Staying at two Maine private campgrounds, Lobster Buoy and MountainView, I had my first American camping experiences, got acquainted with this wondrous Atlantic coast, and its significant tides, and learned from kids about burrowing clams. Also, Lobster Weekend, Owl's Head lighthouse and the awesome Fort Knox bridge.
The Magic of Loons
Kennebunk Pond Loon Magic
I first thought of jackals or coyotes, the only kind of wailing sounds I’m familiar with, but no, it wasn’t. This haunting other-worldly sound, carrying unabated across the Pond waterscape, did not emanate from a large mammal.
Right into my first day by Kennebunk Pond, I found out it was produced by a kind of middle-sized duck, romantically called a loon. The sound of that bird arises in one the most sensuous, mystical and, yes, romantic feelings imaginable.
Loons are good reminders of Soul. One moment of “looning” and one is brought right back to Source. It is impossible to hear them and not get carried to “the end of longing”. This is the sweet and painful feeling that transcends us, transforms us and reminds us of our finitude in an unknown and unknowable universe.
[There are many sites on the Web with loon sounds. Here is one example.]
The Big Controversy - Pond or Lake?
Naturally, the first thing I did once I woke up to my first morning in the Little House by The Pond was to get a view of it. Jim told me there was a controversy over the terminology. Kennebunk Pond is surrounded all around by so-called “camps”, where everybody knows everybody. Even though smaller waterbodies boast the name “lakes”, here the board of camp owners voted for “pond”. A pond has a more intimate feel than a lake, which is what the neighbors tried to convey. It also has a set of faithful loons to call it home.
The lure of “The Pond” started back in Israel. Something called me, drew me here. Perhaps it was the loons, though at that time I did not know they existed…
The best kind of swimming for me has always been in a freshwater natural reservoir, like the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The sea or ocean are wonderful and powerful, but can be treacherous. The swimming pool has that artificial and limited aspect to it, plus the chlorine smell and itchiness. Nothing like a lake with the soft water (drinkable in case of an emergency), the view around, the fresh air and the freedom. And if one is scared of swimming straight in, you can always swim at a safe distance along the circumference. Northen lakes, like the Cascades in upper NYS are, of course, a challenge if they are fed by snows or glaciers and never get warm enough even in summer.
Getting Myself a "Tail"
On my first encounters with “The Pond” during the last week of July, things were manageable temperature-wise. Still, when I started my long swims, I would get chilly as time wore on. Jim introduced me to a wonderful device called a “safe swim float” or a “swim safety device”, and let me use one of his. Later when I got enthusiastic about them, he ordered one for me online (“New Wave”). I’ve never seen that device in Israel, but everything eventually reaches here too [by now , May 2018, I saw one!]. The primary function is to make motorboats notice your presence in the water, which is why it is colored bright orange. It also helps when you get tired.
I’m a reasonably fast swimmer for a non-professional. I could never compete with trained swimmers of course, but nonetheless, my enjoyment of the sport is solid. I do not understand why people need waterproof music gadgets to keep themselves entertained while swimming. In the pool I vary styles, play with flippers, pull buoys and hand paddles. I switch between front and back strokes, swim arms only or legs only. Sometimes I even invent my own styles, combining arm and leg movements from two different strokes or swimming in reverse.
My initial reaction to Jim’s offer was that I didn’t need it. I had the false arrogance about my swimming capability, but once tried, I found the experience very gratifying. Now I can’t imagine doing a long swim in a lake, the Kinneret included, without it… Lakes can be treacherous at times, plus our bodies can sometimes let us down. No shame in using a safety feature.
Encounters of the Loon Kind
My first swim at the pond was indeed just a testing of the water around the private dock, but the little elusive island had a call on me. Two days later, following a big shopping and errands day, I finally got ambitious enough to swim over. Initially I didn’t trust my ability to get there and return, which as I built up my confidence and stamina I did successfully, but this first time it was a one-way.
The float not only gave me a psychological sense of security, but also helped to actually rest on once in a while. I simply put my arms on it and let the legs hang freely. I also tried to swim with my upper body resting on the float, paddling full strength with my legs.
Half-way to the island I had a visitor. I instantly knew what it was. Two meters away from me in one of the coves – a loon. Beautiful creature, amazing grace… The stunning black and white checkboard pattern is something you connect with innovative computer prints rather than birds, but here it was, right next to me, peacefully and elegantly checking me out, at level.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a second one. At first I was a bit frightened, but the loons’ inspection of me was so dignified and non-aggressive that I took it to be an acceptance of my alien presence. Here we were, the three of us, side by side in the water, perceiving each other as equals, both similar and estranged, parts of a big puzzle.
After several minutes of mutual scrutiny, I said goodbye to the magical Kennebunk Pond loons and continued my sojourn to the island. The loons stayed behind.
At one point I turned the orange tail forward, leaned on it with my thorax and paddled forward with my legs. Water plants stuck out of the surface in patches, sometimes tickling my legs. Hordes of water striders gave way – fast moving sideways, upwards, whichever came first – allowing me to plow my way through. I veered somewhat deeper and away from the shore to avoid them.
Some people had wooden or plastic floating resting rafts anchored to the lake bottom in front of their properties. I rested on my orange thing instead, avoiding the temptation to climb on one of the floats.
The island was getting closer. At about 100 meters away I could see the ominous “No Trespassing” warning signs posted solidly on the trees. This precious little natural pearl was another forbidden paradise.
All is peaceful
But for the occasional motor boat,
No lionfish, jellyfish, fire corals,
Loud, careless people…
Can’t imagine more peace
Can’t imagine more tranquility…
Then I reach my dream island
And a red glaring sign announces:
(July 30th 2016, Pond, Maine)
On my first day at the Pond I wanted to circumnavigate the lake by foot, only to find out I couldn’t. An irritated neighbor addressed me with a “Who are you”? and “What are you doing here”? She turned out totally friendly and smiley when I mentioned Jim’s name, and we had a lively conversation. Still, it’s a no-no, and I had to accept there was no way to walk along the water edge. A dirt road circumambulating the pond does exist, but it is mostly not in plain view of the water.
Turning back from the island, I searched for a place to land. There was a path somewhere in between the properties. Trying to shore as quickly as possible, I directed myself there. Orange tail in hand, I walked barefoot on the gravel and pebbles to the circular dirt road, and then all the way around to the area designated as a public beach. From there, it was wading through the shallow waters and swimming the last few hundred meters to our territorial waterfront.
I have a problem with the concept of “private property” when it applies to areas I consider to be “The Commons”. I still find it hard to believe people actually “own” islands, lakes or rivers. That said, it is obviously nice to have your own private dock with a piece of beachfront attached.
I got a bit less recalcitrant about all that when I realized there was a public beach at the North Eastern corner. Also, the actual lake is anybody’s to swim or sail upon, with the private properties ending at the water edge. Ther are no “territorial” waters.
Allergy? To the Beloved Pond?
The day following my swim to the island, my eyes were red and puffy. I must have been allergic to some ingredient or microflora in the water, which was noticeable after the longer swim.
On August 1st, we had another shopping spree all the way to southern Portland. Jim helped me find a sexy-looking thermal swimming over-shirt at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I also bought new goggles. By August, I was already swimming with the new thermal on, and with the goggles protecting my sensitive eyes from whatever it was in the water that irritated them.
The next few days were a respite for body and spirit