Little Chebeague

Soft amber light gently touches my face, waking me slowly.  The solace of the silent moon from the evening’s landing remained with me through the night.  It was in my dreams but my sleep was so sound that I do not recall this nor any dream.  But I sense the power of its presence and can’t help but lay hold of time, suspending it as a fragment from the broader scheme of reality. My mind’s eye efficiently gathering every nuance of the scene before me, a boat’s motor, a wisp of air, sand and trees, water lapping the shore, changing light and the energy of auras.  I’m so glad to be here.

I visited Little Chebeague Island during last year’s practice trip and fell in love with the place.  The weather was not the greatest, with the threat of rain and dismal light for taking pictures, and a second set of camera batteries dying.  Oh, did I mention attacking ants?  Ouch!

I walked the trails anyway as well as the west shore at low tide.  Asian Bittersweet and Black Swallow-Wort were obliterating trees and shrubs in an ominous choke-hold.  Trails were overgrown and old broken down or vandalized structures were difficult to see, especially the Pritchett Cottage.

Pritchette Cottage   Pritchett Cottage   Overgrown Field  Overgrown Path


[I enjoyed the rest of my exploration in spite of dead camera batteries and sprinting to the tent for refuge from the incoming deluge.  The rainstorm provided a good show of lightning on the water.]

I finally crawl out of the tent.  I have a unique way of doing so because of a knee injury.  It doesn’t like to bend so on my knees, swivel and crawl out the door with a straight right leg.  An interesting feat due to the small size of the tent door.  Kayaking with the knee isn’t a problem but walking on it is another story.  I brought my “big guns” brace for support but it was still a challenge walking on seaweed covered rocks.

The water is back to a blue reflecting the color of the sky.  It is calm having few ripples, especially in Chandler Cove where the water is still.  I walk along the sand looking for the trail to the privy where I stop to see the Navy Firefighting practice apparatus.  That’s right.  The US Navy took over the island during WWII to train every sailor how to fight fires aboard a Navy Ship. Approximately 1500 sailors trained here.  However, the primary use of the island for the Navy was recreation.  Many sailors spent time on Little Chebeague before shipping out.  “the United States Navy used the island as a recreation and training site during World War II. Soldiers enjoyed ball fields, boxing rings, and a skeet range.”   From a WordPress Blog, click here for more information.

Navy Fire Fighting      Click here to see more photos and detailed description of the Navy’s Firefighting School.

After returning from a visit to the privy, I gaze at the sand inspecting it to find something of interest.  Ah, little sneaky.  A set of raccoon tracks lead from the water and up the beach into the grass.  Buggers, is a better comment as last year I ended up at war with the creatures.  I didn’t know they could swim and definitely have an opinion about it.  RACOONS ARE BANNED FROM SWIMMING!

You see, my first night during last year’s practice trip was spent on the southern tip of East Gosling.  I arrived just before dark, found the one spot to set up a tent, dragged what I needed up and quickly made camp as darkness descended.  It was a warm night so I left extraneous gear outside the tent, including my food which was wrapped tightly inside a dry bag.  Clank!  Bam! Rattle, Rattle!  What? (It sounded like Number 5 rifling through the mobile snack stand in the movie, Short Circuit.)  I ran down quickly to find a raccoon inside my kayak and chased him off.  He couldn’t pry the hatches open but he did crawl up under my bow in search of a nighttime snack.  The only thing he found was a small sack that contained canned tuna and sardines.  Buggers!  He’d chewed several holes in it.

Now, I was worried about the food up by the tent.  I grabbed a section of my spare paddle and ran back to camp.  Whew, it was still there.  The paddle section lay next to me as I tried to get some sleep.  Not more than a few minutes went by, when I heard the raccoon again.  He had my bag and was dragging it into the bushes.  I yelled and smacked the ground with the paddle and he dropped the bag.  How bold these critters are!  The food bag spent the rest of the night inside with me.

I was able to move from East Gosling to West Gosling as the Sunday crowd had left the large and beautiful campsite.  I declared war on the raccoons, threatening capture and impaling one on a stick that was stuck in the sandy beach.  You know, like certain native people’s did to warn off their enemies.  I prepared for the oncoming war an hour before dusk by booby-trapping the cockpit of the kayak, made ready the spare paddle shaft and collected some rocks, plus a light that is bright and will flash.
1 ready    2 ready   4 Ready  5 ready  Guess what.  This raccoon was stupid which is good.  He came early.  It was dusk but well before dark.  I slapped my kayak with the paddle shaft and tossed a rock at it.  Up the tree he went.  I stood watching him with all the patience in the world.  Each time he tried to come down the tree, I smacked my kayak with the paddle shaft and yelled at him.  No go for the coon.  He was going to learn who’s the boss, ME!  I wouldn’t let him come down, nope and not until I say so.  — He tried to hide among the shadows of the tree branches in order to sneak down once it was dark. Bright Red light time.  There’s nowhere to hide.  — I kept him there for about a half hour and let me tell you. When he came done from the tree, he sprinted away, never to return.  I won!

