Sunday, June 30, 2013

Generations of love

The first thing I see when I wake every morning is a primitive painting, based on calendar art by one of my favorite artists, Linda Nelson Stocks.

The colorful reproduction reminds me of our summer place by the sea at Fogland Beach.

Knowing my affinity for Stocks’ August 2001 calendar art “Generations of Love,” my mother gave me a copy she painted, removing some elements and adding some of her own, including a sign with the word “Fogland” pointing the way to the seaside cove.

My mother never painted a stroke until the day she retired, and since that time she has painted nonstop.

This work lacks the master strokes of Stocks’ detail with a small pointed brush, but my mother’s love is in every stroke, along with the guidance of a gifted teacher.

Over the years, Mom and I had the good fortune of attending weekly art classes with Sister Gertrude Gaudette, a Dominican nun. 

Sister Gert retired at 90 years old and will leave shortly for the Dominican Sisters of Hope Motherhouse in New York. She has spent 68 years in religious life.

As a young girl living on the family farm with her four siblings, Sister Gert discovered that she could “do things.”

She milked cows before going to school, built pens for the pigs and constructed a 20-foot-long log cabin from pines on the property.

As a novice, she earned a bachelor’s degree in art history and social studies and went on to acquire a master’s in fine arts from Catholic University in Washington.

Sister Gert spent the next 17 years teaching a wide range of subjects to students in kindergarten through eighth grade – but not her beloved art.

In 1973, she was offered a position as head of the art department at a Catholic high school.

At the same time, her artistic talents were discovered by local dioceses, and she carved coats of arms for bishops, including Bishop Sean O’Malley (now Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Boston) and Bishop Louis Gelineau of Providence, as well as created many of the signs on diocesan buildings. Her summers were always spent on staging, painting huge Christmas displays at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette.

In 1983, Sister Gert opened the Creativity Center which offered lessons to children and adults.

Some of her students will gather together Tuesday to thank her for coloring their lives and wish her well before she returns to her convent.

“I don’t know how I made all those beautiful paintings – all this beautiful stuff,” she told me. “I made mistakes but thanked God every time I succeeded with something. I think I made pretty good use of my time.”    

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer musings

In 1969 my family bought a parcel of land by the seashore for $3,000, which forever changed the course of our days.

Our location changed.

We spent weekends in June, July and August there. Over the years we slept in a tent, camper van, recreational trailer and eventually, a house. As children, our backyard playground became a long stretch of rocky coastline. At night, we fell asleep fanned by cooling sea breezes and soothed by the hypnotic sound of breaking waves.

Our activities changed.

At dawn, we carried our aluminum boat to the water’s edge. Heading upriver, we anchored over a ledge and fished until we tired of baiting the hook and taking flounder, scup and the occasional sand shark off the line. At night we fished off the rocks in search of striped bass, but more likely hooked eels. Afternoons were spent swimming, fishing, clamming, crabbing, reading, hitting the volleyball over the net and biking.

Our diet changed.

The result of our labors, we feasted on fish, clams, quahogs, periwinkles and crabs. The charcoal hibachi, and later gas-fired grill, was always ready to sear steaks, ribs, chicken, hamburgers and especially the plentiful varieties of fish. On steamy, humid days, we ate lettuce with huge chunks of just-picked tomatoes and sweet bell peppers from our tiny garden behind the shed. They were garnished with a sprinkling of parsley that my grandfather had started from seed decades before. And no afternoon ever went by without our savoring a heaping sugar cone of ice cream.

Our health changed.

Breathing clean sea air and warmed by sunshine, we ate when we were hungry and had plenty of exercise. We had no set schedule, no appointments, no housework and no obligations.

Our relationships changed.

We knew all our relatives. Family and friends stopped by for a visit on Sunday afternoons, and we caught up on each other’s lives. Permanently on vacation, we greeted our neighbors when we walked by their cottages, sat side-by-side on brightly colored towels at the beach or chatted on our hands and knees while digging for clams.

