Virtual Tour of Avalon on the Narrow River, RI

This visual tour of our nearly complete home renovation is my first step back into blogging. Since my last post I’ve worked too hard and played not enough – with words, boats, and people. I’m ready to Spring Forward and meddle with matters connected with boats and water.

Take a visual tour at:




4th Coming


Zeke’s, Jamestown, RI

The 4th of July reminds me of Nantucketeers rounding the Horn (southernmost tip of South America) on their way to the Pacific whaling grounds. Passage from the chilly spring rains to the summer inferno can be rough weather-wise. We’ve endured Mississippi River floods, been scorched by heat waves everywhere south of the Canadian border, tested by intermittent squalls blasting eastward down the NY Thruway, and depressed by June gloom that shrouds California and New England’s coastlines. Once you round the Horn, the forecast is optimistic. Unless you recall Herman Mehlville’s inspiration, the whale ship, Essex. It broke free from a horrific passage round the Horn where the crew was endlessly pummeled by icy gales as they careened through mountainous swells and swallowed vicious headwinds. The Essex’s survival was brief. The crew were busy the middle of the balmy Pacific harpooning a pod  when the schooner was abruptly rammed broadside and sunk by an albino sperm whale. IMGP2569

I’m relaxing alongshore on Narragansett Bay, musing about the six degrees of separation between truly great Americans and myself. My summertime neighbors gather during pleasant midweek evenings under the moniker of the “Wild Women of Wednesdays and Wine.” We often chat about our personal passages from youth to a “certain age.” This week we name-dropped famous people we’d met who truly made a difference in America.

First up was Sheila, who as a young child was a communicant at the Newport church attended by the Bouvier family. On a balmy fall morning in 1953, Sheila stood on tiptoes outside the doors of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The bride and groom, Jack and Jackie Kennedy brushed pass her and waved. Years later she shook the presidential candidate’s hand. Over a decade after that, miles from Newport’s Cliff Walk, the epicenter of high society, Sheila met Martin Luther King. MLK’s impact? The white glove luncheons of southern Naval officers’ wives were far right from the Freedom Riders, Sheila shed her gloves and challenged racism by registering voters in Montgomery, Alabama.

Deb spoke of the excitement she felt as a child when she saw President Harry Truman, and much later, as an adult, saw Pope John Paul II in St. Louis. Truman had left office by then and the buck stopped in Missouri. The Pope Mobile sped by Deb at breakneck speed as the pontiff serenely blessed the crowds and prayed for world peace.

IMG_6525I offered up seeing Neil Diamond who gave us songs that most of us could remember almost all of the lyrics. They weren’t impressed since Neil’s been constantly touring since the 60’s. It’s harder to find someone our age who hadn’t seen him in concert than those who had.

We agreed, JFK, MLK, and Harry before Potter are icons that symbolize American ideals. They’d earned recognition and respect that has endured over time. As for the Pope, he earned sainthood though his words and actions.

We’re at a time where for some people, realizing Diamond’s hit, Coming to America is as difficult as rounding the Horn on a Nantucket whaler. Today we bought a new flag to hang out front for Independence Day. It’s the same flag my Uncle wore on his Naval uniform when he flew as crew in a B24 over the Pacific for one last time during WWII. It’s the same stars and stripes Puerto Rico flies. It is flown over the Freedom Tower, Newport, St. Louis, and Montgomery. To be a citizen in any state is not just a good thing, it’s great. Paul Revere and John Paul Jones knew there was no free ticket to Independence. Let’s honor heroes past and present by only saying things about our fellow Americans that are appropriate to say in front of young children. Try to be civil and proud — at least until after the 4th of July.


Pop (left) and his Big Brother Francis (USN): My Heros


Winter Kill


Winter kill at Sioux Harbor. Carp. Nasty alive. Wretched dead.

