It was our last night on the Aziscohos. Tomorrow we’d be paddling the two miles back across the lake to the landing where we’d stashed our cars. Six days away from civilization. No electricity, no wifi, no Internet at all, not even cell phone connection. No running water, aside from the lake. A nice, new outhouse and fire pit; weatherbeaten tent platforms and picnic tables. The weather had been perfect, long days of sun and breeze with temps in the 70s, overnight dropping to low 50s, good sleeping weather. Just zip up into your sleeping bag, cozy in your tent.
The moon had been waxing. Full and bright, it rose opposite a rosy sunset, reflecting off the lake’s gentle ripples. The loons had been laughing at us all week, crazy humans, paddling around in their boats, chattering on the shore, building fires every day to cook their meals. Foolish creatures with all their truck, when all you really need is to dip down below the surface and feast on fresh fish. Red squirrels scolded us regularly for our noise and bustle, disturbing the peace of their lakeside forest. Fir cones were falling, and we were in the way of the harvest. Listening to those guys you could learn how to curse in squirrel.
All the stuff we brought frozen in the coolers had thawed by now. Cook it or lose it. Fruit we’d brought in green was ripe and ready for a last breakfast before we headed out. We’d drunk most of the beer. I had two Guinness Extra Stout saved for the paddle out. We were polishing off the last of the red wine. Everything burnable was curling up black in the fire pit. What we couldn’t eat, drink or incinerate had to be packed out.
There we were, sitting around the fire, me, my son Alec and our friend Ann. The two guys who’d been there for most of the rest of the week had paddled out that morning. Dave makes the arrangements for the campsite every year in August. Greg has been coming for most of the thirty-two years they’ve been doing it. It’s a different crew every year; sometimes the crowd is so big the campsite fills up and tents get pitched on the sand across the cove. Andy started the tradition, reserving the site and inviting a pile of friends, then David took over. Andy came back this year after a long absence, along with his wife Pati. Ann started coming years ago, when her girls (now in their twenties) were little. She took my boys, too, and then I went a couple of times. They’re planning a big 33 year Aziscohos reunion next year, trying to get as many of the old crowd as possible to come. I hope to be there.
So as we sat there, reflecting on the week that was, I said, “I think I’ll take the kayak out.”
Ann said, “Sure. Last night. Might as well.”
“Keep the fire going.”
I pushed out on the lake in the Old Town I’d borrowed from our friend Laura. They’re rugged as hell, Old Towns. You wish maybe they were a bit lighter when you’re hoisting them up onto the top of the car. But you can plow into damn near anything and they won’t leak. The lake was smooth as glass and the moon was like a spotlight. The color was starting to drain out of the sky turning the surface of the water pewter. Venus was setting over the hills. There are a few other campsites on the lake, which covers nearly 7,000 long, meandering acres in western Maine near the Canadian border. There are only a few houses here and there along the shore. Our campsite was about half-way down its 19 mile length. From where I was, I could see our fire clearly. No other lights of human origin were visible.
Around the point, I lost sight of the fire. The moon poured down silver on the dark water. The surrounding hills were bristling silhouettes of forest. When I stopped paddling, I glided silent, ripples spreading from my prow. I felt absolutely alone. On the shore I could make out a tiny point of light, perhaps a lamp at another campsite. I could hear no voices, just the lapping of the water and occasional insect rasps. And of course the eerie echoing hoot of the loons. No traffic, no grumbling distant engines. Just wilderness. Utter ethereal peace.
I had to go back. I’d paddled further than I intended. It took me awhile, and I felt badly because of course Ann and Alec were worried about me. They thought I was just going to putter around in the cove, not plunge into the velvet unknown. I made my apologies when I got back; I was sorry for the anxiety I’d caused. But I had no regrets. I’d experienced something extraordinary.