Our perspective changed.

Spending endless summer days sitting on a boulder and gazing out to sea, your faculties become sharper. You notice the tides, the wind direction, the intense fuchsia of sea roses, the rhythm of swaying sea grasses, the skies in shades of blues and grays, the puffiness of cumulus clouds, the fast-moving shapes of storm clouds, the dance of sandpipers, the flight of seagulls, and the miracle of pulsing waters in the estuary changing direction in front of your very eyes.

You see God’s handiwork everywhere, and you feel loved.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

'The House in the Forest'

My painting of the mountains after a storm.
Houses have personalities.
Our summer house at Fogland Beach stood empty, cold and neglected throughout the long winter months, yet welcomed us back with open arms.

Last weekend we flung open the windows, stocked the shelves and grilled chicken by the back door. Then we gathered around the old maple table, feasting and laughing for hours.
And the house smiled…

An unexpected invitation to stay at a timeshare property in New Hampshire’s White Mountains took us north last Wednesday.
Under darkened overcast skies, the Dodge Ram bounced violently as we travelled the last mile, climbing higher and higher into the deep forest.

I thought about the fairytale “The House in the Forest” by the Brothers Grimm:
“The next day the woodcutter was up before dawn. ‘Let Rose bring my dinner into the forest today,’ said he. ‘She has always been a good child. She will stay in the right path and not run after every wild bee’… But when Rose went out with her basket on her arm… she did not know which way to turn. She walked on and on, full of sorrow… At last when it grew dark, she came to the little house in the forest.’

Finally we saw the redwood-stained plank building clinging to the hillside shrouded by trees. Rough plywood stairs led to the door. A shovel leaned against the siding.
Opening the door, I noticed the sidelight of clear glass. Inside there was a living room, an eat-in kitchen, a small bedroom with bunk beds, a second bedroom and bathroom.

Then I noticed the dark green carpeted stairs. I found the switch, and the light at the bottom of the stairs hummed and flickered eerily as I descended.
The first thing I noticed in the basement master bedroom was the musty smell. A half-sized window over the bed let in little light and the master bath was windowless.

We knew that we could not sleep here. We retraced our steps and shut off the light.
After dining out, we returned to the house. When darkness fell, I closed all the blinds, and we watched the Bruins in the first Stanley Cup Playoff game.

I sat in the wingback chair, but as the night wore on and I began to tire as yet another round of overtime extended the game, I turned and shivered as I sensed unseen eyes (animal or human) watching us through the sidelight. We went to bed and shut the door.
There was no air conditioning so we turned on the overhead fan and fell asleep to its whirring sound.

The next day we left early. The sun finally came out, and we enjoyed shopping and dining in the nearby village. With dark skies threatening rain, we returned to the resort in the afternoon. On our way we stopped at the building that housed an indoor pool, as well as game and exercise rooms. No one was there.
Driving back to the house, my husband watched TV, while I read a lovely little religious book written by a medieval monk.

It occurred to me that although there were cars alongside the houses sparsely nestled in the woods, I had never seen a neighbor or heard the sound of voices since we checked in.
After supper in town, we returned to the house. My husband watched TV while I read in the bedroom.

During the night we both awoke hot and uncomfortable. My husband got up and left the door ajar. I saw the sidelight and once again sensed we were not alone.
I recalled the fairytale:

“At midnight a great noise waked her up. The doors slammed against the walls, and there was a crash as if the whole roof had fallen in. Then all became still.”
We heard howling, and my husband said it was just a dog. But I was not so sure.

When we awoke early Friday morning, we began to pack. We were scheduled to check out on Saturday morning, but I dropped the keys in the lockbox, and we drove away...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

'In The Garden'

Driving through the dense fog and drizzle, I pass through miles of country back roads in Dighton and Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

But even under overcast skies, the vegetation is gorgeous. The trees, heavy laden with new leaves, bend across the road creating a tunnel into the Garden of Eden; and bright spots of fuchsia rhododendrons catch the eye around every bend.

