My family is a land-locked bunch that is fond of the sound of lapping water and all the activities that go with it, so every summer (at least), we try to fling ourselves in the direction of some shoreline. For a few years we went to more or less the same place, which was the tippiest tip of Cape Cod, until we stopped doing that and started going every which way. Results have varied, as they will when we are involved. One year, we scored one of the most magnificent settings EVER—truly magical, a tiny, perfect, private, pine-forested island in the middle of a lake, which included a house so creepy, decrepit and awful as to defy description. I mean, I am a writer so I suppose I could describe it pretty accurately, but I kind of don’t want you to know that I lay my body down in such a place. I don’t mean to be cagey but in this regard, I’d like you to continue to labor under some kind of delusion about my life, not necessarily seeing it as glamorous, but not encompassing that low of a low. It was a beautiful island, and let’s leave it at that.
The next year we camped, very festively and enjoyably, eschewing the house notion all together just so we could heal from the trauma, again in a remote part of a lake (different lake), but then the boat we rode in on, which was our own boat, made a series of small terrible noises leading up to one large bad noise that proved to be utterly fatal (to the boat). This happened out in the middle of the lake, and then, despite a biblical deluge that poured down just as we began to pack up, we had to suppress grumpy feelings in favor of being polite and grateful, due to our dependence on the kindness of strangers, whose very pristine boat was working fine, to carry us and our many many damp and pine-needle-encrusted objects back to the car where we put the sad, dead boat on its trailer in the blazing sun, which had parted the clouds in time to snicker at us.
This year we closed our eyes and whirled our fingers and pinned the tail on another island (WILL WE EVER LEARN), this time combining a very sweet and tidy, functional house (did anyone make a note, before we got to the island, of the address of the rental home or directions to locate it? No, nobody did = fun half hour of family dynamics and guesswork after the ferry docked), one that featured a sleeping loft and green wood floors and lots of nice doorknobs, with an odd yet appealing setting: an island with nothing on it but modest houses and a research station and one tiny market where, for randomly-spaced periods of 45 minutes over the course of the day (cued in some mysterious way, not accurately represented on the posted hours, to the ferry schedule), you could buy things like Klondike bars and mood rings and clam cake mix and spaghetti sauce and cookies. This little bump in the bay is ringed by mostly rocky and some sandy beaches, and there was nothing at all to do, other than read and take frequent opportunities to walk behind two dogs and admire their handsomeness.
It was kind of like a perpetual album cover photo shoot for dogs, with waving beach grasses and weathered wood and majestic rocks as backdrops.
If you are an inland canine, there is nothing much that compares to the Technicolor smell-o-vision of a bay beach at low tide, so the two of them were quite happy, and so drunk on beachy odeurs that they fell asleep around sunset every night and could hardly be roused to beg for food scraps.
Time by the water can make me blue, since the evidence of our abuse of that resource (and the ocean's continued generosity in the face of it) is inexorably everywhere on even the most pristinely-maintained shorelines, and the fathomless depths of how greedy and short-sighted we are as a race of beings is always on my mind.
It also offers me some of the happiest feelings I know, what with the salty air and slappy water sounds and watching all my kiddos be delighted and soak it all up, and feasting on the eye candy of their gorgeousness in such a setting.
Another check mark for island life is that there is basically nothing that makes me so purely happy as to see my dogs swimming. I think this is mainly because they are not really water dogs, the kind who flormp into any body of water and splash around and consequently permeate my life and all its semi-clean surfaces with wet dog consequences. The kind of dogs I have always had, now that I think back on that furry hodge-podge of rockstars as whole, are universally ones who are very selective about swimming, and very serious while they do it, and it utterly flattens me with happiness to witness it and to hear their concerted little nose breaths as they paddle.
Also flattening: the thing that happens to a dog’s general state of halitosis when he shops for edibles at the beach. The baseline oral exhaust of my tiny dog is classified by his vet as “normal small-breed bad breath,” and is not exactly minty-fresh.
Thanks to his steady diet of sea snacks for the last week, his breath can now be aptly compared to the smell a clam would take on if you stuffed it in a sweaty gym sock and left it in a hot car for a good long spell. You might say, but he is a tiny little dog! How much breath could a four-pound being generate? To which I might counter, even a small clam can stink up your house if it gets too far past fresh.
The larger dog, whose favorite summer activity is wading knee-deep into potable (by his standards) water, and who generally summers in river country, was puzzled by the ocean. The greybeard loon could not stop his thirsty self from sampling different sections of it, trying to find one that was not broken, thereby making himself thirstier and thirstier, and more driven to keep trying, and spitting, in a vicious cycle that was impervious to carrying a water bottle for him (I LIKE TO DRINK WATER I AM STANDING IN OKAYYY?? I’M ON VACATION TOO, YOU KNOW) and allowed us to establish that stressing your kidneys with excess sodium can make you fart quite a lot. We used science to establish this and so we know it to be true.
Last week, my friend mailed me a box of passionfruits from the vine that hangs over her California ping pong table, and my sister handed me a large bouquet of basil from her garden as we embarked on this adventure, and avocados were on sale before we left, and we had a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes and peaches that were not going to wait for us to return, and there was a wonky pear tree in the yard of the island house. Since my daydream of little farmstands dotting the beach roads panned out to be just the store with the Klondike bars plus this one spot we didn't really investigate until the last day (only to find the muffins all gone), now you know basically what we ate. Tasty enough but not exactly ready for a close-up or deep analysis.
So all I have for you to eat is this list of ways to help people and animals having a much harder time with water, because that is what I am hungry for.
News from Houston compounds the painful, anxious, helpless feeling that all news since early November has been inciting in my chest. I was moved by this statement from Sam Sifton this week, when he reported on communication with a Texan reader who was cooking his way through the perishables in his home as the storm raged:
"The rest of us can donate money and time and supplies and work, offer thoughts and prayers. But at the end of the day, maybe the least we ought to do is make as Tom did and cook, for it brings joy to people and, for many right now, joy is in short supply."
Joy is medicinal, has always been my feeling. For the self and for the world. Staying conscious of blessings and directing light towards the dark places is some days all we can manage.
I appreciated this calming response from a favorite merchant:
She has used her platform this week to direct people to this vetted list of organizations. Scan it for what speaks to you.
If you are looking for more grassroots organizations, consider this message from the director of MoveOn, who is is directing people motivated to help to this resource (and covering the credit card fees for those who choose to donate there).
"Local, community-based organizations do some of the most crucial relief work—providing meals, helping people find health care, distributing supplies, helping residents dig out, and supporting the recovery efforts after media attention has shifted. They're deeply woven into their communities and can help keep them from falling apart under this much stress."
If you think enough attention and resources are heading towards Houston, consider that woe is global enough to provide places for all of us to be generous. Other ideas for where to give? Please share.
Wishing you dry beds, full bowls and a peaceful slide into what fall has in store.