Whether you believe in climate change or not – I find it odd that I’m spending President’s Weekend (3rd weekend of February) boating on the Mississippi. It’s peculiar because for the past quarter century our merry band of friends, offspring, and their springs have spent this particular weekend skiing down the bluffs of the upper Mississippi. That’s downhill, snow skiing where we reveled in temperatures just shy of 30° F. We played outside all day and it felt good to be cold.

Generally, people don’t succumb to winter kill. Bad ankles and metallic knees force a lot of Boomers to set their ski gear out in spring garage sales. Aging and the ravaging effects of disease take folks off the river. Some of those diseases are brought on by the sloth-like


Wouldn’t it be nice if all social media were this peaceful?

tendency of people living North of 35° latitude to hibernate during the winter months. The most exercise they get is getting up for snacks during Netflix binges. Post holiday sales blitzes mark down Eddie Bauer and North Face outerwear to at least 60% off MRSP. There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to stay inside. Our closets are stuffed with jackets from the clearance sales of winters past. Pick one and get outside.

The high here today in St. Louis is expected to top 70°. We’re headed back to the river to tend to our sailboat, Ex Libris. There’s nothing we have to do – she’s been decommissioned for the winter and is tethered safely to the dock. We’re restless because Mother Nature is teasing us. Or perhaps, she’s sending forth a not so subtle warning. If it’s this warm mid-winter – imagine the blazing inferno of July.

There are a lot of dead carp decomposing on the river this weekend. Typical for this time of year – much like the winter kill of too much inside screen time. Get on out – it’ll do you good.


Captain Joe Fisher aboard his 34′ trawler Feb. 18, 2017, with George at the helm.


Winter Over


South Pole Marker. Image courtesy NOAA

We northerners expect and generally prepare for cold and darkness every winter but our mind-bodies seem to favor hot, bright summer days. My closet is crammed with high tech outerwear that lies dormant despite Mercury levels that have sunk to the teens. Sporadic urges to don layers of fleece and goose down are no match for a primordial desire to winter over within the heat radius of our fireplace. My MacBook Pro serves as a lap warmer. A muffled subconscious whisper is counseling me to get out of this rut or succumb to the Arctic Syndrome.

This is the season of the Arctic Stare, a look described by polar researchers as a 12 foot stare in a 10 foot room. During winter our minds periodically slide into fugue states. Our thoughts are aswinter blank as empty sonnets. Many northerners describe winter moods as depressed and irritable. They go to bed early to avoid the boredom associated with long, dark evenings but have trouble sleeping. Folks dismiss absentmindedness as a symptom of Cabin Fever. Some feel lonely but don’t return calls or set up play dates. They get iced in.

The Blanchette Bridge carried me across the Missouri River on a recent frigid winter afternoon. A friend spied a tiny johnboat down on the river moving south amidst ice chunks. She shook her head, “What a fool. If anything happens in that cold water he’s dead in less than 60 seconds.”

I shuddered, “Like a cold fish?” I pictured dead fish spread evenly on mounds of crushed ice in seafood departments.


Champlins Fish Market, Galilee RI

“No”, explained my friend, who happens to be an expert on all things that kill people. “Cold water at 50ºF causes ventricular fibrillation in people. The heart beats fast but erratic and fails to pump blood properly. This causes a massive heart attack and death. On the other hand, frigid waters trigger fish to relax and enter a phase called winter dormancy. They move very little but are not frozen. It’s different from hibernating but necessary for procreation.”

Freezing ambient air and water stir up the birds and bees?

Yes. Anyone who went to college north of the Mason Dixon line is familiar with winter dormancy. Undergrads hate to leave their snug, pheromone saturated burrows between winter solstice and spring equinox. Cold weather disturbs their heart rhythms.  They become lethargic and fake hibernation by spending 12 to 18 hours at a crack sleeping. Youth have a different sense of time than bears that stick to their caves and avoid socializing until the spring thaw. Coeds are impatient with winter and seek the comfort of communal heat. They tend to rejuvenate long past nightfall on winter weekends. The Sirens of tweets and texts beckon even the most comatose of bedheads to rise from musky bunks. Tribes of sleepwalkers gather. Loud rhythmic music with a strong backbeat resets cardiac rhythms. Lips burn from quaffing high-octane liquids that slosh from one red solo cup to the next. Arctic stares melt into steamy lascivious looks. Warm embraces beget hot kisses that lead to quivering hearts. Birds fly. Bees buzz.