Well, I never saw or heard a raccoon last night.  It probably helped that my hatches are double secured and that I bungie a dive flag over the cockpit opening.  I chose the dive flag as a cockpit cover because I dream of being a diver some day.  Probably won’t happen as that’s expensive. However, learning to free-dive is possible.

My slow inspection for critter tracks continue as I meander back to camp.  There isn’t much to see besides bird tracks.  A gull lands on the shore while I tidy things up.  She or a juvenile gull allows me to snap off a few shots of her/him with my camera.  How nice.  Hope to see more shore birds and be able to photograph them as well.

I eat a quick breakfast, Grapenuts drowned in protein powdered milk and two scoops of peanut butter, then grab my camera and head out to explore Little Chebeague once again.  Wow, what a surprise!  My mouth gapes open.  Someone cleared the invasive vines away from the trail, nice!  What’s this?  Sign says, “Caretakers Cabin.”  I follow the side trail and sure enough, there’s a cabin. No one is home so I head back to the main trail of.  However, I meet Christine within a few minutes.  She and a friend are working on the engine of a brush mower.  They say they didn’t need help.

What’s up with the caretaker’s cabin?  That’s where I live now.  Where are you from?  Near Falmouth.  What’s up with the work?  The MITA (Maine Island Trail Association) partnered with the Park Service to rid the island of the invasive vines and restore it (as much as possible) to what it was during the 1800’s, except for the buildings.

Little Chebeague was originally a recreational area for Native Americans who lived on Great Chebeague during the summer.  According to Bill Caldwell “Chief Madockowando was top man on Chebeague Island when the first white settlers came in the 1600’s….they caught fish…killed a seal or two…” (Islands of Maine Where America Really Began).  And like the residents of today, they crossed the sandbar between Great Chebeague and Little Chebeague at low tide to enjoy the expansive sand beaches, picnic, swim and so on.
IMG_4838  Sandbar extends about 200 feet.

IMG_5786     IMG_5785

The 1800’s portray Little Chebeague having a few summer cottages, a farm and a hotel for visitors.

I continue to walk the paths, amazed at the progress Christine has made in just a couple of months.  Fields are being opened up, vines cut away from shrubs, and trees saved from the Asian Bittersweet.  Vroom, Vroom, Vroom, chainsaw now at work.  Christine is a little thing but certainly has a big work ethic.  I see where the vines have been cut away from trees already and also so many more to go.  Small areas are cleared around large trees.  One even has a board swing hanging by ropes from its branches.  Dilapidated buildings clutter clearings.  Vandals and age are burying them into the soft dirt.

The tide is slowly rising but there is still plenty of exposed shore on the west side of the island.  I walk here as I did last year but able to use my camera more.  It’s a strange feeling to visit the past. One that is only a year old.  I’d love to be able to go back in time and see the real past, beginning with the Native Americans.

Camp is down and Abbie B prepped to go and me working on be ready too.  A park ranger stops by to chat.  A nice fella sharing his knowledge of the islands he cares for so much, expounding on their natural beauty.

It’s such a lovely day.  I’m planning to head north to Bangs Island.  I wasn’t able to stop there last year and really want to see it.  No, you should paddle over to Jewell Island.  I ponder a moment and agree that the sea is calm enough to make the crossing.

We make a little more small talk before parting company.  I finish putting on paddle gear and slide Abbie B down to the water.

**See next post for a gallery Little Chebeague photos.  They include ones from last year too.


About Just Jude

I grew up on a small farm in Michigan but have always felt the urge to wander and began doing so as a teenager. Since that time, I've hiked, biked and paddled in every season; not for sport, but for the journey.

Posted on January 6, 2015, in Casco Bay, History, Kayaking, Maine Coast, Memorable Moments, Military History, Solo Journeys, Twenty One Days at Sea, U.S. Navy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Swimming Raccoons — another section in the children’s book “The Lady Who Flew Away”

    Liked by 1 person

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