Wendy Wickenden: Lime Island
Lime Island is one of a small chain of islands on Penobscot Bay about 5 miles out of Camden Harbor on the coast of Maine. It takes about 20 minutes to get there by power boat.
It was about 30 years ago that Annie Appleton called and asked me if I would like to join her and a few other women friends for an overnight on Lime. My husband, Roger, agreed to stay home with the kids, so I packed up my tent and sleeping bag, food for the grill and whatever else we might need, and headed into Camden. Annie's husband, Sam, had a large wooden boat that he kept moored in front of the Waterfront Restaurant. He volunteered to take us all over in his boat, and leave us on the island, where he would return the following day to pick us up.
We got out to the island where we dropped anchor, and then went ashore by dingy. Once we were all deposited with our gear Sam left us. Everyone went about setting up, pitching her tent and gathering firewood. In the evening we sat around the campfire sharing our individual stories. As we got further and further into the "grip of the grape" (as my beloved Uncle Bill would say) our stories got more and more embellished and very entertaining.
As much as I loved the evening by the fire, I relished even more the early morning with the sounds of the sea birds. Whoever got up first got the fire going and started the coffee brewing. There is nothing like the aroma of coffee brewed over a campfire, especially when combined with the salty sea air and the delicious smell of bacon sizzling over the fire. Everything tastes better when one is camping. We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we vowed to make camping on the island a yearly event. The following summer came, and true to our word we went out again, and had a marvelous time.
They say that "the third time is a charm." So, the next summer came and I called Annie to see if she would want to go. I knew it probably wouldn't work for her because she had a 3-month old baby. I tried several other friends, but it didn't seem to have the appeal it once had. I wasn't going to be deterred though, so I decided that I should take the chance and call Sam to see if he would be willing to take me out by myself. He laughed and said that if I was sure I wanted to do it he would be happy to take me. Even though I loved being with other women on the first trips, I think I was more excited about being alone this time.
It was a spectacular day, not a cloud in the sky, and the whole way over the bay was flat calm. Sam said that he was tempted to stay out there himself. It was that perfect. We pulled up to the shore in the dingy, unloaded my stuff, and made arrangements for me to picked up around 11 a.m. the next day. Sam went back to the boat shaking his head with a smile. All the while he was wondering how I wasn't feeling a little anxious to be camping on an uninhabited island all alone. I watched him leave, and then went about creating my haven for the next 24 hours, including setting up my one-woman tent. Then I walked around the island, and gathered driftwood and other pieces of wood, and got my campfire all ready to light. Once my chores were done I sat down to "ponder where I went right," another of Uncle Bill's sayings. I sat for a while lost in my own thoughts, when I was suddenly startled by a couple out walking around the island. I knew the woman, Mary. We talked for a minute, and then as she was about to leave she asked me if I was sure I was alright. I assured her that I was more than alright so they got in their boat and slowly sailed back toward Camden. I was alone at last.
I decided to take a little dip in the cold ocean water. The air was warm, but the water felt refreshing. I looked around, taking in my surroundings. There were a few seals that were as curious about me as I was about them. I noticed a few clouds forming, and remembered that the forecast did call for a light rain, so I went ahead and started my fire, got the chicken ready to cook, and poured some wine.
As it got darker I noticed that the lights across the bay on Camden Hills were getting dimmer as if a veil was insulating me from the rest of civilization. The combination of the ocean air, warm firelight and a couple of glasses of wine made me sleepy. I let the fire die down, snuggled down into my sleeping bag and very quickly fell asleep. Sometime around midnight I woke to the sound of light rain falling on my tent. I lay there listening as it grew steadier. I fell back asleep for about an hour and woke up again to a much heavier rain and a fairly strong wind. I began to get nervous when I noticed lightning and heard a distant rumble of thunder. I closed my eyes, but found it impossible to sleep. The rain was coming down harder now as the wind was getting stronger, and I noticed that the walls of my tent were starting to drip. Now my sleeping bag was getting wet. I curled up as tightly as I could, and tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep, which I must have done briefly because I woke this time to extremely strong, sustained winds and crashing thunder and lightning. I realized that my tent was held together with aluminum poles, dangerous to be under in lightning. But that wasn't my only problem, the sides of my tent were coming apart. I made the decision to crawl outside of the tent and zip myself up in my sleeping bag with just my face exposed.
