Friday, May 16, 2008

Seriously seaweed

Few places take seaweed more seriously than Rhode Island. Historically, every citizen of the state has been entitled to gather seaweed along "the seaweed line" of the entire 440-something miles of coastline. In fact, "gathering seaweed" is one of the four basic shoreline rights outlined in Article I, Section 17 of the R.I. Constitution. (The others are fishing, swimming via the shore and providing passage along the sea.) But disputes over seaweed rights are common. Swamp Yankee farmers in the early 20th century in South County valued seaweed as prized fertilizer, and many of them had seaweed-gathering rights written into their deeds. In the Arcadia Publishing "Images of America" series edition "South Shore, Rhode Island," by Independent Managing Editor Betty J. Cotter, she writes:

"Frank H. Crandall Jr. recalls his father telling him that competition among the farmers to gather the seaweed was fierce; after seaweed had been washed ashore by a storm, the farmers would cover their horses' hooves in burlap so other farmers would not hear them making their way to shore. The seaweed was spread on the fields in the fall and then plowed under in the spring after it had decayed."

In the modern era, the town of Barrington has staked its own seaweed claim, as noted in the 2007 R.I. General Laws, Title 46 (Waters and Navigation), Chapter 46-11 (Seaweed).

46-11-1. Taking of seaweed by inhabitants of Barrington. - The inhabitants of the town of Barrington may, at all times between the rising and setting of the sun, take up and carry off from the public beach in Barrington, extending west from Hyde's Hole to land now or formerly of the heirs of John Watson, with their vehicles, not exceeding two (2) loads of seaweed in any one day; provided, that no person shall take more than one load of seaweed in any one day, until all who have repaired to the beach with their teams shall have obtained one load each.

46-11-2. Privilege restricted to Barrington inhabitants. - No person other than an inhabitant of the town of Barrington shall be permitted to take or carry off from the beach any seaweed in any manner whatsoever.

46-11-3. Penalty for violations. - Every person who shall take or carry off from the beach any seaweed, contrary to the provisions of this chapter, shall forfeit ten dollars ($10.00) for each and every load of seaweed so carried off, one-half (1/2) thereof to the use of the person suing for the same and one-half (1/2) thereof to the use of the town of Barrington.

On an even lighter note, samples of Rhode Island seaweed hang in a hall showcasing the evolution of flora and fauna at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Rhode Island scientist and artist Alex Frost has exhibited seaweed prints in trendy Manhattan restaurants. And local chefs will tell you that cooking with seaweed isn't limited to the traditional Rhode Island clambake, which starts with mounds of the state's omnipresent brown rockweed, and improves from there.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Turkeys gone wild

The turkeys are coming home to roost. News that a wild turkey is stalking the streets of New Bedford, Mass., pecking at cars and terrorizing pedestrians, is just the latest example of bad bird behavior that has swept the nation in recent years. Long a staple of a New England Thanksgiving, the wild turkey was hunted to extinction in Rhode Island, vanishing for more than 200 years until they were reintroduced from Vermont in 1980 and again from New York in 1994 to build up the state's now flourishing population. They seem to be everywhere, an estimated 6,000 in all, divided into roving mobs that torment the suburbs, especially in Jamestown and South County. Last year, a Middletown motorist got out of his car when a wild turkey scratched it, then bid a hasty retreat and filed a police report after the turkey kicked him. In recent years, turkeys across America have chased joggers, attacked postal workers, toppled cyclists from their bikes, dented cars, broken into homes and stores, halted traffic, knocked out power lines and assaulted a lab technician who was riding a Segway. But not all wild turkeys are a menace. At the South County Museum in Narragansett, turkeys come out of the woods every day to pay a social visit to the two Narragansett turkeys on site - Thompson the Tom and Greta the Gobbler. Museum director Jim Crothers said the turkeys get together for a few hours to gobble about this and that - like a turkey version of "The View."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Quahogs R Us

Strangers might think that Rhode Islanders have an unhealthy obsession with quahogs. The bivalve mollusk is the state's official shellfish and favorite appetizer, whether eaten raw on the half shell, tossed into the broth of white, red or clear chowder, buried in the dough of clam cakes, made mince in stuffies or teasing linguini or angel hair pasta. Rhode Island even produces 1/4 of the nation's total commercial harvest catch. But there's more to the quahog than meets the stomach. It turns out that quahogs filter the waters of the Fountain of Youth. They are the longest-living creatures on Earth. They are harbingers of good fortune, whether providing riches in the form of pearls or wampum. And their "happy as a clam" mantra completes the trinity of health, wealth and happiness. (They even score big in Scrabble.) If you're not getting Zen with quahogs, then you're not living "la vida Rhody."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ranking Rhody

Rhode Island has a long heritage of firsts. We were the first colony to attack England, sink a British ship and renounce allegiance to the British Crown. We were home to the first circus (1774), polo match (1876), national lawn tennis championship (1899) and open golf championship (1895) in America. The first U.S. discount department store (Ann & Hope), Baptist Church and torpedo boat were built here. The state gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and (thanks to Roger Williams) the first practical working model of democracy, including most of the precepts found in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But what has been true historically falls apart statistically in recent times, when more often than not, worst comes before first in Rhode Island. Over the past few years, Rhody has finished dead last compared to the Other 49 in various rankings, including worst drivers (2006), worst business taxes (2006), worst bridge conditions (2007), worst tort laws (2008) and worst population loss (2007). (Coincidentally, the state earned its worst-driver designation despite the fact that on Aug. 28, 1904, Newport Judge Darius Baker imposed the first jail sentence for speeding in an automobile in the U.S.)

The good news? Rhode Island ranked first in the nation for state investment in wireless technology, which should bear fruit next year, when we lead the U.S. in number of blog rants per capita.