Monday, February 20, 2017

The Chipmunk's Tale


It was the first week of the New Year. The Christmas tree was still up, and the manger awaited the arrival of The Three Kings on Epiphany.

Unbeknownst to us, another visitor would be lodging at our house for the next three days.

Similar to the fantastic journey Alice experienced in Wonderland – falling down a well into a strange country – a chipmunk romping on our snow-covered roof fell into our chimney.

Landing in the fireplace, the rodent thought he had died and gone to heaven. There in the middle of the room stood a pine tree sparkling with ethereal light. The bitter cold had vanished, and instead the air was as comfortable as a spring day. Best of all, two bowls brimming with fresh water and Purina dog chow waited nearby.

Yet it wasn’t long before he regretted his fall from grace.

Immediately sensing the intruder, the dog chased the chipmunk down the hallway and into a closet.

Hearing the commotion, I was sure a field mouse was in the house, not an uncommon occurrence when you live in the woods in the country. I also knew from past experience that it would find its way out again or die trying.

However, we closed the bedroom door that night and went to bed with a false sense of security.

The next day after work, I wrapped myself in a soft blanket and began to read. Dozing off for a while, I awoke still in a dream.

Across from me on the side of the television, a chipmunk stared at me while he crunched on a Purina dog chow nugget he had snatched from the dog’s dish.

It was about nine inches long and four inches tall with reddish brown above and a gray strip from its crown to back. Its sides had a whitish stripe edged with black, and its belly was white. Its tail was long and fluffy.

Half asleep, I addressed the rodent.

“I know you like it here,” I said, while it stared at me and daintily nibbled. “These are nice digs, but you can’t stay. Chipmunks hibernate in winter.”

Then the dog awoke, picked up the scent and, barking furiously, chased the chipmunk under the couch. Slipping by the dog, the rodent ran down the stairs and disappeared under the door into the basement.

For the second night, we closed our bedroom door.

The next day I was about to start the vacuum cleaner when the chipmunk ran past me. I screamed, and my husband, who was outside on the deck with the dog, came to my rescue.

With the dog in hot pursuit, the chipmunk circled the dining room table. I ran down the hall, closing my office door, bedroom and bathroom doors. I screamed as they flew past me. But this time the chipmunk was cornered.

Buddy was growling inches from the rodent’s head, and I kept screaming – perhaps irrationally – “Don’t hurt it!” After all, this was one of God's tiny helpless creatures.

My husband put on his gloves and grabbed the chipmunk, which was intent on biting his captor. Running onto the deck, he opened the door and threw his tiny quarry into the snow. The chipmunk was stunned for a few minutes, then ran off, leaving tracks in the snow.

We slept with the bedroom door open.   


Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas portraits in winter white


The weekend before Christmas and all through the malls, everyone was stirring in a world of bright lights and noise. Conversely, the Creator painted a different picture. 
With snow lightly falling in a backdrop of leaden skies, the seashore beckoned.



My only companion, a sole sea gull, braved
 the cold New England winds.

Snow covered sand creeps up to the water's edge.

One continuous wave slides into shore.

"Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on," are the words to a
 popular Christmas song. This Sakonnet inlet would do fine.

A red and green barn is surrounded by snowy fields.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fogland seascapes at season's end

Wearing a warm wool coat, I stand in the middle of the salt marsh.

A perfect horseshoe-shaped pool brushes the shore.

Some fleeting storm clouds shroud the sun, casting dark shadows.

An oyster boat is the sole craft in the harbor.

The oyster fisherman prepares his boat for winter.

A sand dune covered in fall foliage sits at water's edge.

Bobbing on the surf are these ducks in a row.

Longing for children, the playground yearns for spring.

Sea grasses wave in the wind.

A hardy soul braces the cold in his open boat.

A fall flower garden, yellow petals dance in sandy soil.

Friday, September 23, 2016

'Summer's lease hath all too short a date'

Sanderlings congregate at the water's edge.

There is a change in the air at the summer house. The sky is an intense blue, the sun warm on my shoulders, and the cool breeze oh so pleasant; but they signal the approach to the end of the season and prelude to winter.

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date,” wrote William Shakespeare in Sonnet 18. My sentiments exactly.

Gladys Taber chronicled the passing of the season from the perch of her pre-Colonial farmhouse in rural Connecticut.

“I know fall is here, although the world is still green with summer,” she said. “And I feel an urgency to gather in all the loveliness of the past blazing days and star-cool nights and keep them forever.”

We grill hamburgers and eat them inside at the dining room table. They taste even better, if possible, than the ones we’ve enjoyed all season long because we know these simple feasts are numbered. My father is cold, and he shuts all the windows.

