Tag Archives: fog

Happy Returns Of The Day

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Today, happily, is my birthday – “happily” because, as my grandmother always said, “having one more is better than not.”  And “happily” because I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than where I am right now.  And if that is not a statement of Existential Bliss, I don’t know what is.

We had storm after storm after storm through the night, and it was wonderful. There’s nothing so nice as having thunder rolling and lightning flashing and the ocean heaving…outside your windows, as you lie firm and solid upon dry land.  We woke this morning to bright blue skies and what I believe they call a “freshening breeze”…and this lasted for a lovely quarter-hour when it was abruptly, quickly, and without warning replaced by a pea soup fog.   Fortunately, our freshening breeze put paid to the fog – it wearied of the fight and took itself off down the coast.

We celebrated all of it, my birthday, the fog, the storms, and the bright blue sky by taking out a pair of kayaks for a lovely long paddle.  All week there’s been a mysterious and very large sailboat anchored in the bay; it took its leave this morning, but before it did, I was able to get some information about it.  This boat is large. And I mean…gigantic.  The schooner Eastwind, a windjammer that comfortably accommodates 30 people on an afternoon cruise, passed it at anchor on the way out of the harbor and looked like a toy next to this monster, both in terms of length and height.  I found out that the Monster Ship is the “Christopher,” a racing ketch from Britain in town still from the recent Shipyard Cup, and it is 150 feet long.  Quite that in height, too.  I would have loved to see her under sail, but alas, she pulled out of the harbor by motor.  I can’t blame her sailors – I’m sure it is an impressive task to get the rigging and sails up, but likely an extremely tiresome chore to get them stowed again later.

The wind offered some interesting challenges for kayaking, especially out towards the mouth of the harbor.  This harbor is extremely protected and typically features very quiet seas.  Today, with the wind picking up, it offered large swells instead.  One has to keep the hips loose and continue to paddle with as regular a rhythm as possible – the paddles then function as a type of outrigger, and stabilize the craft – but this is a bit of a challenge when the ocean isn’t where you think it will be, and when the swells are rolling you along.  Once again, I found the horseback riding to come in very handy – the rolling swells reminded me a lot of Huey, the warmblood I’ve been riding lately, who has a gigantic motion to his walk and a very large barrel.  And the answer to keeping my seat on both was the same: stay nice and loose in the hips, let everything below the waist absorb the motion, and keep on keeping on.

A lunch, a fix of my deadly sin (the bubble gum ice cream), and the purchase of a white cotton sweater with anchors knit in across the chest (my husband said, when I showed it to him in the store, “What, do you mean you don’t already own one of those?  You should buy it now.”) I’m ready to face the afternoon Sunset Promenade.

The breeze has moved beyond “freshening” into a state that I’d consider “stiff”.  The big swells of yesterday have been replaced by a pattern of whitecaps today.  The wind is pouring into our room on one end and exiting, unchecked, on the other.  I found that today, when I close the bathroom door, the entire room begins to make the musical hooting sound of someone blowing over the top of a bottle.  I wish I were superstitious enough to conjure up the romance of a ghost, but since it only started doing this with the wind today, I must regretfully conclude that this is a matter of physics.

Outside the window, the seagulls are hanging in the sky and look like they are flying on a string like a kite.  A woman has plumped her toddler down in the rocks across the road for an informal family photo shoot, but the child is fascinated by the birds that are hanging overhead.  The schooner has gone rocking across the mouth of the harbor in the distance. The water is an inky blue that throws the white foam of laughter at the sky. The kid next door has drawn Dinghy Washing Duty and is competing with the ocean on the matter of producing spray.

And today, for the first time since we arrived, the Ram Island light is silent.  The fog and the humidity are defeated by this breeze. If only I’d thought to pack clothing that is both dressy and warm, rather than only one – it looks, as a result, that my new anchor sweater will be launched on its maiden voyage for dinner tonight.

