Sunday, October 4, 2015

FLOW Week #3, 2015

It was an eventful week for all of us on FLOW.  The weather forecast looked pretty benign, but I had a sneaking suspicion that after three solid weeks of sunshine we were due for something.  Weather is, after all, a game of odds.

My hunch turned out to be valid.

After packing up our camp Tuesday morning with the intention of paddling four miles to Castle Island, we reflexively turned on the VHF radio to hear the marine forecast.  We were surprised to hear NOAA's weather-bot explain about the forty knot winds and torrential rain that were headed our way.  Bummer.  To the credit of our group, without batting an eye or uttering a single complaint, they unpacked their tents and sleeping bags, and set them up again just moments after putting them away.  We would be staying put for the time being.

Our campsite, nestled in a mixed forest above Montsweag Creek, was a nice place to sit and reassess the week's itinerary.  We knew for sure that travel was out of the question on both Tuesday and Wednesday, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be based on Chewonki Neck for the week.  Since the theme of this year's FLOW trips is exploration, and specifically the experience of European settlers coming to North America, our particular circumstances led to some relevant conversations.  What does a group do when the best laid plans need to be changed?  How does a group adapt?  In our case, we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm air mass being ushered in ahead of the maelstrom, and go swimming!

With the dark clouds encroaching from the south, we went for what will likely be our last outdoor swim of the summer of 2015.   After drying off we boarded unloaded canoes and followed the incoming tide up into the sheltered waters of Montsweag Creek.  Rounding a bend of the salt marsh we watched a great blue heron launch from the water while a mature bald eagle skimmed the treetops.  Landing on a small peninsula for lunch I caught a glimpse of a downy woodpecker feeding on a tree.

We took advantage of the still-dry weather to sit in a quiet spot and quietly write for an hour.

I don't have many pictures of the next 36 hours because, as I am sure you know, the skies opened up and around 6 inches of rain fell.  My camera was tucked safely into a dry bag.  On Friday, when I turned my phone back on, there were numerous messages waiting for me, wondering if we had been washed away in the deluge.  Interestingly enough, I think those living in modern civilization fared worse than we did in the storm.  All twenty tents stayed upright and dry during a rainstorm of historic proportions.  It goes to show that many of the modern conveniences that make our lives easier and more convenient are the very things that make us more vulnerable to the forces of nature and the elements.  

One "modern" convenience that we practiced with during the storm was the magnetic compass.  We took refuge in one of the Chewonki Summer Camp cabins to learn about magnetic north, true north, magnetic declination, contour lines, map orientation, and shooting and following a bearing.  These are important skills for anyone trying to find their way, regardless of the mode of transpiration.  After orienting maps and choosing pairs of students to navigate together, students marched through the torrent in search of landmarks, using only their map and compass to find them.   Afterwards, we all commented on how satisfying it was to be out in the weather, enduring the elements while out on our small adventures.

We wrapped up the week with an extended exploration of the Montsweag salt marsh.  We were provided with hip waders, and instructed to watch out for "salt pans,"  muddy areas without vegetation that might be deep.  I turned out to be quite the expert at inadvertently finding them...

The weather was less than optimal this week, but it certainly made for some great memories.  All of the groups earned the bragging rights of thriving in the face of adversity, and gained a bit of insight into the experience of the Europeans who came to North America to claim it as their own.  All of us certainly had a lot to write about!

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