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.”

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer is sweet

Fuchsia beach roses bloom in the sand, flowers in the desert.

Driving to the summer house, I have a hard time keeping my eyes on the road. Bright green vegetation has sprouted everywhere, and flowers in a spectrum of colors line the countryside and spill from cottage gardens.

“June in New England is like a lover’s dream made tangible. Color and scent and sound; the hills indeed sing,” wrote Gladys Taber in “The Book of Stillmeadow.” Dawn comes so fresh and cool, and dusk flows like a still river into the deep sea of night. Noons are tranquil gold. There is nothing stern or sober about our Northern countryside now; even the grey rock ledges are gently blurred with silvery green lichens, and in the great cracks time has chipped out, a thousand tiny plants get a precarious hold.”

Indeed, this is the kind of day that comes to mind in the heart of winter: a benevolent sun, brilliant blue skies, gentle winds and tranquil seas reflecting the Creator’s handiwork.

Fuchsia beach roses bloom in the sand, flowers in the desert.

The huge maple tree in our front yard is so heavy with new growth that walking beneath it is like entering a deep forest shrouded from sunlight and carpeted with thick spongy grass.

Inside the summer house we throw open all the windows, as the salty air comes streaming in.

Then we head out to the shed in search of garden tools to contribute to the abundance of nature around us. The pitchfork is missing a tine, but we begin overturning the earth in the tiny kitchen garden at the back of the shed. The fertile soil comes alive with pink earthworms disturbed from their hiding places. We rake, hoe and plant the tomatoes, while the purple chive blossoms wave in the wind.

Medieval anchoress Julian of Norwich wrote: “Be a gardener. / Dig a ditch, / toil and sweat, / and turn the earth upside down / and seek the deepness / and water the plants in time. / Continue this labor / and make sweet floods to run / and noble and abundant fruits to spring. / Take this food and drink / and carry it to God / as your true worship.”

We sit in the shade, read and chat while we listen to the music of birdsong and the distant sloughing of the surf. 

Summer is sweet.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Car trouble

Sitting in the summer house with friends yesterday, we told stories. I shared this tale of a misadventure many years ago…

I heard the engine roar as my husband waited for me in his new purchase, a 1977 Corvette. As I slid into the car, I grabbed onto the seat belt and strapped it firmly across my hips. Making a road hugging turn, we headed to a wedding.

When we arrived at the church, I pushed the release button on the seat belt; but it held secure. Then my husband leaned over and pushed the button, grabbing onto the belt and jerking it.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’m coming around.”

Opening the door, my husband knelt on the body frame and pulled with all his strength but to no avail.

“Listen, honey,” my husband said as he opened the T-top. “Maybe you can squeeze out of the belt, and I can climb on the roof and lift you out.”

“I’ll try,” I said feebly.

I pushed on the floorboards with my black high heels and willed my body upward. But the belt dug deeper into my flesh and would not let me go.

I began to panic. In a few minutes the bride would be walking down the aisle.

My husband lost his patience and began tugging with all his might. If the belt wouldn’t release, then he’d rip it right out. But it only rubbed and burned its pattern into my skin.

And that’s when I began to hyperventilate. I leaned out the car door as far as I could, gasping for air.

“Isn’t there a scissors or knife in the trunk?” I panted.

“Corvettes don’t have trunks,” he said, pacing up and down the sidewalk.

“Well maybe you could knock on a door and ask for something to cut me out of this thing,” I shrieked.

Just then a carpet company van came down the street.

Without thinking, my husband ran after it, hailing the driver. He pulled over and rolled down the window, and my husband blurted out, “I need a knife for my wife.”

Calming down, my husband began to explain…

“Don’t cut my dress!” I wailed, when my husband returned and sliced the belt with the borrowed carpet knife.

I was free.

Although we were very late, we saw that the bride was still standing by the church door.

Sitting in the pew, I read the wedding invitation: “Two lives, two hearts joined in friendship, united forever in love.”

“Just like us,” I thought to myself. “And I’m also joined to his car.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

A world loved into being

Ah, springtime… It’s been a long time coming this year. But finally after many false starts, a warm sunny day arrives; and it is time to de-winterize the summer house.

While my husband works on a broken water line, I skip outside to look for spring.

Wild white and orchid pansies greet me on the front lawn, and my first thought is to delay my husband from taking out the mower. I imagine fairies hiding behind their tiny perfect petals, but more likely a colony of awakening insects inhabits this colorful garden.

Laden with buds, the branches of the maple tree wave to me in the wind. I feel their urgency, the yellow pockets yearning to unfurl against a backdrop of bright blue sky.

In the backyard the carpet of deep green lawn is interrupted by patches of dandelions. I remember the delight of holding tiny bouquets of the bright yellow flowers in my six-year-old hands.

Walking over to the stone wall, I admire the row of daffodils in full bloom. Then I spot a door in a nearby tree. Perhaps wee folk live here.

One of my favorite opening lines in literature is this one:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien. … “It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors... The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.”

Tolkien biographer Charles Moseley writes: “Tolkien’s Christian understanding of the nature of the world was fundamental to his thinking and to his major fiction. Neither propaganda nor allegory, at its root lies the Christian model of the world loved into being by a Creator, whose creatures have the free will to turn away from the harmony of that love to seek their own will and desires, rather than seeking to give themselves in love to others. This world is one of cause and consequence, where everything matters, however seemingly insignificant.”