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:


Watershed Moment


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


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.


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.


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.


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



Bottoms Up Jamestown, RI (Connanicutt Island)

Summer has come of age and does not look, smell or feel as fresh as late spring in early June. August might feel more “thirtysomething” if the Romans hadn’t decided to switch over the calendar because it was originally called Sextilis. Personally, the name change probably had something to do with aging Roman power brokers deciding it was too hot for sex during these blistering nights. Caesar Augustus decided that the eighth calendar month was to be his namesake so he stole a day from February and extended August to 31 insipid days.


Point Judith Lighthouse JAL

Like the rule of Emperor Augustus, things that happen in August have far-reaching influence. Caesar Augustus gave the world an era of peace, a solid economy, great writers, and better harbors. The harbors make me question his fear of unknown currents just beyond the breakwater. Maybe he wasn’t a sailor because we sailor know boats aren’t built to stay docked in safe harbors. The beauty of sailing lies beyond the shore.

I can relate to Caesar during these dog days of August living by the seashore. It is time to cut to the chase, savor waning UV rays, scrunch sand between toes, and float without a boat downstream.


Connie Paddling = go with the flow.

Warm water also brings forth jellyfish and crowds to the beach. Locals don’t embrace either – especially the jellies. Imagine swimming with clear umbrellas of snot floating along. Jellies are safe because as Augustus believed, this month is a time for peace not war. Nobody fishes the jellyfish; they’re neither edible nor useful as bait, and they make lousy pets.

The sun is more lenient about clouds than in July and allows tall puffy mountains to build in the afternoon sky. The sun is taking his time rising and seems eager to give way to dusk. When he lazily reclines on his Barcalounger on the horizon the seawater turns liquid silver and gives up its color to the stars well before eight o’clock. This week’s super moon is looms large and clear, it’s craters unmarred by ozone haze in an ebony sky encrusted with sparkling stars.

Augustus must’ve had some hormonal imbalance to relate to this month. Many nights in early August are sticky, still and stifling. Sweat drips, sheets cling, towels must. Within the week along comes a polar blast to chill the evenings. We dig out sweats and extra blankets. We savor these nights of dreamless sleep that void memories of steamy pillow-tossed nights.

The season is turning like the tide. I sense changes in the taste of the wind, the sounds of the bugs and the smells of the night. Taking hints from the geese, I know the time to migrate west is nearing. Summer is losing ground and it’s getting to be time to greet Autumn.


Pettaquamscutt River Hobie Island Adventure

Eel Meal = Full Gull


Lobster Docks @ Galilee, RI Photo by JAL

Some sea food is not so good looking but tastes great. Clams, oysters, squid and a bevy of fish types come to mind. Lobsters look like humongous insects cloaked in crimson armor. Calamari is a plateful of squid tentacles, chowder is a cup of bivalve innards, and crab cakes are stuffed with the meat of one of the orneriest creatures in the sea.


Fried Elven @ Bali Eat, Pray & Love Your Dinner

While in Bali we enjoyed a meal that included what I mistook as crispy onion rings – until seeing that the rings had eyes and a distinctive grin. We were eating a local delicacy that in New England are called elvers. Sounds harmless enough – like the little guys with pointy hats dressed in green who make cookies. Not so fast. Elvers are young eels. As in that ugly fish that looks an awful lot like an obese black snake. We were eating fried eels and no, they tasted nothing like chicken.


Narrow River Gull & Glass Eel JAL

Last spring four poachers from Maine got arrested for taking elvers out of local streams – just like our own Narrow River – and selling them for a hefty $2,500 a pound. As we learned in Bali – Asians love to eat elvers. In fact some Maine lobstermen have traded their gear for eel traps. The Department of Environmental Management considers American eels to be over harvested thus they are labeled “stressed” and so their young are protected.  Mature eels are considered just another fish and it’s okay to harvest them. Apparently eels, like sharks are natural predators that do good things for the sea.

Sea gulls are predators too. Last weekend a large gull dove into the river and snagged a two foot long eel. We gagged as it pulled a deep throat maneuver and swallowed it from head to almost the tippy tail – only to repeatedly throw it up, attempt to filet it to a reasonable bite size, and gulp it down again. Both the eel and the gull appeared stressed. Half an hour later the gull with the eel visible beneath its neck, staggered off the dock with a sagging belly and haltingly flew to the marsh to digest.


Half way from head to tail is a big Gulp JAL

Nature has much to teach us. American eels are all immigrants who can grow to over 44” long, weigh 16 pounds and live for 25 years. Uncle Sam’s eels are all born near Bermuda in the Sargasso Sea. They find their way back to the states and unless snatched from their nursery by a poacher, caught by a fisherman as bait for striped bass, or sold at the fish market for discriminating gourmets – every single one of them heads back to the Sargasso one last time to breed and lay a few million eggs.

Except of course for the one the gull got. To consumers, it wasn’t worth much – mature eels sell for $1.29 a pound at Champlains’ fish market. To environmentalists its another story about a stressed out species. But surely, the gull’s mate was impressed by his catch of the day, showed her appreciation and wound up laying a couple of eggs as the circle of life goes round and round.


