3 Heron Islands
A personal essay about endurance, hope, and friendship aboard the life raft.
After the third shriek it started to blend amidst the waves in the background. Yet, if we were inside an enclosed room, then Mariah would have a contender in glass shattering. At the ocean’s edge, hearing kids scream with joy and play are the greatest backdrops to their smile lit faces.
Water has always been something I love. Even though every New Years one of my resolutions is to drink more of it, I’m never short of craving it’s vastness, and healing powers. Could be because I’m a Scorpio, (although I’m not a huge zodiac follower), I do have claws (especially now with no manicures for months), I love to swim, and thankfully live in a state with a backbone made of it.
There’s a special spot I always go to. A place close yet just far enough away, and a place where when everything overflows, it spills into calm serenity. I’ve gone to reflect, mourn, celebrate, ponder, and veg when my heart is thirsty, and soul needs a lube. These past years have not been easy, have lost both my parents among others that I love. Lost the chosen word as it always feels harder to say died.
Growing up on the East Coast, summers were muggy as hell. We’d call it swimming in pea soup. Motioning our arms as if we were doing breast stroke in the mugginess, with salty mustaches of sweat and jersey curls growing out vs. down. I’d sometimes go with friends to the Jersey shore, but our family get away was a renovated barn in Smallpoint, Maine. A beautiful farmhouse and barn along a narrow rocky unpaved road through the woods, which eventually lead to the ocean. Much of the likes of a Norman Rockwell painting with east coast beauty in its most natural sense, family in its yearned connected sense, and a depicted tradition in its rarest sense.
As my brother recently mentioned, he remembered our father waking up very early to have everyone get dressed to walk through the woods, with the smell of “off” to dissuade the mosquitoes from having a breakfast feast on our legs and arms, all to see the sky meet the sea, and sun rise over the atlantic. I was too young to remember that particular time, but remembering those mosquitos make my hands switch, and thoughts of togetherness, heart swell.
It’s interesting how waves, tides, and the movement of water, parallel life. Tides rolling in and out, being born into life, and drifting away from it. The ocean is filled with duplicitous energies, and feelings. How it can feel so calming to sit to watch, reflect, and relax to. Yet, be so strong, unpredictable, and moody at the breath of wind, and mother nature’s mood. For the most part, I’ve never had conflict with the sea, and have only respected it’s boundaries while remaining in my own. There was just one time, those islands off shore known as 3 Heron Islands, and muscle rock where we’d pick muscles to eat, became synonymous.
It was a summer when Karin (my best and oldest childhood friend) was able to join us for our vacation in Maine. Like most eighth graders, we were obsessed with all things boys, rope bracelets, sun tanning, and adventure.
Smallpoint beach could look like two completely different places pending the time of day. In the morning when it was high tide, the sand was met by the water’s edge with less room to take a running start into the waves. Yet, my mid to later day when it was low tide, sand had stretches long enough that a running start how to reach the water’s edge.The beach aligned with sea grass and patches of lavender, were miles of golden joy.
It was one of those hot days in Maine, where the sun was blazing but the breeze was just cool enough that tan lines were skin stamps within minutes, and time was soaked in glory. We decided it was time to take a dip, and Karin and I thought it may be fun to borrow the Wilson’s inflatable canoe to soak up some rays. Just before popping our second foot inside, we threw in the two oars to paddle past the first wave break, and were off.
Looking out at 3 Heron Islands during low tide, you could cup them inside your hands. That was always my gage for knowing the direction of the tides. My mom was an incredible swimmer, and loved to swim during low tide. She’d swim so far into the distance shrinking to the size of my pinkie, often wondering if she ever reached 3 Heron Islands, or if anyone had.
Rowing into the sea getting past the first break of waves was easy, we each had an oar, and the tide was calm. We lay our heads down and closed our eyes while we rocked, back and forth. Pure bliss. It’s amazing how quiet can be so calming, and can provide warning. The sound of the water shifted from calming, to eerie. We opened our eyes to see the 3 Heron Islands were close enough to see seagull poop amidst the surface within an oars reach. My estimation thinking low tide, as safe tide, was way off. The tide was in fact going out, which meant the current was going into the sea, away from the coast line. The islands that I could cup inside my 13 year old hands, became the size of the immense fear flooding through me. 37 years later remember so vividly the terror and my sinking gut praying that was the only thing sinking.
In sheer panic, Karin and I managed somehow to maneuver the boat/raft to point into the direction of the coast line. “ROW, ROW!” “LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT!” We yelled back and forth, coordinating our arms against the current back to the tiny ant figures waving amongst the shoreline.
I never really heard the term frenzy, until we experienced a blue fish feeding frenzy feeling the nipping at the oars, while seeing little fins diving and flopping out in and out of the water around us. A school we had never imagined going into, especially during summer break.
“OMG, THEY ARE GOING TO EAT US!”
“LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT!”
Although we were both little, a strength overcame us that day. Karin and I were gymnasts as kids. We performed one of our talent shows to “Rocky”, and would leap and roll over piles of mats, friends, or leaves in the yard. From our very young years, we gained flexibility, and our adventure at sea was the greatest test taken, or dive roll over any hurdle. My physicality may have been a combination of Olive Oil meets Dorothy Hamill and our inner strength rocked much like the days of our idol- Billy Idol.
As we got closer to the shoreline, the ants waving doubled in size and in number. Concerns increased, and adrenaline motored us back to safety. The shriek of the seagulls lead the way, just as the shriek of happy children at play.
Originally published at https://www.susannaspies.com on August 6, 2020.