Monday, November 9, 2015

Take time to pause, reflect and rest

My husband drives our truck over the pebbled beach, and we park behind the weathered picnic table. Fogland State Beach is empty except for an oyster farmer's boat drifting aimlessly on its mooring.
Scanning the horseshoe-shaped cove, I spy a couple of vehicles in the distance dotting the sand.

Now we have Fogland all to ourselves. Yet I cannot help but feel sadness for those who have gone away. They think of this place as a summer resort and are counting the days until their return. But they miss so much in the interim.

Late autumn is far from dreary for us.

The author of over 50 books, Gladys Taber wrote about New England and its seasonal changes.

“I have never heard a single soul speak a good word for setting the clock back an hour,” she said. “Some of us only set one or two clocks back and keep on with our familiar schedule for a while, but in the end we give in. Nature, however, sets her own time schedule. She decides when the first white frost will come and when the geese go over and when the leaves will begin to drift down and when the hibernating small animals will feel the urge to snug down in their burrows. She brings the first heavy storms and turns the air to brittle cold. And, clocks or no, man follows her plan. Fire on the open hearth, storm windows, warm boots, furnaces clean, bird feeders ready – these mark nature’s timetable.”

The sea also reflects this passing. The Sakonnet is a deep navy blue, rocking back and forth in a gentle rhythm. Across the bay, Portsmouth is without its cloak of color.

My husband gets out of the truck and walks the beach. I prefer to remain snug within, sipping tea while I sit and ponder.

The quiet, open space in this in-between time or interstice reminds me of a musical composition. As a lifelong musician, I think of the Grand Pause.

The concert band rises to a crescendo, and then there is a sudden silence. The performers have come to a G.P. or Grand Pause, which is a notation over a rest indicating that they are expected to extend the silence until the conductor signals the beginning of the next note. The function of this pause is to create a period of silence at the discretion of the director.

Late autumn is like a grand pause.

Sunny summer days are but a memory. The colorful leaves in red, orange and yellow hues that lit up our world are now underfoot, brown and crinkled.

Dark, gray November days loom ahead, and the hectic pace of the holidays will be unleashed on Thanksgiving Day.

Winter hovers around the corner.

Yet, as I gaze at these familiar surroundings of sea, sky and sand, I see the simple beauty that lies before me and realize how essential it is to pause and take stock of the world around us. Late autumn offers us this gift.

The Great Director created a symphony and stage in which we are the players. We need to pause and reflect on the Master’s plan, and savor the silence of this brief interlude before the cacophony of contemporary life intrudes. 

Take a rest.  


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Season of sunshine comes to its lovely end

It is the end of October, and my family and I are forced to face the inevitable: It is time to close up the summer house for another season.

Our sweatshirts are no longer ample protection from the cold winds, and we linger a few minutes at the beach before returning to the warmth of the house.

On Sunday afternoons we remain inside watching the Patriots play, rather than sunning ourselves in the back yard.

Then the day comes when my husband and his friend winterize the house, draining the water from the pipes to prevent freezing.

The season of sunny summer days and simple pleasures officially ends when my parents lock the door behind them.

As New Englanders, we look forward to the changing seasons in comfy woolen sweaters and welcome the beauty of the colorful fall foliage. But with each passing year, I find it more difficult to leave the summer house behind. I yearn to prolong the season because I know that things will never be the same again.

Eight months’ later when I return to the summer house, the population and landscape will be altered.

Some of our former neighbors will never return again, the for-sale signs placed prominently in the yards of empty houses. Others have already sold their homes, and real estate developers raze the old cottages and construct expensive new homes on the lots or rent the properties to a succession of weekly tenants.

I worry about my aging parents and pray that they’ll have many more years of good health and happy times at the summer house. They tire more easily these days, and the upkeep on the house proves more difficult with each passing season.

And I wonder if this will be the last season for all of us.

Sixty-seven years ago, many of the cottages on this peninsula were destroyed by hurricane winds and rising waters. Will this be the year that Mother Nature unleashes her fury again on our little stretch of coastline?

Sarah Orne Jewett best describes the feelings of separation from a seaside home as the end of the season approaches.