The mist gives this isolated place an ethereal quality, and my slow speed navigating unfamiliar roads gives me the opportunity to pay close attention to my surroundings.

I begin to notice how many pre-Revolutionary homes sit close to the street with their barns and outhouses nestled close by. 

And I imagine colonists on horseback galloping by...                         

Arriving for the service at Reboboth Congregational Church, I climb the old wooden steps, and I am greeted by Pilgrims.

There is a Pilgrim with a musket over his shoulder and a Pilgrim couple on the seashore, depicted in two of the beautiful stained glass windows. Along another wall of windows, Jesus beckons. 

According to their history, the congregation has been entwined with that of the town of Rehoboth since 1643. The Reverend Samuel Newman, along with others, established the settlement and erected the first meeting house on the east bank of the Ten Mile River, and called the town “Rehoboth.”

A book enshrined in a glass case at the front of the church is open to this King James passage: “So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, ‘For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.’” (Genesis 26:22)

Wanting to worship regularly, the Reverend David Turner, and ten founding members of the new congregation, completed a “new” meeting house on November 29, 1721.

The third meeting house, their present sanctuary, was completed in 1839 and was known as “The Church in the Barnyard.”

The stained glass windows were added in 1906.

A plaque on the wall commemorates the life of one of their members, a deacon of the church who was born in 1744 and lived for 98 years.

Sitting on the small hard bench, I pray silently, while I await the start of the service.

I smile when the lovely young minister takes the pulpit. What would our Pilgrim forefathers have thought of that?

Stepping out into the bright sunshine, I retrace my path on the winding roads; and this time I see the contemporary homes sprawled on acreage along the way.

As a New Englander, I am rooted to this land; and sometimes I feel I have one foot in the past and the other in the present.

I crank up the engine of my shiny blue sports car and glide along these now familiar roads with the words of the old hymn "In The Garden" still ringing in my ears:  
“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses; and the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, and the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

The sign

This past week we officially opened the summer house, the latest start to the season in memory.

Inclement weather and family commitments caused repeated delays, but when we finally arrived, we were greeted with a lovely surprise.

A stone wall separates our property from our neighbors’. On the other side of that wall is their potting bench and above it is a new sign that reads: “SEA SKY SPIRIT.”

Those three simple words painted in blue lettering on a green wooden sign map out an amazing adventure.

My parents bought this land in 1969, and I have spent a lifetime of summers here.

I wrote my college thesis “Fogland,” a collection of nonfiction essays, about this place. Shortly after, my mother gave it to a neighbor to read.

Without my knowing, copies of my thesis circulated throughout the neighborhood and beyond.  

Urged on by neighbors and strangers who somehow read the thesis, I envisioned that someday I would continue these thoughts in book format.

But in November 2010, I accepted a freelance writing position at a new online newspaper, the Tiverton-Little Compton Patch; and I began searching for a name for the new column.

It came to me in church one Sunday morning while singing a hymn. The words “sea and sky” seemed to jump off the page, capturing the essence of nature writing at our home by the Sakonnet River. The addition of “spirit” is the reason I embarked on the journey: to praise God and His creations.

Over the next year I would write more than 50 weekly columns, but when the newspaper changed its format, I did as well.

For some time my best friend had been urging me to write my own blog, and it seemed the perfect opportunity.

So I became a Google blogger launching “Sea, Sky and Spirit” in January 2012, and the newspaper published the weekly link.

Now 10,824 page views and 76 weekly posts later, I stare at my neighbors’ sign and smile.

How grateful I am to God for all those words and to my neighbors for their act of kindness!

Later in the day my parents and I walk to the beach, and my mother introduces me to one of our newer neighbors. We start talking, and before long she asks me if I am “the writer”.  I nod. She tells me she has read every one of my blogs and my thesis as well, and I give her a hug like a long, lost friend.

The adventure continues…