Thursday, August 9, 2018

Dwelling places

Trees fascinate me.

They are deeply rooted in the earth, yet always reaching toward the heavens.

Likewise, we trace our ancestry and seek the divine.

As a child, I loved to climb trees, and for most of my adult life, I have lived in a forest of towering pines.

But at the beach, the sandy soil supports sea grasses, beach roses, scrub pines and other low lying vegetation that are whipped by incessant winds.

Forty years ago, my mother planted three little maple saplings, one in the front of the beach house, one on the side and one in the back.

And they grew…

In 1991 Hurricane Bob made landfall over nearby Newport. The tree that shaded the front deck toppled just missing the house.

I remember my father cutting the limbs into chunks that we carried to a neighbor’s cottage for firewood.

Ten years ago, the tree in the back yard became diseased and insect infested.  Slowly, the leaves withered and the bark whitened, branches dropping with each subsequent windstorm. My brother cut it down, and we carried the logs home to burn in our woodstove.

A few years ago my mother once again planted a little maple sapling not far from the stump of the old tree in the back yard.

This year, the long New England winter, followed by a short spring, delayed the onset of foliage that seemed to burst open all at the same time.

Consequently, I cannot recall such a fertile summer with greenery everywhere.

Driving down country roads is like entering a tunnel, where the trees on one side of the street reach out and grab the limbs on the other.

The world around us is alive with birds and other creatures that find refuge and sustenance beneath this vibrant green canopy.

Recently the clan gathered for my mother’s birthday, and we had a tree-trimming party under the huge maple at the side of the house. It was so overgrown that it was beginning to block the road.

A stack of firewood awaits our woodstove.

The tree now covers half of the front yard like a huge beach umbrella.

“How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord,” says the Psalms.

For the first time we sit in the shade of the sapling in the back yard, now grown and reaching heavenward.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Shedding possessions

A few years ago my mother hired a carpenter to tear down the old rusty metal shed that my father had screwed together from a kit decades ago.

It was listing to the side like an old barge and leaked whenever the rain came from a certain direction.

The craftsman built a sturdy new wooden shed with two windows and clad it with gray vinyl siding. He also added a ramp for the riding lawnmower.

The two big white wooden doors swung back and fastened with hooks, offering access in and out all day long.

I remember thinking that it would be difficult to fill this massive space.

Well, fast forward three years later, and it was time to clean out the shed.

The floor was carpeted by several summers’ worth of grass carried in on the blades of the mower.

A hodgepodge of chaise lounges and aluminum chairs were propped up against the walls.

Fishing gear that had been stored on the ample shelves was scattered everywhere:  poles, life preservers, buckets, tackle boxes, spools of fishing line and nets.

Volleyballs, bocce balls, and kids’ bouncing balls of all shapes and sizes rolled across the floor.

A 20-pound bag of potting soil waited near empty flower boxes, and garden tools lined one wall:  shovel, hoe, pitchfork, scythe and rakes.

Unfortunately, there were also lots of uninvited guests: bees, wasps, hornets, ants and an unidentified colony of tiny creatures living under a turquoise tarp that were content to be sheltered from sun and rain.

While my mother snipped at an invasive vine that had wrapped itself around the sea grass fence, I dragged the aforementioned paraphernalia onto the lawn.

Then we swept until the shed was once more in pristine condition.

My husband hung brackets on the walls, and the dozen or more chairs were suspended in air.

Then we sorted and filled too many trash bags with the stuff of summers past.

Hot and dirty, I listened to the incessant waves battering the shore but ignored the siren’s call and worked nonstop until every last item was stored or shelved.

Hot and bothered, I wondered why we had collected so much clutter.

Less is more.

On this beautiful summer’s day, the Creator gave us an abundance of sunshine, soothing winds and a shimmering sea.

All we need.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The flip side of owning a beach house

This self-portrait that my mother painted in oils best describes the quintessential bliss of a summer's day at the beach – blue skies, gentle winds, endless sunshine.

It hangs in the living room of the summer house, and it is the stuff of dreams.

But the tranquility it exhibits belies the calamities that have happened here since my parents bought the land 50 years ago:

One evening around dusk with calm seas, my husband took my brother fishing in his boat. As they trawled, the rope from a lobster pot became entangled around the leg of the motor. Hours later, we called the Coast Guard. We cried and we prayed. After countless attempts diving under the boat with a knife in dark waters, my brother cut them free. The Tiverton Water Police towed them in around midnight.

Our water supply was tainted by Temik, a pesticide used in the potato field abutting our property.

Hurricane Bob tore down the huge maple tree in front of the summer house, missing the structure by a few feet.

A cloudless Sunday afternoon, my brother took my father and son on his sailboat. Out of the blue, a violent thunderstorm forced them to get to land. We called the Coast Guard. We cried and we prayed. Many hours later, they were found and towed in.

