Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: rhode island

Two Prose Poems

I’ve got 2 prose poems up at Poem2day. They are “Portsmouth, 1988” and “Newport, 1990.” Go have a read and while you’re at it, check out “River Water” by Angie Werren, which is also there and how I learned about the site, so h/t Angie.

Old Photo Friday

Narragansett Bay from Middletown, RI. April 1988.

This is looking west over Narragansett Bay from Middletown or Portsmouth, Rhode Island in April 1988 just months before we moved to Texas. I was in the car with a couple of friends and we pulled over so I could get a shot of the light bursting through that hole in the clouds. We called it “God light” because it reminded us of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which God commands Arthur to seek the grail.

I had just gotten my first real camera, a Pentax K1000, the previous Christmas and so I was learning the habit of carrying it nearly everywhere I went, searching for the photographic holy grail of being in the perfect place when the light hits just right. It would be years before I began to understand that the real wonder was not so much in the picture, but in the way that being open to finding those pictures helps me better see and know the world around me.

As with all the photos on the blog, click to enlarge and view it at a higher resolution.

Thinking About Seagulls

Seagulls have always fascinated me. As a boy growing up on naval bases I used to enjoy watching them dive from great heights and skim across the surface of the water. I always thought of them as the ‘eagles of the sea,’ despite the fact that the sea eagle is an entirely different type of bird. I also conveniently ignored the fact that most seagulls are really scavengers that would prefer trailing garbage scows looking for moldy refuse rather than preying on the creatures of the deep.

Their flocks, which at distances appear to be great swarms of white insects, enthralled me and often, as a teenager living on the shores of Narragansett Bay, I would hike out to a small bird sanctuary and spend hours watching them argue with one another on the beach, chase one another through the air, and at times my gaze would fix upon one lonely gull flying high above the others majestically scanning the world below his steady wings as if he alone were the king of all he surveyed.

Gulls are interesting fliers. They can soar for long distances, gaining speed as they gently descend, or they may flap their long wings and execute cunning maneuvers with great skill and daring, wending their circuitous way among their kin. They are just as interesting in repose, however. They may bob up and down on the swelling waves for hours on end looking more like a duck than the great and mighty seagull.

Occasionally in fits of anthropomorphic fancy, I have decided that seagulls are sentient in much the same way as people. I’ve read that gulls have been known to live up to forty years and one day, as I sat on the railroad tracks on northern Aquidneck Island staring out at the gulls calling and chasing each other away from their food, I began to wonder what thoughts might come to a mind that spends hours on end, year after year, soaring over the desert of the sea.

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The Old Jamestown Bridge

I recently posted an old piece I had written about crossing the Newport Bridge, which spans the Narragansett Bay between Conanicut and Aquidneck Islands in Rhode Island, but I did not mention, except in passing, another bridge: the old Jamestown Bridge that once connected Conanicut with the mainland.

Perhaps it was fear that held me back.

Crossing the Jamestown Bridge was terrifying for me when I was a kid. I was small so perhaps the bridge really wasn’t as fearsome as I remember, but it was narrow and it was high and it was steep.

Mainly, though, it was loud.

I remember the sound of wheels rumbling over the steel grating while wind tore through the spans and shook the car, rattling teeth and nerves.

The noise resulted from the fact that the main span of the bridge was nothing more than open steel grating which meant that you could look down and see the blue of the bay directly beneath the tires. Add the bumpiness and the terrible noise to that vertiginous view and it felt like you’d be lucky to make it across alive.

This morning, I saw a picture in the Austin American-Statesman of a bridge exploding. At first glance it appeared to be festooned with flowers. I read the caption to see that it was none other than the old Jamestown Bridge, replaced by a more stable bridge in 1992 and since designated a navigational hazard by the Coast Guard, that was sent to the bottom of Narragansett Bay yesterday morning.

So long, old nemesis.

The Bridge

I wrote this in 2001 after returning to Rhode Island for the first time in eleven years. It was published by Good Gosh Almighty! back in 2003. – JB

The Bridge

Naragansett. Aquidneck. Conanicut. Sakonnet. Quonsett. Just words, yet loaded with a rhythm and meaning nearly forgotten and replaced by the Spanish proper nouns of central Texas. These words decorate the maps of a sliver of America obscured, like a planet too close to some sun, by Massachusetts and Connecticut. That tiny scrap of land, two-thirds water, is Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is miniscule, especially by Texas standards. Driving into the Ocean State two summers ago, getting off 95 in Usequepaug, I realized how much my map had grown. It once seemed a long drive across the state, but within forty minutes, driving at Rhode Island’s tiny 35mph speed limit we reached the Jamestown Bridge, which spanned the Narragansett Bay from the mainland to Conanicut Island.

