August tales in little Rhody


I earned a laugh long ago when I made the following kvetch to my “boss,” the head of my department at the Rhode Island School of Design: “All seasons are depressing, each for a special reason.”

As I explained about summer, I correctly claimed: “In December the shortest day gives way to lengthening days ahead.” The summer solstice, however, launches the ever-so-slight shortening of the sunbeams.

I guess that is what August is about. We remember the loss of the grandeur of the Temple, but also the blessings of the weddings that follow in the days beyond.

I lost my mother in August, which was also the month of my parents’ elopement, in 1926. As in poetry, with its dedication to nostalgia, melancholy and metaphor, sorrow turns and translates tomorrow into hope.

The founder of our tiny colony/state, the renowned Roger Williams, named every bit of land, rock, Bay, for certain biblical (Torah) virtues: The islands of Patience and Prudence (Benjamin Franklin’s top choice of strengths), along with Friendship and Benevolence as street titles, and Plenty Street as a prayer claiming that enough is enough.

But today as I write this hymn to the eighth month, I include a mention of our former name, “Plantation,” because all it meant back then was something like Eden, just a label of land itself.

I would also like to comment on “Hope” versus “Despair.”

Early this summer, I visited the two wee rocky tidal isles in our Bay. Hope is a little green natural growth of thriving pines, just beyond the larger inhabited islands near Block. Despair is a black jagged crag pile that you can paddle over safely at high tide, especially under a full moon, but it’s a dangerous experiment to negotiate at low or medium tides.

I have my own theory about Roger and the Rocks. I think he invented the existential movement in his kayak. Before Soren Kierkegaard, in Denmark, or Jean-Paul Sartre, in postwar Paris, our own R.W. understood that a lonely wanderer, a variation on the idea of the Wandering Jew, must endeavor to choose wisely, to learn and to teach like a traveler to Jerusalem in those “Canterbury Tales,” and then to tell valuable stories like a rabbi.

MIKE FINK ( teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.