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.”

A Smoko for Sweet Fanny Adams

A lot of things that we think matter a lot turn out to be worthless. During this pandemic I’ve spent substantial time reflecting on what holds value and what is just a Sweet Fanny Adams[1]. Another Fanny, this one from Broadway, sang, “people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”  Those are the people who will always remember Spring 2020 as a bleak and lonely season. Regardless of the plight of humanity, the earth continued to spin on its axis, days grew longer, and boating season returned. People who need boats are the second luckiest people.

Joshua Slocum was a self-sufficient 19th century sailor who circumvented the globe alone. His life partner was his boat, Spray. He found people were like Sweet Fanny Adams, they were insignificant, except to buy his book. While Slocum was obsessed with single-handed sailing, I prefer Noah’s two by two plan for crew on the Ark. I can’t do with both hands what Slocum did with a pinky finger. Sometimes it takes four or six hands to keep Ex Libris afloat.

Forget Waldo, Where’s the Leak?

This past weekend I filled my tanks with fresh water and was startled to note that the head (bathroom) floor had quite a bit of water that seemed to be coming up from the shower drain. I wiped it up and found that it wasn’t a trickle of tinkle. The water was clear and odorless. The last time we found water dripping in the head was on a New Years Eve when our boat was taking on river water. This puddle did not resemble melted yellow snow.

Fully embracing the “many hands less work” theory, I hailed our good friend, a retired Naval engineer who spent his career working with nuclear submarine engines. I fretted that we could sink from the sink, after all water drains from the sink into the river so what’s to stop the reverse? Joe troubleshooted how sink water could appear on the floor of a different cabin. He taught me how to check sea cocks and blow out clogs from a drain. Heady stuff that appeared to quell the leak. We kept to our plan to socially distance our two boats overnight on a quiet slough off the Mississippi. I relaxed knowing a guy who spent most of his career under water wasn’t concerned about puddles in my head.

We dropped anchor. I sopped up another pint of water and tried to remember the first prayer on a rosary chain.  After a fine meal on deck, George went below to use the head and shortly called up, “I fixed the leak!” The submariner and I were baffled. George, who is a damn fine first mate is not noted for his acuity for fixing things at sea or on land. Beaming a broad smile, he tossed me a nearly empty gallon water jug kept in the bathroom on a low shelf that we use to flush the head. It was dented and had a small bottom crack. Only a couple of ounces of water remained at the bottom of the jug. He had fixed the leak.

The next day, George and the submariner took a smoko. That’s an old naval term for a taking a break from all seaman duties. They savored a couple of expensive cigars together (appropriately distanced) and spoke quietly about the many things men do at sea and with boats. Some, like engines that won’t kick over are serious. Others, such as distilled water jug floods are not. We were glad to be in the company of a Navy sailor on this Memorial Day weekend. He recalled another sailor who advised; the first thing to do on a boat is raise the flag. The last thing is to take it down, fold it respectfully, and store it until the next time. It’s good to honor our troops, past and present whose heroics big and small are never Sweet Fanny Adams. Life is more than luck. Few of us can make it single handed. We need people like them to keep people like us safe.   


[1] An old Royal Navy saying referring to the content of tinned meat rations that were considered worthless. It’s a twisted tale born of a tragedy but kept for something.

Hope Floats

Sink or Float is a simple game best played with young kids. I prefer playing it riverside or alongshore but it can be played in a bucket, a bowl, sink, or tub (skip the toilet). Just add water. Players gather up things, twigs, bits of asphalt, younger siblings to toss in the water. The object of the game is to guess whether each bit of stuff will sink or float. Stones can skip but then they sink. It’s an easy game unless you are new to the world, as children are, and the laws of gravity aren’t obvious. There are a lot of surprises in the realm of sinking and floating stuff.

And then there is hope. It can’t be seen on shore or picked up to toss in a pond, but it is real. Hope, by its nature, floats, like boats are built to do. There has been a lot of fuss during this pandemic over the question of whether or not we are all in the same boat. The answer is, no. First, the loosest of social gathering policies sets 10 as the top limit for touchable togetherness. Second, unless you’re escaping Cuba, a crew that big needs a decent size boat and a captain with a hefty wallet. This means an awful lot of people, and many who can’t swim, are struggling to stay afloat.