50¢ a lb off the boat, $1.29 a lb at market. Skinned & fried main course. Getcher tshirt right next to the fish. JAL

Of Marshmallows and Whalers



Whalers @ Middlebridge, Narrow River Photo by JAL

Humans have an innate thinking strategy designed to deliver us from temptation. People are wired with that knowledge that, ‘You can’t always get what you want” – at least not right now. Discerning between wants and needs is tricky. Not getting something on demand is probably being erased from our neural circuits by repeated encounters with the TV remote and Siri.


Eggs (circa 1968) waiting to grow up to be Ghostbusters’ Stay Puff Marshmallows Man

During the turbulent Age of Aquarius, a Stanford researcher with the ethics of Willy Wonka lured unsuspecting but ever so bright preschoolers (kids of faculty and smart students) to his study. They were tempted not by a proverbial apple – but by puffy globs of corn syrup, sugar and gelatin, affectionately known as marshmallows. The experiment was a simple test of kids’ ability to accept a small reward now for a big payoff later. It played out as a game; present the kids with one marshmallow. Tell them they have two options; 1) ring a bell and the marshmallow is yours, free and clear, 2) chill, wait for the researcher to come back in about 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. Hardly the stuff of rocket science but it changed how we envision self control.



I learned about delayed gratification when growing up on Long Island Sound. First, kids had to earn Red Cross Beginners Certificates to be allowed to swim past the safety section roped off for free whizzing toddlers and leaky old ladies in baggy black swim suits. Second, swim lessons always begin the week of high tide and wrap up the second week during low tide. The difference between tides is that at first the swimmers practice blowing bubbles into frigid somewhat clean water and wind up sucking tepid mucky sulfuric smelling sludge into their mouths week two. Most kids endured paddling about in murky stench by focusing on the big kids jumping off the swim dock anchored out past the baby old lady cage. Nobody ever signed up for two sessions of swimming lessons. Freedom was already just another word for nothing left to lose. Hang in through the second week and the entire harbor is your playpen.

Third lesson of growing up in salt water – by their teenage years, everyone has a boat. Everyone that is, except my rag tag friends and me. Parents do not count in this scenario. My parents had a boat but I did not. More than anything in the world, I wanted my own 13’ Boston Whaler. These sturdy skiffs boast the ability to stay afloat even when cut in half. I pleaded my case, “Pop, all the kids have their own boats. All I want is a little Boston Whaler. I’ll even take you fishing sometimes if you buy the gas.”


Prop Walk in a Shallow Story

Pop was all for it – as soon as I got a job and paid for it. Pay for it? I babysat every weekend for a whopping 50¢ an hour. The usual gig was from six ‘til midnight on weekends. If I saved $3 a week ($156 a year) it would take a hundred years to pay for a boat! This was not a funny situation – relying on OPBs (Other People’s Boats) simply would not do.

I needed to be like the Stanford kids who patiently endured 15 minutes distracting their attention from the spongy confection by humming Mozart’s hits, rhythmically kicking their heels on the chair rungs as they visualized twinkling stars and the alphabet letters in sequential order (AB, CD, LMNOP). These were the kids who successfully delayed their gratification, earned two marshmallows, eventually earned top grades on the SAT, and adhered to Nancy Regan’s advice to just “Say No”. Not only did these kids grow up and snag the best jobs in Silicone Valley but for every minute they endured past the urge to snatch and scarf the first marshmallow, 30 years later they had a .2% reduction in body fat over the grab and go kids! Marshmallow therapy made them rich and skinny!

“Keep your eye on the prize, work hard, dream big and it’s yours” was my mantra. At 21 my first boat transaction went down. It was a used, aluminum 12’ Sears Roebuck fishing skiff, with two oars, purchased from my employer, Mrs. Main, who paid me $1.25 per hour for doing clerical work at a nonprofit. The boat ate my first paycheck.

Ten years later we bought our first powerboat, a solid old Mark Twain 20’ inboard outboard (IO) for playing on and in the Mississippi. It was not a Boston Whaler because there simply weren’t any to be found in middle-American boating venues. Unfortunately, we sunk it on a rock dike about two years later. You can’t really sink on a dike as rocks the size of beach balls are smashed more in than under the hull. When a sinking boat is towed to a harbor the river doesn’t bother asking permission to come aboard. It fills the craft up to it’s gunnels. George abandoned ship. Even then, it didn’t sink all the way to the bottom because evidently boat builders expect people to do stupid things with small craft and so they build them with stuff that floats even under extreme conditions such as the Mississippi current hissing, “Surrender the Booty.”

At 39, I owned my first sailboat, a 12’ slab of fiberglass that resembled a faded orange surfboard with a sail. It was sitting forlornly on the front yard with a cardboard, “For Sail, Cheap” sign. It would have cost an entire summer of Saturday night babysitting back in my high school days, but now I was a college professor and could afford to splurge fifty bucks. It was a cash on the spot deal.

Many boats transactions followed – some with sails, some with paddles but none with the seductive allure of the bright blue deck paint of Boston Whalers.

Fifteen years ago, I called home from a Rhode Island marina parking lot, my voice flooded with emotion, “Hey, Pop, I did it. I just bought that 1968 Boston Whaler – paid cash.” The hull cost the same as it did in ’68 and the engine was less than 10 years old. It was mint and mine.

I’m at an age where some pessimistic, “got to get it now people” are joking that they don’t buy green bananas. They are probably the same kids who were happy with just one marshmallow. I’m two feet and two Whalers past my first. When I look at it straight on – my grins are reciprocated as I hum, “If you try, you just might find, you get what you need.”


Seeing is Believing – You Just Might Try