Love Reigns O’er Rivers

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

#totallywarthit

Ground Sea

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

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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.

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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.

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Gray is the day. Wet on IRB.

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Beach path, The Nest on Indian Rocks Beach

Normal is relative and over rated. What’s a normal boat look like? While you’re at it, show me a typical beach. I expect unique responses – from Hobie Cats to the sliver of sand at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. Normal boats and beaches span a wide spectrum – the way each color of a rainbow has its own identity and right of being.

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South Denpasar,Bali Beach and Boats JAL

What’s a normal person like? Psychologists decided that like boats and beaches people can be judged on what is deemed as normal and typical. They set up a scale that ranges behaviors by factors such as social deficits and strengths (easy to get along with to PITA), clarity of communication (clear to garbled), interests (boats and swamp pluff), repetitive motion (ex., swimming and finger tapping), and sensory issues (loves to be wet or no contact with water).

We show an interest by engaging with it regularly or collecting a whole bunch of it. When someone’s focus seems is fixated to the point it becomes a defining character trait others may question whether or not the interest is healthy and normal. People can be critical of others and judge their habits as indicators of weirdness.

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If the shoe fits…

I was a geeky kid who hiked alone through swamps, creeks, fields and harbors collecting stuff to look at under my microscope. I collected books to read and stack up in my room should the need to read them again arise as predictably as a neap tide. By middle age, collecting boats was more interesting than merely collecting books about boats. As the economy prospered my interest flourished and sails, paddles, engines, ropes, and anchors accumulated.

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Blue Hues on the Block Island Ferry JAL

I needed to tame my passion for the sea with something requiring less space, maintenance, and annual property taxes. I thought about my youth spent toting a butterfly net and knapsack stuffed with collection jars trudging through the shallow waters of Long Island Sound. I saw myself in the same footwear year in and out – brown, scuffed, sloppy and soggy Topsiders. My tickets to the sea held ten toes, two feet and a prayer to be invited on somebody’s boat. I showed up uninvited at yacht clubs and marinas but was never turned away. Topsiders were calling cards, proof of membership among groups whose social calendar centered on tides and waterlines. Who else would wear grungy leather shoes with white rubber soles in an era of Go Go boots and ballet flats?

Somewhere along the spectrum of normal is a tiny speck for people who temper their constant desire to be on the water by slipping into a pair of deck shoes. That’s my sweet spot on the rainbow. I wear them for play and work – because I can. Topsiders aren’t particularly comfortable shoes. Their weak arch support is balanced with a tenacious grip on wet decks that prevents a lot of painful slips and injuries. Security creates the feeling of comfort.

IMG_5968Some professional women strut their stuff with Tory Burch. I’m confident in my Sperrys. I accessorize the crisp lines of Brooks Brothers pinstripes with color appropriate Topsiders. My collection spans a rainbow of colors that match my quirks and wardrobe.

Obviously, anyone with a tight grasp of normal is going to find me pushing the envelop at either end of the spectrum. Knowing this makes me sensitive to and appreciative of; off-the-bubble nerds, gentle souls, misunderstood leaders, idiosyncratic neighbors, students of all ages, and interesting yet atypical people. I fit with some and not well with others.

That’s okay. The only things that I collect more obsessively than Topsiders are words. I line Jeri@Ragtime-1them up, left to right, in all kinds of combinations of consonants, vowels, verbs and nouns. I’ve just arranged 587 words for no better reason than to mull over the notion that normal is found at every point on the spectrum of human behavior. Why do I like Topsiders so much? Because collecting lots of shoes to wear on boats is a whole lot less expensive and more normal than collecting lots of boats to match with shoes.

Undertow

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Cairn @ Narragansett Beach. Never eternal, sometimes monumental.

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Carribean exhaling Jost Van Dyke @ The Soggy Dollar

Every wave has an undertow. Bodies of water breathe. When the sea exhales waves break and spew phlegm onto beaches. Oceans meet land and release energy in the spirit of a Zen master. Water wants only to flow. When freed from the sea it stretches until its forward energy is depleted. It is recaptured and commanded to retreat or be evaporated by the sun. Undertows form currents that lick low and slink steadily towards offshore. Undertows suck sand away from one’s feet. They extend silky invitations to follow into deeper water and relish pleasures secreted deep beyond the surf zone.

Undertows are unsettling. They aren’t dangerous like rip currents that highjack swimmers and hold them hostage until they sink beneath frothing waves. Rips are wicked – life threatening, maritime thugs who snatch breathless, unsuspecting swimmers into the darkness below sun dappled waves.  Undertows are temptations -like people who pull others into situations beyond their comfort zones.

