The Block Island Times
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Colors in the Waves

By Martha Ball | Feb 12, 2013

The ocean meeting the shore is green and angry, and powerful and majestic. There are no boats today, and while the waves crash far out the sea does not look that roiled, only white capped and choppy.  Then I look south and from the Mansion Beach can easily see water slamming the east wall of the Old Harbor.

Earlier, even as I wrote to a distant friend of certainty that yesterday’s gossamer cover of ground quartz at the base of the dunes, the hopeful beginning of the new beach, had surely been washed away by the night’s storm I harbored a secret hope that the direction of the wind, south slipping to southwest, would bode well for it. I remain a big believer that wishing aloud, or putting words to paper or today’s equivalent, sending them into cyberspace, will bear ill.

The beach to the south of the gap at Mansion is still growing, a wider cover in place today than yesterday, growing as I stand on it and watch sand borne on a southwest wind moving across it, filling old footprints, falling into the lee side of pebbles, offering as good an explanation of how snow drifts as I’ve ever seen.

It is not a big patch and often in late January the whole strand is sand, wide and smooth from the dunes to the water’s edge, but it is a beginning. North of the gap has a greater recovery before it; the seals who lounge on the big rocks just offshore must be happy, they shouldn’t be bothered by walkers or displaced by surfers for a while.

In the earlier hours of the day the temperature met the record in Providence, here it appears to have set a new one, but here that was seven degrees cooler, here we did not break the barrier of 60 which will make the weekend’s fall back into winter worse there than here.

I clamber up the path where a few months ago there was a dune sliced vertical, its top higher than my head. It has slumped since then into a steep but passable slope, made easier by a dislodged clump of beach lying in it, a natural stepping stone.

It is disconcerting, as so many of these places along the shore are this winter, I am unsure how the elevation is relative to what it was last year, like the road by the beach near town, everything seems just off.

When I turn to the north, to the lasting carnage that surrounds Jerry’s Point, my back is to the sun and the ocean shines blue, the white spray of the cresting waves thrown by the wind, filling the air with drops of moisture that are refracted, creating clouds of shimmering, shifting color over the water.

I have seen these rainbows in the waves before, usually from the sand, where they appear more an intense if transient arc, a gift of happening to be in the right place at the right time.

This day is more than that, this is ephemeral, the colors come and go as I watch. It brings to mind the winter when the sea was full of phosphorous and the surf glowed even on moonless nights. Standing there, on that hill of sand, the words to describe the seascape, with a single large white boat on the horizon, flowed like a spring stream, all the right ones to properly describe that scene, ones that would desert me late, as they have, as they always do.

The little dog wanders up the path, having no interest in rainbows out over the ocean, she is, as always, intent upon finding something, anything, she can snarf down before I notice. I cut short the loop I had intended to walk, sure I will lose the image in my head if I allow myself to be distracted. There are, I tell her, colors in the waves, but, as expected, she does not care.

On the way home we do pause to remember the apple tree that has been cut down to a stump. I watched it die, or be killed, as vines grew up into its branches, reaching for the sun, spilling out and falling down creating an impression, from a distance, of a dark-leafed weeping willow.

There was a time it bloomed in the spring, pink and white flowers in early May; now it is gone.

There has been no gate at the gate for decades; the post from which it hung remains and there are probably pieces of wood in the brush but for all intents and purposes it has been a locale, a destination, even a state of mind, but not a real gate.

It is an odd, ill-defined corner where the front field abuts the Mansion Road and, once, a real gate did hang from the post and swing closed keeping the cows from wandering. By some trick of nature it has always been the place snow drifts highest; it is fractionally lower than the land around it and is flooded by runoff, the course of the racing water most easily read after a heavy rain.

There is something about the spot I have never understood: the ground is always warmer there, it is where the puddles first thaw then melt and where nearly lost in the south facing grasses and briars that line the road are the first dark green shoots of daffodils and usually the first of the yellow trumpets to bud and open.

Now in this cycle of winter, of freezing and thawing, of snow in the night and wildly fluctuating temperatures there is dark earth at the gate, damp from the water that stood in a shallow depression a day ago, and green leaves cling to the vines climbing up into the wild poplars, grown, while I wasn’t paying them any mind, from seedlings to trees with trunks inches in diameter.

Almost a week after the sun turned the waves to rainbows they are talking, again, of the possibility of a weekend storm, the usual mid-week conversation of winter.

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