The Currents

A friend of mine has been posting gorgeous images of Bar Harbor, ME, on Facebook.  They strongly draw my soul to New England.  I grew up near Boston, so all of the region resonates with me.  It is still my home, even if I last resided there in 1961.  But in the summertime I think specifically of northern New England, where I spent so many formative years in summer camp.  And I think of the ocean, because at home or at camp, so many of the best summer moments were spent at ocean beaches, from Nauset to Wingaersheek to Sand Beach at Bar Harbor.  And I think of swimming, because whether at the ubiquitous natural ponds and lakes that dot New England, or in the roiling open-ocean surf of the outer Cape, where the nearest land to the east is Europe, being in the water is why I went to the beach.  Not the tanning, not the cooling “sea breeze,” not even the legendary fried onion rings at Philbrick’s on Nauset Beach.  Being in the water was always the point of going to the beach.

These days I get my “beach fix” once a year only.  I live in Virginia, a state with only two natural lakes, one created by a landslide hundreds of years ago.  The ocean is three hours away, and it is as warm as bathwater in the summer, while the beaches are all backed by boardwalks and “beach towns.”  But near and dear relatives have a beach place in Old Saybrook on Long Island  Sound.  We do an annual summer pilgrimage up I-95 to their “Sea Turtle” cottage, where they generously lavish us with excellent seafood, relaxing drinks, and beach time.

Last week I was there, in water over my head.  (I remember Laurel Lake, in Fitzwilliam Depot, NH, where I first swam in deep water at age 8.)  The air was hot and hazy, so you could see Long Island across the sound only if you knew it was there.  The water was especially refreshing because of the heat and humidity.  Near the shore I felt pockets of warmth here and there, with cold currents interspersed.   The cold was more persistent at the depth of my feet.  Tidal currents gently pulled in and out, while the water current paralleled the waterline, nudging me in the direction of the breakwater.  The water itself was a bit seaweedy because the day before had been windy, and had both churned up the weeds near the waterline and dislodged many from rocky outcroppings such as the nearby breakwater.  I was fully supported by a hat on my head to keep the sun off, and a float which let me hang on and drift when I chose not to swim.

Knollwood Beach with its breakwater. Long Island visible on the horizon. Photo crendt: Anne McNulty

Downstream lay the breakwater, on which kids sometimes try to catch small crabs with raw chicken on a string.  It is mainly the perch of gulls and cormorants, who rest and socialize between their fishing forays.  Some distance offshore it terminates in a cone-shaped rock, painted white by centuries of bird droppings, on top of which cormorants regularly spread their wings to dry.  At low tide it’s fun to swim around, because there are more large rocks nearer the surface.

Upstream was the human apparatus of the beach: a rather short pier, beyond which floated a raft, the meeting place for the clan of young local recreational swimmers.  It was a weekday, and not many folks were taking advantage of their free beach access.  There were at most two or three others in the water in “our” section of beach.

Out over the open water there were a few sailboats, the most beautiful evidence of the human love of the sea.  White quasi-angelic sails whisk them silently along here and there across the Sound.  They are all recreational, I think, and sometimes mass in great armadas from their piers on Long Island and the nearby mouth of the Connecticut River.  There are also occasional jet skis, a reminder that there is nothing that humankind cannot worsen by its perverse ingenuity, and “cigarette boats,” whose origin in criminal activity makes their deafening speediness all the worse.

Behind me, on the beach, my loved ones chat under beach umbrella as I squeeze the maximum from my one chance to swim in the waters of the grey North Atlantic.  They are not literally grey this day, but blue and sparkling, with thousands of instantaneous points of blinding white sun reflections twinkling like the flash bulbs of an army of paparazzi.  If you’re looking for evidence of divine presence in the created Earth, there they are, every (sunny) day!