To swallow the anchor is to retire from the sea. Just the thought chokes me up.
Palisades. Alton Pool, Mississippi River
Photo by JAL

Anyone who has ever simply messed about in boats holds tightly to the notion that it’s better to float than to sink. Charles Dickens wrote that while hope may well float, it’s like a buoy that can’t be steered. You must keep wishing you’ll stay afloat while knowing that the wind and current may or may not bring you to where you want to be.

Unlike the game of Sink or Float, where science wins, wishing on a star and hoping for the best, is proof that our inner child still holds fast to the belief that life doesn’t play fair. That little kid who stays down deep within our aging bodies knows for sure that hope floats and wishes come true. In fact, they are as real as dreams and strong as boats that sail the seas. Hope floats because we believe it floats. Disbelief sinks our spirts to deep despair.

I’d rather have faith in hope than to swallow the anchor. To do the later would mean giving up the sea and retiring to a landlocked boat-less life. I’m using hope to keep my head above these turbulent seas where getting splashed can sink me to the bottom. So, if you come to our dock and ask for permission to come aboard, unless you’re willing to mask up and keep a safe distance, don’t be offended if we shake our heads but not your hands and sail off alone. I’m hoping that this talisman will protect you, me, and all we love until the tide changes and we cruise safer waters together.

Betwixt Wind and Water – Lambs and Lions

Somebody’s Little Red Boat. Wickford Cove, RI
Photo JAL

The month of March is gauged by the comings and goings of lions and lambs. Wild and domestic animals are metaphors for unpredictable weather that randomly doles out sleet and daffodils. March holds one of the two days of the year when day and night are able to achieve perfect balance during a moment of equity. One wouldn’t know this by tracking the daily temperatures or temperament of people right now. Lions and wildebeests seem to rule the world as we watch winter’s ebb and spring’s rise from the inside of our home windowpanes.

A dock can take you anywhere – once you get off it.
Wickford Cove.

Getting a little fresh air has been the universal antidote for many maladies. That’s not a do-able prescription for folks right now. Our world view has tipped far from its equinox. Shelter in place doesn’t mean “put your beach umbrella just above the tideline”. We can learn a bit from wooden ships and be healthy this spring.

Wooden ships are made to float and traverse the sea with the aid of fair and furious winds. But, the part of the ship that’s right above and just below the waterline is exposed to air and water as the ship rolls in the waves. That is the most vulnerable area in time of war and the worst possible area to get hit by a cannon ball. Being hit by just a single cannon ball can cause a world of hurt – serious damage to the ship and potential loss of ship mates.  

“Wooden Ships, on the water very free & easy”. CSNY. Museu Maritim de Barcelona. Photo JAL

Such are sea stories – a breath of fresh air can trigger an adventure where still air fouls a ship in the doldrums – and everyone goes mad. A tale begins on the tip of a butterfly’s wing that disrupts a drop of air. A benign flutter triggers the forces of chaos. An innocent bit of breeze is whipped into a hurricane that blows the man down.

Sometimes we have to avoid frightening tales and turn to comforting stories about things like wildebeests. When fighting invisible enemies we don’t want to stay awake at night worrying about getting sunk by cannon balls. Some stories seem scary at first. Just the word wildebeest looks ominous, but in reality, these are just gentle vegetarians related to antelopes. We don’t need fear to be entertained. Wildebeests aren’t central characters in sea yarns because, first of all, they can’t swim. Next, they aren’t predators. Still, there are lots of interesting stories about wildebeests. These placid African animals don’t know they aren’t swimmers until they try, by the thousands, to cross rivers. To the delight of other animals, they drown. Who gnu? Crocodiles who dine on freshly drowned wildebeests. To a whole bunch of animals this is a happy story of filled bellies during the flood season.

No Bad Gnus

Take a break from tragic adventures and sad gnus for a bit. Sailors depend on rope to adjust sails because the wind can’t be tamed. Sailors also know that ropes can only take a limited amount of strain over long periods of time. There aren’t any ropes that can bear heavy loads forever without apparent wear and tear. Sooner or later the fibers fray and loose ends dangle off the winches.  Danger strikes without warning when the rope (line) snaps. A sail can break loose, the booms swing free and crack skulls, crew get tangled and fall overboard.

