I have been pushing the speed limit for the last fifteen minutes. I finally round the last turn, coast down the rise in the road and bottom-out at the ramp. The lady on the deck of the deerisland ferry waves me forward and I slip into the last spot available. The gate closes behind me and the boat pulls away from the land before I can shut the truck engine off. Even though it is only a thirty-minute wait between crossings, I would say I experienced a bit of luck catching this one.
The late afternoon sun glints off the water, creating a silvery-black silhouette on the surface of the outer channel of Passamaquoddy Bay. We cruise by a small island I don’t know the name of. The low tide has exposed its rocky underbelly, leaving a darkened high-water line.
I glance at my camera perched on the seat beside me, but I forgo picking it up. It is so beautiful here, I almost want to cry. I swallow back a lump in my throat. I don’t want to miss the sensation in exchange for a snapshot. I love this place.
The murmur of the ferry’s engines lulls me into a state of relaxation, and my mind wanders back to my two previous trips: In 2016 I had read about the old-sow whirlpool – the largest in the Western Hemisphere – and it was my main objective for coming here. I had tent-camped for two days in fair weather at Deer Island Point campground and spent most of that trip perched at the base of the fog-light with my camera ready to record the whirlpool. I remember how delighted I was to see it. It started with just a mishmash of waves – little spirals that twisted and spun off, I may have seen the yin and yang symbol, probably not, but one side won out of course and a circular outline formed. The center remained calm, most flat, with a ropy edge that whirled in a counterclockwise direction.
“How is it formed?” you ask. That is a great question I am not qualified to answer but the Kelly MacKay version would be: by a perfect combination of speed and force of the incoming tide, colliding with both a rise in land topography and a drop off of the seafloor. Once a balance is struck the whirlpool dissipates. It is best viewed three hours before high tide. Make sure to check the tides charts before your visit http://www.tides.gc.ca
I watched for two hours and saw more of a gyre than a funnel, but I returned to my stoup again that evening and early at sunrise because the real show was not the tidal anomaly but the wildlife: Seabirds, eagles, seals, porpoises. I saw three whales feeding closer to the Maine side. I couldn’t get a decent photo so I just watched through my binoculars. I bonded with several other campers watching the dorsal fins rise up through the surface then pitch below and rise again… this went on for at least 45 minutes. It was such a thrill… I promised myself I would return – two days here is not enough time.
My next trip I tacked a few vacation days onto the Labour Day weekend. A five-day campout should be enough time, I told myself. Each morning I made coffee and carried my cup down to the water’s edge to watch the sunrise and greet the seals. I found a gravel path interlinking the seagrass-covered rocks at the water’s edge and hunkered down in place. Just a few meters away from me, a group of seals was hunting. I could watch them all day, their sleek backs arching as they slide underwater. It is hard to know where they end and the water begins.
They stayed submerged for long minutes at a time. While they were down below foraging, I’d scan the water trying to predict when and where they would burst back through the surface, announcing they had returned topside with a Ptchhhtt– gasp as they exhale.
One particular seal reciprocated my curiosity, swimming mere feet away, its snout resting just above the water line eyeballing me back. “Good morning beautiful,” I would say, hoping he or she understood I didn’t wish to interfere, just observe and enjoy its companionship. Next up were the gulls and cormorants, skimming the surface at bullet speed. Great blue herons glide by and one eagle that hunted from the top of a spruce tree.
Have you ever witnessed a white rainbow?. Neither had I. I didn’t even know what I was looking at until I over heard a lady speaking with another couple. She said, ” .. and the white rainbow…it was brilliant…” A unique phenomenon I am glad I captured, it stayed most of the afternoon. No doubt the island is the pot of gold.
The second day I drove the long way around to Clarke Gregory Conservation area. The deer were out grazing along the side of the road, on peoples’ lawns, pretty much around every turn. I pulled the truck over to the shoulder and took some photos. They kept an eye on me but didn’t run. I even saw a rare white one that was too swift for me to get a photo.
Coincidently, one of my book-club friends was parked at the trail head leading to the conservation land. We chatted a while then I headed up the meadow and into a mixed forest along a narrow path, red flag tape and wooden arrow markers to guide the way. The prize at the trail-end is a look-off out to the headlands of Chocolate Cove. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place called Chocolate Cove?
I had a snack at the local restaurant on the 45th parallel just to say I was there, then back to the campground for the next showing of the whirlpool. With a full moon that night I had hoped it would be impressive but the moon was actually far better.
The third morning was damp. A fog rolled in giving me a new subject to photograph; spider webs. They were everywhere billowing in a light breeze seized with droplets it was stunning.
