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.

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