Sunday, March 8, 2015

New England seaside snowscapes in March: A Photo Essay

John Ruskin said, "There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. A Saturday morning ride to the summer house revealed a different kind of good New England weather in March, while the temperature hovered at 20 degrees.

Forget the flip flops, you'll need four-wheel drive to traverse this beach.

Our Boston whaler navigates a perfect storm, a sea of snow.

Fogland State Ramp is closed for boaters but open for skiers.

Horses at a nearby farm are home on the tundra.

Garlands of snow decorate Christmas trees in March.

Picnic, anyone?

The Creator's handiwork is etched in ice at the Sapowet Nature Preserve.

Monday, February 16, 2015

While the snow falls...

A view of our barn from the bedroom window.

How many times did I lament that I was just too busy?

Well, God was listening.

For the fourth day in two weeks, we were snowed in...

“It takes an open mind and a ready heart to appreciate winter in New England,” said Gladys Taber, who wrote from her seventeenth-century farmhouse in Connecticut. “The wind blows, the snow piles deep, the car gets stuck, and pipes freeze.”

The first snow day I carried on like I was still at the office. There were so many important tasks to tick off the list. I called staff, joined a webinar, studied a new website and researched my next writing assignment.

Switching gears, I spent the second snow day as the cleaning lady. I vacuumed, dusted, reorganized the linen closet, made a pot of Boston baked beans, rearranged drawers and cleaned out the refrigerator.

The third snow day I vacuumed and vacillated, logged into another webinar and dusted the house again, did our taxes and scrubbed the bathroom floor.

“Actually we need winter, even February, which can be the worst month of all in New England,” said Taber. “We need to tighten our belts and shovel the paths, thaw the pipes…, pile the logs on the fire. Subconsciously, I think we need the discipline of the long dark cold.”

But the fourth snow day I stopped in my tracks.

Gazing out the window, I watched snow sift down like flour, painting every surface sparkling white.

“There is a strangeness about a winter morning when the temperature is zero or below,” said Taber. “Day begins with a pale glimmer along the horizon beyond the lacings of the dark branches.”

I watched a wren tucked into our rhododendron bush, where she sought shelter from the snowfall. She looked straight at me, and our eyes locked.

“It’s okay to wait out the storm and just enjoy your surroundings,” she seemed to say.

I unplugged from my cell phone and laptop… I sat in silence for a long time with our little dog cuddled in my lap…  I heard a gaggle of wild turkeys in the woods... I put a pot roast in a cast iron pot and let it simmer... I listened to music... I began knitting a prayer shawl … I read “Sacred Fire” by Ron Rolheiser for hours…

It can stop snowing, Lord.  I finally got it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Season's turning...

As of yet, the violet morning glories still cling to the front porch lattice and to summer, although we have come officially to the end of the season.

The weather has been unseasonably warm at the summer house for late October, but we know as native New Englanders that a sudden frost and freezing temperatures are imminent.

During the past few weeks we have winterized the summer house.

First we emptied the kitchen and laundry room cabinets, filling the trunk with enough groceries to suspend trips to the supermarket for a while.

Then I vacuumed all the rooms, sucking out a pail of sand hidden within carpet fibers.

Next I lifted the window screens and dropped in all the storm windows.

Finally, we emptied the refrigerator – a  freezer-full of hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, steaks, and tubs of ice cream, as well as half-filled bottles of mustard, relish, ketchup, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise and pickles.

Looking around, the place was clean and neat and sad.

What is a summer house without friends and family sprawled on the sofa, sleeping dogs curled at your feet, the sounds of football and baseball games blaring on the TV, the smells of clamboils bubbling on the stove and smoky barbecues wafting through the windows?

All that will remain is for my husband and his friend to drain the pipes. Unable to emit heat or light, the summer house will sit in cold and darkness, waiting in silence for our return next spring.

One of my favorite short stories is “The Country of the Pointed Firs” by Sarah Orne Jewett, who tells the tale of a lone woman visitor to a small coastal town in nineteenth-century Maine, where she bonds with the inhabitants and leaves regrettably at the end of the season.

Every year I feel her pain and sense of loss as we lock the door behind us.

“When I went in again, the little house had suddenly grown lonely, and my room looked empty as it had the day I came,” wrote Jewett. “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.

“As I came away on the little coastwise steamer, there was an old sea running which made the surf leap high on all the rocky shores… Presently the wind began to blow, and we struck out… and when I looked back again, the islands and the headland had run together… and all its coasts were lost to sight.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

The rhythm of life

Living by the sea, we can always expect a constant influx of family and friends at the summer house. So it is rare when I walk this stretch of beach alone.

A simply beautiful day in early October with brilliant blue skies overhead and gentle sea breezes, this day was made for a romp along the seashore.

It is low tide, and I am captivated by the frothy surf sliding toward me. But then I watch it change its mind, heading back to sea and unveiling a treasure trove of jewels: iridescent shells, rounded stones and sea glass gleaming in the sunshine.

“I like to spend my sacred hour sitting on a quiet beach, listening to the waves roll in and out,” writes Matthew Kelly in “The Rhythm of Life.” “The rhythm of the waves has a calming, soothing quality. There is a sacred connection between God and nature.”

I stop at the giant boulders that form a natural barrier, marking the midpoint of my journey. Seagulls congregate nearby, floating gracefully on calm seas.

After sitting a spell, I feel pulled in another direction. Sinking in deep sand, I climb the small incline into the Fogland Nature Preserve, a field of sea grasses bending in the wind, bunches of bushes of beach roses, and a new fall addition, clumps of bright yellow goldenrod.