In “The Country of the Pointed Firs” she writes:

“At last it was the time of late summer, when the house was cool and damp in the morning … There was no autumnal mist on the coast, nor an August fog; instead of these, the sea, the sky, all the long shore line and inland hills, with every bush of bay and every fir-top, gained a deeper color and a sharper clearness. There was something shining in the air, and a kind of luster on the water. The sunshine of a northern summer was coming to its lovely end. The days were few then … and I let each of them slip away unwillingly as a miser spends his coins. At last I had to say goodbye to all my … friends, and my homelike place in the little house, and return to the world in which I feared to find myself a foreigner. There may be restrictions to such a summer’s happiness, but the ease that belongs to simplicity is charming enough to make up for whatever a simple life may lack. When I went in again, the little house had suddenly grown lonely, and my room looked empty as it had the day I came. I and all my belongings had died out of it … So we die before our own eyes; so we see some chapters of our lives come to their natural end.”

With gratefulness I bid farewell to another season. Every weekend throughout the long winter ahead, my husband and I will be drive-by visitors, checking on the summer house.

Then we’ll park our truck at the state beach, shut off the engine, and take in the beauty of our home’s winter face. With hot cups of coffee and tea cradled in our hands, we will plan.

Fogland is the stuff of dreams.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The sea around us

Weeding out the bookshelves in my basement the other day, I found the old, dog-eared paperback of “The Sea Around Us” by Rachel L. Carson. I still remember the day I bought it at a book sale in my middle school library.

When I opened the book, I understood why I had exchanged my lunch money long ago for a science book, rather than the usual literature titles that would attract a future English major.

The introduction captivated me: “The enigmatic ocean-mother has always fascinated poets; here an eminent scientist presents a factual, informative, and comprehensive survey of the sea that retains the art and wonder of great poetry. Miss Carson describes the hidden mountains and canyons of the ocean deeps, how they are being mapped; tells of the ceaseless power of the winds, waves, and currents, and the paradox of the moving tides. She reveals the meaning of the ocean to man – the heritage of the sea that we carry in our bodies – and the riches to be found in its salty marshes.”

This was around the time that my parents bought property in Fogland, and I needed a guide. The book jacket said that Carson had continued her graduate work at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. That cinched it. I knew the place firsthand.

The summer before, my parents had taken us to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and we were given a tour. My father’s friend was a staff photographer for the prestigious marine facility, and he had granted access to my parents, my brother and I to a world known only to research scientists.

The experience would have a profound effect on us.

My brother would learn to scuba dive and to pilot a sailboat and small planes. I think the seed to study and explore was planted in him that day at Woods Hole.

While I marveled at all I saw, I wanted to write about it like Carson, seamlessly combining science and prose to capture the work of the Creator.

A marine biologist, author of four books, and professor at The John Hopkins University, Carson chose a quote for the subhead for each of the chapters of “The Sea Around Us.”

For the first chapter “The Gray Beginnings,” the quote appropriately came from Genesis, the first book of the Bible: “And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” In “The Pattern of the Surface,” she selected a line from Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”: “There is, one knows not sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.” The sainted monk The Venerable Bede supplied the quote for “The Moving Tides”: “In every country the moon keeps ever the rule of alliance with the sea which it once for all has agreed upon.”

When I decided to write my thesis at Wellesley College on a collection of nonfiction essays about Fogland, I once again turned to Carson for help. All the books on my carrel came from the shelves of the Margaret Clapp Library – except one. I walked over to the Science Center Library to unearth this book with a copyright date of 1950 that seemed ancient history next to the books on cutting-edge scientific discoveries.

I would defend my thesis in front of three English professors and one professor of Oceanography, who seemed so out of place among the tomes of Shakespeare and other literary greats on the bookshelves of the English Common Room. But my creative writing thesis was like no other – it contained the rhythm of meter and verse and the sea.

Today, decades after buying Carson’s book, I am amazed at the impact she has made on my life. This blog "Sea, Sky & Spirit" is testament to my lifelong fascination to the sea around us.

Thank you, Rachel Carson.

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Wellesley Professor of Geosciences Dr. Harold Andrews, a brilliant and kind gentleman.) 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sea teaches patience and faith

There are few books that are timeless, speaking to your heart during all of life’s passages. For me, the short list is my Bible and “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

This book spoke to me as an adolescent; it sat on my carrel on the fourth floor of the Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley College where I wrote my thesis; and it is just as meaningful today.

The wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, the first man to cross the Atlantic in a solo flight in 1927, Anne Morrow Lindbergh raised five children, tragically losing her first son who was kidnapped and murdered in 1932. She was the first woman in America to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license in 1930, and to win the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal in 1934. She also received the National Book Award in 1938 for the novel “Listen! The Wind” about her aviation and exploration adventures.

Published in 1955, “Gift from the Sea” is a personal series of essays that she wrote about her stay at a little cottage near the beach on Captiva Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“The beach is not the place to work, to read, write or think,” she wrote in the first chapter. “Too warm, too damp, too soft for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. … And then some morning …, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense – no – but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. … The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.”

A reporter and editor, I’ve spent much of my life in a newsroom, where I’ve been the first to know about every disaster and misfortune known to man. I remember in surreal detail the Tuesday morning 14 years ago when the terrorists hijacked the plane from Logan and took down the World Trade Center. I wrote a breaking news story that day interviewing a local man who had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier.

Over the years, I developed a coping mechanism that helps me reconcile my life in the fast lane and all its grittiness. No matter the season, I drive to Fogland Beach. During the forty-minute drive, a shift occurs; and by the time I reach Fogland Road, I have left behind the struggles, sorrows and sufferings of my fellow man, finding sanctuary where peace is as palpable as the fog.

Away from work and home, I have no appointments, no laundry list of things to do, no reason to do anything but just be. In a world this beautiful, there is only sea, space and possibilities.

At the beach, I breathe in the salty air. It is here where Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s voice speaks to me, her prose ringing in my ears in rhythmic cadence to the crashing waves:

“When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Walking barefoot along a sandy beach is a sublime summertime pleasure, but I always wear shoes.
In nearby Cape Cod, the sand is as deep as three hundred feet in some places, but not on this rocky coastline that is my home.

Pebbled with sharp stones, shells and coarse sand, this beach path is navigated much more easily and comfortably with sneakers or beach shoes, colorfully-woven elastic footwear with rubber soles.

There’s an old Arabian proverb that states: “It’s not the road ahead that wears you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”

Rocks that are exposed to water and weather break down and create a blanket of sediment that covers the coastline, and the sediment becomes the impediment. Whether lodged in the shoe or clinging to the soles of the feet, those grains of sand will make the traveler footsore by journey’s end.

Curiously, shoes seem to turn up on beaches, half buried in the sand. On my walks I find one-of-a-kind sneakers from pretty pink toddler footwear to expensive Nike athletic shoes. These shoes wear out uniformly, not just on the soles. The tides drag them back and forth; they are pelted by rocks and sand, sun and rain.

Fishermen’s boots also occasionally wash up on this shore. Sea-green and seemingly impervious to the elements, these vinyl boots are weighted down with sand. Calf and over-the-knee boots are essential fishing gear, and I wonder how the fisherman let this one get away.

Was the boot washed overboard in a storm at sea? Did the fisherman tear the fabric on a sharp rock and toss the boot like trash fish? Has he yet to realize that one has gone missing?

I am reminded of a particular clam expedition to the estuary when I was a teenager. The clam digger rests on my boyfriend’s shoulder, and a tin pail swings over my arm. He slips on my father’s new brown beach shoes that my mother let him borrow and nervously paces while I locate the rest of the gear in the shed.

We stroll hand in hand to the creek. The tide is at its lowest. He takes off the shoes and begins raking the tool in the wet sand. Slowly, I begin filling the pail with supper. We lose track of time as we work but are forced to quit by the rising tide.

Staring in disbelief, we watch my father’s new beach shoes float gracefully out to sea.

There is a well-known spiritual poem about a dream, in which we are walking along a beach accompanied by the Lord. Sometimes we see only one set of footprints visible in the sand, leading us to believe that the Lord abandons us during times of trial. But the Lord assures us that it is during these times that He carries us.

Since childhood, I have walked countless miles along this beach in sun and fog, snow and rain, wearing sandals, flip-flops, beach shoes, sneakers, snow boots and occasionally, no shoes at all. But I have never walked alone.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The great gift of being alive

Sometimes I recognize myself in those hardy souls who board watercraft at the beach, because like them, I feel the need for speed.

When I was a young girl, I raced my bike down the steep hill where we lived, and in the wintertime, sled with equal velocity.
I remember the first time I flew on a plane and the adrenaline rush I felt when I hurled through space and ascended into the heavens. “Houston, we have ignition.”

