Labor Day weekend was a beauty on the coast of Maine, and on Saturday morning I packed up some food and water, extra clothes, a sleeping bag and pad, my journal and some art supplies and loaded them into my kayak. I paddled out to a small island owned by a coastal trust. My goal was to have no goal, to be on this island for the night fully present and responsive to the moment. But it’s hard to shed habits, and I was immediately “planful,” bringing my bag of extra clothes, sleeping bag and pad to a grassy spot under an old birch near where I’d pulled my kayak ashore. This seemed like a perfect place to sleep. Next I carried my art supplies and journal as I walked around the island, ready to draw or write if the moment struck.
I realized the bag was heavy. It was literally weighing me down. I was still carrying all my plans and goals, along with my art supplies and journal. So I left the bag on the beach.
Then I found a better spot to sleep – on a rocky ledge on the western tip of the island where I could watch the sun set and be under the stars and moon instead of in the woods. This meant I would have to move my stuff. But fortunately, I paused. How many times might I move my stuff at the rate I was going? I stopped planning for later and just attended to the moment.
The tide was low, and the seals were gathered on a ledge. Should I swim on this warm afternoon? The water was cold, but the air temperature was going to be dropping soon. Now or never. More planning. More thinking. I got into my bathing suit. I waded out, further and further, waist deep through the channels between the rocky ledges, past the cormorants and gulls and loons and eider ducks, in view of the seals, but not so close as to disturb them. I never did swim. I just walked through the water. I had become, finally, present, and I realized I didn’t actually want to swim. I just wanted to walk through the water.
After exploring the ocean, I gathered my art supplies and sleeping stuff, scattered as they were around the island, and headed to the ledge. I painted goldenrods and lichen on rocks. Then I painted the sunset. I listened to the loons’ eerie calls. I watched Jupiter appear in the east, the full moon rise, and a meteor streak through a dark blue sky. A nighthawk swept down in front of me.
I slept fitfully, aware of the breeze, the quickly cooling temperature, the loons’ cries, the lapping waves as they crept up towards me at high tide. I woke at dawn to seals barking on the ledges, and the wind picking up, urging me to kayak home before the waves were too difficult to maneuver.
It had been many years since I went off on my own like this to listen to and observe the natural world. Way too many years.
Time to “plan” another such night.
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