Red Skies

Photo Courtesy of Scott Berstein, North Kingstown, RI July 2020

Over the past six months, regardless of whether we spend our days on bodies of water, deserts, or mountain ranges, many crew members aboard the great ship Earth have been keeping a weather eye open.  We’ve seen red skies at dawn and have been warned. Lots of folks are seriously under the weather in the midst of a raging tempest that’s not bound to the winds nor soothed by the sun. Some of us live in states that battened down the hatches, pulled up the gangplank, and quarantined those who were not already aboard before the downpour. It seems we’ve boarded a ship bound for Drakes Passage and are enduring the century’s roughest sea passage.

Sunrise, Jamestown Bridge, RI. Photo by Scott Berstein

Rather than spend my summer days being wary of lurking sharks (certain portends of death for superstitious sailors of old) I’ve been enjoying vivid coastal sunsets. Most days end with the sun hemorrhaging ruby rays into the crimson sea. These red skies are sailors’ delights.

Weather is the Jay Gatsby of Earth’s atmosphere. It moves from West to East where life seems more dazzling. Each day ends with sunlight being scattered by tiny bits of dust as high pressure sinks the air. Red skies at sunset forecast that morning will bear no bad weather and threaten tomorrow. Each sunset finds us on the cusp of a new chapter in our lives.

Narragansett, RI. Photo by Scott Berstein

Given the risks of sailing and the fact that for most of maritime history sailors couldn’t swim, and all boats leaked, “goodbye” is a word not to be uttered upon a ship. My grandkids and I always sing goodnight to the sunshine and thank it for a really great day. I never fall asleep without hoping for another great day. I know the color of the sky can’t promise a safe passage through any day or night. The best I can do, just in case dawn is born by red skies, is whisper a prayer for fair winds and following seas and hope these blessings are shared by you.

Jim’s Dock, Jerusalem, RI. Photo by Scott Berstein

Note: We are all rounding the Horn this summer. It’s a scary time for whether you look off the port or starboard rails, it’s clear we’ve not left this maelstrom a’stern. Scott Berstein is a Narragansett local, who I believe winter’s-over as a teacher. I found his posts on the local Face Book groups for Narragansett and South Kingstown. Scott set up a challenge to capture “perfect” sunset and sunrise venues in southern Rhode Island. His photos are posted at the beginning and end of each of these summer days. I can’t thank him enough for bringing forth hope and peace, and the promise of “carpe diem.”.

Sovereign Summers

Sunrise Portal to a Fresh Summer Day. Photo by Scott Berstein, Narragansett, RI

Fireworks blazing in the night sky on the 4th of July, not the longest day of the year, are the starting shots that herald the arrival of American summertime. Let the games of summer begin! Summer reigns great power over the imagination as we all contemplate all of the things we are free to do.

Coming of age a couple of miles from Long Island Sound, each summer brought forth a new sense of independence. When the birthday candles reached double digits, my parents brought forth the first rules of freedom; “get outside early, drink from the hose, don’t hurt your siblings, be back in time to wash your hands for dinner.” Freedom to go to the beach unsupervised by parents required passing obligatory early morning Red Cross swim lessons. They were always scheduled for before the fourth of July during the first week of high tide (frigid but clean water) and finished the following week at dead low tide. The swim test was at low tide when the water was warmer but smelled like Sulphur and rotting fish. I was informed by our biology teacher that this distinct, obnoxious tidal scent was due to sex pheromones produced by seaweed eggs to attract sperm. A few years later I understood that bikinis served the same purpose.  

Transforming from a teen to a young adult brought forth the understanding that if my passion for playing with boats was to endure, I’d have to learn to take care of myself, my boat, and everyone else aboard. I accepted the notion that the freedom to explore coastlines came with the burden of responsibility for my decisions. Reading the skies and listening to weather forecasts do not ensure a calm day on the water. Being careful was part of being responsible. If either of those traits were absent, my decisions could jeopardize the crew’s wellbeing. Playing it safe on the water seemed to be a small cost of freedom. I violated the rule once (as most youth do), sauntered into harm’s way, and nearly drowned behind a sloop pirated from a friend’s parents.

This 4th of July is different. There are no fireworks scheduled in coastal communities. Yet the spirit of freedom burns brightly as star spangled buntings are hoisted and flags wave jauntily in the sea breeze. There is an undercurrent though that is binding some folks together while tearing others apart. Wearing sunscreen is an option. Wearing a mask inside public places is not an option. I don’t know the odds of getting skin cancer compared to spreading the virus. I do believe communal liberty depends on respecting and caring for others. The poet Kahlil Gibran, whose poetry guided me through teen angst-ridden summers that smelled like Johnson’s Baby Oil and Noxema, said it best, “let there be spaces in your togetherness.” Let the love for independence and community be like “a moving sea between your souls.”

Throughout the games of summer, “may the odds be ever in your favor.”