After driving sensible, nondescript, used cars for most of my life, I bought a new blue Crossfire, a sports car with a powerful German engine. My friends and colleagues were amazed with my choice of a muscle car. I told them simply that this was the real me.

While I never break the sound barrier or the posted speed limit, I have no reservations about accelerating from zero to sixty in a heartbeat, then clicking on cruise control. I also enjoy hugging the curves in the road.

Consequently, I identify with my counterparts at Fogland who crave recreational life in the fast lane. They crank up their outboard motors and careen over open waters with a look of sheer delight on their faces. They fly like the wind into the wild blue yonder, hanging onto their sailboats and catamarans for dear life. They windsurf at breakneck speed.

While walking toward the salt marsh, I watched two men in wet suits approach the cove on their jet ski. Carrying equipment to shore, they prepared the chute for parasail waterskiing.

Returning to their jet ski, they sped to the center of the bay, pulling the airborne balloon behind them.

Then, one of the adventurers drove while the other waterskied. Back and forth they zigzagged across the Sakonnet River with the chute mapping their coordinates.

My heart was racing along with theirs.

Sitting on a stone at the shore, I also noticed a herring gull hovering overhead. New England’s most common seagull, the white bird with its silver back and wings floated gracefully, buoyed by its four-feet-ten-inch wingspan, then suddenly it dived headlong through the air and into the water.

It got me thinking.

While I spend time in prayer and meditation barely moving a muscle, I have an alter ego that yearns to propel me out of my comfort zone.  And when I acknowledge it, I feel the heart-pumping excitement of the great gift of being alive.

I like the phrase “contemplative in action.” The Rev. James Martin writes in “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” that St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, counseled his followers that they were always to carve out time for prayer but were expected to live active lives as well.

“Most of us lead busy lives with little time for prayer and meditation. But by being aware of the world around us – in the midst of our activity – we can allow a contemplative stance to inform our actions,” writes Father Martin. “Instead of seeing the spiritual life as one that can exist only if it is enclosed by the walls of a monastery, Ignatius asks you to see the world as your monastery.”

The way to jump-start that awareness is to seek God in all things, even when you’re travelling at hyper speed.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The sounds of silence

This week I did the unthinkable. I unplugged from technology for five days.

During my last vacation, I found myself answering emails, making calls, looking for story ideas, scheduling appointments and writing. I knew that the only way to distance myself from my work would be to disconnect altogether. This vacation would be different.

My laptop lay lifeless on my desk, a shiny, black, unopened box, along with the cell phone silenced nearby.

With no email, Google, Facebook, Twitter and text messages at my fingertips, I literally dropped off the planet. I was unreachable.

Unable to respond to the stream of summons that sought me every minute of the day, I discovered a new kind of freedom.

“The noise of the world is preventing us from hearing the gentle voice within that always counsels us,” writes Matthew Kelly in “The Rhythm of Life.” “We will begin to hear this voice again only when we make a habit of withdrawing from the noise of the world and immersing ourselves in silence.”

The first thing I noticed was the absence of the sound of my own voice. There was no need to carry on ordinary conversation or to respond to something I didn’t want to think about.

Consequently, my thoughts turned inward; and my senses sharpened. I marveled at the sound of my own breath, the beat of my own heart.

One of my favorite biblical passages is when God told the prophet Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain because He would be passing by. (1 Kings 19:11-12):

“A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord – but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire – but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a still small voice.”

Like Elijah, I listen, longing to recognize the presence of the Divine.

With a heightened sense of awareness, I walked the seashore. The wind urged me forward over the uneven, rounded stones that littered the beach at high tide, insisting that it had something to show me.

For a long time, I sat on a boulder and listened to the gentle lapping of the blue-grey sea as it rhythmically raked over the pebbles.

But the Lord was not in the waves.

I meandered through the salt marsh straining to hear the whisper of the sea grass yielding to the wind.

But the Lord was not in the breeze.

Outboard engines groaned in the bay, and a small plane puttered overhead.

But the Lord was not in the din.

A fisherman cast his line into the water, and the spinning reel whirred.

But the Lord was not in the cranking sound.

Trudging through the wet sand, I heard the crunch of broken shells underfoot.

But the Lord was not in the tinkling patter.

The cries of crows and gulls continued to interrupt my thoughts, and I grew tired of their squawking.

“Lord, where are you?” I asked in my silent prayer.

“Plug in,” said a still small voice.