This line has felt strain and is frayed. Now it’s coiled and at rest. Avoid strain on your lines.
Port of Barcelona. Photo by JAL



Let’s tend to our ropes and lines as we march towards April. Use the extra hour of day to balance our minds between panic and prudence, fears and confidence, common sense and unnecessary risk.  Set aside tales of shipwrecks and relax with calming stories that celebrate the simple things in life.   Ignore the gnus and the lions. Cuddle with your favorite lamb.

Ancient Mariners, Cranberries, and Scurvy Pirates

Statue of the Ancient Mariner. Somerset, England. Courtesy of Wickimedia Commons

“Water, water, every where/not any drop to drink”, is an oft quoted phrase from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, told by an old salt, tells the story of a long ago voyage. The sailor heedlessly killed the albatross that had led the ship safely out of raging Antarctic seas. The sea spirits retaliated and blew the ship to the becalmed doldrums where there was no wind, clean water, or fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. This makes for a great story for young kids to tell their Boomer grandparents who don’t appreciate kale smoothies. The Mariner’s crew credited their cursed luck on a sailor’s avian crime against nature. The punishment rendered was to wrap the dead albatross around his neck. Weeks passed as the crew’s teeth rotted, skins blistered, and souls withered.

There are a lot of takes on Coleridge’s poem including one that it’s a tale about scurvy. When Magellean and Cook explored the seas discovering new worlds that had always been, more sailors died of scurvy than all the soldiers who perished during the Civil War.

There’d be no Moby Dick if Ismael had listened to the Nantucketeer who warned, ““Go out with that crazy Captain Ahab? Never! He flat refused to take cranberries aboard. A man could get scurvy, or worse, whaling with the likes of ‘im.” More pirates died from disease than from cannon balls. Their breath reeked, necks rattled, bones crackled, and vivid nightmares purloined their sanity. Yet, none among them cried out “I’ll trade my silver, gems, and rum for an equal weight of cranberries, lemons, and brussel sprouts.”

We are sailing a turbulent time locked in the irons of a wind that is confounding life on land and sea.  Scurvy-stricken 18th century sailors felt better when they could smell land and feel the sold earth beneath their feet. This led to the healing strategy of “earth bathing”. It was a simple, pragmatic cure; get the stricken sailor home, relax him in a box of clean dirt, and feed him well. Folks believed that scurvy wasn’t really a seasickness is was homesickness. The stricken were believed to suffer from a deep longing to be safe, on dry land with their loved ones.  And lo, with the pleasures associated with warm beds, hot meals, and time to reconnect with family, health was restored.

Don’t Make Scurvy Great Again

Common sense holds true today as around the globe people are being asked to avoid crowded harbors and ships bound for distant ports via air and sea. Take Dr. Semmelweis’ 19th century life-changing advice to the medical world, “DOCTORS, FIRST WASH YOUR HANDS – THEN DO NO HARM!” He was the first physician to understand that fevers are contagious. One way to stop an illness from spreading to others is to wash your hands!

The second, similar bit of advice comes from the captains of sailing ships, swab your decks – keep them clean! And if you are sick, stay put for a bit. Being home sick is better than being homesick for a place you’ll never reach. Take an earth bath or at least wash your hands. If your body is blown from icy waters to scorching seas – don’t panic – be prudent. Don’t wait until the end of April to call in a May Day. Avoid scurvy too, stay home, put limes in your rum and read a good book.

Why should any of us defy the wisdom of the Ancient Mariner, a practical whaler, or brilliant Dr. Semmelweis? Who wants to take the chance of waking up next to a scurvy pirate with a bloody albatross around his neck? Not, I.

Trade My Booty for Your Fruit?

Hoarfrost

Hoarfrost on the rigging of S/v Carina. Photo by Leslie Linkila

Winter in the Midwest is a little long. Our fleet is tucked away for the season of Hunkering Down. Our bodies like our boats become vessels for ultra cold matter. Everything within and around us takes a time-out and seems to pause. As the Mercury dips we have less energy to move about. It’s a quiet season.  We gather around hot soup and blazing hearths. Winter is the time of books with many pages, layers of clothing, brisk walks, chills, shivers, and a sense of loss because warm sunshine has forgotten us. Looking at deep and silent snow after a blizzard it seems that everything is at rest.

Seemingly still on the surface yet always in motion below.
Ex Libris @ Sioux Harbor, Mississippi River. JAL

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature never rests.

