Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Daffodils in the snow

As New Englanders, our roots are deeply planted; but like our towering pines in the wind, we tend to bend. We adapt no matter the weather.

The last weekend in January, my husband and I headed to the summer place. Bright sunshine and balmy air belied the season.

Pulling into the backyard, I noticed that the daffodils, sheltered by the stone wall, had broken through the hard earth and were ready to bloom.

While I walked around the yard, I yearned to open the shed, grab a lawn chair and sit with my face turned toward the sun.

We drove down the street, parked on the beach, cranked down the windows and stared at the Creator’s handiwork. Reflecting the blue sky, the Sakonnet was as calm as a lake in June.

I jumped out of the cab and sunk into the soft sand. With the warm wind at my back, I walked along the water’s edge, longing to kick off my shoes.

After a long absence, I reluctantly returned to the truck.

Fast forward, ten days …

First came the forecast: The meteorologists at New England Cable News told us to expect 17 inches of snow in our neck of the woods.

Eight hours and eight inches later, wet, sticky snow covered everything as far as the eye, in limited visibility, could see.

I had filled the bird feeder before the storm, and the only visitors we received that day were cheerful chickadees that whistled “peter-peter-peter” while darting back and forth from birdseed to bush.

When the snow stopped, my husband ventured out into the dark to plow the driveway. On one of his last passes near the barn, he heard a loud crack. He was sure that a hundred-foot pine tree would topple during the night.

Consequently, we slept in the living room, since our bedroom was in the path of the suspected tree. The next morning my husband found the huge limb that had smacked the roof of the barn before breaking into pieces on the ground. Thank God, the tree was sound.

Today, three days later, the second blizzard hit.

This morning we lost power as soon as the first flakes began to circle in the 40- to 50-mile-an-hour gusts. For the first time this season, the generator hummed.

It is now 10 p.m., and the flakes are still falling. We will dig ourselves out tomorrow, and I think of those daffodils, just yearning to poke a hole in all that snow.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Snow day sojourn

An enchanted forest beckons etched by the Creator's artistry.
Out of the wind against a stonewall, a horse surveys its domain.
Framed by sea and sky, a couple walks their dog.
An overturned blue boat awaits summer under a blanket of snow.
The horse is out of the barn covered in a colorful blue blanket.
Glorious red berries sparkle in the sun.
The oyster farmer eyes his boat from the warmth of his truck. 
"Pardon, me. Do you have a carrot?"
Sand and snow create a mythical glacier.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

'There are better things ahead than any we leave behind'

A couple seeks sea glass on this blustery, overcast New Year's Day.

Time marches on.

“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road, or a secret gate,” said J. R. R. Tolkien.

Shortly, Fogland will wear its winter wardrobe of snow and ice; and arctic winds will blow. 

Yet come summer, cars, trucks and trailers will cover this horseshoe-shaped cove; and the shack will be open for beach passes.

Boaters towing trailers will wait their turn as they back down the ramp and release their sail and power boats into the Sakonnet.

Windsurfers will careen across the waves.

Children will wade into the water, splashing and screaming with delight.

Dogs will trot by with their owners.

Colorful beach towels will resemble an old-fashioned piecework quilt, awaiting the swimmers return.

Fishermen will cast from the Point into the swift current, hoping to catch the big one.

This place will be teeming with life.

But for now, the beach in January is a blank slate just like a new 2016 calendar with 12 months of empty pages.

“What we call the end is also a beginning. The end is where we start from,” said T. S. Eliot.

We start over and begin anew. 

“What the new year will bring, we cannot know,” said New England author Gladys Taber. “And I think as the new year begins, I might well do some pruning in my own life, keeping the essentials, the real values, and letting go the part that is no longer contributing to the growing time of my spirit.”

Today as I walk along this Rhode Island beach, I give thanks for the gift of another year. The cold, biting wind ushers me along. 

“There are better things ahead than any we leave behind,” said C. S. Lewis.

We just need to take the next step.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I saw three ships on Christmas Day

It is a New England Christmas by the sea.

All is calm. All is bright.

The Sakonnet is tranquil stretching in a blanket of blue to Middletown, Newport and beyond.

An old English Christmas carol comes to mind.

“I saw three ships come sailing in, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I saw three ships come sailing in, / On Christmas Day in the morning.”

There is not a boat in sight, but I imagine three.

“The Virgin Mary and Christ were there, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; / The Virgin Mary and Christ were there, / On Christmas Day in the morning.”

The Gospel according to Luke tells us:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed… every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem – because he was of the house and lineage of David – To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

“O they sailed into Bethlehem, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; / O they sailed into Bethlehem, / On Christmas Day in the morning.”

The lyrics mention the ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea about 20 miles away.

