Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rainy day lament

It’s the beginning of the end.

Despite the drizzle, my husband and I climb into our Dodge Ram and make the 45-minute drive to the summer house.

We order a hearty breakfast at Four Corners Grille, and looking outside the windows brimming with boxes of fuchsia flowers, I notice the town coming to life. Farmers set up tents at the Saturday market, proprietors of the tiny shops prepare for the start of weekend business, and soon the flag will appear outside the Tiverton Union Public Library, the perfect place to while away a rainy afternoon.

We watch a horse grazing in the pasture on Neck Road. The grass is still green, but the leaves are already beginning to change.

Descending into a tangible veil of mist on Fogland Road, we take the bumpy dirt path to the beach, slowly navigating a huge hole filled with rainwater.

We park on the deserted beach. The Sakonnet is gray reflecting cloudy skies, and light winds cause ripples instead of waves.

It is high tide, but there are no boats at the ramp on this late September day. In the distance there are two pleasure boats anchored to their moorings.

We drive up High Hill Road and weave up and down the tiny streets of our neighborhood. There are quite a few cottages for sale, but it is natural at the seaside to have turnover.

Renters come and renters go, and homes change hands especially at season’s end. Just like the changeable sea, the population is in flux. But next spring, God willing, we can count on a mix of new and familiar faces, folks who will enjoy their brief sojourn here as much as we do.

The summer house looks forlorn on this dreary day. The maple has lost half its foliage, and brown crinkled leaves carpet the front yard.

I button my raincoat, slip the hood on and sink into the spongy lawn. Checking the kitchen garden behind the shed, I find three green tomatoes still clinging to the leafless plants, which I will leave for another day. But I snap off a small green pepper and slip it into my pocket.

Reluctantly, we leave the summer house, passing through a wet world glistening in the haze.

October beckons.

On this misty fall morning, the season’s end is in sight.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Let's talk turkey

Well, it’s official. Today is the first day of autumn.

Looking out the window of my Massachusetts home, I spot a bevy of wild turkeys under the clothesline in my neighbor’s yard. I run for the camera, quietly lift the screen and shoot, just before they scamper out of view.

A common sight in my neck of the woods, wild turkeys forage in our yards and in the nearby pine, maple and oak woods. They sometimes even visit the bird feeder. At night, they roost in our trees.

The four-foot male is dark brown, but the feathers look an iridescent coppery green at close range. His flight feathers are black with a band of white. His bare head is red and sometimes blue, while a black “beard” hangs from his chest. His legs are red.

Similar to the male, the female is about three-feet tall with a smaller head.

Wild turkeys once were abundant in these parts, but they were wiped out as forests were cleared. With the return of forests, they were reintroduced successfully.

Around here, we brake for turkeys. Why did the turkey cross the street? Because he’s back.

While I write this, I glance out the window and catch some turkeys pecking near another neighbor’s woodpile.

It is wonderful to have a window into their world, but at the same time I know it is hunting season; and Thanksgiving is just two months away. I always breathe a sigh of relief when they round up the little ones and return into the deep woods. The naked eye cannot follow their progress for long. Nature has equipped them with a coat of many colors that blends into their surroundings.

I spot another kind of forager at Seapowet, upriver from our summer house near Fogland Beach. Two women fill a plastic bag with their pickings, which look like periwinkles. Some men in waders are in the water digging for quahogs.

Interestingly, the beach is one place where we revert to our inner animal. We look for food, head down, scanning our habitat. We leave with pails of foodstuffs, pockets bulging, hands full.

Back at Fogland, I sit on the beach next to some seagulls. We have a bird’s-eye view of the gently soughing Sakonnet. We’re looking for the splash of smaller prey fleeing bluefish.

Birds of a feather flock together.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

September song

A rainy Saturday morning during the last week of summer offers ample time to ponder.

September is one of the loveliest months of the year at our Fogland summer house by the sea, but it heralds a time of radical change.

Nineteenth-century New England poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote:

“The summer comes and the summer goes; / Wild-flowers are fringing the dusty lanes, / The swallows go darting through fragrant rains, / Then, all of a sudden – it snows.”

The light is crystal clear most September mornings, instead of muted by August’s early morning haze and blankets of fog. The wind is still warm, but there is a nip in the air.

I walk the beach in late afternoon wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. There are occasional swimmers and sunbathers, but most folks are content to just sightsee or search for sea glass at low tide.

Sailboats and powerboats dot the Sakonnet, skimming the waters and dodging windsurfers, buoys and lobster pots. A fleet of fishing boats is anchored in the bay.

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.

Back at the summer place, I no longer seek shelter from the hot sun under the shade of the maple tree. I sit in the sunshine until it becomes too cold and uncomfortable, then I reluctantly go inside.   

I know that from now on the days are numbered.

“As summer wanes, we cherish every mild dreamy day,” wrote Gladys Taber, who chronicled her days from Still Cove on Cape Cod. “I love the soft blue haze, I know summer still walks the lanes, but the frosty slipper of autumn is just behind.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Me and the Mormons

Lifting the front of her brown peasant-style skirt, Gaye began filling it with stones, rounded by rolling to and fro in the constant ebb and flow of tides. Wedged between brown, gray and white stones, bits of sea glass sparkled in the sun.

