We’ve been vacationing by the Cape Cod seashore, at a family home overlooking a tidal marsh and a bay watered by the Nantucket Sound.
On summer days this bay is alive with kayaks, sailboats, powerboats and jet skis, echoing with the sounds of families at play. After Labor Day pleasure boats drowse at docks and moorings, except for afternoons and weekends when the locals reclaim their bay. By now the calls of osprey, gulls and great blue herons have replaced man-made sounds from boating and water sports.
We relish sailing and kayaking these waters in the golden light of September. But when fog or rain rolls in, we turn to books and magazines. Quiet moments sheltering from the rain, luxuriating in “slow read” books, tales that unfold slowly. We find ourselves setting aside pulp fiction better suited for cross-country flights. Instead we savor memoirs and stories with imagery and prose that delight the mind’s eye and charm the tongue like a multi-layered fine wine. Well-crafted writing that takes time and attention to be appreciated.
Two such books have enchanted me this vacation:
Both are written by New England authors facing personal reinvention and discovery in midlife, what Slow Love’s author calls “the intertidal years.”
Slow Love, A Life Story to Savor
Dominique Browning is the former editor-in-chief of the now defunct House & Garden magazine. In 2007 she was laid off from her job when Condé Nast decided to fold the magazine. Slow Love describes her struggles with self-esteem, identity and loss of purpose after being thrust abruptly into unemployment. Her pain is compounded by more universal midlife griefs:
At the start of this journey, all I could think about was loss: lost work; my children who had left home; my parents slipping into their last years. Lost love, on top of it all, because I was finally forced to confront the failure of a relationship that had preoccupied me for seven years.
— From Slow Love by Dominique Browning
After losing her NYC salary, Dominique reluctantly sells her “Forever House” just outside Manhattan. She moves to a modest cottage on the Rhode Island shore where she learns how to create a slower, simpler but richer life. Living simply and in a less expensive place enables her to live on what she earns as a writer, blogger and consultant while focusing attention on the things, people and places that she loves. She quips: “Slow love is about knowing what you’ve got before it’s gone.”
Dominique has crafted a life filled with simpler joys: gardening, cooking, reading, swimming, kayaking, and cherishing moments spent with friends and family. Today she shares the joys of “her intertidal years” via her blog, Slow Love Life.
This is one of many passages in Slow Love that spoke to me:
The edge of the sea has many voices, … some booming, some frantic, some crashing. But the voice I respond most deeply to, listen most closely to, is one that whispers: a susurration of water riffling across clacking stone, mingled with breezes catching in the high grass of the dunes. After years of first finding and then finally hearing and understanding what that voice can teach me, I have just begun to accept the relentless flux that is the condition of my life, of all our lives. Not young, not old; not betrothed, not alone; thinking back, looking forward; not broken, not quite whole anymore, either. But present. These are my intertidal years.
— From Slow Love by Dominique Browning
Although Sloop is also a memoir, it tells a different story: what it’s like to live and work on Cape Cod while learning how to restore a classic wooden sailboat that has been in the author’s family since 1939. The boat at the heart of this story is a “twelve-and-a-half” sloop designed by Herreshoff — a classic American treasure in the eyes of wooden boat lovers.
Like many people who live year round on Cape Cod, author Daniel Robb cobbles together a living from multiple sources; in his case, from carpentry, roofing, writing, teaching and acting stints in nearby summer repertory theaters.
At first he undertakes the sailboat restoration project as an opportunity to earn some money. Daniel Robb pitches the idea of restoring his family’s vintage sailboat and writing about the experience to his publisher, who approves the project concept.
But the quest to restore the derelict boat quickly becomes much more than a way to spend time and earn some much-needed income. Even when he’s “off Cape” earning money, the author is preoccupied with the challenges presented by the sailboat restoration project.
We learn that “it takes a village” to restore a 1939 wooden sailboat. It demands resourceful solutions and access to raw materials that are hard to come by. Trips to marine specialty suppliers in New Bedford, places that were thriving 150 years ago before steam displaced ships powered by wind.
The author spends hours over tea and coffee, seeking advice from local boatbuilders and artisans who understand the art and science of building ocean-worthy craft from wooden components and metals that resist corrosion. People who know modern work-arounds when original equipment or materials can no longer be found. Robb learns through trial and error, sometimes the hard way — for example, what it takes to bend wood into curving frames and ribs.
I loved the story because it takes place not far from our Cape Cod home, in settings that we’ve visited with our brothers and sisters. My husband loved it in part because he owns a modern reproduction of a 12 1/2 sloop; his 10-year-old Bull’s Eye features a hull based on templates designed by Herreshoff.
We both loved Sloop for its insights into relationships, craftsmanship, expertise sharing, and the wry ways in which New Englanders offer advice and criticism. It’s a “down home” kind of story. Perfect for a rainy day.