Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Summer Autumn in Rhode Island

danielle ciminero surfing
I lurch onto the freeway  and speed up to just about the limit.   When I look into the rearview mirror I see a guy in a van with a cig hanging out of his mouth and he's flipping me the bird. 
     "Gosh these new england folk are ornery!" I start to think. 
    As he passes by I look again in my mirror and realize that there is no one else on the freeway.  I had pretty much cut this guy off. I took a deep breath and let the realization settle that I was now in Rhode Island and there was no need to rush things.  There is no traffic here, not in South County anyway- unlike in Southern California where the only way to get on the freeway is to cut off at least ten other cars.  Here in RI  there is no need to rush out in front of others when entering a road space, just wait for them to pass and you'll probably have a 20 minute gap before the next car comes along.  
    I carried on along the freeway only to be harassed by the gas light pinging on.   Realizing I needed to go the opposite direction to reach the gas station, I pulled off the freeway and began looking for an onramp going the other way.    Now if your from RI - stop laughing.  And for the rest of you - in Rhode Island  you don't have to get off the freeway to go the opposite direction, we have turnarounds in the middle of the highway for that purpose. Imagine the kind of disasters that would come of those turnarounds somewhere else?  Five hundred car pile-ups all the time.  Needless to say after about five minutes I realized what an idiot I was and got back on the freeway to use the turnaround. 
     Finally gassed up and ready to go I passed through town like a sight seeing tourist. I never noticed how dollhouse like most of this area is -with its eclectic shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, fire department, police brigade, town hall, and vegetable stands.  Cozy plots of land with lovely farmhouses boast huge fields filled with corn, cows, goats, horses, christmas trees,  or just the rolling expanse of plush green grass.  Most of the roads are like a roller coaster for old people- with their twists, turns, dips, and rises along the majestic rows of deciduous and pine trees.  
    And for a surfer, the coastal set ups are incredible.  Rhode Island has such a vast variety of wave types it would boggle your mind.  We have pristine beach breaks, cobblestone reefs, point breaks, jetty waves, and  even some mysto slabs.   The set ups are all there, but what we don't have much of is swell. 
    If someone stuck a wave machine off the coast I'd move back in a heart beat.  The winters here are brutal, and the summers crowded with beach going tourists - but with consistent swell this would be quite the dreamy place to live. You'd have your pick of a couple dozen different waves in a thirty minute drive. 
    Sadly this is not the case.  Say the word "swell" to an RI surfer and we're likely to wet our pants.  I only come back for visits now, but I still get dizzy with excitement when I see a blob of green yellow and red moving up the coast on the NOAA charts.    
    This trip started off with its typical Lazy summer ocean attitude, but the Atlantic awoke for a few really fun sessions as September got underway.   Seeing the ocean transform from lake-flat to head high seems like a miracle. Hundreds of people were missing from their desks at work and school those days.  They could be found at the beach lathering up in sunscreen, pulling on their rubber suits and surfing until their arms felt like spaghetti and their friends hoisted them into their cars for a quick nap.   
        I'm seeing sixty-five year olds dive into wetsuits with the finesse and enthusiasm of a gold medal gymnast.  People that don't surf for weeks or even months at a time will have marathon surf sessions while there is swell in the water.  Most end up with major wetsuit rashes (most people don't bother to get one of the nice new suits on the market, they have the same suit they did 5 years ago  since they haven't been able to use it much) And surely their non-surfing family and friends are curious of their new appetites, watching them pile in more food in one sitting than a tribe of teenage boys consume in a week.
     People literally will arrive at 4am and not leave the beach until after dark.  The parking lots of every surf spot are full, with cars overflowing and parking illegally left right and center.  Not caring that the ticket left on their windshield will cost about $25,  they swarm to the lineups - which are equally crowded. 
    One of those days I paddled out in a group of about twenty people, expecting a tense angry environment, only to hear bellowing laughter and chattering coming from every which way.   My parents always told me that if you frown your face would freeze like that, but they never mentioned that smiles can freeze on your face too.  There was so much joy being passed around I started to wonder if everyone had hit the peace pipe before paddling out.   Nah, they were all too energetic for that - acting like grommets at a birthday party.  It must've been the waves- just giving everyone a natural high..  
    All I can say is that coming back taught me a few important lessons in slowing down and really taking in the moment.   I was supposed to go to a couple ASP events in Europe for the last weeks of September and when everything fell apart last minute I was really bummed.  I worked really hard to get it all together and it just wasn't in the cards.    But now I am plotting my next move and sucking in the Autumn days. The temperature is dropping,  we're now waking up to 35 degree mornings and tidbits of frost gathering on the windshield...  Damn little threatening pin pricks they are. At least the trees are all changing outfits and the outcome is stupendous - bright oranges, reds and yellows fluttering in the wind. 
    The feeling of riding a wave lingers in the shadows of my memory the way a word will hang on the tip of your tongue - tormenting you as you try to pull it from the depths of your mind and speak it aloud.  Just like you would carry this tip-of-the-tongue notion around with you until you found the word -  I am wandering the streets of Rhode Island searching for a feeling I can just barely remember.
    Instead of focusing on it,  I notice the pumpkins being displayed on every farm stand, complete with hayride tractors enticing the children to beg their parents for a fun weekend at the farm picking their jack-o-lanterns, sipping fresh apple cider, and riding around on bales of hay.  There is a sweet melancholy here, the locals winding down from a fun filled hot sticky summer,  trying to suck in the last of the delicious fall weather and colors before winter strikes, leaving the trees bare and the air bitter.
     Those cold months do have their perks, though.  Nor'easter's push around the ocean and send some waves our way,  with frigid biting air and thirty degree water mind you.  That reminds me... I  have an escape plan to hatch.
Until next time....