A view of the sea from the east side of Orr’s Island. Contributed photo

The Equinox always unbalances me. It seems all about tipping — toward day’s end, toward the southern horizon, toward winter. So, it seems right that I go on this day to the open water we hold in common. In this needle-boat that asks for focus, I will learn balance again by rounding Orr’s Island.

Once sealed in and launched, I kayak up the inside of Harpswell Sound, nudged along the tide’s hand and a southwest zephyr, sometimes so light as to leave the water glassy dark. Once I’ve set a rhythm, I begin scanning — the shore, lined mostly with houses and a few untrimmed stretches of wood and brush; the water, docile but always in motion. Buoys strain mildly up current, the seaweed streams that way too; everything’s going my way, even the sky puffed with cumulus and broad beyond vision. If I ignore a distant dock or sun-bright house for 5 minutes and then look again it’s drawn nearer silently.

Near Orr’s north end, I see, then finally identify, the Bowdoin College dock with its fish spine of hauled out racing sailboats. There, as I drift, two loons suddenly bracket my boat, eyeing me from 10 feet away before diving. I wait, drift more and count…43, 44, 45, 4…here right by my bow, loon 1; loon 2 comes up to my left five seconds later. Neither speaks. But for the slow indrift of tide, I am motionless. We three float a few feet apart. I can count the drops falling from the sheen of feathers; I can whisper hello…if I know Loon…which I do not.

Still, we go through two more cycles of dive-and-count-and-emerge, and even as the spot where each loon rises surprises, it is always nearby. I feel adopted, even as I know that these loons are not each other’s mates, nor mine.

It is likely that they are newly arrived on the coast, where they will winter after a summer of lake-borne parenting…with loons who have likewise come to the wintering sea. Loons mate for life, I’ve read, but they winter in single-sex ocean sectors before flying back to their lake-houses for another go-round of loon-spawning.

Are these loons males or females? Hard to tell, say even the bird-wise, though males are said to chunk up to a larger size. Something then breaks this communal spell. Each loon dives, and though I wait well beyond a usual dive, they don’t reappear.

Half Two

A half-mile on, beneath the concrete bridge that joins Orr’s to Sebascodegan, where the turned tide courses through at a couple of knots, pillows of water press my boat left or right; little standing waves curl upstream. For 100 yards I steer only. Then, as the land on either side pulls back, the current weakens, and I begin paddling again. The wind cools my face, ripples the water, holds me back just a bit, even as my boat slides forward with the outgoing tide. A swell arrives, only a foot or two in height, but also the rise and fall of a giant chest breathing.

There is, as the sea opens before me, a single lobster boat working left toward Gun Point. A dark cloud centers the sky, its trailing edge falling almost to the horizon. Absence…the word feels inescapable; here, on the last day of summer the season seems swallowed, the horizon the hinge of sky and sea jaws that open wide. I would go out, I will, but here I pause, a single being in a thin boat, and take in this immensity. Where is everyone? Why is no one else here? The cloud shifts right; the southeast breeze stirs.

When the loon calls, I start. I am not alone; I am also not a buddy loon. But I answer with a fluted version of “loon.” She/he calls back. Once. Then dives.

I go back to balancing in this stirred immensity, readying myself for what’s next, feeling joined, balanced by loons.

Community Notes

Oct. 9 is Town Commons Clean-up Day. It’s a chance to give back to the Commons that give us such a fine place to wander at varying speeds and to varying purposes. Sponsored by the Town Commons Committee and Brunswick Parks and Rec. Dept.; for more details call (207) 725-6656.

Oct. 14 offers the next public meeting with the Mare Brook Watershed Planning Committee. At 5 p.m. committee members will present more information about possible brook improvements and take questions and comments. Mare Brook information and meeting links available at .brunswickme.org/233/Mare-Brook-Watershed-Planning

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. He may be reached at [email protected]

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