Tuesday, April 28, 2009


At last a chance to put a kayak in the water and explore some great waters that are only a few miles from my doorstep. Sebonac Creek lies to the north-west of Southampton, and is the smaller of two channels, the larger one being Little Sebonac Creek. (Who makes up these names?!)

This particular kayak is a Manatee, branded by the LL Bean company, but actually a Perception Prodigy EXP boat with a different logo on the side. As with anything made by Perception the construction is high quality and very rugged. I’d go as far to say that these stubby little boats are indestructible! They’re stable, track reasonably well, and are easily lifted (or dragged!) over land. Their only limitations are a lack of speed, and the fact that they are not suited to open waters. (Ah.)

Launch Point: End of Sebonac Inlet Road.
Winds: South, light.
Air Temperature: 70F
Water Temperature: 48F in the channel.
Total Distance (with meandering!): About 2 miles.

Just a series of pictures, some with comments:

The launch point, and the channel through which I would return later.

General views of the wetlands.

A Horseshoe crab. These benign creatures are an indicator of healthy water quality. They are actually related to the spider family, and are said to have not evolved over two million years. (Wait a sec, I know some people like that!)

The second channel heading out into Peconic Bay. Little Sebonac Creek is to the right of this photo. That's to be paddled another day.

Ah. Don't try this at home ... (A case of "Do as I say and not as I do.")

Returning to the launch point, approaching the first channel from the open water.

Great fun! Lot's more to come!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Last evening was an unexpected joy when we drove to Amagansett to meet with four people (one of them ten weeks old!) and a pointer, with whom we had never met and were therefore complete strangers.  But only in one sense removed, because Charles* engineered the meeting, and he is the brother of Robert, with whom I have served both at sea and at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England, where we were almost next-door neighbors.  (For information, Robert is the Executive Officer of HMS ARK ROYAL, the British aircraft strike carrier, due to visit New York this summer.  He and his wife will hopefully be brief houseguests if we can work out the logistics.) 

The strangers were Richard and Charlie, and their baby daughter "Liv." (After all of this I will be baptizing her in August.  What fun!)  Charlie grew up in Stockholm, and is delightfully, charmingly Scandinavian, and Richard, now a senior president with Credit Suisse in Manhattan, served a short commission in the British Army (and we have a few Bosnia-Herzegovina war places and memories in common - even if I was there before him!)  A great meeting up, with probably far too much wine, but forever friends made.

In case none of you followed that short tale, today was much simpler.  It was hot.  The first day for me to wear shorts since last October on the Cape.  Therefore not a pretty sight!  But an afternoon to simply "potter" around the garden, snipping here and there, and then starting the long-overdue overseeding of the lawns. 

Also our first meal outside this year.  Nothing too complicated.  Schmidt's (Southampton) ground beef, which is quite superb, made the hamburgers.  Served with a salad of grilled eggplant, red pepper and red onion dressed in feta cheese, steamed broccoli and (naturelment!) a few french fries! Spectacular!

*As a footnote, Charles and I "met" over Facebook because of my connection to his brother.  Facebook is great fun.  Don't dismiss it!

Friday, April 24, 2009


Laying low today with a slight digestive problem has created time to observe and think.  Observe?  Yes!  Afternoon time spent watching cardinals fly in and out of the bushes, fat squirrels raiding the bird-feeders, and giggling at the ridiculous strut of the huge wild turkeys that are passing through the neighborhood.  And think?  Well, not too deeply.


Of prime consideration is the replacement of a seven-year-old gas grill which, silently brooding on the rear deck, cannot be resurrected this season, unlike in years past.  You see, its parent family Weber has stopped making replacement parts for this ancient of days, and so it is time to look for a new one.


Naturally there are many options.  As our regular G.E. serviceman (a self-proclaimed authority on most things appliance-related, and always sporting a thick moustache and even thicker gold neck-chain) insists:  "A flame is a flame!"  But what may seem like a good flame deal may prove him wrong.  A four-burner grill at the Home Depot has been substantially discounted, but when one reads the consumer reviews that mention such units catching on fire, it is surely time to look elsewhere.  Overcooking meat is one thing, but charring guests is something that has not been socially acceptable since the days of the Spanish Inquisition.  Did one Jesuit ever say, "A flame is a flame?"  Quite probably!


