The Block Island Times
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Carousel of Winter

By Martha Ball | Feb 26, 2013

The week after the (first and worst weekend) storm was not a good one — more, it was one of those black blocks of times that need be sealed in a lead box and dropped to the bottom of the Atlantic, not the sandy sea bed that lies between Nantucket and the mainland but the craggy ocean floor that surrounds Block Island.

Thursday it was, more than a week ago when this paper hits the streets, that I found in my mailbox a newly issued credit card. It was the first time I even remembered a call from the company asking if I’d just bought something in France. It was a lovely thought but, alas, no.

It was a sign, I decided; the arrival of this out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new card. Last week when the neighbor said the tide had peaked and was receding and the storm would go with it, I was wary, wanting too much to believe him to let myself fall prey to hope. Several days later the turn was lifting me from the nadir and I felt the buoyancy of the shift. The sun was shining, and I held in my hand tangible proof that I was on a rising wave. Another on the list of real and threatening catastrophes was behind me, when the little, minor inconveniences — such as a watch battery died or shoes left behind put in the safest possible place, a high shelf where I would never look — would eventually be cause for amusement.

Added to my litany of death by a thousand nicks a patient colleague’s first response to my shoe story, from his lofty height, was “Martha, most of the world is above your line of sight” – true enough – softened by the concession that “shoes should never be placed above eye level” which makes no sense but is a great line and made me feel better.

“Can’t believe this never freezes” the plumber remarks, as he has previously, on my outside spigot. The faucet that opens the valve is as close to flush against the old stone foundation wall as it can be, but even for all the years it was at the end of a copper pipe extending out a good twelve inches it remained unscathed by the winter cold. “Must be that morning sun,” he opines, which is the only explanation I’ve ever managed, the same warmth that brings chirping birds to the windowsill above it on the most unlikely days.

They are always a surprise, these winter birds. One January morning I wondered first that my clock was chirping far from the appointed hour, then that it did not stop and finally it was clear the chatter was real and just beyond the glass, the songs of creatures joyous in the sun on the south side of the house.

Adding the plumbers to the list of people who have been at my house makes things sound dire indeed, a “minor miracle” I deemed the assemblage in a mere week’s time. The truth of that struck me when I repeated the phrase to one of them encountered in the market and received back a mock indignant “minor!?”

Later, walking by the west-facing window the lowering sun shone on deep green shoots beneath the budless forsythia, the snowdrops dug up at a long abandoned farm site in Rockland County and transplanted here over twenty years ago. They were old then, and I tend to forget about them until they surface, often poking though snow and ice. They are on the south side of the older part of the house, protected, warmed, happy, readying to offer the world chipper white faces.

And then came another crazy weekend storm, with warnings of a full day more of falling snow than materialized. Sunday morning, when the radio forecasters were still talking of blizzard conditions, I decided I would go nowhere; half an hour later I looked out the kitchen window and saw no gauzy veil softening the harbor. Instead there was the familiar brown and white after-the-storm patchwork rising above the water, muted, untouched by a sun still hiding, but clear. Local radar, pushed out to regional, showed one little bank of weather slipping away.

The wind had blown and the temperature had plummeted but it was not long lived, the storm did not meet its posted warning, and most importantly, the power never went out. The phone, though, died. It’s been awhile, this is the first block on this month’s calendar with “phone out” scrawled across it. It has been long enough that it was a surprise, like the winter wind roaring back after two days of quiet. Although the phone guy, whom I trust, said it looked like a power surge out in the lines.

The yard is strewn with twigs ripped from the autumn olives I foolishly dug up when they were just beginning to sprout in the field, gifts they seemed back then. Planted in a line along the edge of the yard they were so small those first few years that tomatoes fit in between them then, like the blackberries that have draped over and obscured the stone wall that only I know runs the length of the lane behind the house; they grew crazily. One year I did cut the olives back to nothing still deluding myself that I would pay attention and turn them to a hedge.

They grew back, bigger and scragglier, bent and twisted by the wind, burned by the salt air.

Now, their weaker parts cover the winter sparse grass, lying the in the Spartan shadows of the leafless trees, all of them gray and bare. The collection of them is — at least — a task that does not feel insurmountable, stalled by an inability to figure out where to begin.

Perhaps I’ll wait, they say another storm is coming; we seemed to be back in the pattern of weekend storms, the hallmark of this year’s carousel of winter.

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