Monhegan

On Monhegan Island

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And Then For Many A Weary Moon I Labored At The Galley’s Oar…

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Well, really, it was for a good few hours, and I labored at the kayak’s paddle, but I feel that this lacks the poetry of the original.*  And then later, for what felt like a many a bloody moon I labored with toothpicks, rubber erasers, and packing tape.  My husband’s bifocals gave up the ghost this afternoon, cracking right across the bridge, which has got to be the most difficult spot for repair.  And they’re wire, too, so you don’t have a lot of leverage to play with, and I think they’re also titanium, which means that none of the 1,000,000 artists and sculptors that populate this area would be able to effect a useful repair with a soldering iron.  My solution, which is utterly makeshift and which I suspect will disintegrate with a breath, was to hack the tip off of a pencil eraser (the pointy kind that the pencil wears like a hat), slot the busted ends of the wire bridge into it, and then tape the lot together as quickly as I could.  I think that this will hold together well enough for the emergencies that may arise until we can see the optician in town on Monday.  Why these things must always happen on Saturday afternoon (or Friday night or Sunday morning) I do not know.

In the meantime, we went into town so that he could acquire a pair of cheaters. He picked out a pair that was festively decorated with polka-dots, brightly colored stripes, and a few little flowers painted on.

“Those are for women” I said.

I am proud – amused, but proud – that this information did not deter him.  By golly, he wanted the blingy festive reading glasses, and he was going to have them.  He sees them as being “hippy” and feels what I suspect to be a misplaced confidence that Bill Nighy would wear such a thing. Why it should matter that Bill Nighy might wear them is a topic that I have yet to explore.

While jerry-rigging the bifocals was a fiddly process that felt like it took much longer than it did, the time I spent laboring at the kayak’s paddle seemed to flow by in an instant.  When we rose this morning, we had the fog that I thought we would have yesterday.  Visibility was down to, I’d say, 20 feet here.  It was as thick as a feather mattress, this fog.  Over breakfast we formulated a set of extensive contingency plans, starting with a trip into town to see if it was fogged in (and kayaking if it was not) then moving on to a trip to the botanical gardens to see if they were fogged in (and taking in the gardens if it was not) then moving on to a possible hike in a high area of the point, etc.

The meteorologists predicted clearing in late morning as they did on the last two days.  In all three cases they were entirely wrong.  The first two days the fog cleared well before they expected, and today, it didn’t clear until 4:30 – and even then, it was only mostly clear.  So given that we were socked in like a down comforter, why did we need to investigate the situation in town, which is 3 miles away as the crow flies?  Because I have seen cases where the western half of the harbor is entirely clear, while the eastern half is invisible…and where the air at the top of the harbor is crystalline, whereas the entrance to the harbor is opaque.  It is impossible to formulate a reasonably reliable expectation…or to expect that whatever the conditions are now, they will remain so for any length of time.

Lucky us, the town was totally clear of fog, so we rented our kayaks and set out.  We have done tandem kayaks in the past…but there is a very good reason that the professionals refer to the tandems as Divorce Boats.  My husband has a singular sense of rhythm, in that he’s usually the only one with that particular beat.  He is also non-goal-directed.  I have a standard and firm sense of rhythm, and am goal directed. This does not make for Happy Tandem Kayaking.  We have sworn off those – several times, I’m afraid – in the past, and now, it is single kayaks all the way.

I lit out with the intention of visiting the Burnt Island lighthouse.  It is placed on an island in the mouth of the harbor, and is very scenic.  Halfway there, however, the wall of fog descended on everything so firmly that I thought for a moment that I’d heard it go “clunk” when it hit. Ordinarily, I would not take a single kayak out into a busy harbor in the fog…the problem was, I was already there when it happened.

Things got exciting for a bit.  My first thought was to circle the kayak back around so that I could tell my husband “Don’t go into the fog.” but then I decided that since he’s got a PhD, he was probably smart enough to figure that out for himself.  I was 90% in favor of this conclusion – although notably, not 100% – so I kayaked on.  Since I couldn’t see 30 feet in front of me, and since the Burnt Island fog horn was now sounding like it was coming from everywhere I bailed on Plan A.  And formulated Plan B: kayak across the harbor to the other side, and paddle back making sure I could see land at all times.

