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The Intimate:
Deepening a Sense of Place and Self
I’m fortunate enough to live within a short walk to a small pond, and to be able to keep a canoe stashed on its shore. Over the last 40 years I’ve ventured out there on countless occasions, each time a unique experience. From afloat, I’ve developed a relationship with this place that I never could have from the shore. It’s where my son caught his first fish, where he polished his J-stroke (he proudly paddles from the back now), and where we once outraced a violent thunderstorm. More recently, inspired by my sweet paddling companion, trips to the pond have become more of a habit, or maybe even a ritual. If there is open water when she visits, we usually find ourselves out on the pond. Some of our favorite times are when the ice is breaking up in its musical way in the spring, or when it’s trying to form in its crystalline perfection in the fall. We can paddle the perimeter in half an hour, but that almost never hap- pens. There’s just too much to see and hear and touch and smell along the way. Too many pictures to make. Too much dreaming to do. Sometimes we just drift.
When she’s not here, I still find myself heading down there most days to inspect progress on the beaver lodge, and listen to the water rush over their dam, or check on the wildflowers in the bog, or the status of the foliage or berries. I can see which insects are hatch- ing, or if the lily pads are blooming, or if the peepers have reached full volume. I investigate to see if the
loons or herons are home, or if the geese or ducks have stopped by, always hoping for a glimpse of a moose, or a bald eagle or an osprey picking a bass off the surface of the water. On those perfectly still, glassy days the symmetry of the reflections can be breathtaking, whether it’s a patch of pickerel weed or water sedge in a visual Haiku, or a blaze of fall color from the swamp maples. On other days, it’s about the wind and the chop, and paddling hard to keep the boat on course. All good. Sometimes we linger into the night. There’s no better place than from the middle of a pond on a still evening to watch the sun sink in its colorful glory to reveal the starry dome of the night sky, or marvel at a moonrise, the Milky Way, a meteor shower, a wayward comet, or planetary alignments.
On western Maine’s countless little ponds, coves,
and stretches of placid river, the canoe is a wonderful vessel to develop intimate relationships; with a place, a lover, the cosmos, or with yourself. It can also be a vehicle to adventure. Throwing the boat on the roof rack and packing for an afternoon respite on a nearby river, or a far flung vacation on a remote chain of lakes, is a thrill that never gets old. With so many op- tions in western Maine, from lazy flatwater to exhila- rating class IV rapids, from popular and peopled, to rugged and remote, the hardest part may be deciding where to go. As with any outdoor adventure, there are few important factors to consider before you head out: How experienced and fit is your party? How well
An inflatable paddle board is just one of many (but certainly not the easiest!) ways to enjoy the revitalized Androscoggin River on the popular section above Bethel.
 Barbra Barrett

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