At the bottom of Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay, at the southern end of the village of Jamestown, is a lighthouse on a spit of land with a funny shape. It must have been named after aerial mapping came into being, because from land the only sign that Beavertail Point is shaped like what it’s called is that during the drive from the main part of the island, we pass over a very narrow stretch of road with water on either side, almost like a little connector between two separate islands. I love this little spot, and sometimes we stop there for a few minutes on our way to the lighthouse. The beach on one side is narrow with fine gray sand, where people lounge and swim. On the other side is just rocks.
We pass onto the beavertail part of the island by an old military base, then drive by low ocean shrubs and more of the lovely rolling fields and expansive houses that make up much of Jamestown. Finally, at the point, a state park, with wide lawns sloping down on either side to rocks and waves and surf. We park and scramble out over the lawns to the cliffs, wind down among shrubs of rosehips onto slippery shale and larger rocks perfect for climbing, some stretching out into the bay so we’re surrounded by crashing waves on three sides. We might get wet. We climb up and down till we’re at the bottom of the island, right under the lighthouse, then head back across the piles of rocks up the other side. Sunset over the bay, dotted with motorboats and sailboats, is magnificent. A large freighter might hover on the horizon, massive and seemingly still in the distance.
My father was stationed here during his stint in the Navy just after World War II, and a few years later returned with my mother after visiting her and her parents at the lodge on Pausacaco Pond, just across Narragansett Bay in Saunderstown, where she had been going all her life. She liked to say she was conceived at Pausacaco Lodge. I grew up spending parts of every summer in this idyll, on a quiet lake in the woods, with trips for ice cream in Jamestown followed by rocky surf at Beavertail. My children and their cousins are the fourth generation to live out their Rhode Island heritage in these well worn family spots. We all resist change and hope these places stay the way they are forever, though I can only imagine the Native Americans displaced from this region felt that way too. Another lodge in the area was reclaimed by the Narragansetts, and though I support their right to reclaim this lovely, lovely land, my own lifelong emotional claim makes me hope that our little spot remains to us. My forebears were doctors and lawyers from Providence, whose forebears were English settlers, some of whom held slaves, all of whom contributed to the displacement of the Narragansetts.
The lodge, founded in 1906, belongs to twenty members, whose families pay modest yearly dues and share its use. My grandfather and his two brothers were some of the earliest members. Its Narragansett name, Pausacaco, means abounding in bats. Bats still abound there, despite creeping suburbanization from Providence, twenty miles north.
Picturesque Narragansett words—Pausacaco, Conanicut, Pettasquamscutt, Poppasquash—dot the maps of Rhode Island hanging on the walls of the lodge. The maps show us the shape and location of Beavertail, and of the lake outside. One map is so old it has no Newport Bridge, the sparkly slick sixties connector between Jamestown and Newport. Narragansett Bay takes a huge bite out of Little Rhody, the country’s smallest state, my favorite state, that I revisit every year and recreate for my children and any children who come along, eager to share the most magical arena of my own childhood. I succumb to unabashed nostalgia; fighting it is useless here. This place above any makes me want time to stand still and all change to stop in its tracks. Every year I am grateful that this privilege carries on, that every summer I spend nights at Pausacaco, listening to the crickets, and watch sunsets at Beavertail, full of ice cream and a sense that this place is mine, and will always be.
My immediate family, 2006