Nordic Explorer who adventured in the North and South Poles. Photo by AMLD

There are scientists whose life work involves trapping and cooling atoms to absolute zero. Much like the Norwegian Helmer (“Helly”) Hanssen, they are explorers of the deep cold ranges in our world. Ultra cold atoms are gateways to new fields of exploration involving infinitesimally small particles found in color, light, stuff, and all living things.  These particles are a primary source of motion in the universe yet they are minuscule and can never be observed directly. Scientists use complex mathematics about the ultra cold to learn how it works. They’ve discovered that everything, down to the sub atomic level, is eternally in motion thus anything that matters is perpetually changing.

All of the atoms, cells, bones, and organs that compose human bodies move constantly in the form of waves. A wave is a type of motion that’s described as a phase that takes place over space and time. Essentially, we’re in a continuous state of disequilibrium, always moving, always seeking stability that doesn’t really exist. We’re surfing the universe on the waves of time and light.

Narragansett Beach, RI. Photo by JAL

Just ask a teacher to describe a classroom of pubescent middle schoolers and you’ll learn more than enough about waves and human development. Teachers know that the wave effects on human development are chaotic, seemingly random, and transformative.

Surfers intuitively sense that they at one with waves – and waves are part of their core being. Surfers use their understanding about the speed and length of waves so that they ride the lip or fly off a crest. The wave energy within us creates a flow of changes that affect how we move and where we go, physical and emotional growth, and transformative life phases we surf from birth through death. Ripples to tsunamis – sooner or later the waves crest, grow quiet, evaporate or reach a shore – the ones in kids crest, barrel and crash as they breakdown the shores of childhood and build up the coastlines of adulthood.

During winters when warm air drapes itself over cold water the conjoining forces bring forth fog. As the air temp plummets, tiny water droplets huddle together according to the rules of ultra cold and form hoarfrost. Standing aboard our boat we can’t see where we’ve been or what lies ahead. If we look closely at where we stand at this moment in time, we will learn new things that will allow us to discover the kind of person we can be this new year. We are energy, connected to light, and always in motion. The days will get longer so don’t be afraid to chill out and keep moving.

Ultra Cold Gnome Norway bound this January. JAL

Splice the Mainbrace!: An Upright and Steady Start of the Fall

Ex Libris near the Great River Bluffs of the Alton Pool, Mississippi River

A recent study compared the mental health of women who abstained from alcohol, preferring to sip mineral water, and women who consume moderate amounts of fermented and distilled spirits. It was a rock water vs fire water study. The question posed was; does alcohol boost women’s mental health? Easy answer – depends why you’re drinking.  If you start or keep drinking booze because you’re not happy it doesn’t matter what spirits are in the glass – they aren’t going to lift yours – you lose. Research articulates the obvious – researchers found that drinking alcohol won’t make you a better physical specimen or improve your life. But if you are miserable and drinking a lot of fire water then quitting drinking will make you just about as happy as the rock water crew.

It’s the equinox. For a brief celestial moment, twice per circle around the sun, we Northern Hemispherers acknowledge that day and night have equality. This equinox is the apex of balance but just like reaching the peak of a Ferris wheel it’s a fall from here. I’m prepared. I just bought a coat that would’ve been coveted by Shackleton’s crew of the Endurance (during their endless winter on Antarctica). I don’t study wooly caterpillars to forecast winter – I count sweaters. Knowing that summer lies a ‘stern and winter always follows fall – I’m really content to enjoy the changing foliage, shuffle through leaf piles, saturate my olfactory and taste senses with pumpkin spice, and slide on down to winter. Then again, whether I’m quaffing rocks or hops, I’m generally a happy person.

With a steady eye on the research study, at around 5 o’clock one evening this weekend I’ll join the surviving members of the Cold Beer Club to issue and partake in an extra tot of spirits; we will splice the mainbrace. We’ll toast the change of watch as summer turns to autumn.  We’ll pluck a posy and hoist the next round to Rosie, who promised us, in endless rounds of song, “we all fall down.”

We never know when it’s the last fall.

Cheers.

RIP Karla – Our strongest “memba”.

Friction

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Our LX @ Low Tide in the Mouth of the Narrow River. Photo JAL

It’s time to bid adieu to a year that has been rife with friction. This year we experienced friction via Tweets, the daily news, stock market crawls, and while surfing (always look for the bright side). Friction is the resistance that something encounters when moving over something else. We should be used to friction as it’s been part of our world since Earth and the moon began their celestial dance. I’ll explain this marvel through tidal friction.

