Providence, Rhode Island, founded in 1636 by religious exile Roger Williams, is one of the oldest cities in America. I recently got an introduction to this coastal city that is slowly shifting from industrialism to the service sector with a specialty in education and the arts.

this spring is one source of a Potter County trout stream

I wasn’t delivered there, at the head of Narragansett Bay, because the place has “the most coffee and doughnut shops per capita of any U.S. city” (a fact that doesn’t hurt its inspirational powers). Instead, my wife and I helped our daughter and her two cats move into a comfortable apartment on an avenue with fine coffee, pastries, restaurants, and assorted shops. The youngest Franklin will be working in Pawtucket, a neighboring historical district.

Potter County rivertop

Providence provides to those who seek. A light rain was falling on the avenue and I saw that a cinema and music venue is located just a short stroll from the new apartment building. Dweezil Zappa will be featured there soon, playing some of father Frank’s best musical compostions. We tend to see what we want to see and conveniently ignore a lot of the rest.

The residential houses pictured here are not by any means the great historical mansions of the text.

We drove to Newport on Aquidneck Island. The resort city (founded in 1639) is renowned for its historical mansions (think Vanderbilt and Astor, et al., circa 1900), its sailing competitions, and its social fabric out of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. But the ocean waters sweep upon the rocky shores nearby and mediate the stuffiness. The great leveler cleanses the winter quietude and blows its blue-collar salt through the air for regular visitors such as ourselves.

The non-pictured mansions are a world apart.

I saw my first common eiders, a sea-faring duck, on the placid waves of Newport. We also stood below the imposing steeple of St. Mary’s Church where JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier were married in 1953. We dined and drank local brews at a comfortable pub called The Wharf. In a tiny scrimshaw gallery we wondered what it was like for someone to seriously consider buying an authentic wooly mastodon tusk for 50 thousand bucks, or a narwhal’s tusk to hang above a fireplace. Luckily for us, we could walk away with just a word of thanks for the view.

a narwhal’s tooth

Fort Adams and its park-like environs are the home of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals held in summer. Sauntering among the earthen barricades and cannons pointing toward the sea, one can almost hear the infamous echo of folky Bob Dylan going electric for the first time at a concert in the mid-1960s. I could almost see myself casting a fly for stripers from the rocky shoreline of nearby Brenton Point.

L. & A. at Fort Adams, Newport

But wait a minute. I thought Rivertop Rambles is a blog about fly-fishing and hiking and nature studies in the headwaters district of the land… What was I doing here where the ocean draws the distant waters and blends them into an inscrutable, cosmic soup? Later, taking a stiff pull from a glass of Catskill Mountain Bootlegger Bourbon, I announce to myself that, well, I’m here, and thus, a post will be written. I’ve tumbled down the ice-fringed watersheds to the catch-all of Atlantic Ocean. I’ve helped my daughter get settled in Providence.

stripers will move through here in spring

Although the heart of me beats as always in the body of Allegheny rivertops, I can also see how a place like coastal Rhode Island has its providential aspects. I connect the dots of my existence, hoping to visit my daughter in spring, to fish the Wood River for trout and, eventually, to unhook a Clouser Minnow or Deceiver from an ocean-powered bass.

hope springs eternal

Trinity Church, Newport

lots of cool shops in old town Newport

a wonderful oceanic mess…

chaos & order dance throughout the cosmos


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to Providence

  1. Brent says:

    When your rambles take you far from the rivertops, you somehow find your way to the nearest water. It sounds like she has found a cool place for us all to explore over the coming months. No mention of the hot pot, though?

  2. Oh yeah. I passed on the meats (no surprise!) The other stuff at this genuine dive was really tasty, broth or no.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful area. It’s always nice to have places to explore.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    I hope your daughter enjoys her new home. Coffee and doughnut shops, a few decent pubs, an interesting history on and off the water – seems like all will be well, and you’ve plenty to uncover on future family visits. I’ve always wanted to spend time out in that little corner. The names are delightful – Narangasett (think I’ve got that wrong), Aquidneck and the like, they encourage exploration!
    I’m not generally one for spirits, but if I did drink the stronger stuff, the bottle you mentioned is a draw for the name alone…
    Thanks for this watery one, very enjoyable!

    • I’m not big on the heavy spirits, either, but my daughter bought it for the purpose of visitation and I do enjoy occasional late-night pulls, especially if I’m still wide-eyed and mixed-up on my whereabouts. This one did the trick. But yes, there’s plenty to explore, and those Native American place names, Narragansett Bay, Pawtucket, Aquidneck, and even Providence, itself, invite poetics. So, thanks, PC; I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Thanks for the tour Walt. There is a lot of history in that short exploration you did. Hope to hear more.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    I’d like to garner more first-hand knowledge of New England, since so much of what we know as “America” and American mythology, as I see it, originates there. I am presently, and have been for a while trying to work my way through Moby Dick. The dichotomy is that it is by turns a great book and a not-so-great book, regardless, New England permeates the story. I’m sure you’ll get on those stripers first chance you get. What weight rod is standard for stripers – a 9 or 10?

    • Bob, That’s another interest that we share. A first-hand look at early Americana. I, too, am trying once again to work my way through Moby Dick. I’m doing better, as I’m more than half way through it now, occasionally chopping about its shorelines in a little skiff and then, by turns, taking a Nantucket sleigh-ride through the open seas of remarkable prose. We’ll get there. I agree completely with your assessment of the book.
      As for the stripers, yeah, we’ll see. I’m game to try. A 9 weight would be good. I’ll have to settle for using an 8.

  7. Jet Eliot says:

    I so enjoyed this visit to Providence, Walt. It’s always a pleasure to read your words, whether they involve fishing or a RI visit. I chuckled at: “But the ocean waters sweep upon the rocky shores nearby and mediate the stuffiness.” Liked hearing the history as well as the current goings-on. Wonderful post, as always…thank you.

  8. loydtruss says:

    You’ve convinced me to add Providence to our itinerary when the wife and I make our trip up the east coast next year.
    My back problems curtained the trip we had planned this past year. Thanks for sharing

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