I was caught by surprise on this day by the compelling symbiosis of the rhythms of the ever-moving sea and my own literal and figurative rhythms of body and consciousness.  Much as I love swimming anyway, I suddenly was far more aware of my need for it, my dependence on it.  Swayed and pulled by the tide and currents, I felt compellingly at one with all things.  Let me never forget the power of this experience, or pass up a chance literally to be inundated in the flux of life itself.

Arnold J. Bradford ©2022

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Feeding Foxes

Our community web discussion site, Nextdoor Dunn Loring, has been having an interesting discussion about foxes and coyotes in our larger neighborhood.  Some motion-sensor security systems lately have been triggered by canine creatures, and the discussion began as a quest to verify if said canines were coyotes or foxes.  Everybody weighed in, and everybody had their two cents’ worth of opinion, some better informed than others.  Some posted pictures they’d taken in their backyards, others described encounters on the bike trail, and one provided a fine shot of a “hunted coyote,” which is to say a dead animal posed as if at rest in front of the gleeful hunter, proud that he had used his hundreds of dollars of equipment and his constitutional right to take life from a wild creature for the sheer fun of it.  At least that image of a coyote was less blurry than any of the photos of living ones.

Discussion tangents sprouted:  what were their habits, where do they live, what do they eat, so many foxes have mange.  Turns out that a number of folks in our area feed foxes, and at least one does so in an effort to medicate mange.  I checked fox mange out on the internet months ago.  Mange is indeed common in foxes, and there’s a sure and easy medication for it.  But it has to be administered twice, at intervals, which as I recall is about two weeks apart.  And wildlife management folks are understandably unable logistically to trap, medicate, hold, re-medicate, and release individual animals.  The deadly problem is that mangy foxes can’t regulate their body temperature because they lose too much hair, so they’re apt to succumb to heat or especially cold.

fox on patio

Immature fox on our patio, 2017

The discussion evolved into whether it was a good idea to feed wild animals like foxes and coyotes; those who do medicate lure their local foxes by leaving out meat laced with the med.  They assume that individual foxes will get the medication at good intervals because the same ones inhabit the local territory and feed at the same places.  Some people think it’s utterly wrong, bordering on illegal, to feed them, while others see no harm in helping “their” foxes thrive in a crowded suburban environment.

We never put food out for our foxes.  Frankly, we prefer to encourage them to keep down the local squirrel and chipmunk (and I’m sure mouse and vole) populations.  And I call them “ours” because we see them on their daily rounds going diagonally across the backyard of the property behind us, and using both our east and west property lines to get to Academy Street, where they often walk right down the middle of the street in early morning or late evening.  When it snows, they invariably leave tracks that show they often walk behind our foundation plantings to the driveway, and then use it to go straight to the street. And in cold, snowy winter the hunting gets more difficult for them, surely.  We always root for them, and the local red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, to get enough kills to make it to springtime.

The other day, though, we got to help the foxes out actively.  Sometime between 7:10, when we fetched to morning paper from the sidewalk, and 9:30, when we were getting ready to go to Adult Study at church, a dying squirrel appeared on our front walk.  How it got there and why it was dying remain a mystery.  As Jane said, it looked like it had fallen from a great height; it was splayed out, its eyes wide open, gasping for breath.  It would take a big, deep breath of air, and then in another couple of seconds, another one.  When I approached it, it looked at me directly with bright black eye, but it did not move its body.  It was too far from the road and too bloodless to have been hit by a car; it didn’t have the erratic jerking moves that I associate with poison or illness; it was not mangled as though it had been hunted, taken, and then dropped by some larger animal or bird.

A couple of hours later, when we got back after Adult Study, it had died.  It lay there, its beady eye now mostly closed and dim, its only motion when a gust of freezing wind shook its tail.  I got the long-handled shovel, put the gray body out back right where the fox trail runs along our line, and said goodbye.  An hour later, the squirrel had vanished without a trace.  It could have been another animal or a raptor of course, but I’m pretty certain we helped one fox just a little bit to get the nourishment and calories it needs to make it through the bleak days of January.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019.