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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Waiting for the New Beginning

Watching the Nats game on TV last night was an eerie experience.  We’d had downpours off and on all day (totaling about 4.5”), and the air was that warmish, damp August mugginess that makes one yearn for autumn.  Tanner Roark, he of the W 8, L 12 record and 4.05 ERA, was starting a game that meant little in the great scheme of things for the 62-63 Nats.  Attendance was light on a weekday night that was a late summer “school night” for many kids in the region; random cheers and calls echoed through the sparsely populated grandstands and concourses.  You could hear occasional bats rattle in the dugouts, and a word or two of the many exchanged among ballplayers draping their arms over the railing as they watched the game.  There was a dank gloom, a sense of unfocused malaise, of things coming to an end.

Earlier in the afternoon word had come of two waiver-deal trades.  Daniel Murphy, two-time Nats All-Star second baseman, a student of hitting with a Nats batting average of well over .300, if only a passable fielder, had gone to the Cubs for cash considerations, a mediocre prospect, and the proverbial “player to be named later.”  And Matt Adams, a hulking first baseman/outfielder with huge tattooed biceps, owning 18 homers on the season, went back to St. Louis, where he had begun his career with the Redbirds.  This happened two days after a backbreaking 12-1 thrashing of the Nats by the hapless Miami Marlins, and a day after the dean of D.C. sportswriters, Tom Boswell, had proclaimed the Nats’ season to be deceased.  Apparently the Nationals’ management finally agreed, and was cutting salary obligations to realign the finances to allow off-season acquisitions for 2019.

After Roark completed the third inning, it began to rain.  An assistant showed the umpiring Crew Chief an iPhone image of the incoming precipitation pattern, the ground crew threw the tarp on the field in less than two minutes, and the participants and loyalists among the fans waited it out for nearly two hours.  The stadium looked deserted on TV.  The dank gloom intensified.  Some players apparently watched the division-leading Braves game in the clubhouse, as they throttled the Buckos behind the shutout ball pitched by ex-Orioles starter Kevin Gausman.  A team going nowhere watching a team going somewhere.

Stevenson celebrates homer

Andrew Stevenson celebrates his first big-league home rum

The rain stopped; play resumed with Roark’s start wasted and Matt Grace on the hill for the Nats.  Before you knew it, the Phillies, chasing the Braves and trailing by a single game, were up 4-1.  A “here we go again” sense pervaded the emptying stadium.   But in the bottom of the 6th, stuff started to happen.  Twenty-year-old rookie Juan Soto singled.  Light-hitting catcher Matt Wieters singled him home.  Callup Andrew Stevenson, who drove from Syracuse and arrived at the stadium after the game started, hit a pinch-hit homer sharply to left for a career first.  Second-base backup Wilmer Difo whacked one into the upper deck in right field.  By the end of the inning, a 1-4 Nats deficit was a 6-4 lead.  They later tacked on four more runs, one being a home run by gimpy veteran Ryan Zimmerman, only his 12th of the season.

What was left of the crowd went home happy, having witnessed a rare Nationals comeback win.  The Phillies went back to their hotel two games behind the Braves, beaten in a game they needed to win by a team with nothing to lose.  This is the way baseball fans of the many non-contending teams in each league enjoy the last part of the season.  They take each day as it comes, and savor the baseball played that day for what it means right then and there, not for what it implies for the “playoff picture.”  It’s the national pastime, after all.  Soon it will give way to the frozen tundra of football, the slick ice on the hockey rink, the drafty basketball gym.  And we will all look forward to the day pitchers and catchers report in February.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2018