Monday, April 18, 2016

Misadventures -- The stuff our vacations were made of

I come from a family of adventurers. Before we bought our summer place in Fogland, we spent our summer vacations discovering America like other average American families. But unfortunately, there was never anything typical about our trips.

My father is a true pioneer, and each summer I would shudder to think what he had planned for us. He loved camping in the wilds and exploring terrain where no man had gone before. He considered pit toilets an amenity.

We blazed our own trail up Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire in the company of millions of ferocious mosquitoes, and in the heart of the Florida Everglades, we shared a campsite with poisonous snakes and swam with a crocodile, although we were unaware of its presence until we got out of the water.

Perhaps our most memorable vacation was a trip to Montreal, Canada. Many families spent that summer at the World’s Fair. We made reservations at a Canadian campground called “Camping Robert,” packed the tent into the van and headed north.

When we finally arrived, we paid the fee for a week’s stay and were told to proceed to Site No. 15, which would be clearly posted on a tree. The van bounced as my father drove down the heavily-gutted dirt road. After passing over a tiny bridge, we spotted our site, which indeed was clearly marked. The only problem was that a little river ran through it.

My father cautiously backed up, but the bridge’s pitched slope made it nearly impossible to maneuver. Consequently, our van was leaning against one of the posts of the bridge. He immediately got out of the truck to assess the situation. If he attempted to move the van, he took a chance of damaging the vehicle, or even worse, rolling over into the brook below.

A man from a nearby campsite, chattering profusely in French, arrived with an axe. After a few thrusts, the post was in the river; and we were free. My father thanked the Good Samaritan, and we headed back to the office.

This time they assigned us Site No. 20, and the campsite was as nice as a piece of ground in the center of a huge city during a worldwide exposition could be. We were finally settled.

My father and little brother began to erect the tent, while my mother and I climbed the steep hill to the restroom.

Opening the door marked “Les Femme,” we were unprepared for what we saw next. Women were showering “au naturel” without a stitch of shower curtain anywhere.

As we made our way down the hill, we were not sure we were in Canada anymore. It seemed more like Yellowstone Park because there was a geyser in the middle of the campground. The amazing thing was that the water was spouting from Site No. 20.

Then we spotted my father, who was dripping wet with a very incriminating hammer in one hand and a very incriminating tent stake in the other.

Later, we learned that they used rubber water pipes buried only a few inches in the ground in these makeshift campgrounds. With my father’s good sense of direction, he had pinpointed the location of the rubber hosing; and the wall of water had erupted.

So, this was the stuff our vacations were made of…

Finally, after years of cross-country adventures, my parents decided to set down some roots in Tiverton. We pitched our tent in its turf, and the only thing my father hit with the stake was a rock. The mosquitoes at twilight were just as ravenous as their mountain counterparts so we also erected a screened tent. Thankfully, there were no holes in the ground harboring poisonous snakes, just the occasional garter. However, we traded crocs for sharks.

Now, we look forward to the new season at the summer house and wonder what new adventures it will bring. Having survived my childhood, I’m game. I just hope that pesky skunk that took up residence under the shed is gone…

Monday, April 4, 2016

Sea change

Early April, a month before we open the summer house for the season, and three to four inches of snow are expected with winds gusting to 33 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

No matter the season, folks who live by the sea, respect the river in fair and rough weather.

We know better.

I knew an elderly gentleman, an officer in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, who assisted on weekend patrols in Mount Hope Bay and the Sakonnet River.

In the 1930s his family converted a small fisherman’s shack along Sakonnet Point into a summer cottage.

Coming of age there, he often sailed around the lighthouse or paddled his canoe up and down the coast, edging his way around the many boats in the fishing fleet.

He worked at The Fo’c’s’le, a popular seaside tourist spot, opening quahogs, shelling lobsters and peeling potatoes.

Then the 1938 hurricane struck without warning.

“We lost the house, and I almost lost my father,” he told me. “He was washed out to sea from Sakonnet Point all the way down to Taylor’s Lane. He watched five people drown, and he couldn’t save them. He had cracked ribs and was bruised all over, but he came out alive.”

Fifty homes in his Sakonnet Point neighborhood were destroyed.

It is the start of another season at Fogland, and I spy new construction dotting the lush green landscape that hugs the coastline. These homes are ideally situated and offer spectacular views, but many are at risk.

Scripture warns about the foolish man who built his house on sandy ground.

“The rains fell, the torrents came, the winds blew and lashed against his house. It collapsed under all this and was completely ruined.”

When my parents bought their Fogland parcel of land in the winter of 1969, they learned that their neighbor’s cottage had been beachfront property. Fifteen years earlier, Hurricane Carol had dragged it to its current site, three streets from the water’s edge.

In 1991, Hurricane Bob made landfall over Newport. When the water receded, one of the rental cottages along our beach had been torn from its foundation and set down in the middle of the salt marsh.

These days I marvel at the incredible beachfront homes that are constructed along the Sakonnet. With their multi-million-dollar price tags, they are indeed lovely to behold. Flood insurance protects the property and its contents, and in the event of a catastrophic hurricane, the house can be rebuilt and furnishings replaced.

Yet those who live by the sea have the deepest respect for their fickle neighbor. They cherish the calm demeanor and tranquility of their fair-weather friend, but they also know when it is agitated, slamming surf and kicking up sand, it’s time to get to higher ground.