I stopped at a bookstore near the summer house and was bitten by a huge rabbit named Eliot, the patron’s pet. I sat on the couch in the beach house while the gash in my leg with telltale teeth marks throbbed. I got a tetanus shot.

Climbing on the roof of the summer house to remove the old antenna, my brother disturbed a bee hive. He climbed down the rungs of the ladder in record speed but not without incurring their wrath with numerous stings on his arms and legs.

Hurricane Irene tore down the huge maple tree in the back yard, missing the shed by a few feet.

My son was cooking on the grill when it malfunctioned. Along with the meat, his eyebrows and arm hair were singed.

My father took my brother's sailboat out on the bay while my mother played with my children on shore. After scouring the coastline for hours, we saw my father floating down the river on the hull of the sailboat. He had pulled up the centerboard, and it flipped. A kind boater towed him to shore.

One whole season we were terrorized by a pesky skunk who took up residence on our property.

My mother helped my father carry the heavy picnic table out of the shed. Inadvertently, he let go of the weight, breaking my mother’s wrist.

In addition, there have been infestations of rodents; countless mosquito, tick and dog bites; wasps in the well house; hornets in the washing machine hose; broken pipes; toilet overflows; ceiling cave-ins; bicycle falls; sunburns; and too many other mishaps to mention.

Yet, despite it all, one of the best things my parents ever did for us was to buy this little piece of land by the sea.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Coming home to the summerhouse

The sunny Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, we flung open the door of the summerhouse, the simple act culminating six months of dreaming and planning for the new season.

Yet, almost every Saturday morning since we had winterized and closed the house last October, my husband and I had returned to the place.

After a quick stop at Black Goose CafĂ© to pick up breakfast – usually a cranberry-orange or blueberry muffin or perhaps a slice of artichoke quiche, as well as cups of tea and black coffee – we drove to the beach.

Parked by a picnic table, our Honda CRV was pelted by sand, wind, snow or rain while we surveyed the changing seascapes, one bite at a time.

Then we drove to the summerhouse, and unless snowdrifts barred our passage, we pulled into the backyard and shut off the engine.

My husband braved the elements, walking the property and checking on his landlocked boat, while I sat in the silence and warmth of the vehicle, marveling at the beauty of God’s creations.

It's good to be home again...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A late winter's day beside the sea

Tired of being barn-bound, a horse takes advantage of the late February thaw.

An oyster fisherman rows to his vessel to check on his beds.

A seagull gets a bird's eye view atop a piling.

Currents create curves on the serene Sakonnet as calm as a lake.

Standing stones offer a seat from which to ponder the Creator's blessings.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter by the water

An oyster boat sits in the snow-covered Sakonnet River.
Sea gulls swim amid ice in a sheltered cove.

It seems that one could walk across the channel to Portsmouth.
God's good earth, sea and sky wear its winter face.
Beach sand awaits summer under snow drifts.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Me and the atheist

When I arrived home from work, I saw a package marked U.S. Postal Service Library Mail waiting for me on the kitchen table. I glanced at the return address with its familiar square lettering.

“Frank has sent me another book,” I told my husband. “I’ll open it after supper.”

I had first become acquainted with Frank 14 years ago when I became religion editor at a large city newspaper. I’ll never forget his first words because they became a part of my weekly conversations with him.

The phone rang like clockwork the day after the newspapers hit the streets, and I would answer: “Newsroom, Linda Andrade Rodrigues speaking,” and I would hear: “This is the atheist,” which would be followed by probing questions about the subject of my latest story.

While attending a religion journalist convention in Salt Lake City, I stayed with Mormon friends, former missionaries back home. After I wrote a column about the experience, Frank showed up in the Newsroom, and I met him for the first and only time, face to face.

That day I was covering for the editorial page editor, and he marched into her office and plied me with questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

As we were walking back to my cubicle, he said, “You’re much prettier in person than in the paper.” These were the first kind words he had ever uttered to me, and I did my best to remember the compliment when he was raking me over the coals, tearing apart my stories and what he conceived were misguided beliefs.

But over the ensuing years, Frank’s fury mellowed and was replaced by genuine inquisitiveness, and I started to look forward to his calls. He mailed me religious books that I used in my research, as well as envelopes filled with incendiary stories, written by atheists and secularists, that I immediately pitched into the trash.

When I left the newspaper, he continued to send clippings to my home, as well as an annual Christmas card and accompanying book.

So when I received the package three weeks ago, I perceived it to be an early Christmas gift from an old friend.

I tore open the package and read the note clipped to the book “Muhammad and Jesus – A Comparison of the Prophets and Their Teachings” by William E. Phipps:

“October 2017
Dear Mrs. Rodrigues,
My brother Frank who passed away September 23rd wanted you to have the enclosed book. My husband finally found it among Frank’s many books.”

It is my sincerest prayer, dear friend, that you have reached the Promised Land; and all your many questions have been answered.