Still water and solitude

There are still extraordinary depths of solitude to be fathomed on far-Downeast islands, where the world is possessed of a spare and abstract drama, palpable ancientness, and breathtaking sweeps of sea, sky and shore. In spite of development creep, perfect privacy can yet be had along this coast and secrets can yet be revealed if you know where to look – or not look.

Whether the lot of a singlehander, or a boat and crew snugged down in a quiet eel rut, exploring the empty granite avenues of a wild shore (with new vistas unfolding with every step) or enjoying a picnic atop a great swell of headland, a cruise to Downeast Islands can be endowed with an inspiring sense of primitive theatre. It frames a coaster’s lot in an expansive light, fires the imagination, and encourages speculation in other possibilities. While some might freight my taste for solitude with various social defects, it’s a fabulously precious commodity in an all-too connected life.

There was a provocative sense of expectation in the air when the mate and I poked the Leight’s nose into the watery gut leading into the Mud Hole on Great Wass Island and found we’d have the place to ourselves, for the ebbing tide was about to shut the door. Engine at dead slow and single digit soundings flashing, we entered its perfect stillness with an eagle floating overhead. I wondered if it thought us a winged creature of a larger order.

We felt a long way from home. There was a stirring quality to our possession of the emerald alcove that was to become our private paradise for three days.

Places like the Mud Hole, which takes half tide to enter – or leave – favor the probability of a cloistered affair, and there seemed a certain organic cast to our occupation. After two days of hanging out, drinking wine, steaming local clams, reading, writing, solving world problems, playing rummy for foot rubs, going to sleep early and rising late, we were ready for some physical stimulation and took to the shore trail under a sun-dappled canopy of overarching spruce.

Emerging upon a broad avenue of pink granite 15 minutes later, there was nothing the least bit lonely to this wild space, which is not to say that we didn’t feel like minor players on a great stage. Swallows dove and darted, chittering away as they tirelessly worked the air with a certain grace. Priestly cormorants, gathered on ledges, spread their wings in supplication to the sun gods, and I knelt to photograph a delicate blue harebell springing from a crack in the magma as though it were a living poster for flower power.

Surf breaking on an exposed shore added the subtle sense of a heartbeat to the moment, a soldiering breeze tickled the treetops, and the groan of a distant whistle buoy warned, “Care, care, care.” The teacup of a tide pool seemed rich in the past tense and authentic ancientness.

There are still wild places and perfect peace to be gleaned if you sail imaginatively. As philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich once wrote, “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

David Buckman’s book, “Bucking the Tide,” is about discovering the New England and Fundy coast in a wreck of a $400 sloop. It’s $19, including shipping. To get one send your mailing address to