Wednesday, February 24, 2016

'Water, water everywhere'

Water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and is vital for life.
In the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” the lyrical verse chants: “Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.”

Jutting out into the river, our slice of heaven at Fogland is a peninsula with the swirling Sakonnet on two sides and the brackish water of the salt marsh on the other.

Oftentimes, the air is heavy with moisture – the mist and fog so thick that it is a palpable thing, the water enveloping us like our first nine months of life afloat in amniotic fluid.

Yet, in this community of cottages, water is a hot commodity. With many of the dwellings sitting on 50-foot lots, there is little room for both a well and sewerage on the tiny plots. Consequently, many of the neighbors share wells, which are grandfathered to successive owners.

My parents bought our property in 1969. It is one of the larger parcels with 150 feet of land abutting farmland in our backyard.

We spent the first year camping in a tent and carrying fresh water to the site. Then we hired contractors to put in a point well and lay the intricate galley septic system.

From then on, the water flowed abundantly, and my father often remarked how sweet-tasting it was, compared to the chlorine-treated water back home.

On April 20, 1990, the Rhode Island Department of Health tested our well water; and a couple of weeks later, my parents received the following letter:

“Enclosed is a copy of the water report containing analytical results of the water sample collected from your well. The results indicate the presence of Temik and other carbamates and by-products with concentrations higher than acceptable. Research data indicates that you should not use your water for cooking or drinking. You will be monitored periodically by the Department of Health.”

There was trouble in paradise. Our water was contaminated by a chemical we had never heard of. We had to educate ourselves.

We learned that Temik is a restricted-use pesticide which is used to primarily control insects in crops. It is closely regulated because of its toxicity to humans and animals and its potential for ground water and food crop contamination.

Shortly, thereafter the Department of Health ordered that a filtering system be installed on our well. My parents never received a bill for the equipment.

A year later, the water was tested again, and my parents received a letter with the news of the positive results:

“We are pleased to say that no traces of Temik were detected in your sample. You will be monitored periodically by the Department of Health.”

To this day, I never drink water from the tap. After the scare, it just made sense to drink bottled water, although we use well water for every other use.

Over the years at the summer house, we have endured many natural threats, including catastrophic hurricanes, killing red tides, mosquitoes infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis and deer ticks carrying Lyme disease.

But there was nothing natural about the contamination of our water supply.

In paradise, lush green plants can bear forbidden fruit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Daffodils in the snow

As New Englanders, our roots are deeply planted; but like our towering pines in the wind, we tend to bend. We adapt no matter the weather.

The last weekend in January, my husband and I headed to the summer place. Bright sunshine and balmy air belied the season.

Pulling into the backyard, I noticed that the daffodils, sheltered by the stone wall, had broken through the hard earth and were ready to bloom.

While I walked around the yard, I yearned to open the shed, grab a lawn chair and sit with my face turned toward the sun.

We drove down the street, parked on the beach, cranked down the windows and stared at the Creator’s handiwork. Reflecting the blue sky, the Sakonnet was as calm as a lake in June.

I jumped out of the cab and sunk into the soft sand. With the warm wind at my back, I walked along the water’s edge, longing to kick off my shoes.

After a long absence, I reluctantly returned to the truck.

Fast forward, ten days …

First came the forecast: The meteorologists at New England Cable News told us to expect 17 inches of snow in our neck of the woods.

Eight hours and eight inches later, wet, sticky snow covered everything as far as the eye, in limited visibility, could see.

I had filled the bird feeder before the storm, and the only visitors we received that day were cheerful chickadees that whistled “peter-peter-peter” while darting back and forth from birdseed to bush.

When the snow stopped, my husband ventured out into the dark to plow the driveway. On one of his last passes near the barn, he heard a loud crack. He was sure that a hundred-foot pine tree would topple during the night.

Consequently, we slept in the living room, since our bedroom was in the path of the suspected tree. The next morning my husband found the huge limb that had smacked the roof of the barn before breaking into pieces on the ground. Thank God, the tree was sound.

Today, three days later, the second blizzard hit.

This morning we lost power as soon as the first flakes began to circle in the 40- to 50-mile-an-hour gusts. For the first time this season, the generator hummed.

It is now 10 p.m., and the flakes are still falling. We will dig ourselves out tomorrow, and I think of those daffodils, just yearning to poke a hole in all that snow.