The oceans have tides because Earth has a moon. As Earth spins dizzily on its axis the Moon’s gravity makes the oceans appear to rise and fall. It’s an illusion of sorts. The moon generates colossal tidal waves that ebb and flow across the oceans in accordance with its  pull on our planet. This constant wave motion creates friction between the tides and the rotating earth.  Tides rub both bodies the wrong way. Over four billion years they’ve maintained a friction that makes the moon creep away and drains enough of Earth’s energy to lengthen day length (in the beginning it took just 22 hours to call it a day vs 24 today). There is an upside here, we now have about 35 fewer days a year (regardless of calendar – it’s the time it takes to circle our sun) to deal with the friction that is besotting our news feed. 

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Earth & Moon. View from Mars. Photo by NASA

Friction begets fiction, tall tales, and stories told ‘round the hearth about how good it used to be when we moved faster, back when our days were brighter and plentiful. We create legends about dark forces that eroded freedom and titanic clashes that rendered Nature numb. Some folks blame the dark side of the moon for over powering news cycles. That’s fiction. It’s really friction. We know friction as conflicts or a clash of wills between bubbles filled with us and bubbles full of them. Friction takes its toll. You don’t need to be a physicist to understand that whenever our social/political/emotional bubbles rub against each other the friction is going to wear one out as the other is pushed away. It forecasts an apocalypse of bald tires and pot holes, worn out records and dull needles, and busted bubbles. What we need is an ocean of WD 40 to lubricate the friction between rival fictions and factions.

So as the calendar year ebbs and we settle in for the longest nights, be content that there’s a balance in Nature that will keep the moon in view as we twirl about and circle the sun. Let’s get into the tidal ebb and flow by accepting that for each high we celebrate there’s a low we’d rather pass. It’s okay to slow down and hit the pause button as we end the year. Even the tides slack off for a bit between rising and falling. Be blessed by a Universe that works in accordance with laws that assure us of a future balanced by days and nights. After all, it’s not the fiction (fake) news that’ wears us down  – it’s the darn frikSH(ə)n that makes the news!

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The water is calm but the tide is moving.  The ropes are vigilant though they wear thin the boats rise and fall with the tides. Wickford Harbor, RI. Photo JAL

Salty Solstice

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Blast off! Apollo 8 – 3 guys in a tin can loving a ride to the moon and back. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Fifty years ago, my classmates in the class of ’69, on the shortest day of the calendar year (which provided us with the longest night to make out beneath the Christmas lights), witnessed the launching of Apollo 8. For the first time ever, at the dawn of the Age of Aquarius (and really great music) the man on the moon wasn’t a space oddity, he was an Earthling! That’s how we Boomers celebrated 69’s hibernal solstice! Rather than hibernate until winter passed- we fired up a rocket ship and ventured off-planet to explore the moon. It was a three-day cruise to circle the moon, get a look at its dark side before Pink Floyd did, and snap a selfie of planet Earth. It was a short day that will last long in the history of great adventures.

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View from Apollo 8 of our tiny blue marble. Photo courtesy of NASA.

I’ve spent the past week watching the sun slink into the Gulf of Mexico. The sun never seemed to get very high during the day. It slipped into the sea a bit earlier every afternoon bringing forth evening well before we were ready to call it a day. There wasn’t enough solar energy to warm the beach or seduce me to peel off a sweatshirt and bare my pale skin to its waning rays. Frankly, the sun seemed to be a bit depressed.

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Winter on Indian Rocks Beach.

Even at noon, our star sat so low in the southern sky that the sea appeared to forsake its blue hue for the colorless fabric of old jeans destined for next week’s charity pick-up.

At winter solstice our northern hemisphere tilts as far from the sun as it can without knocking the whole planet upside the head. This is when the rapport between our planet and the sun chills. Northerners hunker down for long winter nights. We ride the north face of our planet sans ample sunshine and like the astronauts, have more time to pay attention to the moon.

My seasons’ tidings on this winter solstice are simple. It’s been a dazzling year, thank you. So my brilliant, Sun, go ahead and rest a bit.

IRB winter sunset

Day is done. IRB. December.

