Monday, October 26, 2009

Autumn in Wainscott & Sagaponack, October 26th, 2009

A short and routine drive from home back to the church, today, with a camera in hand... How I love commuting!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An evening in Riverhead

"Was it Tim or Jim?" So asked the server in Borders as she handed me a cappuccino. "When it comes to coffee I'll answer to anything!" I quipped. "Well, thanks Bob!" She laughed.

So began my three hours in Riverhead. I dropped off Kate at a local theater for a long musical rehearsal, and headed off into the shopping metropolis - the only place, some might say thank God, where many of the big retail names come together in one place in this part of Long Island. A few definite errands to run. A new cordless drill, as mine recently died in a blue flash and wisp of smoke; a normal Target list, and maybe a little early, early Christmas shopping.

Borders is busier than the last time I sat here. Apart from browsers and shoppers, Seattles' Best has a greater variety of customers. Most are chatting noisily over their drinks, yet one man is fast asleep in a corner, head back, snoring quietly. Clearly a decaff drinker. Two nurses have been studying with latte for an approaching test, and a group of students have occupied two tables with laptops and notes.

It is one of those cool, spectacularly beautiful evenings with a pale blue cloudless sky, and a spectrum of colors in the small tress across the parking lot. Will it be difficult to fill three hours until pick-up time? Absolutely not! There's always something to do, somewhere to look at, something to think about, just around the corner. Rather I'd better keep an eye on the time.

A very, and I mean very, pregnant women has just arrived and is gingerly easing herself into a chair that is far too low for such a manouver. I wish those two nurses had stayed. Seeing her, her face slowly relaxing, reminds me of the enormous billboard near Fall River, which I passed driving back from the Cape last Friday.

"Problems having a baby? Use the left lane." (Ah.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Knock, and the door shall be opened…

For more years than I care to remember, in all my travels and meanderings, near and far, I say my prayers along the way. I also feel that the company of the saints is important to my happiness, even if St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, has a very dubious provenance. But travelers are also guided by Raphael the Archangel, and let’s face it - we need air cover at times, and best of all by Our Lady. There is also St. Gertrude, the patron saint of those seeking lodging, and of course St. Jude, the representative of lost causes, of which I am a senior member of the Board of Management.

Please do not mock, but I take these sentiments and prayers very seriously, and to date they have rarely let me down. On a journey and visit I simply ask for good and interesting experiences, and that doors may be opened.

This short time on the Cape has seen those prayers (wishes?) fulfilled. I have wandered into the unknown, walked new paths, paddled new waters, and, in between them all, had great conversations with new people. With one exception.

The new and gargantuan parish church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Wellfleet simply had to be visited. I thought I had timed it well. Morning mass had ended, and the people had left. But the outer doors had already been locked. Saddened, I went on to thank God for the beauty of Gull Pond.

There’s a sermon there, somewhere… And a salutory lesson for every church.

TAKE A HIKE (or, Lunch at the Pub!)

To say that today has been a great, and interesting workout, would be an understatement. An early morning launch saw me paddling three large Wellfleet ponds. Air temperature was in the mid 40s, the north wind beginning to crank, and the water in the ponds (deep kettle ponds, the jewels in the crown that is Cape Cod) was deceptively cool. I’m not going to post the (rather good and atmospheric, if I say so myself) pictures here, as I have already done so on my Facebook pages. (What? You’re not a member? You should be! Keep up! Life’s too short not to…)

After packing a simple lunch of Portuguese rolls, cheddar cheese, apples and chocolate, I drove back to Wellfleet to walk the long trail from the Herring River mouth out to Jeremy Point. This is the spit of land that shelters Wellfleet Harbor from the ravaging winter storms that can attack from Cape Cod Bay, and which has a great history in itself as a vital refuge for those who plied their trade in the whaling ships of the 18th century.

I sat down on a stump, and ate my lunch at what was the site of the Smith Tavern, named after Samuel Smith, its founder. Little is documented about this pub, built in 1690 on the wider stretch of land called Great Island, and nothing remains. This land used to be an island, but changing banks and flows changed all that over time. The tavern was a place of refreshment for the shore waling people, those who trapped and killed whales that entered the shallow waters of Wellfleet Harbor and Cape Cod Bay, and lasted for some forty years. But then shore whaling diminished, and the pub called “last orders” for the final time. The words of the sign at the door of this tavern still linger in local rhyme:

Samuel Smith, he has good flip.
Good toddy if you please,
The way is near and very clear,
‘Tis just beyond the trees.

The walk to Jeremy Point was spectacular, in that it showed me Wellfleet and the harbor from a new viewpoint, and told me something about the importance of shelter, “any port in a storm,” which underpinned the importance of this small fishing town. On reaching the Point I felt as if I was on the ede of the world, or certainly a world. Most people come here by boat, but I had chosen to walk, and as I munched on chocolate and swigged water (as the pub had been shut for nearly 300 years) my legs were quietly complaining about being forced to trudge five miles through soft sand and mud.

