there is nothing quite like the magic and privilege of hearing and experiencing their amazing sound.

That said, getting to Virginia Lake with an entire family in tow is a rather complicated affair.  There is a fairly decent dirt road to the primitive boat launch which is surrounded by brush and scrub and woods; but to get to the side of the lake where there is a small cove and sandy beach is something else altogether.  The dirt road leading there is completely washed out, and only with great difficulty can even a 4×4 manage the axle-smashing, suspension-ruining flooded, rocky ruts along the way.  Usually it’s much easier to park in the brush and walk the remaining .3 mile to the beach, but besides the mosquitoes and blackflies along the so-called path, there are towels, snacks, drinks, sunscreen, and all the required paraphernalia associated with a family gathering that must also be carried in.  There are no bathrooms and no trash cans, so any trash one generates must be carried back out to the car at the end of the day, to be disposed of at a later date.   Picture, if you will, the vast quantity of stuff required when you realize that my daughter has seven children, ages 15 months to 12 years old!

So why bother?  Well, due to laws of modesty, Orthodox Jews do not participate in sunbathing or swimming in a mixed-gender situation unless it is with their own family, and opportunities within this scenario are rare.  Virginia Lake, due to its isolation and inconvenience, provides plenty of privacy.  But even more than that, it is exceptionally pristine and beautiful and a true wilderness experience.  Also, because it is rarely visited, the fishing is terrific.

By the time we got everyone piled into two cars filled to the brim with everything we’d need, I’d lost count of all the items on my checklist and only hoped we hadn’t forgotten anything too important.  After several exhausting trips shlepping stuff from the car, I realized I had forgotten my fishing net at home.  That didn’t stop me from fishing, however!

The kids loved kayaking and even the three-year-old enjoyed paddling in the shallow waters by the shore (we stood in the water next to the kayak to ensure he wouldn’t capsize or be in danger, and of course they wore life jackets).

Two of the grandkids kayaking on Virginia Lake

Two of the grandkids kayaking on Virginia Lake

Fooling around and having fun on Virginia Lake

Fooling around and having fun on Virginia Lake.  Even the little 3-year-old blondie (3rd from the right, crouching down in the boat) got to have “solo” time paddling the kayak. (click to enlarge)

I love this picture because it so well captures the pure joy and fun of the day.

I love this picture because it so well captures the pure joy and fun of the day.

Eventually they all had enough and now it was my turn!  I paddled out to my favorite area on the lake where the fish always seem to bite.  I wasn’t sure my fishing rod would even work, since the day before I had propped it up along the wall next to the window, and someone had absent-mindedly slammed the window shut – – right on the rod, snapping off the end.  So here I was, with this crazy, shortened rod, with a sharp rough piece sticking out at the end, attempting to catch something.

Within 30 seconds of putting the worm on the hook and casting the line, I didn’t feel a nibble — I felt a CHOMP.  I had never felt anything quite like it before.  Usually the fish just nibble at the worm gently, until their noshing gets the best of them and they take a fatal bite and become hooked.  Sometimes they are crafty – they nibble carefully enough to release the worm from the hook without their getting caught and then I’m minus both worm and fish.  But immediately I knew that whatever had taken that CHOMP, it was BIG, and it wasn’t fooling around – all it took was one bite and that worm was history.

Encouraged, I put another worm on the hook and waited.  Within a minute, I hooked a fish and began to reel it in.  It was pretty powerful, and my already-broken rod was nearly doubled in half as I struggled to pull it in.  Suddenly, there it was:  the largest trout I had ever seen!  Twenty-one inches and enough to feed five people.  (I knew its length because I have a tape measure glued on to the side of the kayak, to ensure I don’t take a fish too small for the legal minimum.)  Despite my attempts to grab it, I was unsuccessful, and that’s when I realized that without the forgotten net, I was helpless.

“Help me!” I shouted to my husband on the distant shore.  “Please!  Paddle out and help me nab this fish!”  Alas, amidst the gleeful sounds of the children playing in the sand and the water,  they couldn’t hear my cries.  I was afraid the squirming trout, fighting for its life, would unhook itself, but it did something even more surprising:  it snapped the ten-pound line, and with the hook still in its mouth, it plopped back into Virginia Lake and swam far, far away.

How I mourned!  I felt terrible:  not only did I lose what will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime catch, I was now guilty of a terrible cruelty:  a fish was destined to live – – and probably soon die – – with a hook imbedded in its mouth.

One of my children once asked me, “Doesn’t it gross you out to eat something you have had to kill?  Wouldn’t you just rather buy a fish in the market?”

It’s a surprisingly deep question.  Most people I’ve spoken with love fishing for the sake of fishing.  Most of the time, they don’t even keep what they catch – – they throw it back into the water. 

But the only fish I throw back into the water are those that are too small to eat.  I regard the entire fishing process as somewhat cruel, from the worm’s impalement and subsequent squirms on the hook; to the fish being caught by its mouth by a hook, struggling to free itself and then to breathe its last breaths out of water – – no, I don’t really see this as “fun” or as “sport.”  The only justification I can find in it is if it serves a purpose:  food to nourish me.  It is a profound and grave experience to truly realize first hand the process of where your food comes from.  I think if most people had to kill their own chickens or cows rather than buy a piece of meat wrapped unrecognizably in plastic packaging at the supermarket, that most would become vegetarians.  In order to live, one has to destroy.  It’s important, I think, to experience that (unpleasant!) connection, to not take it for granted or become desensitized:  ulitmately, to make it holy.  (That’s another reason Orthodox Jews make blessings over every item of food we eat.  We are not only thanking G-d for providing us sustenance, we are attempting a paradigm shift:  eating to live instead of living to eat.)