Plan B started off with a thrill.  I could hear a mid-sized power boat, possibly a lobster boat, possibly a cruiser, roaring into the harbor from the bay.  Problem was, I couldn’t see it.  Which meant, of course, that it wouldn’t be able to see me.  I love ocean kayaking, it’s my third-favorite sport (after horse riding and downhill skiing, both of which are tied for first place) BUT…it is not really the sort of thing where adrenaline will help you lay on speed.  I kept paddling as constantly as I could, watching in what I thought to be the right direction for the entrance of the harbor, and hoped that the oncoming boat would turn out to be nowhere near me.

That hope turned out as so many hopes like that do…in disappointment.  The boat was on me before I could see it, and I was deeply grateful to discover that it was a commercial craft – which meant that the captain understood where the Slow Zone started and that he needed to watch out for small craft in the fog.  I could have gotten very unlucky if it had been one of the Weekend Warriors that you get around here once in a while.  Speaking of those Weekend Warriors – last year on the ferry back from Monhegan the ferry captain drew everyone’s attention to the sight of a mid-sized sailboat being towed into the harbor by a commercial tow-boat.  The mockery he had to shower on the head of a sailor who couldn’t sail his own boat into a very large, very deep harbor bears repeating, but I am afraid that I cannot do it justice.

My little collision narrowly averted, I paddled on for another 45 minutes, enjoying every minute of it.

Kayaks go over everything

My kayak went over some very interesting rocks, investigated several tidal pools, visited a small colony of terns, carried me past the local hospital – which has an Emergency Dock – and through the shipyards.  All this with the fog blowing over and through it all.  Great time, and I can hardly wait to go again.

*Robert Howard, “Thor’s Son”

Kayaks

Rockport Kayak Corral

Over The Horizon, What Can It Be?

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It’s a good thing I really, really love the sound of fog horns.  Because this morning, by the time I rolled out of bed, I could hear the Ram Island Light sounding off (one blast every 30 seconds), the Burnt Island Light sounding off (one blast every ten seconds), and way over off Southport, almost too far to hear, the Cuckolds Light sounding off (one blast every fifteen seconds).  It sound like every thirty seconds you’d get a good, hard, loud blast, doesn’t it?  And yet, the blasts last for trivially different amounts of time, which means that even should they all sound at once, it won’t happen again for quite a while.   So the Seas Were Alive With The Sound of Foghorns.

With all that, I expected when I threw back the curtains, to be met with an impenetrable wall of fog.  Yet not so…it was hazy, certainly, with wisps of fog, certainly, but I could see 90% of the land masses that are typically within view.  All of the lighthouses on the coast of Maine are automated – the Coast Guard hasn’t stationed any lighthouse keepers out here for about 30 years.  Which raised the question for me: how on earth do they know when there’s a fog, to sound the horn?

The answer is simple, and amply explains why I heard three of them sounding off when the visibility was actually pretty good this morning:  they have a meteorological sensor that detects humidity, and when the humidity rises “enough”, the system concludes that there must be a fog.  Obviously, this is going to lead to the horn sounding when there is no fog, but I expect that erring on the side of caution is entirely justifiable…and the worst thing that happens is that the lighthouse uses a little extra juice, and that the nearby coastal areas must suffer through the sound.  I haven’t met anyone who hates it, and I’ve met plenty of people who, like myself, love it.  So, not too much difficulty with this decision.

I was very happy that the fog was minimal as we’d planned to go out on a deep-water cruise this morning.  A few miles off the coast of Port Clyde, to the northeast of here (and thus, “downeast” in local parlance) is Eastern Egg Rock.  Eastern Egg Rock is a ringing success in the history of major conservation efforts:  it is the southermost nesting place for the Puffin.  The cruise is true eco-tourism – part of the ticket price is donated to the Audubon Societies Puffin Project, the people who are responsible for restoring this treasure.