The thing that struck me hardest was how foreign it all seemed after thirteen years roasting in the big sky heat of the Texas hill country. Quaint little New England farmhouses looking as if they had been set up to make it look more like New England gave way to small towns with used bookstores and refurbished bed-and-breakfasts. White churches with sharp steeples surrounded by headstones hundreds of years older than anything in Texas beckoned to have their pictures taken. Stone fences constructed from the words of Robert Frost marked off fields and lined the roadways that twisted endlessly through large trees beneath a little sky.

At any given stop we were asked, “all set?” by native employees. I used to say it too in my service sector days in Rhode Island, but it was gone now along with quahog, cabinet, bubbler and lav, replaced by y’all, which in Texas does not refer to a two-masted sailing vessel. Now it all just sounded weird. Those who I once considered my people seemed chilly, distant. Summer was still young and perhaps the guards of winter had not yet retreated from the collective soul. They dont seem mean, Rachel observed, refuting the Texas-bred stereotype of the Yankee. They just arent very friendly.

Coming back after thirteen years forced me to think hard about my birthplace. For years, in Texas, I referred to Rhode Island (pronounced Rho Die-lan) as home. I yearned for its bitter, harsh winters and rejuvenating spring flowers that exploded in wild release to herald the return of birds. I longed for cool autumn evenings filled with the mystery of early dark and large moons hung low over October trees, the strange whisper of winter coming that blew around in piles of fallen leaves.

I was born there, and I went to high school there. It was my first taste of American life after six years spent on overseas naval bases. Driving through in June 2001, however, it didn’t feel like home anymore. I had become used to those Spanish nouns, the interminable yet oddly cleansing heat, wearing shorts in January, not owning more than one coat. I had become used to the ready smiles and open demeanor of Texans. I realized that I loved the wide sky, the rocky canyons, the cedar breaks of the hill country, and even the sight of limitless desert cleaved by that one thin line of highway racing away to Los Angeles or Louisiana with seemingly nothing in between.

We crossed thin Conanicut Island in about five minutes, and coming around the bend, we saw the twin towers of the Newport Bridge. As the bridge came into view, everything changed because on the other side of this graceful suspension lay Aquidneck Island. We paid the two-dollar toll and started onto the bridge, up the slope, peering between the support cables as they raced past us.

Higher we climbed. I held my breath as the rush of familiar sights greeted me. The prim brick Naval War College Buildings of Coaster’s Harbor Island, the white hulls and billowing sails of countless boats dotting the harbors of Jamestown behind us and Newport ahead. Out on the Atlantic, cargo ships drifted ghostlike along the horizon. Dotting the cold blue water of Narragansett Bay far below, we spied boats – hundreds of them – drifting around the lesser islands: Goat, Gould, Prudence, Patience.

Between the spires, on the apex of the arc, we rolled down the windows to drink in the thrilling tang of the cool salt air of summer evening. We listened to the harsh cries of the gulls piercing the drone of our engine and the throbbing sound of the pylons breaking the automobile wind. I wonder if I have ever been so moved by beauty and excitement as when I crossed over the Newport Bridge with my wife next to me and thirteen years of Texas in my soul. I realized I had forgotten much: the tranquil beauty of the bay, the quiet summer nights on Newport’s cobblestone streets, the sound of waves breaking on rocky crags, and the distant buoy bells clanging in the nighttime breeze.

We descended the bridge into Newport, and I realized that this was no ordinary bridge. It was magical, a portal from the rest of the world to the strange sepia-toned photograph reality that goes by one simple word: home.

Texas is where I live, and Austin has a grip on my heart and soul as strong as the ones Newport and Portsmouth once had. I am a Texan and this is home now, but Newport is that special place that answers old yearnings for home, back then, back in the day, old school, hometown, this is where I grew up. I will go back and visit again. Rachel loved Newport at first sight, and I am now reminded of how breathtaking Rhode Island is in all of its tiny grandeur. I do hope, though, that I will always have that same sense of wonder as if seeing Heaven from afar whenever I next cross that bridge from here to a very special there.

2001, James Brush

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