The storm was truly one of the most violent I had ever experienced, and there was no place to to find shelter. To go under the trees in lightning is just as foolish as being under the aluminum tent poles. The force of the wind was so strong that it was difficult for me to even turn my head to look back at my tent to see how it was holding up. I was aware of just how very dark it was with no light anywhere except for the lightning. When the lightning struck, it lit up an angry looking ocean with enormous waves crashing onto the shore directly in front of me. For several moments I was terrified, almost paralyzed with fear. I started talking out-loud to calm myself down. I reassured myself that I was on land, and not out in a boat somewhere that could sink. And then I started to sing. I sang every song I could remember from childhood. Songs like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." I sang songs from movies and musicals, Beatles and Rolling Stones songs. I sang Christmas Carols and songs I had learned in church. I sang for several hours until my voice was gone. As I sang, I began to feel less frightened. . All of my senses were heightened, and felt as if I were one with creation in an exhilarating up close and personal way. It was what some would term a mystical experience.
After a very long time I noticed a glimmer of light, and I could see that it was almost dawn. The waves crashed on the shore as the rain and wind continued relentlessly. I was cold, wrapped up mummy style in my now completely drenched sleeping bag. Finally the rain stopped, but the wind continued to blow. I was wondering just how I was going to get off of that island. I got out of my soaking wet sleeping bag and looked around for some way to let the wind dry out some of my clothes. I was concerned about hypothermia. I was hungry, but all of the food had turned to mush. I figured that I was going to be stuck there for another day, since no one in their right mind would come out onto that wildly churning water. Then around 11 a.m. I thought I heard a boat engine, but I couldn't be sure. I kept watching the water, and suddenly there it was; Sam's boat with Sam shouting as loudly as he could, but I couldn't hear him over the roar of the wind and waves. He was far enough out, and I could see that it was impossible to get the boat anywhere near to be able to climb on. He started waving his arms and pointing toward the other end of the island. I finally figured out that he was telling me to go as far to that end as I could. I left everything right where it was held down with rocks, my tent, sleeping bag and all my things, and ran toward the other side. It was a little calmer there, but not much. He got the boat in as close as he dared so I had to get halfway into the water before I could climb in. I went in waist deep and felt a force pulling my legs out from under me, but Sam grabbed my arm and pulled me into the boat. I was never so happy to see anyone. He just laughed and hollered over the wind, "Well Wendella (his nickname for me), you wanted an experience."
The ride back was wild as we bounced high off of the waves, and there was one point when I thought Sam was going to flip right out of the boat. He said that he never would have come out if he had known just how bad it was, but it was hard to tell from inside the harbor.
We finally got back to the dock at the Waterfront, where Sam's partner, Leonard, escorted me directly to a table in the bar area, and brought me a cup of hot tea and a bowl of chowder. I savored every sip and bite. I knew some of the customers were wondering about my appearance, but I wasn't the least bit disturbed by that. In fact, I felt a bit like a celebrity, though I sure didn't look like one. I went into the ladies room and looked at my reflection in the mirror. My face was smeared with what must have been charred wood from my fire, and my hair along with rest of my appearance was completely wild.
Leonard and others were telling me that the storm took everyone by surprise, and that the winds were clocked at a sustained 65 miles per hour. I had no problem believing that.
After a couple of days I went back out to retrieve my things from the island. My tent was in surprisingly good shape, which I was quite happy about because I loved that tent. It continued to serve me well over the years. At least two more times on Lime Island as a matter of fact. And I was always much better prepared for whatever the weather might be.
Wendy Wickenden was born in California, but her father was in the military, so she moved every two to three years for most of her life. In her early years, Wendy was an operating room technician, and worked in hospitals in California, and then, after marrying her husband, Roger, they moved to St. Louis. There she worked in the operating room at Cardinal Glennon Hospital for Children.
After moving to Maine, Wendy worked for a bit at Pen Bay Medical Center, but with her husband's busy schedule as an orthopedic surgeon, she decided to be a stay-at-home mother to their three children. Once her children were older, Wendy got very involved in a variety of volunteer activities, including driving for Meals on Wheels for about 17 years. She is now the secretary of the Megunticook Watershed Association. Wendy has six grandchildren, and spends a lot of quality time with them. She is happier outdoors than just about anywhere else.
We tell stories.
We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality.
Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students. Our stories are about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
— Kathrin Seitz, editor, and Cheryl Durbas, co-editor
"Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller
Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at email@example.com.