Also this particular incendiary brand and model required "self-assembly."  Having spent three recent days building a huge, adjustable basketball hoop and stand, I have concluded that self assembly is too closely related to engineering, which in my opinion is a dark art, and best left to those who feel a definite vocation to wield a wrench.  In other words, let someone else build the damn thing.


In the meantime, some of those same turkeys have just returned.  And earlier a cardinal perched on the old grill, perhaps as a token of passing grief.  And not an Inquisitor in sight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I now remember what I wanted to write about last Sunday. It was probably the cooking process and the weariness after a long day in the garden (and at the altar!) that overtook me. It was the vital question of what to cook after such labor. Well, the answer and recipe wasn't mine, but was culled, and adapted, from that brilliant five-times-a year magazine La Cucina Italiano.

The original dish comes from the (very) distant Italian island of Pantelleria, which, although under Sicilian jurisdiction, is only some thirty miles from the Tunisian coast. No, I haven't been there, but serving in naval warships I have passed it many times, and wondered... And the local recipe calls for this dish to be made with fresh rabbits. Nothing wrong with that, as I grew up shooting, trapping and cooking rabbits, but in the other parts of my family I surrender, diplomatically, to the culture of the "bunny." Whatever.

The traditional title of this dish is a spezzatino. That means a stew. (Impressed so far? My Italian is limited. I decided to start learning more this year, but ...) I substituted chicken pieces for rabbit, so the meal can now be called spezzatino di pollo con legumi. Literally, chicken stew with beans. Let's serve three or four people! Avanti!

Soak 4oz each of dried chickpeas and cannellini beans overnight in tons of water. Boil 'em up for an hour the next day. Drain and cool.

Take the biggest pan you have. It be at least 15 inches diameter and have a lid. Borrow or steal one if you must! Lightly brown chicken pieces - three legs, two breasts (cut in halves), three thighs, in olive oil. Remove from the pan. Throw in a chopped onion and three crushed cloves of garlic. Soften. (5 minutes.) Pour in three cups of chicken broth. Stir in three tablespoon of tomato puree. Add a good sprinkle of dried oregano, all those soaked and cooked beans, and half a cup of brown lentils. Then put the chicken pieces back in the pan, cover, and slow cook for at least an hour.

Serve with good brown rice and a green salad, drink a bottle of sturdy red wine, and dream of an island that you haven't been to. Yet!


Back behind my desk for the first time in nine days and it is fascinating how well the organization runs itself during my absence! No decision-making though, illustrated by the fact that I have in front of me (awaiting urgent attention sometime …) a large sheaf of notes, ideas, suggestions that I have to read and decide on before giving them an imprimatur (or not!) Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow.

Setting administration aside, and isn’t it wonderful to be able to do that from time to time, I am aware that I am pastorally out of touch with a few issues and situations, so I will be making quite a few visits or phone calls this week.

On a lighter note I have just spend twenty minutes in Leo’s chair where, in addition to the haircut, he has reassured me of the economic upturn that lies ahead. He believes that we are going to have a busy summer, and I sometimes trust his judgment. And on the political front, he has officially pronounced that “this Obama seems a good guy.” Now coming from a man who was also an admirer of Vladimir Putin this may not represent a high level of political acumen, but it should send a warning to pollsters and pundits everywhere.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Easter weekend is now over, and rural minds such as mine turn to the ground beneath our feet, the garden and general estate, and the projects and hopes for the growing year.  As I write there is a huge tractor-like machine (with enough levers, knobs and pedals to keep me happy for a while, except I'm not allowed to drive it!) parked outside, which tomorrow will transform the driveway.  But that's all structural and necessary, not to mention expensive  No, my mind in April always turns to growing things, and dreaming up ways to expand the "farm" as I affectionately call it.  And prompted by the delivery of a small, experimental greenhouse, my plans have gone into overdrive!


Over recent years the crops of small (i.e. grape and cherry) tomatoes have been very successful.  Last year the introduction of one large variety (Best Boy) and Heirlooms worked well and boosted my confidence.  There was also an experimental planting of two varieties of aubergine (eggplant) that exceeded expectations, and a (catalog-bought) method of growing tomatoes upside-down that ... don't ask!