After lunch, my mother and I sit in the sun dappled by the old tree in the backyard. We chat and begin reading magazines, but before long we have goose bumps on our arms and return to the warmth of the house.

A short time later, however, we grow restless spending such a lovely day inside. We slip into our sweatshirts and head to the beach, but it no longer resembles the summer seashore. There is a new stone pathway that leads down to the water. Where there was sand, there is now a sea of stones stretching across the entire beach.

We sit on a flat-topped boulder and watch sanderlings in parties of ten to twelve run ahead of oncoming waves. These small, eight-inch members of the sandpiper family have a white head and underbelly and gray upper parts. Their bill is short, their back heavily spotted and the bend of their wing is black. They cluster together and move in tandem.

As I approach, I startle them; and they take to the air in unison landing farther down the beach. Then once again, on spindly legs they race in nature’s dance dodging the waves.

Sandpipers are such interesting creatures. Their mysterious comings and goings seem to me “much ado about nothing”, as they hop, lunge and fly about with nervous energy.

Yet I think that sometimes we long for the security of a sandpiper’s life, congregating together in groups, following the leader, choosing a seemingly happy, carefree existence.

“Most of us spend a lot of time seeking happiness and always feel that we shall achieve it magically,” wrote Taber. “If we are fortunate, we realize at some point in our search that we are taking the wrong path. Happiness is, in the end, an attitude of mind. It involves acceptance of reality and a warm appreciation of such simple things as a friend looking happy when we meet unexpectedly or the way the first star comes out at twilight.”

The day is waning, and the cool sea breeze biting. Yet I linger. I am content to watch the sanderlings in their habitat, weaving their magical dance.

Their stay is short. By October, they will be gone. It is rare to see them here in winter.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11 – The day that changed everything


NOTE FROM BLOGGER: In remembrance of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, I am reprinting the post I wrote five years ago. Tragically, terrorism has escalated around the world since that fateful day.

I remember in surreal detail that Tuesday morning (fifteen) years ago.

While driving to my job at a daily newspaper, I listened to the breaking news story on the radio: Two commercial passenger jets hijacked from Logan had just struck the World Trade Center.

America was under attack.

When I arrived in the Newsroom, the reporters were gathered around the televisions, and I joined them.

We saw Manhattan burning, the Twin Towers reduced to rubble, thousands of people running through smoke-filled streets. A third jet hit the Pentagon, and a fourth plane heading for Washington crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

We would later learn that President Bush was aboard Air Force One heading to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, home of the Strategic Command, which controls the United States’ nuclear weapons.

My assignment that Tuesday was to edit a special supplement, but I abandoned the project and filed into the conference room with my colleagues.

“What the (expletive) is going on?” said the executive editor, as he tried to wrap his head around what was happening. There were a lot of veteran reporters in the room, and there was dead silence.

But it was our job to inform the public, and our reflexes kicked in. The editor started to assign stories. He told me to connect the dots, to tie this rampage with the first attack on American soil at Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier.

We went back to our cubicles and started making calls.

I found a former Army Air Corps mechanic, a Purple Heart recipient who was stationed at Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the airfield. He had been on duty all night and was going to bed at the time of the early morning raid. He told me that he ran to get a rifle in the hangar, and it was hit three times. He said that 200 men died there, and the planes, barracks and hangar were heavily damaged. He also saw the Arizona being bombed. More than 2,000 servicemen would lose their lives in the harbor. Yet he pointed out that Pearl Harbor was a military target and an act of war, but the World Trade Center victims were civilians.

I also spoke to a widow, whose husband was an aviation machinist mate first class aboard the Helena on the “Day of Infamy.” She said that he was just getting out of bed, putting on his shoes and planning to go to church when a bomb hit amidships. She told me that he ran up to the deck, and bullets from a Japanese plane flew over his head and killed two men. She said that what her husband most remembered about that day was the confusion and disbelief at the surprise attack.

I wrote the story and turned it in on deadline.

The following weekend I returned to the summer house in Fogland. September is a beautiful time of year, and everything was the same – the Sakonnet still lapped the shore, children played on the beach and the sounds of laughter were everywhere. But everything had changed. I no longer felt safe.

(Ten) years ago, I was on a fellowship for religion journalists at Brandeis University in Waltham. One of the guest speakers was a journalist whose beat was Homeland Security. After the lectures, the college hosted a reception, and I had the opportunity to speak to him.

“Do you think we are safe from future terrorist attacks?” I asked him.

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “We have stopped every terrorist attack since 9-11. But the odds are that we can’t be right 100 percent of the time.”

It is a sobering thought.
  



  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tropical Storm Irene and the tale of two towns


Sitting in the sand near the gently lapping surf on this sunny Sunday afternoon, it is hard to imagine what it was like here five years ago when Tropical Storm Irene slammed into our coastline.