Rounding the Point, I was struck by the number of dead sea birds on the south facing beach. I had noticed some on the eastern shore, but had decided that if a bird had to die then this was a good and peaceful place. But now they were in their dozens. I must have walked past at least forty dead birds, which means that there were many more out of my sight. I am aware that local ornithologists, my sister-in-law being one of them, are researching this phenomenon, but apparently it is a mystery for the time being.

I walked three and a half miles back to the trailhead along the bay beach. It was a good walk. No dead birds, and not a single person in sight. Looking out to sea also reminded me of how rocky and treacherous the Bay is when close to shore. I was first taught this by Ted Worthington, out in his boat in 1994, who told me, “I know rocks most people have never heard of.”

Back at the car, nine miles after leaving it, my legs were telling me that that was a great hike! Some photos now follow…

Monday, October 12, 2009


Gorgeous, cool, sunny weather. Splashes of color in the deciduous trees. No need to do anything, although I did. Even within a few hours my shoulders felt lighter and my mind clearer.

I have timed this trip well, and plan to leave the area early Friday morning. The next few days should be quiet everywhere as the Columbus Day holiday visitors depart for their urban and suburban boxes. I would be very foolish to linger beyond Friday breakfast, for that is the day when over twenty thousand people will descend on Wellfleet (pop. 2,800) for the annual Wellfleet Oyster Festival. What began as a very local harvest celebration of what is, in my humble opinion (but I have over 2,800 very proud people to back me up!) the finest oyster in the world, if not the galaxy, has turned into a commercial free-for-all, with hordes of entitled urbanites embarrassing themselves. As Mo in the Wellfleet Bookstore told me today, “We’re all dreading it. It’s now the tail wagging the dog!”

An aside comment, yet one based on good local observation, surprised me today. It was about Mac’s Seafood which, since its founding in Wellfleet in 1995, has opened a sprinkling of shops on the Lower Cape, as well as being the most popular supplier of the better local restaurants. Plus, they have one of their own! I like Mac’s. I now know the family members who run the small Truro shop, and who chat and give me tasters, and I have never not appreciated the quality of their fish, seafood, service or friendliness. But! And here’s where the tune changes… Apparently local people (and define that dangerous category as you will) deliberately choose to ignore Mac’s and instead shop at another (excellent) seafood place in North Truro. The reason? Price? Freshness? Variety? No, none of these vital things. It’s apparently a “Portuguese thing.” They (Mac’s) are not us. So we don’t shop there. God in heaven! Yet another example of tribalism, in the Untied States, in the 21st century. Please don't get me started on the Italians...

I am no fan of bumper stickers, but today I saw one that I would happily display on my car: “Got Linguica?”

TO THE CAPE October 11th, 2009

Waking up this morning was different. Oh, the routine was the same. One dog bouncing up and down, eager to be let out; another sitting bolt upright, staring expectantly. And a cat pacing up and down, noisily announcing that morning had come. But this was Sunday morning, and six-fifty-five. No church services to preside over, no masses, no sermons – nothing, except feed the animals and load the final things into the car for my drive to Cape Cod.

Last evening I had a sobering thought, and it was one that I must take great care not to let happen too often. It was this: This is my first Sunday “off” since Christmas 2008, and that simply won’t do. For health of body, mind and soul I am supposed to relax on five Sundays a year, but the paucity of many supply clergy, and the unavailability of my friend and colleague John, has meant that this year it has been me, followed by me, me and me. This is nothing to be proud of. Has it taken its toll? If it has it is not a serious one, but next year I must take steps to rectify this unhappy situation. After all, as the one who visits and offers pastoral care to stressed-out clergy, I must be the last one to fall into such a trench, if at all!

I’m writing this (at least in note form) on the MV Susan Ann, having just passed through the turbulent currents of Plum Gut and the eastern shores of the island. The sunshine is dazzling on the slightly choppy Sound; the horizon is so clear I feel as if I could reach out and touch it, and perhaps most important of all, the coffee is good. In an hour’s time I should be in New London and back on the road. There’s no rush, but I hope to on the Cape by two-thirty, and in Truro an hour after that. I cannot imagine a better day to be traveling…

Friday, October 2, 2009


- Where did September go?

- Leo the barber is in economic mood, given the change of season. I went for my monthly shear, his first customer of the morning, and he was sitting in one of his chairs reading a newspaper, sipping his Starbucks coffee, and wrapped in at least three layers of coat. “It’s cold!” “But Leo, what about the heating?” I asked. “Too expensive. Not until November.”

- Rural ministry has its wonderful and unexpected benefits. This morning’s funeral visit to a family in Sagaponack began with grief and condolences, continued with good conversation as we planned the service, and ended with us pulling an armful of huge fresh leeks from the field for me to take home. I will braise two of them, and make soup with the rest!

- The deer rutting season continues on my front lawn. We awoke yesterday to find sections of the grass completely turned over, as if by a rotor tiller! Two stags had clearly decided to square up to each other on my grass. I wonder who won?