“And all the bells on earth shall ring, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; / And all the bells on earth shall ring, / On Christmas Day in the morning.”

I hear the ships’ bells ringing four times. The strikes indicate the hour aboard a ship and regulate the sailors’ watches. The strikes do not match the number of the hour. Instead, there are eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch. Do you hear what I hear?

“And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; / And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing, / On Christmas Day in the morning.”

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

“And all the souls on earth shall sing, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; / And all the souls on earth shall sing, / On Christmas Day in the morning.”

Whether we arrive by donkey, camel, ship, sleigh or jumbo jet, we find Him. Christ comes to us today.

“Then let us all  rejoice again, / On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; /Then let us all rejoice again, / On Christmas Day in the morning." 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Making a list and checking it twice

A man parks his car at the beach, opens the door and two large fluffy dogs exit. Unleashed, they bound over the open sand, tasting their freedom.

I am here for the same reason.

It is an unseasonably warm, windless December morning. The Sakonnet is as calm as a mountain lake, not a ripple graces its surface.

As I adjust to the tranquility around me, I feel the strain of the past week lessen its hold, and I begin to ponder.

There are so many wonderful things to experience during the holiday season. But like the contents of Santa’s sack, the trappings of an American Christmas can be a mixed bag.

We feel overwhelmed as the stark realities of contemporary life brush against our unrealistic expectations to recreate the traditions of Christmases past.

Moreover, most revelers reach a state of exhaustion as they tick off their lists.

Buy a tree, carry it home, trim it and water it. Check. Decorate the front of the house, trees and bushes with hundreds of lights. Check. Put together a gift list and shop. Check. Visit church bazaars and craft fairs. Check. Locate the Christmas card list, update names, address the envelopes and write special handwritten messages inside. Check. Shop some more. Check. Write down a list of ingredients for Christmas baking and holiday meals. Check. Shop some more. Check. Bake breads, cookies, fruitcakes and plum puddings. Check. Shop some more. Check. Watch Christmas parades and movies. Check. Listen to Christmas music on CDs, on the computer and the car radio. Check. Shop some more. Check. Bring the children to see Santa at the local mall. Check. Shop some more. Check. View the Christmas displays of community trees, lighted shrines and neighbors’ front yards. Check. Shop some more. Check. Attend Christmas concerts, plays and parties. Check. Shop some more. Check. Visit nursing facilities and homes of elderly friends to spread Christmas cheer. Check. Finish shopping. Check. Wrap all the presents. Check. Prepare and serve Christmas dinner for twenty…


The owner whistles, and the dogs flee to their master. I must go as well. There are still a lot of unchecked items on my list.

Driving home, I notice a flock of geese skimming gracefully in a brook at the side of the road. It is a calming pastoral scene. But shortly, they will take flight on the long journey south.

Perhaps, the best way to celebrate Christmas is to seek a gentle balance. Like the ebb and flow of the salt marsh, we need the bustle and the breather, as well as the reality check.

Then in time, the flurry of the festival and its quiet aftermath will meld into another long cherished memory. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving in our neck of the woods

Why did the wild turkeys cross the street? Because it is Thanksgiving, and they have a long memory. Turkey is on the menu, and the Pilgrims’ ancestors live here.

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors,” wrote Pilgrim Edward Winslow to a friend in England in 1621. “The four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.”

To celebrate that first Thanksgiving Day, hunters went out into the vast forests and fields and returned with turkeys, which were abundant in their neck of the woods, as well as wood pigeons, partridges, geese and ducks.

Living in rural southern New England not far from Plymouth Plantation, we see and hear wild turkeys every day. We brake for flocks of them, taking their sweet time as they saunter across the street. They forage in our yards or visit our bird feeders. The other day one of them climbed the brick path to our front steps, and I was waiting for the bell to ring.

We awake most mornings to the familiar gobbling sound, which can be heard a mile away. They roost at night in the top of the one-hundred-foot pine trees, where they sleep protected from prey.

Those who have only seen turkeys wrapped in white packaging in the frozen food section of the supermarket would be amazed at their size. They are huge. Males span four-feet high; and females, three-feet. They have powerful legs and can run up to 25 miles per hour. In flight they can travel top speeds of 55 miles per hour.

Frankly, we give them free rein because if we confront them, we fear they will remember the Pilgrims and plot revenge.

One of my neighbors, a kind woman and animal lover, lost her flower garden this year when they gained ground. She told me that she carries a big red rake that she waves at them in defiance, trying to shoo them away.

Consequently, they move on temporarily but seem to like her place best, climbing or flying over the fences to recapture the territory.

This Thanksgiving turkeys are everywhere, but most often found on our plates.

Pilgrim Edward Winslow said it best: “And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” 

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.