People aren’t meant to hibernate. The best antidote for Winter Over Syndrome – for those of us not fortunate enough to migrate to warmer climes – is to bundle up, get outside, and warm your heart by doing something nice for someone else. It beats lying dormant at the bottom of a river next to a cold fish.


Slumbering Kayaks on the Narrow River


Leave the Year Awake and A Wake

IMGP2748 2.jpg

Not so fast. Narrow River, RI

It’s the last day of a year that sped by at warp speed during the wholesome days and glacially when times turned harsh. Confucius said, “Time flows away like water in a river.” Some people approach life by going with the flow wherever it may take them. Not me. I know rivers. Sure, they are fun to play on and pretty to look at but they can’t be trusted. Their flow is often unpredictable and impossible to control from a boat. Rivers flow into dark and scary places, breech their banks, and and lay havoc to land. They have a perverse habit of changing everything they pass through.


JAL & GHL Aboard Finn, Narrow River, RI

Not all of us are content, or for that matter even able, to go with the flow. Simply drifting with the current or doing what others expect us to do rarely carries anyone to our dreams. I’m at my best when on the river taking charge of my boat, going in whatever darn direction I choose. Whether speeding upstream under power or tacking sails to cross the channel there is undeniable freedom that brings great bliss. When my boat moves I disturb the flow. I leave a bow wake. It’s the essence of being awake and one with the moment. I’m set to made wakes and put 2016 astern.

I’m going to fill my sails with wind, cross currents, plow up-stream, and disregard the tug of strong ebb tides. Disturbing the flow demands being awake. I’ve

IMGP2687 - Version 2

Newport, RI

got to pay attention to where I’m going and how hard I push the boat to get there. My decisions create bow wakes as the water is forced to get out of my way. Dolphins love to leap through bow wakes. Boaters don’t. When sails fill, or paddles settle into rhythmic J strokes, or the propeller spins – it’s going to take some time to stop me. I must temper my desire for speed with the safety of others. I need to be awake and judge the impact of my wake. Sometimes the only safe thing to do will be to slow down to lessen the size of my waves and spare others from being disturbed.

We do not live in a No Wake Zone. People all around us are moving pretty fast in many directions at speeds that make waves. Our country seems set on creating a tsunami -sized wake that by the nature of change is going to disturb the flow. We are aboard a great vessel in the river of time. We’re moving away and creating lots of waves. Some will surf the bow wakes of change with great joy. Others will be caught in the rips and struggle. I’m just one sailor among many. I can only attempt to command my own boat. I’m setting a course for 2017 that will keep me awake and well aware of the wakes created whenever my actions disturb the flow. Carpe Momentum. 


Aboard the Jamestown-Newport Ferry


Winter Solstice


Sunrise @ The Nest over Inter Coastal Water Way, Indian Rocks Beach, FL

Solstice means, sun standing still. Or so it seems when our very own stellar wonder rises over the horizon at Stonehenge, triumphs over darkness and blesses day with light. 12/21 (a mathematical palindrome!) is the shortest day of 2016. It is exactly 7 hours, 49 minutes, and 41 seconds, shorter than the June Solstice. This means we have about 8 extra hours of darkness to snuggle by the fire, wrap gifts, and binge watch Netflix.

Today is the start of the solar year. It’s time to honor an ancient celebration of light and rebirth of the sun. The sun in its annual infancy, it’s weak and can’t produce much warmth or stay up very late. The parallels between honoring sun and a Son every December are obvious, but for the moment let’s focus on a star that’s 93 million miles away.

