The Block Island Times

Last Days of Summer

By Martha Ball | Sep 07, 2013

Last night I dreamt of the blackberries down my lane, as they should be, not as they are this year. In my nocturnal wanderings they were perfect, the drought-stricken-in-an-unusually-green-world fruit plumped to the sweet dark state of my memory. It was a harvest salvaged, I surmised even in sleep, by yet another rainy Tuesday.

When I go out to look, I find only a very few that could be deemed properly ripe, and those small, not in all amounting to even a child’s handful. I wonder, still, what happened this year when the grass never turned to the searred brown it often is in August. Perhaps it was the debilitating heat come too early, in July, weeks ahead of the norm, that seems as well to have crippled the grapes that are entwined with the blackberries south of the house.

For a while I blamed it on lack of attention but remember these are blackberries, that grow wherever they are allowed. I especially remember a story my mother told of one of her brothers-in-law come home after World War II when the grass of the untended fields had begun to be swallowed. He threw a long ladder out over the masses of thorned vines and picked berries by the bucketful.

He was a pilot in the Army Air Corps, Block Island’s first, the one whose plane was shot over Eastern Europe. There were two times my mother said her mother-in-law used the luxury of long distance to call her in faraway Massachusetts during those years, once to impart the news that the Baptist Church on Chapel Street had burned to the ground, the other that she had gotten the dreaded word that one of her sons had been reported missing in action. It was the fire and its permanence that was heart-rending, the handsome young pilot, my mother said she was certain, could “get himself out of anything” and he did get himself and his crew out safely.

A few blackberry vines weren’t going to deny him the filling of the pies he had been missing those years away.

Of course, then there were blackberries to be gotten.

It is summer. The equinox is not until Sept. 22 this year, the fourth Sunday, more than two weeks away. Much as I know it is true, I refuse to concede to this notion of autumn “unofficially” but in everyone’s mind beginning with Labor Day.

The sun is shining, the air is clear and it is warm, but it is impossible not to acknowledge the leaves are burnished, the trees allowing more and more sky to show through their branches. Around the rim of the big pond behind my house the water willow has turned over to fall colors as it marches resolutely toward fall.

The Mansion Road is gullied, evidence that today’s wide blue sky — that a week early is evoking memories of Sept. 11 — was scoured clean by intermittent rain over the long weekend, and real downpours yesterday.

It had only just begun to shower when I went into the library; then the skies opened. It is not a bad place to be stuck, Lester’s library as he would have loved to see it, full of books and magazines, so soundly insulated there is no clatter of rain, and most of all filled with people of all ages. Still, even without a crushing deadline, there is something about being stuck that negates all that positive energy and makes me want only to leave.

The torrential rain abated, it always does, too intense to last long, and I made it to my car in the parking lot in time for another cloudburst, sheets of water pounding against the metal roof of my car. Again, it diminished long enough for a quick run in and out of the little market.

It was one of those days when our little island is surrounded in every possible way by water, rain melding with ocean, sky and sea — all a part of a whole. There is a place along the Neck Road, just beyond the Town Beach (all directions are from the perspective of someone who lives down the Neck, beyond the beach is south of it) where the roadbed is still elevated and the land between it and the channel to Harbor Pond narrows and a vista appears.

It is the first place I see clearly the level of the tide, below the dark sand or higher, covering a bit of a wall and running into the tall grass. Often there is a white egret at the edge of the water, or less elegant, a gull dropping a shell on the pavement. Now that traffic is lessening it is easier to look under Dunn’s Bridge to the inner pond beyond or over to the easy-to-miss peninsula of conservation land off Beach Avenue.

The trees there, too, are showing the signs of the end of the season, their summer-weary leaves washed away by the rain, more sky I didn’t know was blocked all summer reappearing. I wonder if our perception of how altered the landscape has become due to the vegetation is tempered by a winter of fallen leaves and returned viewsheds.

The day after yet another rainy Tuesday is warm and sunny and there are many, many cars parked along the road, beachgoers, many from out-of-state. I know the angle of the sun is shifting, the length of the days shrinking but I have to wonder if we would so easily know it is fall — if only by that unofficial standard I will not accept — were it not for the holiday and the opening of schools.

Even at Mansion there are lines of cars spread to the upper parking lot. It should not come as a revelation, it is an extraordinary day, the September we talk about all summer, always a surprise despite our knowing it is likely, and always a gift.

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