Week 4 April 6-12

April 6-8 Monday-Wednesday

I’ve started walking most mornings and noticed that birds and animals seem more present.  For the first time in ten years on this particular three mile meander, I saw a chipmunk.  And he wasn’t hurrying away.  Neither was a robin who moved slightly as I passed by.  Have they realized their environment is now safe from the onslaught of the two leggers and four wheelers as we stay in place?


I am spending more time on the phone.  I talk frequently and extensively to friends and family.  These calls to Oregon or Ireland temporarily ward off loneliness.  When I was a teenager, I hated using the phone except for the many hours talking to my boyfriend.  My friends would call me almost every night wanting to know what I was wearing to school the next day.  Often I didn’t bother answering.    

Part of a short story found in my book, Jersey Dreams, describes that earlier time.

                  “It’s How You Play…”

        Not long ago, the Environmental Protection Agency listed my home­town as the site of the third worst toxic dump in the United States.  During my thirteenth summer, I was unaware of the hazards of being a teenager in Old Bridge, New Jersey.  What I remember is the smell of yeast from the Anheuser-Busch Brewery permeating the air and the color of charcoal on my bathing suit, sooty deposits from the lake a half-mile from my home.  My friends and I accepted these conditions as the natural state of affairs, occasionally unpleasant but not dangerous.  Now I wonder if some deadly pollution was being expelled by the Morehouse Chemical Factory whose man-made lake was our main source of recreation.  My mother, who still lives in the post-war tract home of my childhood, is untroubled by the government’s revela­tion.  She assures me that central New Jersey is- and always has been- a wonderful place to live. 

            That summer, the weather was perfect: warm enough to go swim­ming almost every day in the lake and cool enough for a sweater in the evening.  Each morning I awoke to hear birds call­ing to one another and to yellow light warming the knotty pine walls in the upstairs bedroom I shared with my sister.  Usually, I spent a half hour after breakfast choosing the clothes I would wear that day.  My friends and I all wore pastels that sum­mer: pale orange, tepid yellow, light pink, baby blue.  In the evening we used matching headbands to hold back freshly washed hair. 

            We never wore shoes until after dinner, priding ourselves on our ability to withstand the oozing asphalt roads that rib­boned their way through the housing developments.  When asked, I never said I lived in Old Bridge, but always replied, “Southwood,” confi­dent that the name of my development would be understood as a sep­arate dominion.  Southwood was the largest group of tract homes in the area, and the builders were quickly constructing new models with captivating names such as split-level or California ranch. 

            The summer before, I had accompanied my mother, with my younger brother and sister in tow, to the lake.  This year,  I went on my own, picking up friends along the way or joining them on the des­ignated spot to the left of the beach, where anyone from thirteen to sixteen was welcome.  We spread our towels or blankets in the direction of the sun, hiding our lunch in the shadow of a beach bag, and waited.  We waited for the older kids, mostly boys to show up; we waited for the lake to warm; we waited for mothers and younger children to go home.

My emotions are right at the surface as they were when I was thirteen. I watched the television newscaster, Chris Cuomo, who has the virus but does his job anyway. He made me weep.

April 9-12 Thursday-Sunday

Nature seems to be the theme this week. My vegetable garden which is almost finished lifted my spirits. I felt like my pre-virus self.

A immature Broad-Winged hawk landed on the branch of a favorite tree, a 200 year old ash directly behind the house. Hit by lightening, it shrinks each year. Once it’s mighty branches extended over the terrace providing much needed shade. Now that branch has gone. Each year, an arborist predicts it’s demise: each year it carries on and new leaves emerge.


Briefly, the hawk took refuge. Probably looking for the many rabbits that frequent my back yard. The teenagers frolic about chasing each other in mock combat or perhaps just play.

I read the newspapers, watch CNN, MSNBC, listen to NPR and weep again. President Trump’s crassness and unconcern for his citizens’ lives overwhelms me.  Now he’s saying that the Governors’ request for hospital equipment is exaggerated. He wants to stop funding the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic.  I despair. Then I look out my kitchen window and watch the tulip magnolia blanket the lawn with its blossoms.  Restored momentarily. 


Looking For Rachel Day 4

Wednesday, September 5

Today, we took the ferry from Boothbay Harbor to Monhegan Island, over sixteen miles away.  A whale was sighted but I managed to miss it.

In her book, The Edge of the Sea, Carson writes of Monhegan Island, “…which in ancient times must have stood above the coastal plain as a bold monadnock.”  According to Britannica.com, a monadnock is, “an isolated hill of bedrock standing conspicuously above the general level of the surrounding area.”


Our first stop was the Fish House noted for it’s lobster rolls.  I remember driving to Wood’s Hole decades ago and stopping at roadside stands.  Two dollars would get a hot dog bun filled with lobster salad; then, small pieces of lobster pieces fit the roll.  Now everything is super sized and doesn’t appeal.  I opted for fish tacos.

The restaurant, a short walk from the Ferry to Dead Man’s Cove, faces Manana Island where the Manana Island Sound Signal Station is located, sending out fog signals since 1855.


