After completing the 100 mile drive from Belfast, Maine, I launched at noon from Kelly Point Campground in Jonesport. I paddled east-southeast past Virgin Island (no virgins sighted), The Nipple (still rising spectacularly from the sea), and the high cliffs of Mark Island. I then swung nearly due east (magnetic) toward the dark cliffs of Pulpit Rock.
Two years ago, on return trip from Halifax Island in the late afternoon light, I watched transfixed as a half-dozen eagles repeatedly tried to raid seagull nests on Pulpit Rock — and were repeatedly outmaneuvered and driven off by the gulls. My plan today was to paddle past Pulpit Rock to The Brothers, a geologically unique and astoundingly photogenic pair of islands I had visited twice before, and then to Halifax Island, one of my favorite islands on the Maine Island Trail.
On the marine chart, Pulpit Rock is a squiggle of dark ink. I hadn’t paddled close to it in the past and didn’t know if it held anything of interest. In my mind, it would be little more than a mile marker on my 6.5 mile paddle to The Brothers.
Who knew Pulpit Rock was not just a ledge but an island? Who knew the island was split in two? Who knew the sea surges in and out the narrow corridor of the split? Who knew you could paddle in there in a small boat — and emerge later unscathed?
I had spent most of the past hour in kind of broad-minded introspection. The big sea and big sky of Downeast Maine never fails to do that for me. I had been mulling (with more curiosity than anxiety) over the life decisions I had made in terms of work and career — and had probably been a bit negligent of my surroundings.
As I paddled along the cliffs of Pulpit Rock and then noticed for the first time that Pulpit Rock was split in the middle and that one could (maybe) paddle into the split, my previous questions — and the kind of mind that cared to ask such questions — were all but forgotten. More than forgotten, they was erased as if they had never been asked.
I took a deep breath and followed the surge of a wave into the passage between the two halves of the island. And then, there I was in a private sea at the center of Pulpit Rock, itself a miniscule crag in this small swath of the Atlantic. The sun high overhead, the cool sea breeze, the dark rock, the birds, the green-blue waves. Was Pulpit Rock whirling around me, or was it just that the waves were whirling my boat? At once, I was right where I was. Right where I was supposed to be. And there could be no questioning of any series of events or life-decisions that had brought me right there, right then.
And that was when I looked up to see the razorbill auks nesting on the cliffs above me. They and the gulls and the cormorants (sequestered in separate areas) seemed to eye me with a mixture of disdain and bemusement. I paddled through to the southern part of the split for a view of the Brothers and then back north and then south again. Waves rhythmically surged through the passageway, rising against the high rock walls. I kept to the center of the channel and made sure to anticipate the waves so that I was not pushed up against the cliffs.
After snapping a last few photos from the cockpit of my kayak, I paddled back out of the split and then continued east toward The Brothers. The wind had increased and sizeable swells rolled in from the southeast. Razorbills swooped low over my kayak. Groups of black guillemots wheeled overhead. Rafts of eiders scuttled away from ledges as I approached them. Sea and sky veritably pulsed with life — I paddled on and felt very much a part of it.
Arriving at West Brother, I swung to the south and had to keep well off the rocky shoreline due to the swells. I paddled east along West Brother and then past the dramatic red cliffs of East Brother. A bit weary by now of paddling in those seas, I was glad to round the northeastern point of East Brother and tuck in along the protected northern shoreline.
After taking a break in the quiet waters between East and West Brother, I headed north between Green Island and Green Ledge. Not quite willing to leave the area yet, I maneuvered my kayak up a channel between rocks and clambered onto the slippery bladder-wrack-coated rock of Green Ledge. Green Ledge proved to be a great vantage point to look south toward The Brothers. I slipped once on the seaweed and fell into a crack between rocks, getting wet to my waist in the process. Sobered by the fall and mindful that even at mid-tide large waves roll right over Green Ledge, I got back into my kayak and paddled north to Halifax Island.
After the wildness and exposure of Pulpit Rock, The Brothers, and Green Ledge, Halifax Island (a BPL island) often seems to be a quiet green oasis — and it seemed so today. The afternoon sun was warm on the rocks, and as I climbed the hill on the western side of the island, I looked for blueberries and songbirds. A few butterflies floated about. Warmed by the sun, the wild roses poured all their scent into the afternoon air.
Islands such as Halifax make me think of the journey of Ulysses and his men — and of the beautiful goddesses they reported seeing on some of those Mediterranean Islands. I’ve concluded that maybe the green islands themselves were the goddesses. Struggling for long over a cold dark sea could lead one to feel that it was so. It’s certainly easy to fall in love with them — and to want never to leave.
After a late lunch (4:00 PM or thereabouts) on Halifax, I paddled west past Anguillia, Double Shot, Great Spruce, and Little Spruce. Large groups of sleepy seals lined the ledges off Anguillia and Double Shot. I then headed east for the 2.5 mile crossing across Chandler Bay to Kelly Point and Jonesport.
Later that evening, I ran a string around a chart and tallied up the days nautical miles as 17. What I saw in those miles I’ll carry with me long after the summer green has faded from those islands.