Most of all, I remember the sounds and the silence…

After listening to the hurricane warnings, my husband and I had anchored our boat to the summer house and secured all my parents’ belongings. They had been there the day before, and my mother had left in tears.

Some of our neighbors had boarded up their windows, and most of the residents had already evacuated. When we drove away, we understood the very real possibility that upon our return, everything might be gone: the summer house destroyed and our yard underwater.

Back at our Massachusetts’ home in the deep woods, we had other worries. Our house sits across the street from a pond and is surrounded by 100-foot pine trees.

When we bought our home, we were amazed that our house was wired to an ancient-looking gasoline-powered generator that sat in the garage. But as soon as we moved in, we realized that it was a necessity. We lost power in good weather, as well as in bad, including once for five days after a snowstorm and after the onslaught of Hurricanes Gloria and Bob.

But then the electric company upgraded our area, and the generator sat unused in the corner of the garage for more than a decade and atrophied, no longer able to generate a spark.

When we finally decided to invest in a new generator, we hired an electrician to bring all the wiring up to code. And there it sat for two years, never tested, and we wondered whether our money would have been better spent on other upgrades around the house.

With the approach of the hurricane, everything changed. The generator was a godsend. We wheeled it out of the garage onto the driveway and filled it with gasoline.

My husband and I awakened early that Sunday morning of the storm and went to the early service. As the wind whistled around the country church and the rain splattered the stained-glass windows, I read the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

“I say to myself, I will not mention Him, / I will speak his name no more. / But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, / imprisoned in my bones; / I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

Tropical Storm Irene was barreling up our coastline. God help us.

Back at home, we heard the sounds of the wind ripping through the woods, felling limbs and tossing them everywhere. The power kept blinking on and off, but after a half hour in the darkness, my husband pulled the cord on the generator and switched the electrical box over to emergency power. The refrigerator started to hum and the lights flickered.

It wasn’t long before we learned that a tree had fallen on our next-door neighbor’s home. A short way up the street, a massive tree had toppled taking with it all the power, cable and telephone lines.

I called my parents. The apple tree that had graced their front yard ever since they bought the property in 1947 had just split in half.

As soon as the tropical storm passed, my son drove to Fogland. Unbelievably, the summer house had survived intact, and all the trees were still standing.

In the evening we unplugged. The windows were open, and we heard sporadic gusts of wind; but without the buzz of household appliances, it was eerily quiet. I lit three candles and placed them around the room.

For my birthday, my family had bought me a new e-reader. Long into the night, I read the battery-powered Nook, the LED screen the only beacon of light in a world of darkness.

As I drifted off to sleep that night five years ago, I thought about how vulnerable we all are. But I knew then, as I know now, that whenever we speak His name, we are never alone. We always have back-up. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Drifting



Walking along the beach, I came upon a most unusual find. A gnarled tree trunk intertwined with roots had drifted in with the tide, the largest piece of driftwood that I have ever seen along this coastline.

Driftwood is perfectly named. Propelled by winds, waves and tides, it is wood that drifts in the currents and washes up on the beach. Sometimes it provides shelter for birds and plants or becomes the foundation for sand dunes.

For me, the driftwood became a metaphor for a mid-July state of mind.

The start of summer brought with it a frenzy of activities. But by the middle of summer, like the driftwood, many of us yearn for unstructured time to just float along with no sense of direction. We crave escape, to hide from humanity for just a little while.

I identify these feelings when my creativity starts to wane. The words jumble together in my mind, and I have to push and pull them into meaning. I know I’m burning out, and I have to get away.

For our vacation, my husband and I head to New Hampshire and the sanctuary of the White Mountains. Like the sea, the mountains are a very spiritual place.

The pilgrimage reminds me of the biblical passage when Jesus withdraws from the crowds. In Luke 9:28, the evangelist tells us that “He … went up onto a mountain to pray.”

St. Augustine wrote that “the thought of You (God) stirs us so deeply ... our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”

It is this peace my soul seeks.

I never tire of gazing at the mountains and listening to the surge of ice-cold streams tumbling down the cliffs.

I know this particular part of New Hampshire so well that I am no longer a tourist. Every turn in the road is familiar, and the wind in the pines a wordless prayer.

Reading in this idyllic spot, I find harbor in other seekers’ words; but for one week I resist the urge to string my own words together. My mind will lie fallow in order to replenish itself.

By the end of the week, however, my thoughts turn toward home. I feel that familiar ache for Fogland and the rush and rhythm of the waves.

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering,” wrote St. Augustine. 

We are spiritual seekers on a quest filled with wonder. The place to begin the journey is within.