Beach Madness

A year ago my husband Jay and I were going to sell the house on the lake in New Hampshire. It’s really too big for us. Mostly, there are only the two of us there, and the house will actually sleep 10 or more, so you can see the logic. I don’t really want a house that will sleep 10 or more – because then the ten people show up and need feeding.

So I was pleased when Jay finally decided that it might be fun to sell and a bit less thrilled when he decided we’d build something new. I remember the last time we built a house. I say we, but actually it was Jay who designed it, which is why I only have a quarter of the single closet we ended up with. Jay turned the other closet into a sauna when I wasn’t looking. (There’s a whole earlier post about that.) Anyway – what really made the prospect of a new house appealing was the fact that there was a piece of land further down the lake with that most highly prized feature: a beach. And not just any old beach but a long one with white sand, where in summer Jay would be able to lounge around reading a book under an umbrella and in winter he’d be able to drive his snowmobile out without (much) chance of falling off it and breaking something.

So we cleaned up the house and put it on the market. People liked it a lot, but the price was too high, they said. (Jay never prices a house to sell – he prices it to keep.) And, they said, they wanted a lawn, not the ecologically correct wildflowers and ferns that graced the back. And the horseshoe pitching thingy that was a long alley covered in mulch, which had never been used (why did I buy him those horse shoes?) was an eyesore. Plus, the house really needed power washing, and there were a couple of little things that needed fixing here and there…You get the picture.

After brooding for a few days, Jay decided he’d give it his best shot and immediately hired someone to do the power-washing, someone to fix the master bathroom shower (it came off in his hand, Jay said, about a year ago), someone to touch up the paint, and someone to turn the back garden into a lawn.

But once he’d started, he couldn’t stop. He had three huge bushes moved into the wilderness near the garden. He hacked down shrubs and tiny saplings that threatened to block the view (in 2037, if they’d lived). He and our middle son built some stone steps and a wooden railing down from the terrace to the new lawn. Jay bought a lawn-mower. (It seems like only yesterday, but it was actually 1984 when he swore he’d never touch one again…) Our house was ready to go back on the market. And then came the news – the beach property that we liked had been sold. To someone else.

Jay supervisingAfter brooding for a few days more Jay made a decision. We didn’t need to buy a beach. He would make his own. We have the falling apart remains of an old stone jetty that joins the shore at the bottom of the garden. It was strewn with rocks and boulders, but this didn’t deter Jay. He press-ganged two of our sons into removing the rocks that were making this so unsightly (and, quite possibly, holding the jetty together). This took a couple of weeks. And then came the sand. Eight tons, I think he said, in a huge pile at the front of the house. It all had to be taken to the back by the wheelbarrow load. That took another day or so. And the result?

I’m not sure it’s quite big enough for the 10+ visitors that will descend on us as soon as the news gets out. But Jay will think of something.


Jabba the Hut Beats Irene

I’m still running into people I haven’t seen since Hurricane Irene came through, and the opening remark is, inevitably,
“Any damage from the storm?”  I’ve been gratefully waving off this question with the truth – our house in Fairfield was absolutely fine – something I put down to the fact that we practically back onto the Police and fire stations.  Presumably they have to have power to keep them working.

Frankly, though, I was skeptical about the storm. I was in London when Irene first threatened, then hit, then blustered and finally faded into a depression, the way one does… The thing about being in London was that there wasn’t really anything I could do about Irene, except try to keep informed, and hope it would all be OK. Keeping up to date wasn’t as easy as you might think, given the internet, global news etc.  The BBC kept showing us the same bits of film of the Carolinas, and of Mayor Bloomberg trying to boss New Yorkers about. On the internet, I kept looking for a moving radar picture of the storm, but couldn’t find one. Weather Underground, Weather Channel, Accuweather – all showed static photos or maps. Eventually, I called my engineering son back in the States and asked him to send me a link.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter whether you see it or not. You can’t do anything about it.”

I gritted my teeth. “Just send it,” I said. This wasn’t a time for listening to reason. I just needed to know.

I never did find out exactly where it was. My friends had battened down the hatches, and as the storm rolled over New England, cutting power as it went, there was no way for them to keep me up to date.

All I knew was that because of Irene, my other son and I spent three days travelling to and from Heathrow Airport in London trying to get a flight back to Boston. It was a kind of adventure to begin with, but it got old pretty fast. Eventually, on Monday night, we were booked onto a flight for Montreal. It wasn’t too bad; we even managed to have the only free seat on the plane between us. But driving out of Montreal itself was rather like trying to get somewhere in the wake of a hurricane. It was only road works, I guess, but it took us an hour of driving past the same piece of the city, as we followed one detour after another, and ended up in dead ends. It reminded me of driving in Poland in the 1960’s (but that’s another blog post).


The point is that yesterday, I wandered down to the beach, and I found it – in great heaps beside the houses on Fairfield Beach road.


There were piles of soggy belongings still stacked outside the houses, which had a distinctly sorry air about them. Forlorn “For Rent” signs flapped in the breeze. New houses, built in the boom times and to code, seemed fine, but the oldest ones had really taken a beating.


My nephew’s built-on-stilts house turned out to be one of those. This building is unsafe, read the sign on the house. I’m not even sure how they reached the house to put up the sign. He’ll be OK, I expect, but it made me realize that I’d been rather cavalier, and how extremely lucky we were.

Only two things survived the storm completely intact – the giant pumpkins grown annually by an aficionado near the beach. They’re still sitting there, looking a bit like Jabba the Hut, ready to face down all competition in the annual pumpkin-growing contest. The irresistible force met the immoveable objects, and the pumpkins stared Irene down.

Jabba the Hut