This Side Up

A peaceful storm


I love this time of year when the early morning light opens the day before the hum of traffic and the rush of jets.

Friday was an unlikely candidate for such solitude. Dawn arrived gently, a gray brightening in place of the orange glow that filled the sky Thursday morning. There was a moist and heavy feel to the day.

Just as forecast, large snowflakes filled the air, melting as soon as they touched walkways and pavement. Our March snow had arrived. Rhode Island was in storm mode. Schools were cancelled, plows were at the ready. This was going to hit us at the morning commute and the snow would keep up for the day.

Ollie looked out on the back porch. He wasn’t anxious to get out. I clipped on his electric fence collar. He knew instantly I would open the door to let him run free, and that changed his mood even if it was snowing.

He bounded for the hedges, the first stop to his yard patrol, where nose to the ground he started sniffing. The snow was sticking, but that didn’t deter him. He was content.

A curtain hung on the bay. It was quiet.

The snow was falling faster, yet there wasn’t that rock cold feeling of winter.

Why not, I thought. Conditions weren’t perfect – they rarely are – but a row in the snow would be an experience. I pulled on a sweatshirt with a hoodie and my poggies, mittens with holes to fit over the oars. Launching was easy as the tide was high.

I lifted the Alden Ocean Shell off the rack, carrying it to the seawall. Ollie paused from sniffing to watch. I’ve never introduced him to boats, and a tippy 16-foot craft wasn’t the place to start. He returned to his patrol. I pulled away from the seawall, flakes swirling in my wake and disappearing into the black waters. Conimicut Point was lost in the whiteout. The boat was level and I quickly settled into a rhythm, the snow pulling around me and muffling the splash of the oars.

There have been other times like this later in the spring when the shoreline disappears in the fog. Fog can be unnerving, especially when in unfamiliar waters, but my rowing routine is established. While the horizon, bay and may blur into a white canvas, I get my bearings from cars traveling Shawomet Avenue, the direction of the waves and even the smell of the land, especially in the spring.

Friday’s snow hadn’t totally closed the curtain. A smudge of the shore offered an assurance. I knew where I was, but conditions had me recalling a spring morning row many years ago when the fog was thick. That morning I wasn’t alone. A nearby voice broke the silence.

“Is somebody there?” came a plaintiff call.

I stopped rowing and listened, not sure of where the voice had come from.

“Over here, over here,” came the voice. I rowed in the direction and a sleek craft powered by a pair of giant outboards merged from the fog. The boat was anchored. A young man was standing, peering in my direction.

“Boy, I’m glad to see you,” he said. Before I could say anything he asked, “Where am I?”

I told him he was north of Conimicut Point. He looked relieved. And then came the story. He had been drinking at the Providence waterfront establishment, Shooters, the night before and was heading for Warwick Cove when the fog rolled in. Disoriented, perhaps with several beers under the belt and long before the day of cell phones with GPS, he shut down and threw over the anchor to wait the night out. But, as became evident, he wasn’t lost for company.

“I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “Can I offer you a beer?” he said, holding up a can of Budweiser.

I declined and resumed my row.

There were no lost souls Friday morning. With the exception of a few Bryant geese, I was alone on the water, a soft white blanket pulled around me. Ollie noted my return, although he paid little attention until the boat and oars were put away. Then shaking, he waited at the porch door. It was time for breakfast. The day had started, although it was only 6:15.

I could hear the jets. The snow hadn’t stopped them. There were places to go and work to get done. And before Daylight Savings Time robbed us of that early morning peace, I found it in the snow.


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Dear John,

My respect for you increases daily.

Your article above proves your courage and stamina. I know I don't have the inner strength to brave the cold in the way you described. My idea of Winter solitude is digging quahogs in 40 degrees. My hat is off to "Ollies dad".

I don't even think the will of the duck hunters was strong enough to be out on the bay, but you even found time to save the life of a Shooters customer. Not a bad way to start your day John. Not bad.

Happy Spring to you and your family.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017