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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.