Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving musings

Wild turkeys frolic across the street in my neighbor's yard.

The wind is howling outside my window, a most unwelcome sound.

A few weeks ago a 50-mile-an-hour gust took down a 100-foot pine in our front yard, landing on the electric wires and crushing our mailbox across the street.

It is the day before Thanksgiving, and a nor’easter is barreling up the coast, bringing high winds and torrential rains. This year, those going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house may prefer the on-the-river route.

Since I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I am blessed to have the day off from work, offering ample time to prepare the feast.

Today I will make a batch of winter soup, a concoction of chicken stock, carrots, onions, potatoes and turnips, thickened with a roux of flour and butter, and sprinkled with a handful of parsley. The flavors will meld nicely overnight.

The rolling pin will come out of hiding, and I’ll make enough dough for two pies, pumpkin and blueberry. Once they’re in the oven, their fragrance will fill the house, the intoxicating scent of cinnamon and spice.

Meanwhile, I’ll melt chocolate and whip it with egg yolks, strong-brewed coffee, powdered sugar and heavy cream for chocolate mousse, a decadent dessert garnished with a spoonful of freshly-whipped cream that just melts in your mouth.

Then I’ll make my mother’s favorite dessert, Grape-Nuts custard, baked in a hot water bath for nearly an hour.

I usually use a friend’s fresh eggs which create a frothy mixture that rises sky-high. But sadly, a fox recently killed his hens while they were pecking in his front yard. I’ll have to make do with the grocery store variety.

Lastly, I’ll set the table with a hand-embroidered tablecloth, a beautiful gift from my husband’s Canadian aunts; and I’ll take out our best china from the hutch.

The turkey and the rest of the preparations can wait until the wee hours of tomorrow morning.

I’ll leave you with some words about the holiday from my favorite New England author, Gladys Taber.

“In a world of turmoil, where poverty and prejudice still exist … I am thankful for so very much,” she said. “No voice is raised in hatred in my household. Footsteps sound gently on the threshold… The grandchildren walk and play without fear. The dogs settle on the wide hearth and doze into a warm, comfortable sleep. The steady glow of friendship warms me daily. … These are simple things, but to me they are most precious. And as I recall each one, November’s beaver moon shines brighter than ever; and I know that love and friendship, hearth fires and faith are indeed gifts to be thankful for and to treasure always.”


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The sting

As tranquil as a pond in midsummer, the Sakonnet barely ripples on this overcast, gray November morning.

I watch a fishing boat navigate the channel heading downriver to open sea, and my mind drifts back to a long ago fishing expedition.

My husband and our two boys had gone fishing at daybreak. On an impulse later that morning, my daughter and I waited for them at the ramp and climbed aboard.

It was the first time I had taken a ride on our new acquisition, an 18-foot Sea Pro center-console boat with a 90-horsepower Toshatsu engine. It was a clear day with little wind, and we skimmed over the waves heading a few miles upriver. After circling Gould Island, we returned to the state beach.

Backing our Ford Explorer up to the trailer hitch, my husband dragged our boat onto dry land and began to secure the straps over the transom.

Another four-wheel vehicle, a late-model Ford Bronco, pulled up alongside our boat. The words “State of Rhode Island Environmental Police” were on the door.

Dressed in a dark green uniform with a prominent badge and holstered gun, the officer strode over to my husband and asked for the boat registration.

“Are we going to jail?” my son whispered. “No,” I said, hugging him close.

My husband continued to pack away the fishing gear, pretending it was just another day at the beach.

“How many fish did you catch today?” the officer asked.

“About a dozen,” my husband said.

“Show me the fish,” he ordered.

My husband climbed on the trailer, swung his leg over the gunwale and flung himself into the boat. Grabbing the pail, he handed it to the officer, who carried the fish to his truck. Then he took out a measuring device and calculated the length of every single bloody fish.

“These two are under limit,” he said. “Put them back in the water.”

Humiliated, my husband carried the fish to the water’s edge and tossed them in.

“You folks from around here?” the officer asked, changing his tone of voice and letting down his guard. Our Massachusetts license plate gleamed in the noontime sun.

“We’re summer residents,” my husband said.

We headed for the summer house in silence, but some seagulls spotted the floating fish, and they squawked loudly as they fought over our catch.

