Sunday, July 28, 2013

Parting the red sea

Rainy, overcast skies are not keeping me apart from the surf at the summer house this Sunday morning.

The high bacteria count is.

This week the Rhode Island Department of Health closed Fogland State Beach in Tiverton.

The sparkling Sakonnet River’s blue-green waters are now an unappealing reddish color.

Scripture documents one of the first recorded occurrences of a red tide, the first of the ten plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus:

“By this you shall know that I am the Lord. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood… The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river.”

According to the Rhode Island Sea Grant Fact Sheet, “There are millions of microscopic plants (phytoplankton) that exist in almost every drop of coastal seawater. With the right conditions, (sunlight and proper nutrients), these plants photosynthesize and multiply, creating a bloom. Most of these blooms are harmless, but a few species of phytoplankton cause red tides that are poisonous to marine animals and to humans.”

So, as I wait for nature to flush out the toxins near our seaside home, my thoughts are 5,000 miles away at another windswept, rain-drenched beach in Brazil.

Hundreds of thousands of young people from around the globe gathered at Copacabana Beach for World Youth Day 2013.

Pope Francis told them to imagine that they were with Jesus on the seashore.

As a religion writer, I have great interest in the pontiff’s first trip abroad and even more so because he is with Portuguese kin.

I am full-blooded Portuguese. All my forebears arrived in New England at the turn-of-the-twentieth century, emigrating from the island of St. Michael in the Azores.

Yet I also have ties to Brazil.

My mother’s godmother Dina left here to return to her husband’s homeland, settling in Sao Paulo. I have cousins living there that I have never met.

According to news reports, a wrong turn in downtown Rio De Janeiro brought Pope Francis into a crowd of Brazilians who swarmed his vehicle.

Unconcerned for his own safety, Pope Francis waved to the people through open windows and even kissed a baby as he passed.

A modern-day prophet parts the sea.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Angels in disguise

I believe in angels.

Sometimes the unexpected happens, and the messenger appears.

Little did I know when I chose my vacation in January that it would be one of the hottest weeks on record.

Heading up north to escape the heat wave, we spent two days in the mountains of New Hampshire, where it felt like the Sahara.

Back at home, I went ahead with my well-laid plans, cleaning the basement and garage despite temperatures hovering in the mid-90s.

We ticked off yet another chore on the to-do list Saturday when we drove to the summer house to replace the lawnmower battery. The wet, leaden air made even the beach unbearable.

Finding no relief at the seaside, we decided to leave; but on our way home, the tire blew out on our old red Corvette.

For a few minutes, we were stunned, as we realized we could not drive on the rim and that we were baking in the sun.

Getting out of the car, we searched for the tire wrench; and that’s when the Good Samaritan pulled up behind us and offered to help.

The owner of an old Corvette himself, he crawled under the vehicle and spotted the spare, untouched since the day it left the factory in 1989.

When we couldn’t locate the jack, he offered to drive home, which he said was just two miles away, to retrieve his heavy-duty jack.

Carefully backing up, my husband parked near a hedge on a grassy area under a tree. He then began unscrewing the rusted bolt holding the spare.

That’s when the owner of the property we were squatting on came out of his house, and I explained about the flat. He invited me into his home, which he said was air conditioned, and offered the use of his air compressor to pump up the tire, but it was unsalvageable.

Removing the spare, my husband found the jack nestled in a black plastic bag atop it.

Meanwhile, the Good Samaritan reappeared with his jack, propped up the body, grabbed the wrench and removed the bolts. My husband handed him the tire, and in a few minutes we were ready to roll.

In less than half an hour, we were on the road again; but despite the traumatic ordeal of sustaining a tire blowout in extreme temperatures, we could not believe our good fortune.

Out of the blue, we were blessed by the kindness of strangers, angels in disguise.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Simple gifts

Gray overcast skies and bouts of drizzle do not dampen my spirits as I head to the summer house. There is little traffic on the road this July morning.

Fogland State Beach is deserted, yet the attendant at the shack is waiting patiently to check beach passes and collect nonresident fees.