Disheartened, I could not stop thinking about that fish.

The next day I went to the town dump to dispose of our trash.  The fellow who runs the dump is a typical rural “Mainuh:”  very taciturn; a man of few words; wary of people who are “from away.”  In the four years I’ve lived here, he has only grunted in acknowledgement of my hellos.  Even when I bake him cookies every year during holiday season, he purses his lips and only nods his head once in appreciation.  But in my experience, Mainers love to give advice if asked.  And so I gathered my courage and said,

“Excuse me . . . can I ask you a question?”

He grunted.

” . . . About fishing?” I continued.

He stopped.

“You see, I’m new to fishing.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.  But I  want to learn more.  I was wondering if you could tell me what I did wrong.”

I proceeded to tell him my story of the one that got away.  He was all ears, and his eyes lit up as my story unfolded.  He seemed a bit impressed that the trout had snapped a ten-pound line.  When I got to the end he said two words:

“That’s fishing!”

At first I didn’t get it.  So he proceeded to tell me his own “the one that got away” story, and it was rather embarrassing:

He was out fishing on a local lake with his buddy, the owner of a nearby convenience store.  They were trolling for fish (gliding slowly in the boat) with four rods dangling from the boat.  The boat had three rod-holders; the fourth rod was simply propped up against the side of the boat.

“. . . And wouldn’t you know it!  The one worm the fish goes for is attached to the rod that’s not in the rod-holder!  It took us by complete surprise!  And suddenly, I’m just sitting there like a dummy watching it;  the entire rod and reel flips over my head, off the boat, and is carried into the lake lock, stock and barrel by that fish!  I was just so surprised, and it happened so quickly, I couldn’t move fast enough.  And that was the end of that!  The rod, the reel – the whole thing – gone!  And that’s fishing!”

And then I got it.

We think we’re in control.  That’s the beauty of fishing:  its us humans, supposedly of superior intelligence, versus the fish.  And we should win, every time.  Sometimes we do  – – and sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes it’s because of skill, sometimes it’s because of luck – –  or lack thereof.  But ultimately, the joke is on us.  Fishing is humbling, because a small creature with no brainpower mostly outwits us.  We like to think we are in control:  in control of the fish, in control of our lives – – but we’re not. 

“That’s fishing.”

That’s life.

What powerful mussar the trash dump guy gave me, right before Rosh HaShana.

Snapshots of the Mind

Six years ago I was camping in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains.  It had been a perfect day and as it drew to a close I walked about a mile from the campsite to a remote part of the Saco River.  I tore off my rugged hiking boots and sweaty socks and soaked my poor, tired feet in the ice-cold river.  I was in a gorge with no other people nearby.  The sky was deep blue, the trees were thick and the water from the river reflected off the sheer rock sides of the cliffs above.

Although we really had no idea that our lives were about to change dramatically in a few years, it occurred to me, thinking deep thoughts as I am prone to do in these mountains, that our elderly parents would someday be depending on us in ways that I couldn’t fathom, and that the luxury of things like time away and excursions to the White Mountains would only be a fantasy in the future.  Rather than be saddened by this thought, I instead made a conscious effort to study the scene before me in minute detail.  When I felt I could commit the water, the rocks, the cliffs, the trees, the blue of the sky and the clean smell of the air to memory, I closed my eyes.  Concentrating hard, I whispered to myself, “Click!” and photographed the scene in my mind.  I knew that no matter what happened in the future, I could go back to this picture consciously stored in my brain and recall this scene, which was mine and mine alone.

I have used this technique often.  These mental snapshots aren’t solely about beautiful places, but are always sensual moments – the moment of the birth of one of my children, or even the smell of melted chocolate.  In the midst of travail I can willfully transport myself back to a moment in my personal history that was especially wonderful.  I have taught this trick to others, as well.

This past summer, in the midst of an unrelenting heat wave of 102 degrees (very hot for Maine!), I drove 10 minutes from my home to 307-acre Kewaydin Lake.

Kewaydin Lake on an autumn day

You can go just about anywhere on the lake and not see anyone else, despite the many lake-front summer cabins that dot the edges.  The water is cold and pure, and so clean and clear that one can see tens of feet below the surface.  Usually the water is so cold that you can’t swim without turning blue, but because of the above-mentioned heat wave, the water was warmer than usual yet still cold enough to be refreshing.  The utter calm, the sound of the water lapping at the edges, the consistency of my stroke, the deep blue sky and the mountainous backdrop were a nirvana for the soul.

Virginia Lake, a short distance from Kewaydin Lake

Once again, I consciously memorized every possible detail of my surroundings as well as my feeling of quiet euphoria:  “Click!”

The shoreline of Virginia Lake

Even now during the bleaker days of autumn, I return in my mind to that day.  I don’t just “see” it; I feel it.  This is but one aspect of my goal to live consciously and conscientiously.  And I cannot help but smile.

This beautiful stream connects Virginia Lake to Kewaydin Lake