Puffins are an endangered species in Maine, although there are quite a lot of them up closer to the Arctic Circle.  The shipboard guide from the Audubon Society told us that in 1604, when the first Brits reached the coast of Maine, they had naturalists on board who described the island skies as sporting a blizzard of birds.  Thanks to egg harvesting, overhunting, and the women’s fashion industry, the population had been decimated as of 1900 or so.  From a blizzard of birds to a desert, the guy said.  Puffins were locally extinct, as were terns, cormorants, eagles, and several other birds (none of which I was familiar with).

So enter the conservationists and the government passing protective legislation banning hunting outside of a season, and banning hunting of certain species entirely.  Then enter the conservationists again, with some remarkably inventive solutions to the long-term depletion of the population.

With these Puffins, we were told, they found the rock – and it is just a rock, there is some scrubby grass but no trees, and it’s small, you can’t even see it until you’re only a mile or two from it – but this rock the histories indicated as having been a major nesting grounds for the sea birds.  Puffins chicks, apparently, require their parents mainly to deliver fish, but not to eat it for them like some other bird species do.  So our Audubon-ites thirty, forty years ago determined to bring a big load of Puffin chicks from the closest extant nesting grounds, way the heck up off the Newfoundland coast.  They dropped off fish for the chicks, and let them grow up.

Here is the very interesting bit.  Puffins need to be four or five years old before they mate (and then they mate every year, but they only lay one egg per year, probably why they got wiped out so easily). AND they lay their eggs, not in nests, but – get this – underground.  In caves, crevices, cracks, or they’ll even dig tunnels to lay the egg under the dirt.  I gotta confess, this extremely complicated reproductive process seems to present certain evolutionary difficulties.  NOW, the eggs hatch, the parents drop food off for the chicks, and then in mid-August, these birds that were born underground discover a passionate desire to take to the sea.  And they do, and that’s it for the land, for them.  They live on the sea, they sleep on the sea, they eat on the sea.  Land is for making babies on.

So, the idea here was that the Audubon chicks, having grown up on Eastern Egg Rock, would then come back there to make their own babies…four years down the line.  Fortunately, a Bright Light in the organization decided it would be a good idea to put Puffin decoys out on the rock so that the Puffins would know they were in the right place when they came back.

And, by golly, it worked.  He said that in the fourth year, there were Puffins on the rock snuggling up and rubbing beaks with the decoys (the level of intelligence implied here also, in my opinion, raises certain evolutionary difficulties).  In the fifth year, some biology students who were stationed out on the rock reported back that they’d seen Puffins flying in toward land with fish in their beaks:  BINGO! Puffin babies! That was ages ago. This year, I think he said, there were 150 nesting pairs on the island, all happily reproducing.

While this all was going on, the Audubon decided to lay in a resurgence of terns, too.  And a few other things, but what I remember mostly was the Puffins and the Terns.

The guide warned us, on the way out, that these Puffins were not going to be “Disney Birds – four feet tall and standing there waving at us as we come close”.  I laughed.  Puffins are actually the size of an Amazon parrot, maybe 15″ from top to tail.  They weigh a pound.  I’m sure there were some people on the boat expecting Disney Birds, but the vast majority were ardent, fanatic birders, with multiple viewing impedimenta strung about their necks, and cameras with whacking huge zoom lenses.  The insurance losses, just on electronics alone, if the ship had gone down would have been staggering.

We scored.  We scored huge.  We got to the rock, a bloody great fog descended that left us in a weird bubble with the ship and the rock, and the Audubon guide, who was standing right next to me, shouting “OH MY GOSH, THERE’S A HUGE RAFT OF PUFFINS ON THE WATER AT TWO O’CLOCK! THERE MUST BE FORTY OF THEM!” into his microphone and adding that this was probably going to be our best chance to look at Puffins all day.  Wow, was he wrong on that front.  We saw hundreds of them.  We saw them floating in rafts, we saw them flying away, we saw them diving for fish.  We saw them fighting with each other.  Sometimes, they flew right over the deck of the ship.  It was AWESOME.  There were plenty of terns, too, and a deafening cacophony of calls from the big colony of Laughing Gulls (they sound like it, too) on the island.  The Gulls were monstrously stirred up for some reason…

…and when we swung around the northern point of the rock, we saw why.  There were two BALD EAGLES crouching on the rock, peering in a Highly Interested Manner at the young Gulls.  Holy cow.  They were maybe 150 feet from us, and even without binoculars, you could easily see their head markings.  As we swung around the southern point, every Gull on the island erupted into the air – the guide felt certain that one of the Eagles must have made its move.

