Saturday, February 23, 2013

Let it snow

Frozen in time, Nanaquaket is covered with snow and ice.
Forced out of a warm bed this morning, I dressed quickly and drove to my dental appointment.

Sitting in the dentist's chair, I had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to do next.

Consequently, I bolted and headed to Black Goose Café in Tiverton.

Looking out the window, I watched the wind caress the water and urge it beneath the ice that stretched across Nanaquaket Pond, while the rocks along the shore held onto the ice floes with tight fists.

Overhead the leaden skies portend imminent precipitation. Most likely, rain will spill forth because temperatures hover in the upper 30s; but eventually it will change into heavy, saturated snow.

For the third weekend in a row, we are awaiting the arrival of a snowstorm.

Nibbling on a wheat wrap and sipping tea, I think about how hardy we New Englanders are, accepting Nature’s vagaries with quiet resignation.

A couple of weeks ago, most of us were without electricity for days. What’s another few inches or more when we have already shoveled a few feet?

It’s better and more pleasant to adapt to our surroundings.

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating,” wrote Victorian writer John Ruskin. “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

This kind of good weather sends New Englanders in droves to the supermarket for milk, bread and batteries.

My husband sighs as he looks at our depleted wood pile, and he wonders whether this late in the season we should invest in another cord. Once again, he fills the portable gas tank for the generator. The Dodge Ram with its heavy-duty plow is on standby.

Yet, spring is less than a month away.

“After Valentine’s Day we can really feel that winter is on the downgrade,” wrote New England writer Gladys Taber, who chronicled her days from her seventeenth-century Connecticut farmhouse. “A few more blizzards, perhaps, but definitely March will arrive. There will be a certain day when the air comes in over the hills with a different feeling. It’s an intangible thing, known only to folks who have had hard winters, and it is exciting and wonderful. One morning you poke your nose out, and you know all of a sudden that there will be another spring. You smell it in the air; and no matter how deep the snow is, you think nothing of it.”


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI is 'warm and sweet'

His books lie on my desk, a tangible reminder of the astounding news this week.

Pope Benedict XVI will resign from papal office on Feb. 28, breaking a 600-year-old tradition.

As a religion writer, I have read every Vatican story that crossed my desk in the city Newsroom during the past eight years, trying to get to know Joseph Ratzinger, the man who became pope.

But it was my freelance work for the Tiverton-Little Compton Patch that gave me a window into the world of the Vatican.

In October 2011, I drove to The Commons Lunch in Little Compton for an interview with Dr. Joseph “Joe” H. Hagan, a local who visited the restaurant every morning after daily Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish.

While serving as president of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., Hagan became a trustee of John Cabot University in Rome and was appointed as a Gentleman-in-Waiting at the Vatican, a position he has held for the past 22 years.

It is the duty of a Gentleman-in-Waiting to escort dignitaries and heads of state to an audience with the pope.

Consequently, Hagan served Pope John Paul II, now Blessed John Paul II, from his appointment in 1991 until the pontiff’s death in 2005; and Pope Benedict XVI from the time of his election that same year to the present.

Hagan described Pope Benedict as very traditional, warm and sweet.

“He has a beautiful personality,” Hagan said. “You can see it in his face.”

Today, I received an email from Father Giorgio Rizzieri, the Catholic chaplain of Rome Fiumicino International Airport in Italy.

A few years ago, he commented on one of my stories, and since then we have been correspondents.

When I heard the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, I emailed Father Giorgio to hear his reaction.

“I have touching memories of my encounters with him each time he had to board a flight for an apostolic journey,” Father Giorgio said.

He added that he will always remember the pope’s calm demeanor, gentle smile and fatherly concern, especially his words of thanks and encouragement for his ministry.

“I will bring this with me for the rest of my life,” he said.

Father Giorgio wrote that the pope’s legacy will be the genuine experience of faith focused on reason.

