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A deep read about a Rhode Island fisherman

December 3, 2013

Spartina is a type of beach grass that grows in marshes and along the shore in environments that are challenging and not fit for much other plant life. It is native to all of the landmasses that surround the Atlantic Ocean, and is particularly hearty along the east coast of the United States of America.

It pops up in a few other places along the Pacific Ocean, as well. It thrives in the dunes of the beaches and in the salt marshes, and it has a very symbiotic relationship with its hosts, the beach or marsh. The beach gives it a nice place to live, and Spartina helps keep the dunes strong with its deep, web-like root system. It performs a similar function in the black mucky banks of the salt marsh. Hurricanes may potentially rip it away, but the cord-grass, as it is also known, holds tight through all other general weather patterns. It is hearty, strong and stubborn and yet graceful and free-spirited. It performs a very important job and its nature is to be supportive, as it supports itself. When next considering beach grass think of these characteristics and how they apply to life in general upon this Earth. Then perhaps give a little thanks to the grass for keeping our beaches and marshes in place for our enjoyment.
Today’s book is entitled “Spartina,” written by John Casey in 1989. It is a very interesting and deep read about a fisherman living on the south shore of Rhode Island who is slowly and meticulously building a giant boat for himself, as he goes about the day to day life of fishing and supporting himself and his wife and family. The book is distributed by Avon Books, a division of Hearst Publications out of New York City. The title of the book is well-suited for the novel. The life of fisherman is completely dependent upon the bounty of nature, and he or she finds it necessary to find ways to support the environment that supports him or her. Like spartina grass the fisherman burrows into an area, finds lifeblood there, and in turn finds ways to keep that area healthy and fertile. If the fishing grounds cease to bear fruit, the livelihood of the fisherman ceases to exist.
John Casey gets very high accolades as a writer. His easy-reading writing style belies a very intense interest in his subject matter, a deft use of language and a very engaging and enduring approach to his storytelling. Once you get the book open, you are not apt to want to put it down. The story of a working-class hero who has a lot of passion for his craft, and a number of other deeper interests which shed light on a much deeper personality is enticing to begin with. Once you really get into the meat of the tale, you see how the author weaves his plot to share the inner conflict that exists in us all regarding individualism versus social responsibility. Social responsibility in a micro-familial sense and/or on a larger scale society wide basis can hold its own level of conflict, of course. Dick Pierce, the main character in “Spartina,” faces these conflicts on many levels throughout the story. How he copes with these inner conflicts and finds resolution is a though provoking lesson for us all.
Most people have a passion outside of their work life. This passion may take the form of something concrete, like our hero’s voyage to build what one might consider a second Noah’s Ark, sans animals, or tinkering with antique automobiles. It may be something intangible like reading, making music, bird watching or something in between like painting, sculpting art or writing of some sort. What role this passion plays, and how symbiotic it is with the other aspects of one’s life, can have a very positive effect on the rest of that person’s existence. To have hobbies and things to keep the mind and hands occupied is an important part of life. Unfortunately some people do not either have time, or do not make time to do these kinds of things. If they would, it would increase their quality of life and increase their happiness.
“Spartina” is a wonderful story of bringing together one person’s responsibilities, vocation, family life and a serious personal passion in life and sorting out ways to make it all work. If you are interested in reading a novel about life as it is for some people in our area, or if you have an interest in thinking about how people cope with the variety of tasks and opportunities this life presents then scull or row on down to your local bookstore or toss a line online and scout around for “Spartina” and have a pleasant read.
Enjoy and read on!

Kerry Wholey is a freelance writer living in Narragansett.


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