I’m really not much of a birder, but it was impossible to remain unawed by this scene.  A breed, carefully tended and brought back home.  On a hostile bit of rock, miles out to the ocean.  And an explosion of life from what looked, to all other effects, a barren wasteland.  It was grand.  And now, it’s time to join the afternoon Sunset Promenade.

Ram Island Light

The Ram Island Lighthouse, the one that blasts every thirty seconds for fog.

Yo! Ho! Blow The Man Down…

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I just couldn’t resist it.  That title is a line from a sea chanty I learned in Girl Scouts, approximately 1,000,000 years ago.  Never had any need for a sea chanty – my life has been pretty short on experiences of the Raising the Rigging kind, or the Hauling Up An Anchor sort.  On the other hand, I got shunted back to my former lesson horse for a ride earlier this week, and he only felt like going along with the aids for twenty minutes before he got tired of listening to me and blew through them to do whatever the heck he felt like doing.  At one point when I wished for him to walk and he preferred to trot, we went through an escalating sequence of requests and demands that started with a half-halt and ended up with me basically hauling on his head with the reins as if I was pulling an anchor up from the bottom of the ocean.  The sea chanty would have come in handy then, in retrospect, as I was also having to kick him to keep him going, and generally ride a heck of a lot harder than I want to.  Could have used that rhythm…post UP yo! drop DOWN ho! Kick. Up BLOW the man DOWN.  Wish I’d thought of that at the time, because then I’d have left the experience laughing my butt off instead of crying in the car.  Ah, such is life. One credible sector of society says you’re not a real rider until you’ve fallen off.  Another says you’re not a real rider until the horse has brought you to tears.  I didn’t cry when I came off and hit my head and knocked myself out with a big concussion in April, but spending 20 minutes trying to prevent this guy from ramming my leg into the rail over…and…over…and…over…and…over again while keeping him going forward at the desired pace managed to do the trick.  I would like to go back to the other lesson horse, now, the one that acts like an obliging kindergartner, rather than the one that acts like a preschooler who missed his nap.  Please.

I managed to ditch the Horrible Riding Lesson Blues on our way up to Maine.  The coast of Maine is my very favorite place in the world, and that’s from a sample that includes Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, San Francisco, the Colorado Rockies, the San Juan Mountains, Paris, Tuscany, Amsterdam, Jamaica, Niagara Falls, the Thousand Lakes, and all of New England.  Given that this territory covers ground that has a world-wide reputation for Total Fantastikness, that’s really saying something.  I was in such a vile temper after the Day of One Hundred Minor Disasters that I wondered if it would be proof even against the Wonder of Maine.

Fortunately for all of us, it was not.  It’s like there’s a Force Field suspended from the Welcome to Maine VACATIONLAND sign that is placed in the overhead suspension of the bridge out of Portsmouth.  Like in Star Trek, when you walk through the glowy sparkle wall and it decontaminates you.

The coast of Maine always has this effect on me.  It comes in with the smell, which is a magnificent hodgepodge of salt water, fresh paint, balsam trees, and decaying seaweed.  Oddly enough it is that last that really makes everything else work.  It is a nasty smell all on its own, but, like cilantro – an herb with a taste that I hate, but is nonetheless essential for a tomato salsa – it is critical.

Then it hits with the sound. The slapping of wavelets against the rocks.  The sussuration of the breeze in the balsams.  The laughter of a pack of kids racketing up the road on scooters and bikes.  The slow putt-putt-putt of the lobster boat in the distance.  The creaking of the float on the dock as it pulls against the chains that anchor it to the rocks.  The ticking of the infrequent auto, creeping up the road against a tide of kids, couples, and packs of women walking packs of big hairy friendly dogs. The clatter of oars against the locks on a dinghy being rowed out to meet a sailboat. The rattle of a quiver of fishing poles in the hands of an angler and the scrape of his sandals against the tarmac. The scream of the osprey that is hunting from the other side of the peninsula. The roar of a small launch carrying a week’s worth of groceries out to the island next door.  A cracking of the flag whipping in the breeze.