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Surf line far from a shore that was underwater just a couple of hours earlier. Narragansett RI

Rogue waves are worse than rips. Twenty years ago we went to the America’s Cups races in San Diego. It was early February when the Pacific coastal waters boast of enormous, rough and unpredictable wave action. We went beach walking on a blustery afternoon. The surf was frigid, confused, and angry. Wave crests towered above the pier  and roared louder than a herd of jet engines. We stayed far from the waterline away from the breakers’ icy spray. Wind burned and chilled, I turned my back on the sea and headed further up shore. A silent wall of water broached my reverie. It slipped ahead of my feet its force buckled my knees and knocked me face forward beneath the surface. Startled, legs akimbo, arms flailing, sand and water penetrated every orifice.

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What lies beneath the undertow?

The water disappeared as mysteriously as it had overtaken me -swiftly and silently. I retched salt water, spit out gritty sand, raked seaweed from my hair, and snorted gray foam. People higher up the beach described a monster wave that broke and pushed a surge of deep water far up the beach before sucking everything into its clutch.

Never turn your back to the ocean. We were lucky – later that week, the coach of the Chargers’ daughter was not. She and her brother were out on the coastal rocks scattering their Mom’s ashes when a rogue struck them off guard and dragged her soul to eternity.

Maybe maturity is staying clear of rips and rogues whose company is worse than being alone. It’s only a beach if there is water. I don’t mind being tempted beyond my comfort zone – that’s where adventures are born and wonder is raised. Like the sea; breathe out, breathe in – it’s not a beach vacation until you get wet.

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Watershed Moment

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Our 15′ Montauk, Boston Whaler, Finn anchored @ the mouth of the Narrow River JAL

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Hurricane Sandy ripped the roots from the ground and fed the trees to the Narrow River. JAL

Sheriff Brody hated the water. We never knew why then he took the job as Amity Island’s Sheriff, other than his view that “it’s only an island if you look at it from the water.” Oceans, like rivers, unite and divide the land and people. The two most important rivers in my life, one narrow, the other the mightiest, have many stories to tell, and some speak to my heart. The wisdom gleaned from river stories depends on the point of view that I take to make them meaningful.

The Narrow (aka, Pettaquamscutt) River is a seven-mile long tidal inlet created by a receding glacier 20,000 years ago and that dried out after a couple thousand years. The melting glacier raised the sea levels that in turn sullied the basin’s pristine lakes with brackish waters. The river began to pulsate to the rhythm of tides. This tiny river is fed and abused by its 14 square mile watershed – lands drenched by rain, sewage and springs that drain into the river. During times past, the Narragansett and Niantic Tribes heard and understood the Pettaquamscutt watershed’s voice. Watersheds are untrustworthy confidants – they leak secrets downstream about who you are and how well you care for the land and water. Water sustains all – water destroys as easily as it creates. When life as we know it changes suddenly – for better or for worse – it’s a watershed moment.

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Deb & George shedding their kayaks. JAL

A watershed moment is a critical point that marks a division. It is triggered by an experience or crisis that profoundly alters the future. Just as heavy rains on California’s mountains later flood the valleys below or bury homes in mudslides, watershed moments are epochal. Some life changes are created by a single choice or mistake so powerful that one’s course is diverted from hope to despair. Our sights are abruptly severed from envisioning what might be to a full frontal view of great loss.

Voltaire observed that it is the privilege of a real genius, especially one who opens a new path, to make mistakes with absolute freedom from facing consequences. There are few Einsteins aboard most boats. The things we do and say aren’t always that smart, and like the steady trickle of a tiny stream, little things can create great changes over time that rival the work of cataclysmic deluges.

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My sunfish, Solstice – oblivious to watershed moments ahead. JAL

We are watersheds fed by pure springs and rain, while also somewhat tainted by our own piss and vinegar that drains into relationships flowing through the lives of those we love. Regardless of our age, income, gender and education, chances are there is at least one watershed moment ahead. This moment will divide us from some things and unite us with others – like a river does to land. Somewhere down the channel is a milestone that is going to have profound effects later on. It might be a situation where doing the right thing is the most painful moment of your life.

We tend to recognize watershed moments after we’ve sailed pass them rather when they lie ahead. Find a quiet space and listen to the memories of stories whispered by ripples and waves. If you listen long enough the stories will merge into one great understanding. If you look hard enough at a river you’ll see things you never knew existed and possibilities never imagined. Be aware of and protect your own watershed and river. It’s an optimal way to invest in a healthy, vibrant life.