Beyond lies the salt marsh where the magic happens: freshwater transforms to brackish water to saltwater, the perfect chemistry that produces an abundance of life.

Scanning the panorama before me, I see patches of farmland on rolling hills, and the blue waters of the estuary reflecting the sky.

I spent so much of my childhood at the mouth of this estuary, fishing, clamming and crabbing alongside my brother, as well as looking for wildlife in the preserve. Today a fisherman wades through the salt marsh continuously casting his line in the pulsating current and hoping for a nibble.

Whenever I am here, I ache to return to my younger self – on my hands and knees, digging with a quahog shell, searching for the prize, the plumpest clams I have seen anywhere. A few could make a pot of chowder; a half pail would provide the makings of a clam boil for family and guests.

Back in the present, I try to retrace my steps; but time has erased them as the tide sends the surf up the beach face and forces me to seek another trail.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Summer slides into autumn

Dragging my feet, I find myself in the last weekend of summer. In all my memories of summer days spent at the summer house, I cannot recall a season of such perfect weather. It is the stuff of quintessential New England: cool sunny mornings, clear cloudless days with gentle breezes, brilliant rosy sunsets and comfortable evenings.

“Summer slides so gently into autumn … that it is easy to believe there will be no end,” said New England author Gladys Taber. “Day dreams toward twilight, skies are sapphire, the tide ebbs quietly. I begin to think time itself is arrested and the green leaves will stay forever on the trees. Gardens glow with color, with late roses and with carpets of zinnias and asters.”

Even though I am in denial, I detect the winds of change. A tinge of orange colors the maple leaves in the front yard. When I walk to the beach, I bring a sweatshirt. I can count the few fuchsia beach roses that still cling to the bushes.

Yet, despite my reluctance to move on, I admit that September offers a beautiful backdrop to my days. Now there is time to pause and truly admire the Creator’s handiwork.

This is my husband’s favorite fishing season. There is a plentiful supply of scup waiting to bite on clam necks, sandworms and squid; and bluefish race up and down the coast, chasing schools of prey. No bait required – casting or trolling with a lure will hook this silvery fish that can range up to 40 inches in length and weigh up to 20 pounds.

Dashing wildly within the schools of prey, the bluefish bite, cripple and kill the small fish that do not get eaten. Charting the course from above, flocks of seagulls follow the trail and splurge on leftovers.

From my perch on a boulder, I watch the fishermen in their powerboats crank up their engines in hot pursuit of the blues; while on shore, the anglers run up and down the beach following the path of screeching gulls and jumping fish.

Then by an unseen cue, the wind picks up; and I wrap my arms about me, lingering a little longer.

“Nature, however, sets her own time schedule,” said Taber. “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.”

With my hair whipping wildly in the wind, I slowly amble back to the summer house for a cup of tea.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tiverton by sea: A photo essay

Every summer I reread "The Country of the Pointed Firs" by Sarah Orne Jewett. The first chapter, "The Return," best explains what it means to return to a much-loved place like our summer home at Fogland. She writes:

"There was something about the coast town ... which made it seem more attractive than other maritime villages ... Perhaps it was the simple fact of acquaintance with that neighborhood which made it so attaching, and gave such interest to the rocky shore ... and the few houses which seemed to be securely wedged and tree-nailed in among the ledges... These houses made the most of the seaward view ... the small-paned high windows in the peaks of their steep gables were like knowing eyes that watched the harbor and the far sea-line beyond, or looked northward all along the shore ... When one really knows a village like this and its surroundings, it is like becoming acquainted with a single person. The process of falling in love at first sight is as final as it is swift in such a case, but the growth of true friendship may be a lifelong affair."

A woman reels in a fish as we approach Nanaquaket Bridge.

Navigating the currents near Old Stone Bridge, we follow the boat "Relentless."

The view seaside of the Fogland State Beach ramp.

Passing alongside a moored fishing boat near Nanaquaket.

Chugging past Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, I remember the day I interviewed a former pastor of the congregation. As he stood at the lectern, he began reciting "The Lord's Prayer," and I joined in: "Our Father who art in Heaven hallowed be Thy name... We were two worshippers, a Protestant and a Catholic, praising God with one strong voice.
A striking sailboat with red sails skims the Sakonnet.

After a three-hour tour, we return to the slip at Standish Boatyard.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shine on...

It usually happens in midsummer.

That’s when sensory overload forces me to withdraw.

The blare of TV, ringing phones, pounding keyboards, car horns, barking dogs and the ambient noise of senseless chatter begin to scream at me.

Then the opportunity presents itself: a day off from the office, a lunch date cancellation, the postponement of a writing deadline.

Immersed in quiet, I realize how starved I am for soundlessness.

“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.”

Those who regularly lock themselves away from the deafening noise around us know that silence is not the absence of sound but the opening of a gate in the mind that is slammed shut most of the time. This portal leads to a place where chatter ceases and ambient sounds fade. Here, we satisfy the holy longing.

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 – 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 we listen, longing to recognize the presence of the Divine. We yearn for God to hear our prayers and pleas for help, but first, we must enter the silence.

I think that God speaks to us in this way, even though He sometimes wants to shake the ground under our feet and thunder, “Stop the busyness and listen! I am here...”

But instead He whispers and offers us an invitation. When we accept and give Him our undivided attention, we have an audience with our Creator, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

“Dear Lord… Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as You shine…, said Mother Teresa. “It will be You shining on others through us.”