Saturday, January 19, 2019

Frozen

January, so far, has been the stuff of childhood, offering a long stretch of sub-freezing days with little precipitation.

Consequently, everything is iced over.

"I wish I had a river I could skate away on / I wish I had a river so long / I would teach my feet to fly / I wish I had a river I could skate away on."

Those words from the winter song "River" bring back a flood of memories:

Throwing our skates over our shoulders, we walk to our special place in the woods, nature's own skating rink.

Shivering, my red-cheeked younger self sits on a boulder, pulls off my boots and slides warm feet into cold skates, laces them tightly and wobbling, I skate away...

Back in the present, Tiverton is frozen.

The Sakonnet River shimmers with slivers of ice. Seagulls walk and nest on Nanaquaket Pond, instead of swim. 

And all these years later, I am still lured to special spaces of the Creator's design.

Quintessentially, New England, Nanaquaket Pond reflects the sun..
Birds on ice. No skates needed -- sea gulls slide.
Coated with ice, the Nonquit Fish Ladder sparkles.
The inlet that leads to the estuary is packed with ice.
Sea grasses cling tightly to the sand bank as winter winds blow.


Ducks congregate in cold waters, avoiding the ice..

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Playfulness


On foggy winter weekend mornings, I hide at the beach.

Some people run away to the circus.

I ran off to the theater.

Last fall, I spent 32.5 hours holed away in the black-walled, cavernous confines of the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Alumnae Hall at Wellesley College.

Taught by a seasoned director of critically acclaimed plays, I, along with ten budding playwrights, sat onstage around a rectangular table armed solely with a copy of Jeffrey Hatcher's "The Art & Craft of Playwriting" and our imaginations.

The class came with a warning: The material presented, discussed and written will contain a range of human behavior from ugly to beautiful, shocking to tender, silly to mortifying, bad to good. These works of art will, with intention, provoke strong emotions and evoke strong memories and associations.”

By the end of the course, we had written and read aloud 50 pages of our own scripts and literally became the playwright of one of our plays performed by the acting class.

This is an excerpt from my one-act play “Better Angels.” The actors were amazing. It is a true story based on a newspaper interview I conducted many years ago. The names are fictitious.

LESLIE: The telephone pole was inside the car; my feet were in the engine compartment. I remember not being able to feel my legs. I panicked because I couldn’t catch my breath.

 (Leslie’s eyes fill with tears.)

LESLIE: I actually saw my life flash before my eyes at the moment of impact. I remember seeing family members who had passed on. I heard their voices calling me.

KATE: Oh, my God, Leslie! You were dying.

LESLIE: Then I saw a hand coming through the twisted metal, and I reached for it. She told me she was a nurse. I told her about the voices. She told me not to listen to them. I was going to be fine. It wasn’t my time yet.

(Kate wipes away tears.)

LESLIE: It took more than an hour for the emergency personnel to cut me out of the car with the Jaws of Life. All the while, I kept asking for the nurse who had promised not to leave me. But the paramedics told me that there was nobody there and that they would take care of me.

(Leslie cries. Kate reaches for her hand.)

LESLIE: Later I found out that my legs and pelvis were shattered. I had massive internal injuries and bleeding, as well as a blood clot. I received Last Rites.

(Leslie suddenly stands up and walks around the room.)

LESLIE: I spent three months in the hospital’s trauma unit, and it took a year of intensive physical therapy for me to walk again.

 (Kate is visibly shaken by the revelation. Her phone rings, and she lets it go to voicemail. Leslie composes herself and goes on.)

LESLIE: A short time after my discharge from the hospital, I arranged to meet the paramedics who had saved my life. They couldn’t believe I was there. They assumed I wasn’t going to make it. Once again, I asked them about the nurse. They told me there was a witness walking his dog in the woods, but there was no nurse.

KATE: No nurse?

LESLIE: The paramedic said that it may have been my mind playing games with me. My body was in shock.
(Leslie sits down.)

LESLIE: Kate, I know that a guardian angel came to me on the night of the accident. I still feel she’s watching over me. It’s a sense of relief – almost like an extra security blanket. I always feel protected.
KATE: I believe you.

CURTAIN



Friday, January 4, 2019

Come and see

It's ten days after Christmas, and the warm feelings we associate with the holidays are beginning to fade. So what now?

Come and see.

Sit a spell.
Hang out with close friends.
Do whatever floats your boat.
Horse around.
Reflect on God's blessings.
Get your ducks in a row.


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...