A Couple of Canoes. Lake Aziscohos, ME. 2014

A Couple of Canoes.

Just north of the sleepy town of Lincoln, Maine, right in the heart of the Rangeley Lakes, sits a long, slender body of water known as Lake Aziscohos. In search of a mid-fall escape from the city, my friends Will, Stephanie, Michael, and I decided to visit it in October of 2014.

We arrived at the shore of the lake in the changing light of mid afternoon, each of us silently celebrating the coming chill in the air. Michael and Steph began unloading the plastic milk crates of camping gear from the car, while Will and I walked into the shoreside camp store to get a few bundles of firewood.

A fire ring, perched upon a cliff.

My first trip to Lake Aziscohos was in 2013, one year year prior. It was on that trip, also guided by Will, that I learned of the campsite to which the four of us were about to begin our paddle. Perched high upon a windswept peninsula of an island in the middle of the lake is Site 7, the jewel of the Black Brook Cove campground. The camp’s cooking and eating area afforded spectacular sunsets from its high perch, and the flat, needle-cushioned tent pads back in the pines provided shelter from the winds. It was the perfect place to spend a couple of fall evenings.

After unloading the red wood-and-fiberglass canoe from the car’s roof and borrowing an aluminum one from the campground, a brief portage from the campground’s parking lot brought us to the lake’s shore. The canoes, burdened by the load of camping gear, moved slowly. The winds too were significant on this October day, and the more experienced paddlers (Will and Steph) had the upper hand on successful navigation. However Michael and I, photographers that we are, were quite pleased by the extended opportunity to capture the scene.

Lake Aziscohos in the late afternoon.

We arrived at the island after a couple of hours’ paddle, pulled the canoes from the cold lake and onto the pebbled beach, and set up camp (a key feature of which was a large green tarp to protect from the southwesterly winds and rain, the rigging of which proved a formidable challenge). After a wholesome dinner of Annie’s Mac-and-Cheese and Sam Adams, we retired for a most-anticipated sleep as we listened to the wind in the pines.

The next morning we grappled with our desire to stay in the warmth of our tent, absorbed in our books, and the competing drive to get out and explore the lake. We rose to meet Will’s trademark pancakes, bacon, and coffee cooking on the whisperlite, the ideal start to any good day. After breakfast we loaded up the canoes with our lunch supplies, cameras, layers, and set off to paddle.

The strong winds of the afternoon prior had given way to a calm and still morning, which not only afforded easier paddling but also allowed sounds to carry far across the lake. Birds singing on distant shores, the barely-audible shots of hunters’ rifles on far-off hills, and the *plink* of oars crossing the lake’s surface all rang out with stunning clarity; our usual morning conversation quickly ceased so that we might hear it all. The sounds of the windless lake were truly remarkable, though nobody remarked.

After a few hours of paddling we took a rest on the western shore of the lake. Immediately we climbed from the shore up toward the trees, and began to explore this new land. Several times I made a point to peek over the high cliffs that divide the forest from the shore to ensure the safety of our canoes. It was during one of these cautious detours that I made this week’s photograph. I was struck by the canoes, how different they were yet how similar, both resting upon the shore awaiting their passengers like horses tied up at a hitching post. The personal effects of the canoes’ users strewn about them also drew me in––the blue and pink water bottles, the lifejacket tossed upon a rock to dry, the drybags.

A good photograph, I think, tells only part of the story of its making. Offering just enough to set the stage and the characters, it still does not quite give enough to elucidate every detail. I believe this is the photographer’s challenge: to deliver a visual springboard for a partially-written story. As with much of art, the enjoyment of a photograph is in the personal, self-derived interpretation that we experience when viewing one. It’s in how we finish the story that the photograph started.

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