The longest night affords us time to look deeply into the tiny wonders of our lives. The Druids believe Solstice is a time to feel at home in the world and to be just where you belong. That’s rather Zen as it tells us to be mindful of who we are and what we are doing on this very short day. At the same time, the Druid challenge is to honor Solstice by taking a long look at whether or not our actions are just. The Druids mulled over this existential notion by slaughtering cattle that could not be fed over the long winter but could feed the entire village. Living for others is a cow’s destiny. They also celebrated the Solstice for signaling that the wine and beer brewed during the harvest were finally fermented and ready to drink. Headaches during the short days that followed appear to be one of the many the perils of winter.


SunRise July Solstice, Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Let’s think about just being where we belong. Just what? Naughty or nice? Is being just the same as being good? Defining good is something that has deeply divided us but I’ve got a handful of notions about good.

  1. Wheels are good, as are propellers and sails. They help us get from here to there without wearing out our shoes or fins. There are wheels inside wheels and we need to roll with them because not even the sun can stand still for long. If what goes around comes around it’d better be good, less the wheel gets a flat and we go nowhere.
  2. Evergreens and mistletoe are good. They remind us of everlasting life and at least one of them smells good while the other draws kisses from those we hope smell good. Lighting up a Christmas tree reassures us that the sun will keep it’s promise to spend more time growing daylight.
  3. Long winter nights are good for quieting one’s soul from all the glare of days too crammed with “gottas” and Do Lists.
  4. Short days are good because they seed a hope that the future will be brighter. They caution us not to hope the days will be so much warmer that we fry the planet. Life is short and we’d best take good care of it and our home.
  5. It’s good to feel at home and be just where you belong. Home is where most of us, most of the time, feel loved and can love in return. That’s part of being just. We could all do well to end this year trying to be fair and reasonable, unprejudiced, and even-handed.

In fact, it would be really nice if just for today – and it’s a very short day – we could practice being just nice. Maybe if we try again tomorrow, and the day after (because after all, He knows if you’ve been a wicked pain in the celestial butt of creation or a joy to behold) being nice will become a habit. Today Earth is 3 million miles closer to the sun than we are at the June Solstice. It’s not our proximity to each other that keeps us warm, it’s the love we share wherever we are.

Sunrise ICW.jpg

Same Sun Rise – a moment later.


Love Reigns O’er Rivers


Free Advertising for our favorite Grafton Destination.

The Illinois and Mississippi Rivers converge at and sometimes over a tiny river town that bills itself as the Key West of the Midwest (KWMw). Nearly 20 years ago we celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary with close friends aboard a 40’ catamaran in Key West. Yesterday, the four of us aboard their boat, River Dancer docked for the weekend in Grafton (KWMw) shared a toast to “love so strong it thrives for a lifetime”. We celebrated a young couple who, oblivious to misty rain, said their vows in a woodland atop the rivers’ confluence.


Hand in hand now and ’til forever.

The ceremony took place at Lovers Leap high above Pere Marquette Park. Viewed during the winter when trees are bare – the view is spectacular. Spring’s lush foliage obscures the vista and creates quiet spot where a leap would be more like a tripping off a street curb or playing on a backyard slip ‘n slide. As far as a wedding venue goes – it’s perfect. We should keep our focus on the bride and groom, they on each other, and not on the scenery.

All minds wander a bit during wedding ceremonies. Mine drifted to the namesake of our venue, Pere Marquette, a 17th century Jesuit who set out from north of Wisconsin to find the mouth of the Mississippi. Rumor had it the Mississippi bit the sea somewhere in southern California. With God in his heart, a map maker for companionship, and a paddle in callused hands, Marquette toiled southbound with the current. Just about the time his butt fused with the canoe he learned of irritable Spaniards occupying southern river territory. He accepted local lore that the big river blessed the sea in the Gulf not the Pacific, wisely reversed course and headed back north. Marquette wrote in his journal about a gigantic, horrific creature, a Piasa Bird, he saw boldly painted on the granite bluffs that glowered over the river just south of KWMw.The image was pockmarked with spears and arrows but endured.