So, brimming with nervous confidence, the plan is this:  Expand the "farm" with a new ground bed of 20 square yards, cut down an annoying tree to increase light in the area, and carefully plan crops.  It's all very exciting - more to follow...


Plus a new kayak launch in the Sebonac area, hopefully Friday!  Spring in the air!

Sunday, April 12, 2009


What an extraordinary way to end a gospel reading!

 Here we all are on Easter morning with all the extravagant fun of the Easter ceremonies, spring in the air, the prospect of a good day ahead, and children who can’t wait to get out of church to hunt for those Easter eggs!

 And we hear of St. Mark telling his ancient story of the three women coming to the tomb the morning after the Hebrew Sabbath - and finding it empty, and all sorts of peculiar things at the scene, and the concluding words:

 Terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 Whatever their experience had been in that garden of repose – they were now filled with absolute fear.  And they fled.

 All of a sudden this is a different sort of Easter message!  On a happy morning in April with the prospect of a sunny day ahead of us, with the Easter bunny now happily resting – a message of alarm turning to utter terror does not sit comfortably with Easter ceremonies, joyful hymns, roast lamb, dessert, and the traditions many of us have enjoyed since childhood.

 What is all this saying to us: This resurrection, this Jesus who is no longer where he should be – these fearful and confused followers?

 What is this uneasy Easter message?  Terror and amazement had seized them.

Do we want to talk about fear this morning?  Well we should, because it is the dominant emotion in today’s world.  Fear of the present and the future, in ways that are physical, emotional, political and (or course, perhaps paramount in people’s minds this season) – economic.

 We should talk about those fears, and then confront those fears in the light of Easter. 

 Because Easter drives out fear.  After that first Easter morning those frightened, shattered, failed, cowardly disciples of Jesus could now face the world with the news that Christ had risen – and not just believe that, but demand that the world listen to that news.  And it is that that we celebrate today.

 Easter Day is not just the celebration of easy pleasures – the spring weather and the luxuries of chocolate, delightful though those things are.  Neither is Easter a carefree and unreal optimism that believes that everything will be all right in the end.  Pollyanna has no part in the Gospel message!

 No – Easter is much, much more than these superficial things.

 Easter does not remove us from the realities of life, and the worry, pain and suffering of the world. Neither does it make those things go away. Rather it places us right in the centre of these things.  To challenge them, to face what is wrong, and to stand up for what is right.

And then Easter wakes us up to the wonderful works of God.  What was announced at that first Easter is also announced to all of creation, always, everywhere, then – and most especially now. 

It is the assurance of Shalom.  Peace.  Peace of body, mind and spirit. God’s peace.

We are suddenly, unexpectedly, taken beyond a death on a cross – into something new and vital and energetic.  It is both resurrection and renewal, and as it was totally real for the first generation of Christians, so it must be real for us.  

How one understands that reality is, of course, diverse and complex – but the central truth of it all is that Easter must never be dismissed as mere fantasy or the artistic license of a first century Jewish minority.

Because fantasy does not, cannot, empower a whole generation to throw off their real fears, risk life and limb, and take to the streets announcing that “the Lord is Risen!”

Easter announces that winter is past and the spring is here!  Easter announces joy and hope!  Easter announces God at work.  A God who, in the light and power of the resurrection, now calls us.

God is calling us to live in the world, to love our neighbor, to serve others, feel the pain of others, and bring them healing.  In this renewal God is gathering us all up, broken people that we are, and mending our lives.

God is our peace, our truth, and our joy.

The Lord is risen!  Happy Easter.  


After this particular Easter Day my energy reserves are now officially empty.  Totally drained, fit for nothing, like a spent battery ready to be thrown away.  Few understand this, but that's what it's like after an intense Holy Week, and the Easter Day liturgies simply finish off what strength is remaining.  But, sipping on the last of what was an excellent Pinot Noir, I must reflect on the day that has been ...


The two Paschal Masses this morning were milestones in the history of this parish.  In terms of attendance we didn't merely break the record books.  We tore them up, as people kept coming and coming through the doors. At the first mass, having ceremonially carried the paschal candle through the church, I looked down at all those faces and, yes, I shed a happy tear, and felt totally humbled. 


