Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Season of sunshine comes to its lovely end

It is the end of October, and my family and I are forced to face the inevitable: 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.

On Sunday afternoons we remain inside watching the Patriots play, rather than sunning ourselves in the back yard.

Then the day comes when my husband and his friend winterize the house, draining the water from the pipes to prevent freezing.

The season of sunny summer days and simple pleasures officially ends when my parents lock the door behind them.

As New Englanders, we look forward to the changing seasons in comfy woolen sweaters and welcome the beauty of the colorful fall foliage. But with each passing year, I find it more difficult to leave the summer house behind. I yearn to prolong the season because I know that things will never be the same again.

Eight months’ later when I return to the summer house, the population and landscape will be altered.

Some of our former neighbors will never return again, the for-sale signs placed prominently in the yards of empty houses. Others have already sold their homes, and real estate developers raze the old cottages and construct expensive new homes on the lots or rent the properties to a succession of weekly tenants.

I worry about my aging parents and pray that they’ll have many more years of good health and happy times at the summer house. They tire more easily these days, and the upkeep on the house proves more difficult with each passing season.

And I wonder if this will be the last season for all of us.

Sixty-seven years ago, many of the cottages on this peninsula were destroyed by hurricane winds and rising waters. Will this be the year that Mother Nature unleashes her fury again on our little stretch of coastline?

Sarah Orne Jewett best describes the feelings of separation from a seaside home as the end of the season approaches.

In “The Country of the Pointed Firs” she writes:

“At last it was the time of late summer, when the house was cool and damp in the morning … There was no autumnal mist on the coast, nor an August fog; instead of these, the sea, the sky, all the long shore line and inland hills, with every bush of bay and every fir-top, gained a deeper color and a sharper clearness. There was something shining in the air, and a kind of luster on the water. 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. There may be restrictions to such a summer’s happiness, but the ease that belongs to simplicity is charming enough to make up for whatever a simple life may lack. 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 state beach, shut off the engine, and take in the beauty of our home’s winter face. With hot cups of coffee and tea cradled in our hands, we will plan.

Fogland is the stuff of dreams.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The sea around us

Weeding out the bookshelves in my basement the other day, I found the old, dog-eared paperback of “The Sea Around Us” by Rachel L. Carson. I still remember the day I bought it at a book sale in my middle school library.

When I opened the book, I understood why I had exchanged my lunch money long ago for a science book, rather than the usual literature titles that would attract a future English major.

The introduction captivated me: “The enigmatic ocean-mother has always fascinated poets; here an eminent scientist presents a factual, informative, and comprehensive survey of the sea that retains the art and wonder of great poetry. Miss Carson describes the hidden mountains and canyons of the ocean deeps, how they are being mapped; tells of the ceaseless power of the winds, waves, and currents, and the paradox of the moving tides. She reveals the meaning of the ocean to man – the heritage of the sea that we carry in our bodies – and the riches to be found in its salty marshes.”

This was around the time that my parents bought property in Fogland, and I needed a guide. The book jacket said that Carson had continued her graduate work at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. That cinched it. I knew the place firsthand.

The summer before, my parents had taken us to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and we were given a tour. My father’s friend was a staff photographer for the prestigious marine facility, and he had granted access to my parents, my brother and I to a world known only to research scientists.

The experience would have a profound effect on us.

My brother would learn to scuba dive and to pilot a sailboat and small planes. I think the seed to study and explore was planted in him that day at Woods Hole.

While I marveled at all I saw, I wanted to write about it like Carson, seamlessly combining science and prose to capture the work of the Creator.

A marine biologist, author of four books, and professor at The John Hopkins University, Carson chose a quote for the subhead for each of the chapters of “The Sea Around Us.”

For the first chapter “The Gray Beginnings,” the quote appropriately came from Genesis, the first book of the Bible: “And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” In “The Pattern of the Surface,” she selected a line from Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”: “There is, one knows not sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.” The sainted monk The Venerable Bede supplied the quote for “The Moving Tides”: “In every country the moon keeps ever the rule of alliance with the sea which it once for all has agreed upon.”

When I decided to write my thesis at Wellesley College on a collection of nonfiction essays about Fogland, I once again turned to Carson for help. All the books on my carrel came from the shelves of the Margaret Clapp Library – except one. I walked over to the Science Center Library to unearth this book with a copyright date of 1950 that seemed ancient history next to the books on cutting-edge scientific discoveries.

I would defend my thesis in front of three English professors and one professor of Oceanography, who seemed so out of place among the tomes of Shakespeare and other literary greats on the bookshelves of the English Common Room. But my creative writing thesis was like no other – it contained the rhythm of meter and verse and the sea.

Today, decades after buying Carson’s book, I am amazed at the impact she has made on my life. This blog "Sea, Sky & Spirit" is testament to my lifelong fascination to the sea around us.

Thank you, Rachel Carson.

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Wellesley Professor of Geosciences Dr. Harold Andrews, a brilliant and kind gentleman.)