Months before our 25th anniversary, my wife and I vowed to do something special. But as the date drew closer, it seemed unlikely we would do much beside work.
We couldn’t even go home from our jobs, since we lived above the front office of the Maine oceanfront campground where we work as sea-kayaking guides, front-desk staffers, and Jack and Jill of all trades. When a guest needs something, our own concerns become secondary— including our silver anniversary. As always, Rebecca told me not to worry. We aren’t big into rituals or holidays or even eating in restaurants. And yet: 25 years! It would be pathetic, but there seemed no way around it.
When you live where you work, the commute is great, but you never really leave your job. Of course we could find respite in our apartment upstairs, decorated with nautical charts and a ceiling that shimmers with reflections from Webb Cove, just outside. And to remind ourselves why we chose this life, we need only peer out at the archipelago to see the islands afresh through visitors’ eyes.
But not even the rumble of lobster boats can drown out guests’ conversations downstairs, let lone the afterhours arrivals who stand beneath our window and call up. Whether carrying groceries or having an urgent spousal discussion, we end up in the background of someone else’s vacation memories— perhaps even fodder for an online review. And while I have no trouble nerding out on gear or praising my favorite campsites, there are some tasks, like retrieving yet another roll of toilet paper, that are always going to feel like work. On the clock or not, we’re always “on.”
Even on special occasions. When our anniversary finally dawned, we had a full day’s to-do list. Rebecca took a family out to Little Sheep Island—a last-minute reservation while I checked off a few odd jobs along the waterfront.
But then we did what we know best. We packed our kayaks and headed out, with no particular plan. We’d done the same thing a quartercentury earlier on a New Hampshire lake, when our wedding guests waited to see us off before they would depart. That time, we got into a canoe and paddled away, floating out of sight and into a secluded cove long enough for the guests to leave.
This time we meandered among familiar islands until we arrived at one that receives few visitors. We sat on a glacially smoothed outcrop and listened to the waves lap below us as the lowering sun gilded the spruce and granite of the surrounding islands. With personal time on the water especially precious, we knew the hour or two we spent on that rock was the best gift we could have given ourselves.
In the fading twilight, we paddled toward the campground lights, our home, ready to get back to work together.
Michael Daugherty (above left), the author of AMC’s Best Sea Kayaking in New England, is a guide and instructor at Pinniped Kayak and Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, in Ellsworth, Maine. Earlier this year, he and Rebecca (above right) moved from their office apartment into a vintage, 13-foot travel trailer nearby.