The Block Island Times


By Martha Ball | Jul 13, 2013

The air is shifting by the hour.

Yesterday I walked down the hill from the church and wondered that the grass, so open to even this occasional summer sun, was harsh and dry underfoot. The soles of my feet were not happy when I crossed the pavement from the you-can’t-get-there-from-here stone steps of the little park diagonally to the Empire corner. It was not the “ouch!” an-hour-later-searingly-hot it can be, but it was bad enough; I was glad it was a very short passage.

It has been hot. The summer breeze comes from the west and southwest, and on these days people not expecting it stop short when they come to Chapel Street and feel the air moving, a sudden making good on all our promises of ocean breezes even if they be over the land.

Little things have changed that I notice only when walking down the summer street, knowing it will take much less time if I just cross to the almost-always empty sidewalk on the east side of Water Street. I do not. I am nowhere near a crosswalk, something that matters when I am north of the Interstate entrance. It does not matter when I am near the rotary that really isn’t, the ordered chaos that encircles the WCTU fountain known as Rebekah at the Well, but once I emerge from that odd cocoon of confusion I think more of rules.

There were alleys, air shafts, more, between buildings where there are now gates blocking the breeze. When I was little my mother shopped at the Seaside, a big box of a building, with a faux brick façade (this even before the modern turquoise aluminum siding that seemed so wonderful and modern and now in old photos hurts my sensibilities if not my eyes!). It had wooden shelves and worn floors, with a square orange chest freezer made by a maker of concentrated juice distributor.

Animal crackers, the same Barnum’s Animals crackers that seem still to be available, in boxes painted with wild animals housed in brightly colored double decker circus wagons complete with thin wheels that could be bent down. They were carried by their own string handle and were on lower shelves in a middle aisle. They must be smaller packages, today, although my memory is likely distorted by the size of my own little hands.

But it was that alley, between the Seaside and the Star Department Store, that was my destination while my mother was shopping/talking. It was a loop, my route, but now I do not remember if it was around the market or around the adjoining building, the alley between the latter and the Odd Fellows Hall

That alley was the first blocked by a rough board wall installed at the entrance to the Ragged Sailor Gallery. There were artists, and the occasional show, and work sold out of homes, but this was a different sort of enterprise for Block Island. It was on the upper floor of the old Odd Fellows Hall where Koru is now located. It was quite exciting; a new business where there had been nothing but an unused, empty space and it introduced a new sort of commerce. It was the beginning of a time when many little shops would come and go, the stuff of “do you remember a place . . .” which, at first, I do not, but this one had more substance and was longer lasting and more impactful.

Just yesterday a less than frequent visitor from the West Coast recalled it.

Yesterday, when the grass was so stiff and the road so uninviting the sun disappeared, the sky grayed without truly darkening and, eventually, drops began to fall. It was an odd, halting rain, leaving individual splotches on the cement sidewalk, ones that ran together while adjacent areas stayed dry for several minutes.

It was a gentle summer shower, making the road steam and the grass sigh, never turning to the dreaded window closing in the heat downpour. It was the rain that when first it stops, allows a fantasy of air cleared of moisture, a loss of the humidity that disappears only long enough to remind us how pleasant the air can feel.

The road was clean but the grass still thirsty, grateful the sun was fleeting.

We have had fireflies for a while now. I first saw them one night, coming home well after dark, when I turned off my headlights. They were there, points of white flashing on and off in the tall grasses around the edge of the barnyard, and more dancing in the yard, seemingly mindless of my presence. They flit about noiselessly, or without any buzz I can hear, offering their little gifts gone as soon as they are noticed.

They come every summer, always before I remember they will be here and they are also a surprise and a pleasure, these muted pyrotechnics that bob about the darkened land. I wonder if they are there when lights are on, like the stars that are in place all day but are hidden by the power of the closer sun.

There are other beetles, drawn by the light and descending upon the town after dark like a hoard of locusts without the appetites. They seem both extraordinarily prolific and extremely fragile, swarming the window sills and covering tee-shirts left on racks on the sidewalk, but dying as soon as they hit the cement floor, even if they are not swatted there or stepped upon like . . . bugs.

Japanese, someone offers, which they are not, but before I can form an articulate response someone else says “British invasion!” and we laugh, mindful that the children think that makes no sense.

The day has changed as I have written, humid and sticky, now breezy, still damp, but cooler, at least out here in the country where the breeze blows through the room, although one curtain is both billowing and being sucked against the screen making me think I should close the window before I leave the house.

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