As I watched her collect her treasures, my mind flew back to the first time we met a decade ago.

I was the new religion editor at the newspaper, and I received a call from Mormon missionaries requesting an interview. In college I had learned all about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “The Book of Mormon” and the Prophet Joseph Smith, but I had never spoken to a Mormon face to face.

When I was a little girl, I had a brief encounter with Mormon missionaries. I remember my mother’s anguish as she told me and my brother that there were two men in suits knocking on the doors of our neighbors’ homes. She told us that if we were very quiet, they would go away. The men came to the door, then turned around and left before even ringing the bell; and my mother was astounded. She later noticed the sign in the window I had written in large, childish scrawl that said: “WE ARE NOT HOME.”

Needless to say, it was with some trepidation that I anticipated the interview. I asked a minister about Mormonism, and she told me that it was a cult. I had grown up watching Donnie and Marie Osmond and they seemed so nice, I responded.

A few minutes into the interview, I threw out every misconception I held about Mormons. Senior missionaries Max and Gaye would become the dearest of friends.

Eighteen months later, I met with them for what I thought would be the last time. There were tears in our eyes as we hugged goodbye. They were returning to Utah, but we vowed to stay in touch.

In 2006, I went to the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Salt Lake City, and I spent four days with Max and Gaye. I visited Temple Square with them, and they accompanied me to the nearby cathedral.

Two years ago, they informed me that they were going on a second mission. While they longed to return to the Boston area, their placement was uncertain.

In the spring of 2011, they were reassigned here. In my professional capacity, I continued to write their faith stories; but on Christmas and Easter, they sat around our table.

Last weekend I invited Max and Gaye for our annual Labor Day bash at the Tiverton summer house, and Fogland was at its best. Sunshine streamed through the clouds bathing the seashore in an ethereal light.

Many years ago Gaye send me a prayer card that read: “As a lighthouse sends its sure, steady beam to guide the ships at sea, the Lord gives His light to guide you … There is no fog too dense, no mariner too lost to feel His love and light. He loves you.”

For my landlocked Utah friends, the beach was a whole new world. They were enthralled by its beauty.

“I am a pioneer,” Gaye said laughing, as she placed shells and stones in her uplifted skirt.

Her ancestors crossed this country in covered wagons, while mine sailed the seas.

We couldn’t be more different and more alike.
Gaye and Max

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Not just another fish story

I am a Yankee through and through, raised on rocky New England soil with the sensibilities of our hardy Pilgrim predecessors.

Yet, I am also third-generation Azorean-Portuguese and that part of me surfaces in my desire to live near the water’s edge, as well as in words – in the language of my forebears – that occasionally come to mind.

Last week without thinking I spouted a phrase that I heard my grandparents often say. Frankly, I never quite understood its meaning before; but this time it described the situation perfectly.

I said, “Nao mata engorda,” which loosely translated means: “If it doesn’t kill you, it will fatten you.”

My husband loves to fish, and he always hooks the requisite amount of scup. After he cleans the fish, he coats it in a layer of flour seasoned with salt, crushed pepper and garlic; then slowly grills it. When done, it looks like a steak; and there is no fishy smell.

Although I like fish and often order it in restaurants, I prefer filets. While scup is a tasty fish, it has a multitude of tiny bones that no matter how hard you try are difficult to avoid. They blend into the white flesh and after a bite have to be fished out of the mouth.

Consequently, I never eat scup – that is, until last week.

My husband had caught a gigantic specimen, and he grilled it to perfection. He asked me to give it another try.

Before handing me a small portion, he removed the center bone and every single sliver of bone that he could unearth from the flesh.

Carefully, I put pieces into my mouth no bigger than a peppercorn and chewed them to mush before swallowing. I filled up on boiled potatoes and salad.

Every time we eat fish, we always talk about the first time my husband sampled trout. We were dating back then, and my brother brought home his catch. Used to saltwater fish, we were anxious to try them.

Unfortunately, my husband swallowed a bone, and rather than make a fuss, he went to the bathroom where he says he did surgery on himself. Needless to say, it was a harrowing experience.

When we were done eating, I took a drink of orange juice, sucking the liquid through a straw; and that’s when I felt a dart pierce the right side of my throat.

I’ll never forget the ashen look on my husband’s face, as I coughed and choked, trying to remove the tiny knife embedded in my flesh. He kept apologizing over and over again, but it was my fault for breaking the fast.

Every time I pushed under my chin, I swore I could still feel the bone, nailed in place. I drank “gallons” of water, downed huge chunks of multigrain bread; and with my husband’s bidding, ate a whole bag of microwaved popcorn.

My husband insisted I go to the Emergency Room; but the sharp pain eventually ceased; and I was pretty sure, I had swallowed the thing.

The next day I awoke with a sore throat.

Five days after the injury, I am thankful that I can relate this fish tale to you. I am well, although a tiny bit heavier.