Just a few minutes after launching our kayaks in the tiny village of Sinclair and ducking under a low concrete bridge, Douglas and I rounded a bend in the quiet waterway and glided to a halt.
“Uh-oh,” said my husband of not quite one year.
A few yards ahead, stretching from shore to shore, stood a formidable, three-foot-high beaver dam. Though the water had found ways to trickle around and through it in spots, the sturdy dam effectively impounded the flow and blocked our passage.
This was last Friday morning, almost at the end of our precious week of vacation — our first full-blown vacation together since we were married last September.
We had traveled nearly the length of the state, from coastal Cumberland County near Brunswick to the northern tip of Aroostook, reconnecting with family and friends, exploring unfamiliar communities and landscapes. We had swum daily in salt or fresh water, hiked in the remote Deboullie Public Reserved Land, visited surprising museums and churches, learned about Acadian history and culture, eaten and drunk adventurously and generally had a high old time.
That Friday evening, we had reservations at Canterbury Royale, a storied French restaurant in Fort Fairfield, and the next day we would return home to Sandy Point. So that morning in our boats, with the end of adventure, improvisation and freedom in sight, we were in no mood to be trifled with by a bunch of beavers.
We paddled up to the base of the dam and hoisted ourselves clumsily out of our kayaks, teetering barefoot on the wet, slippery twigs and branches at the bottom of the structure. Working together, we pushed and pulled the boats up and over the top, clambered up ourselves, got reseated and travelled on, damp and happy, right into the heart of the boggy woodland.
We paddled in excruciating quietness, fully expecting to come upon a feeding moose at every turn. It was a perfectly moosey place, but no moose obliged us.
We did see birds — an osprey, scores of red-wing blackbirds, a few great blue herons and lots of ducks. We spied a frog and few small fish moving through the languid, brown water. We shared our adventure with many insects — this is Maine, after all — including big, slow-moving dragonflies with iridescent blue bodies and transparent, smoke-colored wings.
We hardly spoke at all, enjoying the peace of the place and the sense that not many humans had ventured up this sweet, lowly stream, which runs from up near St. Agatha into Long Lake. It didn’t even have a name assigned in our tattered DeLorme atlas, but later, using the satellite view on Google Maps, we learned it is called McLean Brook.
In a protected spot we ate our lunch — cheese sandwiches and a shared bottle of beer — without getting out of the boats, because the bank was all mud and clay. And then we paddled back, still quietly, still not seeing a moose, the current lifting us along, climbing out again at the beaver dam, ducking under the Sinclair Road and back to the car at the put-in.
From there, we drove back roads through high, green farm fields over to Route 1 at Lille, where we stayed too long at the Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel, the ongoing restoration of a stunningly graceful Catholic church constructed in 1908 and decommissioned in the 1970s.
With the afternoon wearing on quickly toward evening and our 6pm dinner reservation, we dropped down into Caribou and checked into Russell’s Motel.
We scrambled out of our mud-caked kayaking clothes into the outfits we had brought for the occasion and headed over to the restaurant for one of the best and most surprisingly formal meals I’ve ever had.
On our way back to the motel, only slightly woozy with wine, we stopped for a shallow, moonlit dip in the fast-moving Aroostook River, fulfilling our daily commitment to the 2016 Summer Swim Challenge.
This last full day of our vacation was packed with highlights. In fact, the whole week was filled with surprises, delights and small puzzles to solve. But the greatest pleasure was having the opportunity to step away from our daily routines and learn more about each other and the ways we interact.
For example, Douglas learned that I am a good old gal who can scale a beaver dam in the morning, enjoy lunch in a muddy kayak and clean up good for dinner in a fancy restaurant. I learned that Douglas has a reliable instinct for interesting paddles and hikes, a keen interest in local history and a sharply tuned ear for funny conversations at the next table over. I’m prone to misplacing my sunglasses; he’s good at finding them. He’s a little uncomfortable swimming in fresh water; I’ve learned to enjoy the colder but more buoyant ocean.
We’re a good team. We knew that before went on vacation last week, but it was sweet to have some uncompressed time to enjoy the kindly qualities that brought us together.