“Every Wednesday I looked forward to listening to his catechesis at the General Audience – true delicious nourishings of mind and spirit,” he said. “He taught all Catholics to be strictly united in the Church and to be bold enough to swim against the tide of the politically correct. His ultimate effort for this target was his recent proclamation of a hopefully fruitful Year of Faith.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

There's no place like home in a blizzard

The generator hums rhythmically in the background as I write on my battery-powered Nook.
The simple things in life are best -- heat, light and well water -- and we have survived yet another massive storm, this time a blizzard named Nemo with hurricane-force winds that dumped about two feet in our backyard.
A driving ban is in effect for Massachusetts and Rhode Island so there is no place to go.
Yet as difficult yesterday was and these next few days will be, they cannot compare to the blizzard of 1978.
A stay-at-home mom with an 11-month-old daughter, I kissed my husband goodbye that morning, and little did I know that I would not see him for five days.
It snowed and snowed and snowed ... and it didn't stop for days.
While the power flickered, it never went off; and I never lost telephone service, even though the line hung low across the street and was swatted by passing snow plows.
My husband worked for a large corporation, and because he was in charge of maintenance and security, he was the last one to leave that day -- only by then the roads were impassable.
Back at home I fared pretty well. The cupboards were well-stocked. I cared for my daughter, and while she slept I read. But I worried about my husband.
Meanwhile, he was living off the vending machines in the lunchroom. When he ran out of money, he pilfered change from the secretaries' desks, leaving I.O.U. notes behind. He slept in the rafters, warmed by a small generator-powered boiler that kept the chemicals just the right temperature.
Five days passed and still dressed in the same clothes, he made a break for it, driving away from the plant despite a driving ban. He made it through a city and two towns before he was stopped at a roadblock.
Abandoning the vehicle, he walked the rest of the way home, another ten miles.
I cried when I saw him walking down our street.
Today, in the aftermath of this latest blizzard, we are doing the best we can, accepting the fickleness of Mother Nature in stride.
We toss another log in the woodstove, admire the beauty outside our window, and thank God we are together.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winter woes and wonders

A couple of nights ago the howling wind woke me, and I prayed the hundred-foot pines surrounding our Massachusetts house would bend and not break.

In the morning, I learned that my daughter had lost power at her house, and she had dressed her toddler and baby in winter coats to keep them warm.

My son awoke to a call with the news that the roof of the steel building that houses his workplace had peeled off like the top of a sardine can.

This wild weather worries me.

Similarly, my mother had a sleepless night, thinking about the summer house. So my parents drove to Rhode Island to check for damage.

Stopping near the water’s edge, my mother watched the wind-whipped waves pound the shore with a vengeance; but she found the house sleeping peacefully in the sunshine.

Winterized and unable to generate heat or light, the house hibernated waiting patiently for our return, she assured me.
"Come when the rains / Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice, / While the slant sun of February pours / Into the bowers a flood of light," wrote nineteenth-century romantic poet William Cullen Bryant, a New England native.

Today we head to Sapowet Management Area, a wildlife preserve on the east bank of the Sakonnet River, a short distance from our summer home near Fogland State Beach.
Jumping out of the truck with my camera, I brave the cold, creeping quietly along the frozen terrain and trying to catch a colony of seagulls unaware.

Those offended by my trespass flap their wings in annoyance, but most plainly ignore me.

Despite the frigid temperatures at this estuarine intertidal wetland, the Ring-Billed Gulls congregate on the icy bank, with their white heads and underparts blending into the white world around them.

Their wingtips are black with white spots, their bills yellow with a black ring near the tips.

From December through February, their habitat is our New England coastlines, and today they are right at home in this Arctic paradise.

I shoot photos until my fingers are numb with cold, then run back to the truck.

As I climb in, I hear the good news.

According to groundhog “Punxsutawney Phil,” an early spring is on the way.

When the groundhog emerged from his burrow this morning, he didn’t see his shadow.

What a relief!

Despite the prediction, I leave my hood and gloves on for a few miles, until the heater finally kicks in.