From there, we walked to Lobster Cove.  The path reminded me of the difficulty getting to the beach at Rachel’s house.  Narrow trails towards challenging rocks.  I had hoped to see some birds of note but none appeared.  Like Rachel Carson, I’m fond of sighting birds.  Unlike her, I’m inconsistent in my attempts.  My friends ventured further.  I remained cautious.


Next the Monhegan Museum of Art and History,  part of the keeper’s house on the Lighthouse grounds.  A real treasure like the museum on Ile Aux Marins across from Miqulon, the French outpost off the coast of Nova Scotia. We stepped back into the past with views that stopped my breath.


We had to do a quick tour in order to reach the ferry on time.  Once back in Boothbay Harbor, we crossed the Boothbay Harbor Footbridge to the other side and did see a bird of note: a loon.


We ended the day with a dinner of beans on toast.  Then a look at the stars while reading aloud James Harpur’s poem, “The Perseids.”  And we were moved.

And in the freckled darkness

the stars looked down on us

and on the gathering of silent animals,

as if they’d willed us there, the ones

they had been waiting for,

ensouling the universe

with our thoughts for sick and absent friends

and wishes for uncertain futures –

the stars saw the meaning of life –

if only for the time it took

to see and lose a prayer

in our evaporating trails of love.

From  The White Silhouette, Carcanet, 2018 




Fauna, Flowers, and People


In my mad rush packing, I neglected to bring binoculars. Yet, where would they have gone? I’ve had only my eyes and my Iphone to sight birds, not a very effective method. And this is a bird’s paradise. They don’t seem to be in harm’s way no matter where they land. In a saltwater pond on the low road, geese and ducks paddle along diving for food. Various gulls join them. One gull had a fish in his mouth, so big, he had to drop it. I can attest to magpies, shelducks, mallards, herons, warblers, hooded crows, and even a skylark.



Perhaps the biggest surprise has been seal sightings. On that last evening walk, two seals sunned themselves on a sand bar turning their heads west to catch the rays.


Sunning Seals
Sunning Seals

Along every stone wall wild flowers abound. Dandelions, often considered a pest in the United States, make luxurious lines of bright yellow. Hardy fuchsia spill over the walls like honey suckle, tempting lips, and smalll wonders appear at my feet: spring gentian, mountain pansey, bloody cranes bill, and birds foot trefoil along with many I have yet to identify. Walking back from the cliffs on the east side of the island, tiny red and yellow butterflies danced at my feet.

Cranes Blood Bill
Bloody Cranes Bill

Certainly, I have made the acquaintance of a number of interesting people at the Man of Aran and on my walk: a retired army nurse who is working with the University of South Carolina to start a sustainable farm; her friend, the vet from Boulder, who has developed an interesting method for deferring costs for her clients, cats and dogs; the educators from Rochtestor; the puppeteer from Connecticut; and the United Way worker from Toronto. However, my beginning relationship with the islanders is most precious, slight though it is. Just when I’m leaving, I feel connected. Joe saved the day by taking apart my bathroom sink to retrieve my lenses. He demanded a sonnet which I delivered, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Maura let me into her life a bit with what might have been the beginning of a friendship. Fionna, at the Internet cafe, told me about her attempts at fiction and poetry.

On my last full day on the island, I wanted to go to the pub in Kilronan frequented by Joe and Maura. There was just me and a male patron perched on a stool at the end of the bar. Five or ten minutes passed before a barkeep appeared. I ordered a Guinness inquiring if there was any food. He said no, but a few Guinnesses would do just as well. I gave him a fiver and left the rest for a tip. He nodded to the man at the end of the bar and said “See, you can give a tip if you want.” They both laughed.

I sipped my Guinness while the fellow at the bar talked to himself in Irish, hands lifted for emphasis. Eventually, he made his way to me and told me of his travels to the states including a treacherous voyage in a small boat from Boston to Cap Cod.  “A day full of squalls,” so he says. When he discovered where I was staying, he wanted to know if I had seen Robert Flaherty’s famous 1934 ethnographic film, Man of Aran as Flaherty had used the cottages in the film, hence the name of the B&B.  I commented that it was considered an important part of documentary filmmaking even though parts of it were staged. He responded, “Well, yes, yes, didn’t go shark hunting anymore, but that fella could have drowned, the sea was that bad.” He had first hand knowledge as one of his relatives, he assured me, had been in the film.

As the 4 o’clock ferry hadn’t arrived, no vans were at the harbor. Once again, I opted to walk. Without any food since breakfast, I grew weary. I passed 30 or so French tourists and then about the same number of Spanish tourists leaving Ti Joe Watty’s. My friend at the bar said he had a long walk home but would manage by stopping at pubs along the way. I followed his lead, found a seat at the bar at Ti Joe’s, ordered another Guinness, got a sandwich and exchanged some pleasantries with the owner. By the time I left, she asked me to to pass a message on to Maura. “Tell her Grace will see her in October.”