After the first mass, having said "Happy Easter" to the hundred or so visitors, it was good to relax with my own parishioners.  And they know me so well!  What did so many want to talk about?  Food.  What they were cooking, and what I was cooking.  So after a relaxed Easter Sunday afternoon, when we have celebrated the resurrection in ways liturgical and musical, I can discuss ways culinary:


Boneless leg of lamb, rolled in oregano seasoning.  In the final stages a crust of herbed chopped tomatoes, and a top crust of garlic seasoned breadcrumbs applied.

Grilled zucchini slices.

New potatoes, finished in butter.

Spinach salad.


And then the "chocolate decadence" dessert baked yesterday, served with white chocolate cream, and a small glass of the excellent Spanish dessert wine:  Bogedas Julian Chivite (1999)  (I've had that bottle in the store for three years, so it was about time I opened it.)  Delicious!


All that good food and excellent wine gave me a little more strength, but now my last reserves are fading.  I have a few days of doing nothing.  Time to re-group and re-charge!  That I will, and hopefully meet up with friends as well.  Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Holy Saturday is a strange day.  Setting aside the traditional imagery and prayers for today, in practical terms it occupies a space between the spiritual roller-coaster of Holy Week  (and, for one such as myself the absolute draining of strength, physically and mentally) and the joys of Easter morning.


Today was no exception.  After a delicious, early, family breakfast at the Fairway, Poxaboque (the only place to have breakfast around here!) the demands of parish tasks and visits swiftly took over.  It was afternoon when I finally regained control of my day, and did a little Easter shopping.


The Bridgehampton "Commons" was to say the least, manic.  But to give them credit most people were in a good Easter/Passover mood.  I say most.  One audible exception was a woman in the supermarket who was calling (we assume) her husband on her cellphone, shouting something like:  After twenty years I don't expect this!  What aisle are you in?  Ah! What deep paschal bliss!


Such a weekend cannot be without its rituals and traditions, Jewish or Christian.  Yet I wonder how many families and individuals are tradition-less over these special days?  So many, I sadly think.  Which pushes my presently-exhausted theological mind (with only two huge church services to go) to think certain things.


Whether one personally and actively engages with the Judaeo-Christian faith, or not, no-one can ever dispute that both the stories of the Exodus and the Resurrection, literary or otherwise, historical or not, have shaped the thinking world more than any other political or philosophical movement.  And both have produced wonderful traditions and rituals in communities, families and individuals, that have great worth and significance, giving a sense of history and belonging. 


In a modern, highly individualistic, western world that seems to be craving deeper meaning, yet seemingly eschewing such things, surely we need to rediscover older rituals that do two vital things?  Draw us together as community, and then speak of greater meaning.

Even the dyeing of eggs.  And the baking of cakes.  And ...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Wednesday, and so technically half way through Holy Week. But spiritually and emotionally not so. After the fun of Palm Sunday (and it was fun at St Ann’s!) and the slow march of the first half of the week, the pace now quickens after today. People say to me, “Well I suppose that this is your busiest time.” Well, in one sense it is, for what other season has nine services in seven days? But it is not the being in church that is hard – but rather the preparation for being in church, the providing for people’s expectations, the writing of countless homilies and, each year, the presentation of the whole story in a way that is new, fresh and challenging. Fun, eh?!

Of course Holy Week cannot exist in a vacuum, but takes place in the real world. I have little time (if any) for people who walk about in a spiritual trance this week. Better to struggle with the traffic and the shopping, face everyday problems, and then come to church to immerse oneself in the story before resuming what we call “normality.” After all, at that first Passion Jerusalem didn’t come to a standstill. In fact most of Jerusalem didn’t even notice.

I think that one of the things that hold me together and prevents me from totally losing it is the fact that Easter draws nearer. A spiritual reason? Oh yes. I will be able to eat chocolate and desserts again, and that will surely mark the season of renewal!

Monday, April 6, 2009


The bag containing a bunch of carrots with tops, which had clearly been in a fridge drawer far too long,  had been sitting on our kitchen counter all day.  I offered to throw it out, and it was that moment I learned that as a family we were going to compost. 

