Lake? Beach? Um, toilet?

A place called Spring Lake Beach makes you think of a refreshing respite from this miserable heat we’ve experienced lately here in Rhode Island. There are canoe and paddle boat rentals, children’s slides, a swim dock – everything that contributes to a day of family fun. Right?

Well, on this past Fourth of July, more than 90 people were affected by a gastrointestinal illness after swimming in the lake. Here in the Ocean State, the waters are tested regularly for safe swimming. Sometimes certain beaches, especially those without a regular turnover of water (no waves), or due to rain or sewer runoff, are closed for a few days until levels are back to normal. In this case, the Rhode Island Health Department Director announced that a human pathogen known as Shigella was probably spread throughout the lake from the feces of maybe just one swimmer. News reports indicated it was likely a parent bringing a diapered infant into the water.

Spring Lake Beach is in the northwestern corner of the state, and fed by a spring, not the Atlantic Ocean. The more popular beaches lie along the southern shore of the state all the way down to the Connecticut border, and on Aquidneck Island. These beaches have good surf, and when you swim, you’re swimming in the ocean.

A few days ago, during this heat wave, my husband and I headed south in the afternoon. Because we’re the smallest state, nothing is ever that far away. For us, it’s about a 40-minute drive to Narragansett and the beaches. I packed sandwiches and soft drinks, loaded a couple of chairs and towels into the car, and off we went.

Ahhh! At least ten degrees cooler at 4:00 pm. There were still plenty of people on the beach, and who could blame them? Driving back north to Providence or elsewhere in the state was something no one looked forward to doing.

As I cracked open one of the three novels I’m reading, my husband padded through grainy sand to the water’s edge. He kept his feet wet and cool, and walked almost the entire length of the beach, but when he returned, he told me that he didn’t think the water was very clean and “it was pretty stinky.”

Oh man, I thought, I’m not going anywhere near it. The outbreak at Spring Lake caused a total of 92 people to get sick. Sixteen of them, all kids, were hospitalized due to fever, cramping, and bloody diarrhea. Is this what we have to fear when we go swimming?

So my question is – who in their right mind would tote a not-yet-toilet-trained baby into the water? Who wouldn’t insist on everyone using the facilities before going into the water? I’m really trying to lose the pictures that have crept into my mind.

I actually feel sorry for the folks who run Spring Lake. This is the first time they’ve ever had a problem, but it’s hard to erase that knowledge. They don’t even allow gas-powered boats on the lake, to keep it clean. I’ve never been, but I bet it’s a really nice place.

And as much as I love the ocean, I think I’d rather swim in a pool these days. Maybe one of those salt-water pools.

(I’m kind of happy to be) Saying Goodbye to Summer

Today my friend John Walsh wrote about the assumed end of summer in his always-brilliant blog post. Read it here:

John, I’m not sad to say goodbye to summer. I know, I know. I can hear it now: “Martha, are you nuts?” “You want winter, and all that snow and slush?” “The shorter days?” (Okay, I’ll give in on that one. I do enjoy twelve to fourteen hours of daylight.) But not the heat, the humidity.

It’s not my fault. My people came from England and Ireland. There’s no Mediterranean blood in me, even if my culinary taste does lean towards Italian, Greek, and Provençal. Fortunately, I’m married to a man who feels the same way I do; otherwise, there would be big trouble. We’ve run the air conditioning for months now, it seems, and I look forward to that first day – you know, that first day when the breeze is brisk and chilly. When I can open all the windows. When I dig out the sweatshirts.

Tomorrow is September 2nd, and I’ll hit the beach. Channel 12 says sunny, dry, and 77 degrees. I hoping for ten degrees cooler at East Matunuck.

Of Sunburned Shoulders and Sandy Feet

Rhode Island is known as “the Ocean State.”  Big ocean, the Atlantic.  Small(est) state, Rhode Island.  Lots of coastline.  In fact, we’re only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, but our shoreline runs for 400 miles along Narragansett Bay and that Atlantic Ocean.

The “Visit Rhode Island” website lists 57 beaches, but they include landlocked sites as well as “real” beaches with sand and surf.

With the Memorial Day weekend upon us, and the “official” start to summer (ha! we had a temperature of 72 this past March 12th), I’m thinking back to some memorable days at the beach.

As a kid, there was only one beach: Sand Hill Cove.  It had a giant parking lot, cracked and grassy, and you didn’t have to pay to park.  My dad drove a Ford with vinyl seats that were so hot at the end of the day, you had to lay down your damp towel to sit.  Rubbing my feet together, sand fell to the floor.  I rolled down the window and let the salty air blow my hair dry.

As a teenager, Scarborough Beach was the place to be seen.  Sherry and I would lay on big towels and talk about boys, and drink Fresca.  I hadn’t yet grasped the necessity of sunscreen.

Narragansett Beach courtesy

As a young woman, I’d spend my days at Narragansett Beach, one of thousands packing the shore.  Still thinking I’d tan as well as my olive-skinned friends, I’d blister and peel the summer away, smelling like Noxzema from June to September.

Before I was married, I’d drive to the Charlestown Breachway early in the morning.  With a large hot coffee, a blueberry muffin, the newspaper, a book and sometimes a sweatshirt, I’d sit alone, in the lifting fog, reading and sipping and reveling in the solitude.  The fishermen on the breachway were quiet, too – all of us respectful of this time of day.

Or, Geri and I would spend the day at East Matunuck Beach on Succotash Road, talking about men.  I was getting better about sunscreen and a hat.

The summer after we were married, Jim and I took the ferry from Galilee to Block Island.  At Old Harbor, we made the short walk to Ballard’s, and rented white chaise lounges for a few bucks.  They were ours for the day.  Jim would go to the bar at Ballard’s and bring back frozen drinks – it was like being at a resort.  Later, we ate fresh bluefish before taking the ferry back to the mainland.

Ballard’s Beach courtesy

Now, we prefer to drive down Route 1 south in the afternoon, when Route 1 north is a parking lot.  The beach is emptied of all but a few, there’s no parking fee (an outrage to any native Rhode Islander), and we can walk, swim, picnic at the best time of day.  And at five in the afternoon, no worries about sunburn.