And what is possibly my favorite instrument in the orchestra, the fog horns.  When we arrived yesterday it was clear, but the nearby fog horn was sounding off right as rain, every 90 seconds.  You can tell which fog horn you are hearing by how often it sounds and how long the tone lasts for.  You can also tell which lighthouse you are looking at by the color of its light and the pattern of its flashes.  So yesterday, I was hearing the Ram Island Light – which is no difficult thing to know, since it would take perhaps 20 minutes to kayak over to it from where we stay, and that includes getting the kayak ready to go.  This morning, however, one of the famous Maine Coast Pea Soup Fogs had rolled in overnight – unexpectedly, I must add – and I was hearing the sound of the Burnt Island Light added to the Ram Island Light.  The fog has not entirely lifted, at this time – it was so dense earlier that I couldn’t see the dock from my room…now I can see the dock and the island, and the houses on the island are beginning to emerge, but I know better than to expect that this means that the fog is over.

According to the locals – and the meteorological community, as I found upon doing some research – these fogs are entirely unpredictable.  No one really knows why they come, why they stay, and why they go.  They’re a meteorological mystery. Great fodder for horror stories, as anyone will know who likes Lovecraft.  It is, as my friend said, all too easy to imagine primordial monsters emerging from this fog to swallow every living thing in the vicinity, and then to return, silently, to the pits from whence it came.

I, myself, am not too concerned about this.  For one, the big pack of kids that is diving and pushing each other, screaming, into the water off the float will attract the monster’s attention long before it gets around to noticing me up on the deck of my room.

We stay at an old-school summer colony resort-style inn.  And by “resort” I mean a pool, plenty of access to the water, room for bikes, some ducks that everyone feeds, and white clapboard, black-shuttered buildings scattered all over the lawn.  By “resort” I do not mean a place with a golf course, ten tennis courts, and a spa.  Considering what would happen if someone bought this property and wanted to “update” it is the Stuff of Nightmares for me.  I like it exactly as it is…old-fashioned bedspreads, window-units, shrieking kids, and its slightly battered appearance.  It’s not the kind of place that is going to draw celebrities, thank heavens, or rich Wall Street investment bankers and socially-climbing spouses. When this place draws people with money, which it does, in droves, it’s the sort of money that is wadded up in the sock drawer, paying for private education, or housing horses on the back of the property in very nice barns.  It is not the sort of money that gets spent on $32 martinis, Hum-Vees, big flashy diamond jewelry, and yachts.  Sailboats, yes.  Yachts, no.  It is quiet money, not loud money.  It is money that wears clothes purchased 15 years ago from LL Bean, not Lilly Pulitzer.  Well, maybe Lilly Pulitzer…but not Max Azaria, Gaultier, or Hermes.

I don’t know what we’re doing with this day, and I love that.  The fog has just started to roll back in, as I thought it might.  I can hear the horns of the ferries that serve Monhegan and the other outlying islands.  They need to go, fog or no…and while the fog horn helps them to avoid the island that the light house is on, it doesn’t do a lot to help them avoid colliding with each other.  So periodically, the captain will sound off the horn.  He is saying, in effect “I am here! I am here! I am here!” I just heard the granddaddy of boat horns a few minutes ago.  It’s certainly not the ferry – I’ve been on the ferry in this kind of fog, and worse, and know the sound of that boat.  This was much larger, much louder.  Possibly a huge yacht being sailed by lucky flunkies into the yacht moorings over at Browns in Boothbay Harbor.

I’d like to go kayaking, but with this fog, I’m having second thoughts. Although – and I have seen this happen – it is entirely possible that the next-harbor-over is completely free of fog…or that one side of that harbor is socked in, but one is clear as a bell.  Like I said, the fog is a mystery.

Fog

Morning fog on Linekin Bay