That morning the eagle was hunting from the rocks, I had a front row seat to see him in action as he leaped from the rock, powering himself forward with a few wing flaps, then his tail feather tilted up his legs extended forward and with precision he plucked a fish from the water with his talons and carted it off to his tree top.
As the fog dissipated I attempted another hike to a place called Cates Look off . Take my advice, If there was a look off It was over grown but the meadow was nice.
I had time for one more stop along the main road at Meadow Lake. It is very pretty. Just at the pull-off a kayak standing on end with a sign for sea scape kayak tours. I turned up the narrow lane, not completely sure I was going in the right direction and very concerned I wouldn’t get turned around but I was committed so I kept going. Arriving at a large white shed with the front doors open, I could see the décor of paddles and life jackets. I was approached by a the gentleman I now know as Mr. Bruce Smith, in a strikingly calm tone said, “Can I help you?”
” I was wondering if you have any tours going out?” He did, a large group the following day. I replied, “I was looking for something a little less….. I will be here till Tuesday.” He said he had a small group on Monday. We walked into the shed to the business counter to check his log book, after a few exchanges I committed to the trip. “Yes put me down as attending.” My eyes were drawn to a pottery bowl with ash and a single eagle feather. A smudging bowl? A spiritual cleansing; meditative, yoga, First Nations perhaps? I would have a unique experience here, it felt like a good fit.
With the kayaking trip nailed down, and a morning of exploring, behind me. I grabbed my beach bag and head down to the point where you pick your way down the bank to the beach. I laid on my towel and snoozed in the late-season warmth. When I was too hot, I walked to the water, steeled myself for the shock of cold water. Walking to hip-depth then laying backwards till I was submerged, I could handle only one swim stroke, then I’d stand back up and walk back to my towel.
It is hand- down the coldest water ever swam in but I wasn’t going to show it to the other people on the beach. Throughout the week sunbathers joined me and I conversed with many. I meet a women from St Andrews whose RV is parked at the campground all summer, it’s her retreat. “I can’t wait to get to here after work on Friday,” she told me. Another afternoon a group of young lads joined me. Their outburst of “Ohhh it’s so cold!” gave me a giggle. It was fun to watch them pressure each other into running out and jumping in … then bounding back out like deer. “Let’s do it again!” They danced about the beach wrapped in towels, teeth chattering, blue lips their badge of honor.
When Monday arrived, I was the first to show up at the Seascape Kayak shed. I quietly wandered around observing what was displayed. The south wall had some old and newer photos; friends, clients, or employees perhaps. A colourful cut-out of a toucan. A general sense of lightheartedness with a tropical vibe. The entrance wall gives off a more serious tone, an under-water topographical map of Passomoquaddy Bay and an article about the Passomoquaddy First Nation. The north corner appears in s state of confusion, intentional or not, it is off-limits due to the pile of paddles guarding a blue couch. The final corner is set up as the business area. Like my own fridge at home covered photos, Each quadrant of this place reveals something of value, and a hint into the personality of its designer.
I stepped through the back door onto the deck, A line of kayak skirts hung to dry on the line, a large keg of water for washing and a picnic table.. definitely a communal setting. I saw a sign leaning against the wall. No parking kayaks only and I chuckled. Someone has a sense of humor.
The sound of footsteps behind me broke the silence. Bruce had arrived walking up the path from the house carrying a mug of coffee, he was wearing a long sleeve shirt, paddle pants, and sandals a couple of leather strapped bracelets on his right wrist. His longish hair down.
“Good morning,” I greeted him hoping to deflect the fact that I may have been trespassing. I tend to be a boundaries pusher, and often ignore where I can and can’t go. “Good morning, ” he said placing his coffee down on the side of the deck. He told me he just finished his yoga. I told him I’d done a yoga routine that morning too. He looks up at the sky and says its going to be a beautiful day on the water.
Our group of four paddlers were given some safety protocols: entering and exiting the kayak, pulling the tab on the skirt to release it in the rare case of a tip over. Our abilities were judged in the shallows, before setting out into the deep open water. Hugging the coast we paddled among fishing weirs, had deep conversation about the environment and the ecosystem. Seals, eagles and porpoises lived their lives around us. We stopped at a beach for tea and snacks, rafted together for a group photo then paddled back. Unfortunately I took no photos of my own. I was wary to take my camera out on the water but I assure you my shared day was beautiful, and memorable. So memorable in fact, It is the reason I have returned for a third visit..
The ferry drops its ramp on the land and the car engines start. I shift the truck into drive and turn southward. It will be a three-day stay this time and I will be comfortably stashed at the Deer Island Inn.
Please join me for Part 2 of my Deer Island adventure
Safe travels from Maritimemac.
No Perks discounts or payment was received for writing this. This was my experience written in my own words.
Happy Travels from Maritime Mac