ESSAY-October 2009

by Rebecca Falzano

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves  we find in the sea.” -e.e. cummings


I’ll remember the day for its dreamlike feel; the way the fog hung like a veil over the ocean, and the island cliffs, with names like Porcupine, Crow, and Turtle, were rocky layer cakes. I’ll remember the red tide brewing like a bloodbath and its clear separation from the blue-green water—as if one was oil and the other water. I’ll remember, most fondly, our captain, Captain Winston Banister Shaw, and his voice rising above the sound of the boat and the crisp break of waves against the hull.

We were standing on a dock when Captain Shaw came around the bend and invited us to go out on the water with him. Cloaked in mist, on a day when there was no sun, the boat was named, ironically, Reflection—a name he inherited and kept out of respect for nautical folklore. The captain’s weathered face was friendly and, despite the storm warnings, we decided to get in. We quickly learned that Shaw was not only a captain but a sea kayaker, a lover of nature, a photographer, a writer, a photojournalist, and a teller of stories. As we weaved our way around an endless chain of islands through the fog in Frenchman Bay, Captain Shaw told us tales of 100-foot sea cliffs, isolated island life, and lighthouse romances. He talked about camping on Christmas Eve on Cadillac Mountain and how he almost “bought the farm” a dozen times, once kayaking alone on the ocean in winter. We sped past lobster boats and fishermen and the collection of seagulls that hovered close overhead, and as the hours passed, Shaw’s voice became part of the scenery. There in the middle of the sea, everything had faded except the movement of the boat and his words. In between stories of experiences and encounters, we paused to admire a bald eagle perched on a tree branch. He could spot them miles away it seemed, a feat even more remarkable in the fog. Occasionally, we came across a narrow gorge that would fit only a kayak through it, sometimes pools of water between rocks bubbled like cauldrons. As we drifted in and out of this gray dream, the colorful pops of buoys reminded us we were real, as did the occasional sound of fog horns in the distance, although even these had an ethereal feel.

Eventually, a series of lighthouses warned us of land, and as we approached, the jagged rocks jutting from water seemed to reveal their age the way lines in a tree trunk do. On Schoodic Peninsula, in the less-traveled part of Acadia, we docked and walked across a long, tall pier to a grassy hill. There, at the waterfront, a surprise: a proposal and a ring (followed by a “yes”). When we returned to the boat smiling, Captain Shaw congratulated us and a father and son who were fishing off the pier applauded.

Back on the water, rain sprinkled but we didn’t notice; hair was wet, glasses foggy, but we continued, surrendering all control to the sea and the sound of our captain. With his practiced hands at the helm, we could go anywhere. Drifting between dream and reality, his voice was the one constant, something to hold on to when nothing else felt real. When we finally made our way back to shore, five hours had passed. As we bid our captain and his Reflection farewell, I looked behind us at the specks of islands we had just sat in awe of. The ocean on this day felt consummate, as if it were the end and the beginning of all things.

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