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March 2006, vol 2 no 1

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Jim Kacian

Chance Harbor

As I stretch out in my sleeping bag, the quiet regular beat of my heart induces in me the same rhythm I feel in complex water—the soft regular rolling from one direction, but also the sideslips, just as pleasant and less to be anticipated. It's the kayaker's version of sea-legs, and literally aids me in drifting off.

I've come to Chance Harbor, a tiny crescent carved out of the coast along the Bay of Fundy. When I first put in the waves lapped at the edge of my tent. Now, though, I could nearly walk to the rocks in mid-cove I had to pull hard not to clip in the swell. Across the bay, crags whose tips just cleared the surface in the troughs of waves are too formidable—wet and sheer and tall—to even consider an ascent. The tide varies by as much as 50 feet here, and what is left behind each day must thrive in wet and dry to survive .

I have speculated on the name of this place, and have developed three theories: the cove was discovered or owned or claimed by an Englishman named Chance; rather, the name is French and should be read therefore as "luck", perhaps referring to a fortuitous manifestation of the adage "any port in a storm"; or more equivocally, since water level varies so much here, anchoring a boat with a sufficient draft was risky business (less so now because of sonar) and so one took a chance of coming aground and sustaining damage to one's hull. None of the locals seems to know, so these remain conjecture.

It was chance for me, as well—I meandered the coast and turned down here when the sun was low in the west. I wasn't attracted by the deep water, the spray of surf against rocky islets, the lean of pine into the wind. Or rather, I was, but didn't know I would find it here.

My initial reaction to new water is fear. In a small craft you are much more exposed to the swells and vortices that can spring up with a big tide, and the reefs and rocks of its subsiding. I ply the waters farther from a coast at first, and approach perhaps on a third or fourth pass. I will sit and feel the water shift under me, feel its tug and toss, watch for its quirk and shunt. This is where the shuttle of the body comes in, where you learn to love yourself in a small boat or go on to something else. When you are pulling hard it is possible to have the illusion that you can power past calamity, but in the quiet moments you become aware that you are the toy of the water, fully hers.

My tent is above the wrack line and the night is benign. Yet I dream and dream again that I have misread the signs, that the sea rises higher in the night and that I am being lifted gently and carried out into big water, that my sensations are not the supposed lull and sway of my heart, but actual, the heart of the sea.

It is curiously not frightening, or at least not frightening enough to wake me, and I let the sensation slide me gently out, adrift in the dark, rolling slightly. When the sun wakes me the next morning, I am here.

driftwood the slight curve of the horizon

 

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