You’ve got a long climb ahead before it’s  time to play “Even Stevens” with Night at the equinox and then dazzle us on the summer solstice. While you’re building up steam for hot summer days, I’ll be savoring long night times, tucking in, reading by the hearth, and snuggling beneath a down comforter. Winter is here but so far it’s never lasted forever. I’m not hibernating from Solstice to Equinox. In fact, like the Apollo guys and Musk’s Rocket Man, I’ll steadily be gaining energy, rising earlier, and settling down later. While my sunshine will dawdle through winter, I’ll be stocking up on SPF 50 while planning for my 50th high school reunion and next season’s bright adventures, across, at, and on the sea. Shine on!

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Givin’ it a rest on IRB.

Yes, We Must

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Waiting for the Sun While Turtled @ Wickford Yacht Club. Photo JAL

Summer vacationers in the Ocean State are all too familiar with the verb, must. The word must is the compelling force that propels vacationers to set daily agendas based on what they’ve heard about “must see and do” local attractions. FaceBook grazers are inundated with vacation photo posts, “it hardly ever rains here at the beach, golf course, or hundred year old coastal cottage.”  Narragansett Beach photos challenge FB “friends” to play “Where’s Waldo” and identify their friends frolicking among hundreds of people jammed together in the sunshine and fresh salt air amidst a plethora of sand buckets, beach towels, life guards, surfers, sunglasses, boogie boards, and gallon jugs of SPF 50 sunblock. The message is clear, we must be having fun! Rule number one of family vacations is: to really have fun together you are obliged be here with us ALL right now! We must make memories!” Here must is used as a synonym for “gotta”.

Ah, the magic of grammar.

Many coastal residents refer to the word, must as a noun. Those living close to bodies of water, whether fresh or salt, are familiar with the moist scent that that distinguishes mildew from the pungent odor of it’s pal, mold. For example, locals wax nostalgic at the Autumn Equinox when a beach cover up is found at the back of the closet. They give the article a quick sniff, quickly recognize the musty scent and exclaim, “I so miss summer at the shore!” Must is born of high humidity, heat, coastal weather in general.

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June Gloom @ Narragansett Beach

From late spring through summer, the ever-so-slight scent of must is an accurate predictor of upcoming family reunions, unsubscribed time to catch up with friends, and lazy days of beach reading.  Just a quick whiff of must sets off a tingle of anticipation – must is the oracle summer. Of course, as those who are blessed to own seaside homes know, the fungi that compose must are hard to deter and get rid of – like summer visitors. Sometimes the only way to treat either is by pickling them (vinegar for the fungi and White Russians for the guests).

Visitors to the coast are welcomed by hugs that envelop the greeting with the slightest hint of must. It’s often thought of as salt air. Within that instant, tiny microscopic specks of a scented fungus fly from the Greeter into the Arriver’s sensitive olfactory nerves. The visiting sentinels pick up the chemical signature of mustiness. This triggers the Arrivers autoimmune system’s first responders, histamines. They defend the visiting body with copious mucus production that culminates with a series of sneezes designed to strategically expel the invaders.  Exclamations of “It’s wonderful to be here – we must make an agenda” are followed by a quick pocket check for a twice-used wad of tissues.

WYC Lowtide ramp

Gray Day @ Wickford. Photo JAL

Must, the New England term for mildew, is found in every coastal home whether its appointed with trendy quartz counters, or cluttered with overstuffed wicker chairs.  Musty colonies thrive on tee shirts crammed in the bottom of beach bags, canvass totes, and tennis socks. Must finds comfort living in shoes that were purchased in cute boutiques, toted home in fancy bags with rattan handles, and then casually tossed into dark closets. Must thrive when soft rains fall and humidity soars.lo

Vast communities of must claim colonial squatters’ rights. Over time, coastal residents learn to cohabitate with fungal colonies. Their noses are numbed and allergies tamed by the musty scents of summer. Let’s face it – coastal residents and visitors are a lot like mildew and mold. During the summer they jam-pack beaches, choose harbors teeming with boats, swarm to restaurants with sea views, and congest traffic. They are everywhere. I’m good with that. Humidity comes with sunshine and rain – it’s a bargain made with nature to live in a coastal climate. I’ve been known to tell my guests as their noses crinkle upon my welcoming hug, “Oh that smell! Salty! Briny! Musty! Love it ALL! Savor the breath of the sea!” My guests sense that the seashore has halitosis. Yet, in rhythm with the tides, they breathe in and out. Mustiness is at the core of coastal living. As is sunshine, families, friends, and, you really must try the local chowdah.

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Low clouds @ Jamestown. Photo by JAL