November 18, 2018
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Step out of the rut, enjoy an adventure with your favorite watercraft

John Holyoke | BDN
John Holyoke | BDN
A sit-on-top kayak rests on the dock at Beech Hill Pond in Otis, ready for another adventure.

For more than 50 years, my family has owned a camp on Beech Hill Pond in Otis. Over the decades, I’ve accumulated plenty of great memories of summer days spent there.

When we were little, we’d wade for hours in the shallows, chasing polliwogs, avoiding bloodsuckers (yuck!) and searching for the always elusive crayfish.

We’d hike through the woods along a tiny stream, fish for brook trout and collect huge pine cones for crafts projects we never completed.

We climbed trees and played horseshoes, and later, as our generation aged a bit, began towing the smaller kids around on a tube behind the ski boat.

Over those years, our adventures — and the pond itself — have changed a lot.

Kids in our cove don’t chase polliwogs anymore, you see. And they don’t have to avoid bloodsuckers nor search for crayfish. All three of those species have vanished over the past 25 years or so, likely casualties of an introduction of smallmouth bass.

When we were kids, we never caught bass. Sunfish? Sure. Trout? Maybe. Perch? OK. But bass? No way.

Other changes are more obvious, even to those who didn’t grow up chasing polliwogs. The boats we see on Beech Hill Pond are much different nowadays than they used to be.

Way back when, we’d watch the shiny Checkmates with their towering black Mercury motors speed across the lake. Then, for a while, Jet Skis and Waverunners became the craft of choice, with dozens of them vying for space in our cove every weekend.

Now, the most common boat on our lake has pontoons and is likely to be hauling a half dozen or more family members on a slow sightseeing cruise.

And then, there are the kayaks.

I remember growing up during an era when you’d never see a kayak on the lake. Nowadays, as I’ve headed toward camp along busy Route 1A, I’ve taken to counting those boats that have become one of Maine’s top “cash crops.”

It’s amazing how many I see.

The other day, as I sat at camp, pondering possible adventures, I paused for a moment in front of our own largely neglected pile of boats. A canoe and a traditional kayak sat in the weeds, as did a few sit-on-top kayaks that rarely get used now that my step-children, nephews and niece are older.

“How long has it been since I’ve hopped on one of those sit-on-tops and just gone for a paddle?” I wondered.

I couldn’t come up with an answer. Years, for sure. Many years.

Recognizing that I’d fallen into a sedentary rut, and that most of my time at camp now involves sitting on shore watching others have fun on the water, I headed to the equipment shack to grab a life vest.

Adventure awaited. Finally.

Over the next hour, I paddled slowly along the shore of the lake I’ve spent so many hours near. I watched as a fishing rod attached to a neighbor’s dock began to twitch, and the boy who was fishing excitedly recognized that his long wait was over.

I greeted a pair of anglers who trolled by in a large boat, and had a quick discussion about the weather (fabulous) and the fishing (not so great).

And eventually, I turned the bow of my boat toward a commotion on shore that I thought must be the result of an excited dog running around in the shallows.

Instead, I saw that it was a loon, flapping its wings and causing quite a ruckus.

After a few flaps, it headed for deeper water — toward me — as I stopped paddling and sat still a couple hundred feet away.

And finally, after the loon had taken up a position about halfway between me and shore, I watched, amazed, as it ducked underwater and bolted up the lake.

I’d seen loons vanish beneath the water before, but never had the light and the wind combined to allow such perfect viewing conditions. For more than 100 yards, I was able to spot the loon’s white feathers as it sped through the water.

How fast was it going? No clue.

But I’m sure of one thing: I couldn’t paddle that fast, and all of the pontoon boats I saw that day were going far slower, too.

After poking around for a bit longer, I headed back to camp, minor adventure complete.

The lake had shown me something new, and that was wonderful.

And I promised myself that I wouldn’t wait years before I made a return voyage.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.

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