Now I grew up with compost heaps.  Big ones.  Huge piles of rotting fauna and flora, and other things besides, piled up under a rubber tarpaulin which was weighted down by old car tires. They were smelly and steamed in summer.  That's how farms did it in big scale.  But I have a sneaky suspicion that if one were to try such a scheme in Wainscott, East Hampton, the code (or should that be "compost"?) enforcers would be down like a bucket of rotten potatoes! 

No, around here composting would be subtle, contained, sophisticated.  In designer bins, around which one could tour guest with pre-dinner drinks, offering short, assuring comments about recycling, organics, and global warming.  This is the Hamptons, after all!  And with this in mind I surfed the web in order to find such an acceptable item.  Gardeners' World, Home Depot, that sort of thing.  I was amazed at some of the sites that Google turned up.

Apparently there are composting clubs and associations out there.   What on earth do they do at their meetings and conventions?  Bring samples?  Sniff one another's offerings and grade them?  ("Ah, excellent!  Good decomposition, but still with a hint of celery!")  And there was a wonderful line on one of the websites:  Composting has been a spiritually uplifting way of life for thousands of Americans.  I started to have my doubts.

But compost we will, and it will be good for our small "farm" growing tomatoes, eggplant and a selection of herbs.  And it will be in an inexpensive bin tucked around the corner, which the dinner guests won't see.  Unless they want to, of course.  After all, for all we know, they could be members of compost clubs, and make rude remarks about my personal ecology!

Which brings me to my clergy joke. Why are clergy like good compost?  Because spread across the land they do good, but bring them together in one heap and ... (The word fails me.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009


How much more pleasant it would be to write about the daffodils that are pushing through the soil in the woods in front of my house; the increase in birdsong and bird feeding (as the grackles have moved on) among the trees, and the family discussions about where we should plant apple trees. But no. All of these pastoral interests are pushed into spring's Junior Varsity by the noise of the seasonal arrivals.

First the leaf-blowers have returned.  Various machines carried on huge truck-towed trailers driven by miniscule men of dubious documentation (let the reader understand) which announce the tradition of the spring clean-up. Everywhere.  Trying to muster thoughts for a few letters, not to mention the Palm Sunday sermon, I was, this afternoon,  driven out of my office by two such leaf-blowers in the adjacent yard.  I came home to find exactly the same. Noise, and the smell of gasoline.

Second, the personal jets.  Three today, making approach and landing at East Hampton airport. Surely carrying CEOs, celebrities, certainly wealthy and privileged people who publicly are scrutinized, and are accountable for their attitudes towards the environment.  Yet below them, on earth, all we can smell is jet fuel.  Ah well.  I'm sure they are important enough in their own way, and supported by their own corporate followers, to be able to do such odorous things.

Oh, and did I mention something more important than these rare people? We have seen more early cardinals this year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


After a chilly, damp day, there is nothing like a hearty Italian supper. And tonight's meal involved good sausage. Now I'm sticking my neck out here, but after sampling many products, I have to come down in favor of the home-made sausages made by Villa in East Hampton. If Scotto's of Hampton Bays are good, Villa is then superb. (As for Premio, and other supermarket brands. Well, the word junk springs to mind. They are about as Italian as my aunt Gwennie, and there are cheaper ways of supporting the processed food industry) But with Villa, simply opening the parcel of sweet sausage filled the air with a fresh smell!

We had bought four thick sausages, plus a cheese and parsley wheel. Then the cooking. I like the method described by Antonio Carluccio whose books and broadcasts are famous in Europe. His original recipe calls for real luganiga sausage, but try getting hold of that on the East End of Long Island. (Grace's Market on the Upper East Side however ...) So get the best local sausage available.

Fry in extra virgin olive oil in a large pan for five minutes each side. Then splosh in at least two cups of red wine. Place sprigs of rosemary in between the sausages (Although tonight I used dried rosemary.) Cook until the wine evaporates, and serve with .... well we had baked potatoes, carrots and a spinach salad. Lots of work? You are kidding me! I got home from church after Lent Evening Prayer and homily at 6.30, and the meal was on the table by 7.15. And plenty of time to slurp red wine! Buon appetito!