Piasa Bird North Alton Wikipedia

The mythical Piasa Bird is an iconic figure that graces many a pub and gift nook along the Great River Road. It’s been repainted over the ages to befuddle tourists not besotted by the continuous loop of Jimmy Buffet wannabes. The Piasa Bird, in my imagination, not the original native artists’, is symbolic of advice for newlyweds. Beginning with it’s head – which should be kept on straight when entering into a lifelong commitment – the creature resembles a bird –dream to fly free – to walk the earth and swim in the sea. The Piasa has the horns of a deer – be gentle and blend with nature. Red eyes – if you bear children there will be sleepless nights. A tiger’s beard – it takes willpower and courage to forge two lives into one union. (Fish) scales – with happiness comes change and transformation. And finally, a long reptile’s tail – love may be eternal – but life is certainly not – decide when it is right to fight or take flight.


Mother & Father of the Bride, Doug & Donna “Love is gentle, Love is Kind.”

The Illinois is narrow, serene river that presents all of its possessions to the Messipi – the “Great Water.” Two streams blend at Illinois Mile Marker 0 and never stop flowing as one body toward their final destination. Yesterday two young lovers leaped into the vast and uncharted seas of marriage. May the spirit of the Piasa Bird and loving support of family and friends ensure that they live mostly happily ever after.

Congratulations Kari & Shane



Ride, Sally, Ride


Who’s That Sailing On a Tin Can? Photo by NASA

There are still 26 days until the Solstice but yesterday we jumped the season, cast off the dock lines, and sailed Ex Libris into summer.   We would never have left the dock without the help of our dock mates who have far more mechanical skills, tools, and how to fix anything experience, than we’ll ever know. It’s not that we’re dumb, as one pal explained to our daughter, it’s just that we know that by admitting what we don’t know (about fixing boats) – friends who know what to do are happy to help – and ready to set sail as soon as it’s fixed.

I like to think of myself as a confident, competent captain. I can navigate, steer, trim sails, scrub decks, sand and stain teak, and cook. Big whoop. Can I rewire the radio and troubleshoot a dead battery? Nope. Fix the hot water heater? Nada. Change the oil – yeah, maybe – if someone would show me how – but there’s no rush here. Does that keep me dock bound? No. I’ve got friends with skills, I’ve got boats, and I can sail.


I don’t look like Anne Bonny in my dreams. Not much. Photo via Wikipedia

I fantasize being a brave, challenging woman of the sea like the pirate, Anne Bonney – a fierce hell-cat of a sailor. Legend has it she drank like a man and pissed like a woman – perhaps a tribute to her tumultuous romance with Captain Jack. BTW –her last words to him when he went to the gallows, were “if you’d fought like a man you’d need not be hanged like a dog.” Johnny Depp wept.

When I wanted to become a sailor – I began with a little boats on small ponds and learned by doing. My learning curve included regular and unexpected capsizing. Two-foot-itis keep me trading up until now – with a big boat on a big river. We have friends who have sailed out of the river and into the bigger waters beyond. Other women more honorable than pirates dream of sailing to the stars. One of them, Sally Ride, was born the same year as me. Dr. Ride worked her butt off and despite the “no balls no sit in the rocket” attitude of the time, she became the first woman NASA allowed to sail off-planet. She retired her astronaut status the 80’s and rode out her time as a physicist inspiring girls to dream like Einstein and create the future through science.

Einstein said we are all related to and by time. Anne’s been gone for over 200 years – Sally just three. Whether dreaming of being free at sea or sailing on a comet’s tail – young girls and their grannies are bound through time with child bearing pirates and lady astronauts. Time on boats is well spent and often best savored in the company of good friends – especially the ones with skills.


Being a STEM Geek is something young girls can do. Dream big. RIP Sally Ride – that lady had skills. Photo by NASA.


Koi Advice for the Class of 2015


It’s only a fish bowl when you look at it from the outside. Image copyright free.