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Kathy’s day lilies survived Hurricane Sandy and bloom every summer. JAL

Run Aground

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M/V Kent Reliant grounded on a reef. Photo courtesy of response.restoration.noaa.gov. File from Public Domain.

A third of all commercial ship accidents are caused by running aground. That means the vessels connected to the bottom of shallow water. They get stuck. That’s when bad goes to worse – changing tides and currents batter the boat. If there was damage done to the hull by whatever was on the bottom – while the boat can’t really sink, after all it is on the bottom – it is in danger of becoming ship wrecked. Running aground is an accident – whether it was caused by tide, poor visibility, or waves, at a given moment the water isn’t deep enough to float the boat. The ship and crew are in trouble. It’s rarely an option to get out and push the boat into deeper water or swim to shore. Without help or divine providence the potential for loss is great.

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Photo courtesy Amazon.com

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Most recreational boats that run aground cause little or no damage to the crew. The number one killer of boaters is excessive alcohol use. Booze trumps bad weather, hazardous waters, and not paying attention to where the boat is or who’s on board. Drinking at the helm of a boat is not an accident – but what happens next is the result of purposeful behavior – and is too often a preventable tragedy.

Festivities during winter holidays have a perilous downside with the power to sink relationships and drown feelings of comfort and joy. The stream of a tear contains the same salt that makes up vast seas. The last stretch of the calendar is the most hazardous of shipping and sipping lanes. If you’ve hit bottom you can’t sink further – you must get yourself up to the surface. Whether you are sailing solo or huddled in the grand salon of a cruise ship – its safer to act as if the helm is in your hands. Don’t just stand and stare at the water expecting it to take you someplace. It will not reward your anxiety nor gift you with contentment. Don’t expect the sea to rest because you are restless. Exercise moderation and you will become strong enough to navigate though these final days of the year. Pay attention to the currents, sky and shoreline so that you don’t get caught in the shallows.

UnknownThe difference between a holiday ordeal and a holiday adventure is attitude. Just as a compass needle seeks the north – position your feelings to find and move toward good tidings. Be and behave. To seek is not the same as to find – but it’s a start – as bright blue fish Dory said, “When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do?”

JUST KEEP SWIMMING

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A bright blue fish. Foam construction paper fish made with Elle when she was two by JAL.

Quotation from the Movie, Finding Nemo

Sea Roaches

It's Hot

Lethal

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Sea Roach

This week the mercury eked its way up to three digits territory in all but four of the continental states. All along the Rhode Island beaches (Jersey is the shore, the Ocean State is the Beach) swimmers were grossed out by nasty critters affectionately known as Sea Roaches. Body surfers splashed about in masses of quarter to half-inch long bugs that are blessed with tiny but strong claws. When the surf tears the crustacean isopods from seaweed they follow ‘any port in a storm” advice and hold on to hairy chests, swimsuits and the lot.

I admire the critters’ tenacity for life and ability to clear the beach. They are tiny vacuum cleaners that exist on algae and other crud that balance the ecosystem.  Sea Roaches are newcomers to coastal life believed to be part of the new world made possible by global warming. They cope with rising sea temperatures by making lots of love and millions of more critters. This summer swimmers are enjoying the warmest waves in recent memory, calm seas, and fair winds. It’s also as hot as Dante’s Sixth Circle of Hell – the one that burns up heretics who don’t believe in Heaven or that Satan fans the searing fires of their eternal domain.

Sea Roaches remind us that what seems okay for some is hell for others. Vacationers complain that the critters keep giving them little pricks. Actually, Mother Nature is doling out the little pricks.

Everyone knows that high doses of Mercury are lethal but beach goers believe that they can dodge the bullet. It’s not the power of sunscreen – they seek the refreshing balm of cool salt water. Yesterday the heat index in New York City, which is an island surrounded by an ocean current, was 107. It was a killer day with much suffering in brick high rises. Today, the National Weather Service issued an Urgent Heat Warning that advises New Yorkers to reschedule strenuous outside activities to a shady or air conditioned place. People should wear light clothing, rest frequently, and hydrate.

Damn the sea roaches – they are also called Sea Pills! Perhaps the coastal waters are teaming with the ultimate cure for heat waves. Besides, for many of us, enduring the obnoxious effects of little pricks is just another day in Paradise. Grab a cooler and man the beach umbrellas – get thee to a beach!

With respect for all who cannot find respite from the heat in pools, ponds, and seas consider one course of action. Shed all but the most modest of clothing, sit in front of a fan and read Jaws. You’ll be glad you’re not treading water among a million little pricks wondering whether something more lethal lies within these waters.

Hydrate.

Jaws & Beer