Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Coming home

Walking around our house, I admire the new coat of paint – the bright white front with pale yellow shutters, the unpainted shingles on the sides gleaming with redwood stain – and I remember the first time I set eyes on her.

A warm October afternoon, we followed the real estate agent through a small town, passing over two sets of railroad tracks and by a waterfall.

Surrounded by pine trees, the raised ranch sat on a hill overlooking a pond. It had six-over-six multi-paned windows, a brick face and one-car garage underneath.

She beckoned, and I was captivated. I hadn’t even stepped inside, and I knew this would be where our children would grow up and my husband and I would grow old.

“We have to be able to afford this,” I thought, as the agent began a guided tour.

Entering the house, I should have noticed that the rooms were rather small, there was only one bathroom, and the basement was partially-finished. But instead, I saw only the beautiful oak ceilings, the open country kitchen and keeping room with fireplace, and the wall of bookshelves in the basement that would hold my dearest possessions.

Directly behind the house was a huge kennel for our dog.

I knew my husband was smitten when he walked into the new barn that the owner had built for his sailboat. It had work benches, a wood stove and ample room for any number of toys that were on my husband’s wish list.

The leaves rustled as we walked the three-quarter acre property, inhaling the scent of pine and listening to the quiet.

On the spot my husband made an offer, but it took a week of counter-proposals before the owners, who were in a hurry to move to Florida before winter, accepted our bid. I could not believe our good fortune.

Unfortunately, the binder was contingent upon the sale of our small starter home in the city. As I waited for a buyer, I wrote in my journal, making lists and drawing room layouts, and I prayed.

Three months later an offer was made, which we accepted. I started packing. Two days later, the buyers changed their mind, losing their escrow deposit. I started unpacking.

A few weeks later a young couple saw the house and made an identical offer. This time we waited for the bank to approve their loan before celebrating.

A month later we were handed the key to our new country home, and my husband carried me over the threshold.

Twenty-eight years later, she bears the scars inflicted by an active family of five, but she still captivates me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A horse of a different color

Gail and her dappled gray miniature horse, Eli, at Sapowet Marsh.

The season at the summer house always seems too short, and we drag our feet into September, trying to hold onto summer.

Yet, autumn in New England offers the most beautiful scenic views of the seashore, along with spectacular weather.

Shakespeare used the phrase, “Beauty too rich for use,” and while that was Romeo’s apt description of Juliet; it also applies to nature, especially at this time of year.

Poet John James Piatt best described these four colorful weeks: “September – / The beautiful apples, so golden and mellow / They will fall at a kiss of the breeze, / While it breathes through the foliage frosty and yellow / And the sunshine is filling the trees!”

Donning sweatshirts, my mother and I steal away from the Red Sox game and head down to the beach.

Unlike the haze that usually hangs over the seashore and is the namesake of Fogland Beach, clear bright sunshine and cool breezes await us at the water’s edge.

Peering upriver, we are offered an unobstructed southerly view of the Sakonnet Lighthouse at the mouth of the bay.

We sit on large stones and watch the wild waves, as well as an occasional sailboat zip by.

There are few beach-goers now, and it is just us and the wildlife, basking in the sun.

Seagulls soar or congregate in bunches, their snowy white feathers rustling in the wind.

Later, my husband and I take the coastal route home, following the Sakonnet downriver by the Sapowet Marsh Wildlife Preserve.

I expect to see seabirds and jumping bluefish or perhaps a dog or two, but today I spot a horse.

We park the Ram, and with camera in hand I jump into the sand, where I have the good fortune to meet Gail and her dappled gray, Eli.  

Miniature horses are the size of a very small pony and are usually less than 35 inches tall. Retaining the various colors and coat patterns of their breed, they are generally quite hardy, often living longer on average than some full-sized horse breeds. The average life span of miniature horses is from 25 to 35 years.

Friendly and interacting well with people, they are companion animals and are often kept as family pets.

Petting Eli’s mane, I marvel at the beauty of this docile, dappled creature that likes to kick up his heels in the sand.