At the ramp there are three empty trailers but nary a boat in sight. With no sea breeze, the Sakonnet is as tranquil as a pond, and as such offers no attraction to windsurfers who probably decided to sleep in this Saturday.

I open the truck window and listen; but there is no noise – no sloughing of the surf, no voices, no cry of a gull. The humid, heavy air muffles any sound.
On summer days like this – when boaters and beach-goers forgo the bay and neighbors stay tucked inside their cottages – I am alone in a natural world of my own and begin to see things often unnoticed.

Getting out of the truck, I am drawn to the bright blue of the hydrangeas, a beacon on this dark day. They spill over in the front yard, and I long to capture their brilliance on canvas – mixing shades of blue, white and dab of yellow, cradling the brush and painstakingly creating each tiny, perfect petal.
Like a huge umbrella, the tree in our backyard beckons, offering me sanctuary as I escape the drizzle. Under cover, I think about the many summers of my life that these branches shielded me from sun and rain.

One of my favorite places as a teen, I spent countless mornings reading here, while my family went fishing. Sheltered and reveling in solitude, I learned how to tell stories in this place, as I absorbed page after page of novels, nonfiction, newspapers and magazines.
My husband cut the grass yesterday, and it is a thick, verdant carpet underfoot. I slept on this cushion as a child, when there was nothing in our yard but a green tent. I still remember the sound the zipper made, as my father tucked us in for the night.

As I grew, this became my playground, the flooring for volleyball games and croquet, the perfect seat for watching July fireworks over the bay and the best place to search the night sky for a falling star.
As I celebrate another birthday this week, I am grateful for all the gifts God has given me. Shrouded in mist, I take a few steps in my backyard, and they are too many to count.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Don't go in the water

This week’s hot, hazy and humid weather, hovering in the mid-90s, drew beachgoers to Fogland State Beach in Tiverton, R.I., where stiff sea breezes and cooler ocean temperatures provided relief.

These tropical conditions also attracted some unwanted guests to the waters near our summer home.

“God created the great sea monsters,” says the Scripture verse in Genesis; and they invade New England every summer.

On the Fourth of July, a dozen swimmers were stung by Portuguese man-of-wars at nearby Horseneck Beach in Westport, Mass. One of the victims was hospitalized after being stung in the arm, and the others were treated on the beach by lifeguards.

A gelatinous creature, but not a true jellyfish, the Portuguese man-of-war is a fearsome animal that is actually a colony of individuals, including feeding and reproducing organisms.

Its bell is a gas-filled float up to 12-inches in length.

Dangling from the feeding organisms are tentacles that can extend 65 feet into the water, providing a sizeable sting area. Unlike jellyfish, they can deliver a toxic, painful sting, which can be life threatening to humans and deadly to prey.

Every summer in these parts, there are sightings of great white sharks lured by the seal population off Chatham, Mass. Last summer a great white shark bit a swimmer in Truro, and a kayaker was chased by a shark in Orleans.

A 13-foot great white shark also washed ashore in Westport.

Four shark species – the tiger, bull, oceanic whitetip and great white – are most responsible for fatal attacks on humans.

Last year in United States waters, there was one reported fatal shark attack, taking the life of a surfer in California.

The last fatal shark attack in New England waters occurred in 1936, when a 16-year-old swimmer was killed by a great white shark at Hollywood Beach in Buzzards Bay, Mass.

Carnivores at the top of the marine food chain, sharks exhibit great maneuverability in the depths but are different from other fish, since they have no swim bladder and cannot regulate their buoyancy.

Consequently, they have to constantly swim or sink to the bottom. In fact, it is rare to find a shark’s skeleton, since its soft cartilaginous flesh is readily consumed by fish that feed on the ocean floor.

Leaving the summer house, I walk down to the seashore, lured by extreme heat and curiosity. My eyes scan the water line seeking the gelatinous mass of a floating man-of-war or the telltale sign of a great white, the shark’s dorsal fin.

The coast is clear, but despite the heat, I stay out of the water.