I knew that if those two fish were under limit, they were slightly under limit. What difference did it make whether those fish were consumed by humans or birds?
These days when we pull up anchor and begin to approach the ramp, we scan the beach and waste little time in hitching up the boat and driving away.

The seagulls can fend for themselves.





Monday, November 11, 2013

The end of the season

Colorful leaves create a natural fence at the summer house.
It is the middle of November, and we are forced to face the inevitable. The delightful interlude of sunny summer days and simple pleasures is coming to an end. It is time to close up the summer house for another season.

Our sweatshirts are no longer ample protection from the cold winds, and we linger a few minutes at the beach before returning to the warmth of the house.

This week my husband and his friend will winterize the place, draining the water from the pipes to prevent freezing.

The little house will be shuttered, bracing itself for icy winds and a long season of silence. Bereft of family and unable to generate heat or light, it will hibernate and patiently await our return.

With each passing year, I find it more difficult to leave the summer house behind.

Sarah Orne Jewett best describes the feelings of separation from a seaside home in “The Country of the Pointed Firs.”

“The sunshine of a northern summer was coming to its lovely end. The days were few then … and I let each of them slip away unwillingly as a miser spends his coins. At last I had to say goodbye to all my … friends, and my homelike place in the little house, and return to the world in which I feared to find myself a foreigner… When I went in again, the little house had suddenly grown lonely, and my room looked empty as it had the day I came. I and all my belongings had died out of it … so we die before our own eyes; so we see some chapters of our lives come to their natural end.”

With gratefulness I bid farewell to another season. Every weekend throughout the long winter ahead, my husband and I will be drive-by visitors, checking on the summer house.

Then we’ll park our truck at the beach, shut off the engine, and admire the Creator's handiwork. 

“The immensity of nature … gives us a new perspective on life, washes away or minimizes our worries,” writes Ferenc Mate, the author of “A Real Life – Rediscovering the Roots of Our Happiness.” “How can we feel sad with all the beauty there is to see? And how can we feel poor when all this beauty belongs to us?”

Monday, November 4, 2013

My stormy life in journalism

Twilight near Old Stone Bridge, Tiverton, R.I.

The truck tires dig in the sand and come to a stop near the curiosity that is Old Stone Bridge.

Once a mighty fortress, all that remains are two stone sections still attached to land, one on the Tiverton side, the other on the opposite shore in Portsmouth.

During the onslaught of the 1938 Hurricane, one of the worst to ever breach these shores, hurricane-force winds and waves damaged the bridge. Repaired, it was a mainstay until Hurricane Carol in 1954 inflicted the fatal blow.

It is twilight, and I am tired. I have come to the water to RUMInate.

During the past year, I have held down two jobs, working about 50 hours a week.  

According to Rumi, the thirteenth-century founder of Sufi mysticism and one of the most widely read poets in the U.S., I have been “Tending Two Shops.”

“You own two shops, / and you run back and forth. / Try to close the one that’s a fearful trap, / getting always smaller. Checkmate, / this way. Checkmate, that. / Keep open the shop where you’re not selling fish-hooks anymore. / You are the free-swimming fish.”

Throughout my 30-year journalism career, I have worked for 15 newspapers and magazines.

I began as a freelance piloting my own row boat in calm seas. Then I boarded bigger vessels, jumping ship and climbing the ladder.

Sometimes I lost a foothold as I yearned to soar from the crow’s nest.

But a new digital era was dawning, and from my perch I watched the winds of change batter my profession.

Three times I went down with the ship, when two of the magazines folded and one of the newspapers went bankrupt.

Through the years I clung to the rocks, while advertising dollars and circulation plummeted and services outsourced.

I prayed to the Lord to quiet the raging seas, but the powers that be were unrepentant.

And the skeleton crew kept rowing upriver against the tide...

Hanging on for dear life, I went from full-time plus overtime to a handful of hours with no benefits, while I took another job as a business manager in the safe harbor of health care to pay the bills.

A few days ago I walked the plank in the company of some of my shipmates, including my captain who had welcomed me aboard more than a decade ago.

Panting, I floated in with the tide, landing on this beach in the shadow of Old Stone Bridge.

Rescued, I realize I am now a free-swimming fish no longer hooked to a dying industry.

Tomorrow I will tend one shop.