Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring fling

Flinging open the windows, I let in the warm late-April sunshine that illuminates every single speck of winter dust; and that’s when the frenzy begins.

The cold, erratic weather this season delayed spring cleaning, but before I know it I am immersed in the annual ritual.

“I must confess that I find housework very tiresome in spring. So much suddenly seems to need doing,” said Gladys Taber, who wrote about life at Stillmeadow, her seventeenth-century Connecticut farmhouse. “The light is brighter now, and lasts longer, and it shows up everything! You can’t do it all at once – curtains, rugs, woodwork, attic and cellar.”

But I try.

I dust, wash windows and vacuum, but while I’m cleaning every nook and cranny of the dining room furniture, I glance at the stove and think how nice it would be to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

I abandon the Swiffer, grab the cookie sheet and preheat the oven; and before long the cookies are baking in the oven.

Now where was I?

I pull the sheets off the bed and carry the laundry downstairs. I put the summer comforter in the washing machine.

The front doorbell rings. I run upstairs and accept a delivery, but before she leaves, I make a dash for the kitchen counter and return with a warm cookie.

Now what was I doing?

I begin cleaning the kitchen. Then I head downstairs to move the comforter to the dryer.

While I wash the cookie sheet, I stare out the open window and watch a black-capped chickadee nibbling at the feeder.

Then the dryer buzzer rings, and I rush downstairs to get the comforter and make up the bed with new linens.

Munching on a cookie by the picture window, I see the gorgeous purple azaleas in the front garden.

“It’s little I care what path I take / And where it leads it’s little I care / But out of this house, lest my heart break, / I must go, and off somewhere,” wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay, a Maine native.

I bolt.

“Before she has her floor swept / Or her dishes done, / Any day you’ll find her / A-sunning in the sun!” said the poet.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Life after the Boston bombings

Seven years ago, I was on a weeklong fellowship for religion journalists at Brandeis University in Waltham.

One of the guest speakers was a journalist whose beat was Homeland Security.

After the lectures, the college hosted a reception; and I had the opportunity to speak to him.

“Do you think we are safe from future terrorist attacks?” I asked him.

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “We have stopped every terrorist attack since 9/11. But the odds are that we can’t be right 100 percent of the time.”

His words ring in my ears as I walk along the beach, seeking comfort in this place I have fled to since childhood.

Agitated, I stumble over rocks and slide into gullies, footprints of a violent New England winter.

Under overcast skies, the Sakonnet barely ripples at low tide, looking more like a pond than a saltwater river stretching to the Atlantic.

Outside of an occasional cry of a gull, the beach is quiet; but I can still hear the bombs, shattering our world.

Alone on the beach, I have no false sense of security as I contemplate my bearings, about an hour south of Boston and fifteen minutes from UMass Dartmouth.

I pray for the victims and for us to have the courage to carry on.

“Even though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” says Psalm 23.

Back at home, my husband and I await the start of the Red Sox game.

I smile at the “Boston Strong” signs and marvel at the resilience of these folks who have come out of hiding, having spent yesterday in lockdown.

The opening ceremony yanks at my heartstrings, and I cry for the victims – the dead and the injured – and for the rest of us who have lost our innocence and peace of mind.

I wipe away tears as I join in the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The game begins and Big Papi is back, a tower of strength on the field and off.

For a few minutes we forget. It is just another day at Fenway, and Red Sox Nation is cheering for the home team.

Wearing a Red Sox cap, Neil Diamond, “The Jazz Singer” himself, steps onto the field and begins singing “Sweet Caroline.”

The Sox win their seventh game in a row.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rising tide

The view of the salt marsh from our backyard.
A cold, gray, dreary April morning, we drive to the summer house and notice that we have a new neighbor.

But thank God, the nearby cottages are still occupied by our friends from years past.

No, this stealthy neighbor is slowly moving in and changing the geography of our coastline.

Last fall, Hurricane Sandy caused major overnight modifications to this salt marsh, flooding the nearby wetlands.

However, we thought the brackish water would creep back into the shallow inlets and during ebb tide flush out of the salt wedge estuary.

But it hasn’t.

When we were children, my brother and I carried our nets, fishing line, bait and pail to this salt marsh, which was inhabited by blue crabs.

Tying a fish from our morning catch onto one end of the fishing line, we flung the bait into the center of the channel.

It was a waiting game. Sometimes we left without even one tug on our line. But when the crabs were hungry, they grabbed the fish with their large pincers and started devouring their catch.

The tug was ever so slight at first; then the tension on the line increased as the crab tried to swim away with the fish.

Pulling the line in slowly, we placed the net over the water just behind the crab; and the crustacean was in the net with one swoop.

We also headed down to the estuary to dig for clams.

Turning over large stones that had been covered with water a few hours earlier, we looked for telltale holes in the muddy soil. We then began scooping the wet earth with quahog shells, searching for the prize.

Sometimes there were slim pickings in the clam cove, but other times the soft-shelled clams were in hiding together, nestled in a community a foot deep. They would squirt at us as we tossed them into the pail.

Later, my brother and I took turns dragging the heavy pail all the way home.

Today, I stand in our backyard and gaze at the untilled farmland leading to the salt marsh. Instead of the distant tributaries that have been there since childhood, I see a river that could shortly encroach on my next door neighbor’s property.

The sand on this coastal flood plain is shifting, and it is highly probably that someday the land will be taken back by its original owner.

But on the bright side, if there is a bumper crop of blue crabs this year, it will be a cinch to carry the pail home.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

In search of Atlantis

The crocuses are in full bloom along Pond Bridge Road in Tiverton, dotting the countryside that leads to the beach.

Leafless trees and New England stone walls are the backdrop to a riot of purple flowers that seem to have magically appeared overnight.

But magic is what Fogland is all about.

Our summer place sits on a peninsula that juts out into the sea, with the Sakonnet River on two sides and the saltmarsh on the third. A small parcel of farmland anchors us to earth on the fourth side.

When I look out toward the Atlantic and the fog is a palpable thing, I imagine that this is an island, which for me is not a stretch.

When you spend your days sitting on a rock and staring at the sea for hours, you daydream and tend to imagine things.

I come from a long line of island dwellers; all of my forebears were inhabitants of the Azores.

In antiquity, Greek philosopher Plato described a large island in the Western Ocean (the ocean west of the known world or the Atlantic) that was home to a utopian commonwealth, which he called Atlantis.

The place is probably fictional, but there is the possibility that he had access to records that no longer exist.

Throughout the centuries the Atlantis tradition of a highly developed civilization has survived with various islands or island groups in the Atlantic identified as possible locations, most notably the Azores.

The idea also has been kept alive by many writers, including Francis Bacon and Voltaire.

Last fall, I took a philosophy class at Wellesley College; and one of the supplemental readings was “The New Atlantis” by Bacon.

I remember reading the small, unfinished work about the highly advanced scientific society, sitting in the Science Building Library on a dark afternoon, while rain splatted the metal roof and plate glass windows.

Published in 1624, Bacon tells the story of a mythical island, where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit” are the qualities of the people who live there.

It is a place where faith and reason coexist seamlessly.

“We have certain hymns and services, which we say daily, of Lord and thanks to God for His marvelous works; and some forms of prayer, imploring His aid and blessing for the illumination of our labors, and the turning of them into good and holy uses,” Bacon wrote.

I share Bacon’s vision of “one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all”—but like the island of Atlantis, it is difficult to find.