I was the Commencement Speaker for the class of 1976 at a small rural Connecticut high school. The 56 graduates honored me with the task of doling out wisdom to guide them forward. I was 25, 9 months pregnant, perspiring profusely in a humid 90 degree heat wave, and my underwear had fallen off just before joining the end of the procession into the auditorium. Perhaps I am one of many who’ve delivered a commencement address commando style. My anxiety centered on the possibility that my water would break midsentence and the bikini panties tossed into the Girls’ Room wastebasket would be discovered by a perverted school board member. The panties were sort of hippy-ish polyester with a sprung waist band and guys names “autographed” in orange, blue, and yellow. I thought they were funny. None of the names matched any guys on the faculty or the senior class -or so I’d like to think. I also wore my best friend’s long royal blue silk bath robe with a stapled-to -fit hem because it was the only thing that fit.

My address countered Paul Simon’s Kodachrome advice – I urged them to think back on all they’d learned in high school and think about it all. Deciding what to think about deeply and discerning what to pass by – learning to focus on stuff that matters – would be the greatest challenge of their lives.

My son, born shortly after graduation, grew up in a time where paying attention meant keeping your eye on the ball (about 4/10ths of a second), waiting for a red light to turn green (around 120 seconds), and imagining his first kiss (at least 157 million seconds). He grew up pre-Internet and had an attention span that dwarfs today’s graduates. As a professor of education, I espoused research that advised multiplying young child’s age by four to calculate the minutes of their attention span. That meant in 1980, my son could stay put doing anything of interest for a good 16 minutes – long enough for me to pee, change his brother’s diaper, and cook dinner. The class of 2015 can pay attention for about 8 seconds – that’s one second less than a typical goldfish circling its bowl on the kitchen counter.

Today’s commencement speakers need to parse their words into 8 second bites less the audience drift away. So here’s my address for 2015:

Be like a goldfish – take an extra second to look beyond the bowl. These seconds will give you time to pay attention to life for 12 extra hours a year. Oh the things you will learn during these bonus half days! Be grateful for clean water, healthy food, and people who find you to be worth keeping. Swim because you can – it beats listlessly floating on top or rotting on the bottom.


Your bowl. Your time to swim (Rob Q, Roy and Tristan T). Image copyright free.


Ground Sea


Pathway through the dunes to Indian Rocks Beach. Can this last forever?


Sea change. IRB. The Nest.

Today there is merely a hint of a warm southwest breeze moving in off the Gulf, the sky is brilliantly blue and I must squint to see the surf breaking beneath the glare. Despite the calm, the sea is a churning caldron.  Large breakers relentlessly pound the shore. Pathways of bubbles perpendicular to the beach signify dangerous rip currents. The sea is angry, the winds are calm, and the sun is not interested in playing referee. The few boats heaving through the sea leave twisting wakes. Why such a rough sea on such a nice day? Sometimes we can’t see the storm. It’s raging beyond the horizon. Only the ground sea carries its wrath to shore.


Life in the dunes. Hunkering down a’fore the storm on IRB.

I don’t have a boat here – I’m beach bound. I understand the concept of a ground sea and enjoy monitoring the weather on my iPhone while at the same time sensing a slight chill in the air and a faint taste of salt on my lips. Time passes. The horizon seems to blur. Color fades from the sky and cloud roll in. The sea ages, turning gray and cantankerous. My lip balm feels gritty. The sky slaps rain onto on sea and winds flatten the waves. The surf beats its fists on the shore and rips back out to sea. Daylight is extinguished. The storm arrives unbidden but not unexpected.

Even the most idyllic places where wind and water co-exist there is always some sort of violent weather just beyond the horizon or a day away. People can drown in relationships that mirror a ground sea. When communication fails, trust wanes and fury trumps reconciliation. It’s easy to be distracted by what we yearn to see and simply ignore a wicked rough sea. Perhaps the saying, “life’s a beach” is a warning that those who stay set in the bliss of a beach for too long are bound to get blown, burned, soaked, and parched. Walk the beach, sail the sea, surf the waves, fly a kite. Keep moving. This too shall pass.


Gray is the day. Wet on IRB.