Moosehead in all its moods

School’s begun, but the long weekend gave us the chance to head north to the NFCT once more before summer ends. It was the usual cast of characters for a stay at The Birches in Rockwood: my parents, aunt, uncle, and me, plus one canoe, two kayaks, and Dad’s motorized skiff. Name the weather and we had it. From bathing suits to the woodstove, it all felt good at some point.

Dad’s hand, which he broke back in July on Little Spencer Stream, is almost healed. At the tiller, he motored us up Tomhegan Creek a couple of mornings in search of wildlife. Moose, really, but they must have missed the memo. In place of moose, we got herons, kingfishers, and a bald eagle.

Dad, Aunt Sue, and Uncle George on the lookout for wildlife
Sue braved the chilly waters for a long swim


Sunday was the day of wildest weather, winds, and whitecaps, but at dawn the lake still slept. Some confusion of dream woke me, ready for adventure even as my eyes opened. Two cups of quick-brewed coffee, some of Sue’s banana bread, a whisper of my plans to Mom, and I was gone. Mist still clung to the rocky shores as my canoe began the 8-mile journey around Farm Island.


Rounding the north end of the island, I turned toward home and breakfast, warmth and bacon. The risen sun threw a path of wave-tossed sunlight straight to me. As I paddled south, it followed, for miles. I paused a moment and the canoe turned to face the sun. In the distance, a loon cruised through the shimmering light, and then moved on.

The morning solitude allowed my thoughts to flow freer than they had in many days.

Nature, I thought, embraces us. It’s unpredictable at times, perhaps, but never judging. Nature listens more than talks. Nature simply is, a continuity fading backward into the mists of time, and carrying the promise of a future long after we are gone.

What meaning there is in nature is for us to find, and maybe, each one of us finds what it is we need just then. That morning, I needed rest and found it. 

Day 44: Big Duck Cove on Moosehead Lake to Lone Pine on the West Branch of the Penobscot River (20.6 miles)

Goodbye, Eagle Mt., watch over our special cove until life brings us here once more. A glorious sunny day with the wind at our backs meant a quick trip to Northeast Carry, where I would say farewell to all of my family until reaching Allagash Village in 8 or 9 days.  Mom and Dad arrived after spotting their second moose of the summer on the Golden Road, ready to take possession of my wheels and an overabundance of food that I had sorted out that morning.

The view approaching Northeast Carry, which is one of two arms that reach upward at the north end of massive Moosehead Lake. Traveling up the eastern arm, the cluster of buildings on the left is your landmark.

Northeast Carry is home to Raymonds Country Store, where Ed and Shirley Raymond are anchors in the remoteness of the north Maine woods. It was Shirley who taught me years ago the philosophy that kept me squatting on a log for hours with a boy from Brooklyn on the Raquette River. “Up here, if someone needs help, you help, even if the person is your enemy.” Shirley also makes a yummy cheeseburger and has the last groceries for many miles, although Ed reported that their store in now closed two days per week due to their various medical appointments. (For some reason, Shirley had decided that they weren’t grilling today, so I actually had cheese and some delicious nutty rice crackers with my iced tea, followed by a nice fresh donut.)

My soul is relaxing…only the challenge of Mud Pond Carry lies uncertainly ahead…otherwise, the shining path of the river beckons me to drift downstream in my own time, savoring the last days of solitude and discovery.

In many ways, the West Branch of the Penobscot River is like the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, in its scenery, wildlife, and management.  Passing under the bridge at Hannibal’s Crossing seemed the threshold of the wilderness.  An eagle soared from a spruce above, the clarity of sound bringing the squeak of wings against air, squeakiness not being an adjective that I had ever associated with an eagle before.

In the water, a cormorant may be mistaken for a loon at a distance, but they are more often spotted sunning on a rock or log or taking flight, which loons rarely do.

I was headed for Lone Pine, a small campsite on river right with a quaint handmade table, pleasant views up and down the river, and, most of all, the comfort of familiarity.  You know how you walk into a college classroom on the first day and choose a seat at random?  And then return there for every class, month after month?  That’s Lone Pine for me, in spite of the hike to the outhouse, across board bridges beside a parade of moose tracks.  This year I found many trees blown down and the work of clearing them up still in process, but I still loved being back in my “familiar seat,” gathering wood, chilling my little box of white wine in the river, and hanging my food bag from the ridgepole over the picnic table…a great feature of these campsites.

Pondering life while watching the ever-changing dance of the campfire…happily, I had added my folding saw to my gear not long ago. Above, the lovely moon still graced the clear, dark sky beyond the firs.


Day 43: The Birches to Big Duck Cove, Moosehead Lake (9.3 miles)

John Willard, owner of The Birches, helped create the NFCT and always cheers me on with my paddling adventures. If you ever visit, be sure to go up for a float plane ride with John and see where you have (or will) paddle from the clouds.

One luxury of through-paddling is working off what you eat, even when it is a stuffed omelette, English muffin and jelly, and The Birches “small” orange juice, which is not small.  Mom waved farewell to the rest of us after breakfast.  Dad would paddle the seven miles around Farm Island and Sue and I were headed to a beautiful cove where we had camped before, an easy day.  Easy, that is, as long as you arrive before the wind gets up and find an empty campsite.

My aunt, Susan Sefcik, shares my love of the outdoors and, like me, has been venturing out on some solo trips. She joined me for the miles on Moosehead Lake, camping in Big Duck Cove, then stayed for a few extra days, braving some hearty winds along the way.

Paddling strong, we made good time, to discover one of our two favorite back-to-back sites free.  We were on the protected back side, helpful indeed when the wind blew whitecaps down the length of the cove later that afternoon.  Lazy hours in camp to gather wood, watch a red squirrel scamper past our tents with a furry bundle of baby in her mouth, then dabble our feet at water’s edge with a crayfish and minnows for company.  It was a bit cold for swimming, though, and we were glad to layer up after a quick dip.  Family togetherness in the great outdoors!

Sue loves to cook and I love to eat…with my appetite being especially well-developed at the moment. Dinner was turkey stir-fry with a multitude of fresh vegetables and the anticipation of pancakes and bacon tomorrow morning.
I love to cut firewood and Sue loves campfires…here is our tidy camp on the cove.


Day 42: Rest day at The Birches in Rockwood on Moosehead Lake (only miles for fun)

My aunt Sue Sefcik, my father, and I paddled up to Baker Brook before our French toast and bacon, in the hopes of spotting a moose.  They were also glad for the miles, as they will each be paddling with me on two of the remaining days, Sue on Moosehead and Dad on the St. John River.  I stopped to check out the NFCT Baker Brook campsite on the way.

The rest of the day was restful and rejuvenating – swimming, the hot tub, reading, and a trip to Greenville for some shopping and more.  I even bought a book to take, which I will surely appreciate on Mud Pond Carry! (My food supplies have also filled an extra small dry bag.)

Friends Ken Dale (also our pastor) and his wife Kathy Malatesta treated us to dinner at Kelly’s Landing. The fish fry special with salad bar was a wonderful finish to a restful day. Thanks again, Ken and Kathy!

The last three maps of the NFCT will take me across Moosehead Lake to Northeast Carry, up the West Branch of the Penobscot into the Allagash and then on to the St. John and Fort Kent.  There may be a chance for one more post, but probably not.  

This will be a time for reflection, writing, and photography, and I promise to journal well and finish sharing when I get home.  To each of you faithfully reading along, heartfelt thanks for the multitude of ways you have all generously helped me along the river (or the road)!

Blue moon rising beside Kineo as the day ends