You never know what you might find at the seashore: a bit of sea glass, a scallop shell or maybe a horse of a different color.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A call to arms

On the eve of September 11, I listen respectfully to President Obama justify his plans for a military strike on Syria, while the words of Jesus ring in my ears:

“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”

It is July 1945, and my father is aboard a naval carrier in the Pacific with orders to invade Japan. President Truman decides to use atomic weapons, which leads to a speedy end of the war.

“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”

The middle-school assignment is to construct a poem conveying a message in the fewest possible words. In my childish scrawl, I write: “Guns shoot / Men die / Women cry.”

War is raging, eighteen-year-olds are being drafted, and the teacher who is grading this assignment is raising her son alone, while her husband is serving somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam.

“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”

I am lying on a hospital bed in labor. The nurse, who is monitoring the progress of my contractions, wipes away tears as she watches the news on television. President Bush draws a line in the sand launching Operation Desert Storm. Her son is one of the boots on the ground.

“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”

Driving to my job at the daily newspaper, I listen to the breaking news story on the radio: Two commercial passenger jets hijacked from Logan have just struck the World Trade Center.

Gathering around the TVs with the other reporters, I watch Manhattan burning, the Twin Towers reduced to rubble, thousands of people running through smoke-filled streets. A third jet hits the Pentagon, and a fourth plane heading for Washington crashes in a Pennsylvania field.

“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”

I go back to my cubicle and get to work. I find a former Army Air Corps mechanic, a Purple Heart recipient who was stationed at Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the airfield. He told me that he ran to get a rifle in the hangar, and it was hit three times. He said that 200 men died there, and the planes, barracks and hangar were heavily damaged. He also saw the Arizona being bombed. More than 2,000 servicemen lose their lives in the harbor.

“Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.”








Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gifts from the sea

A traditional trek, the family flocks at the summer house every Labor Day weekend, and this year was no exception.

Yet, the weather did not cooperate.

Driving through nonstop, blinding rain, we wondered whether we should have heeded the National Weather Service’s forecast of flash floods in our region.

But one by one we arrived, parking in the muddy grass surrounding the summer house, a bit late and soggy but filled with anticipation. Clams were on the menu.

Whenever I wandered down to the water’s edge as a child, I found the beach littered with the remains of a feast. Sometimes there were grayish quahog shells rimmed in purple hues, elongated blue/black mussel shells, fish heads of scup, flounder and blues, reddish lobster claws and crabs’ legs, tiny conical-shaped shells of gray and black periwinkles, snake-like skeletons of eels and mounds of brittle clam shells. These foodstuffs for humans, fish and fowl have always provided a delicious reward for those who hunt, fish and farm its depths.

Growing up along this shoreline, I marveled each time the Creator cast something new from the sea.

The first high tide after a storm usually brought in a treasure trove of marine wonders, and I can remember being knee-deep in live mussel shells following a fierce windstorm.

An extremely low tide unveiled a cache of quahogs that were as large and heavy as stones.

Strong, wind-driven breakers also dislodged many of the periwinkles clinging to rocks that hugged the coast. I can still hear the clatter of shells ringing in my ears as the pounding surf flung the shellfish onto the rocky shore.

Since food from the ocean was so abundant during my childhood summers, we feasted on gifts from the sea almost exclusively.

During low tides, we headed down to the estuary and dug for clams. Turning over large stones that had been covered with water a few hours’ earlier, we would look for the telltale holes in the muddy soil. We then began scooping the wet earth with quahog half-shells, searching for the prize.

My family no longer relies on our local waters to feed us. We drive to the fish market and purchase Maine clams.

For the first time in history our population of six billion people is breaching the limits of what our land and oceans can support. In my short lifetime I have watched the ocean harvest decrease with each passing year.

When we fish and shellfish too heavily, we run the risk of reducing the numbers of marine life to the point where they have difficulty reproducing themselves. Sometimes it takes years or decades to recover.

These days the ocean tosses more rocks and seaweed on the beach than shells, yet if I search more closely, the remains of edible foodstuffs are still there.

The wind-driven seas continue to carry sustenance to us – if only we would harvest God’s gifts more sensibly.