The Block Island Times
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Little Things

By Martha Ball | Aug 21, 2014

We are past mid-August and everyone is tired and “wanting this to end” and/or longing for a few days rest, but also thinking “where did the summer go?” Weekends are filled with visitors asking, “Is it always this bad?”

Over the last weekend the air seemed more than ever filled with the sounds of helicopters and ambulances and police sirens, city sounds disrupting the peace people expect of this nearby-far-away-place. It is more than the sound of the Lifestar air-lift overhead, or the sight of big red fire trucks that have to be present when the aircraft lands and takes off, it is more than the knowledge that the Medical Center is a Emergency Room — it is the nagging wonder how many of these accidents are preventable.

One afternoon over the weekend someone looked out at seemingly inexperienced mopeders heading up Spring Street and speculated they were an accident in the making. I’ll never know if the police and rescue call headed that direction a bit later was related or if, like so many, those riders escaped injury because everyone else is vigilant.

These are not the sounds and sights that are supposed to break the calm of a summer night or drift through the open windows of a church on Sunday morning or startle vacationers looking to enjoy their day peaceably.

Just another busy rescue day, I am told by people more familiar with these things than I, and maybe it is only that it is August when, instead of becoming accustomed to these sounds, they had a cumulative effect, like arsenic.

There is a daily expectation that someone will shout out a car window at someone else trying to navigate the mystery that is the rotary at the odd juncture of Water, Spring and High Streets. “Kind of a weird intersection,” one woman remarked to her companion as they passed the door. And there is the mystery of honking, why anyone honks when it is obvious there traffic is backed up, by Block Island standards, five or six cars, and someone at the rear leaning on their horn is not going to make a whit of difference.

It is summer on Block Island, it has been a beautiful weather summer, but it does seem there has been more than just “it’s August” at hand this year.

Then I listen to people talk and I have to wonder: does anyone walk downtown? Easy for me to ask. I do not go far, from the corner of Water and High where I tend shop to the little restaurant a few storefronts down, back and forth to my car, wherever it may be parked. Still, it is far enough to baffle me every time I go out and see a multitude of cigarette butts.

Fifty-two I counted on the sidewalk today in that little stretch, 31 I picked up another day, most of them in the corner of the little parking lot below the Harbor Church, the space in which I admit to having a proprietary interest, now that my oldest cousin is gone. He would visit every spring and comment that there was no plaque and I would remind him there were no strings when the land was given by our parents and their siblings, in memory of a man then long dead, our grandfather.

The new dock had just been built and more traffic was anticipated; the letter sent to the town with the transfer of the little parcel suggests as a possible use for it a widening of the road. Impossible to imagine even for one who had hid behind it on a Halloween night, there was a tall privet hedge running along the north bound of the parcel and cars still parked along the street in front of the Old Harbor Inn.

Everyone is quick and ready to blame everyone else whenever I mention the spent cigarettes, the businesses are supposed to do this, the town is supposed to do that, the Chamber and Tourism are responsible and, for kicks, someone manages to blame HDC. The smokers are oddly innocent. And, yes, I know there were 31 because I counted as I picked them up — my long standing penance for those years when I smoked and littered the earth with paper bound filters.

It is a far cry from the 250 day collected one early morning on Mansion Beach, but that was after weeks of summer. The beach is better, in those days I never took a bag, there was always one there, amidst the trash. The cigarette butts in town seem to amass over the summer, some obviously new and as fresh as such things can be, other squashed by time and weather, barely recognizable.

Perhaps I see them because I try to watch where I am walking lest I tumble to the ground, or maybe it is simply that this is my hometown and I do not like to see it trashed. I even wondered one day if the angle of the sun had shifted making them more visible.

I have had the conversation before, and heard “but I go through town all the time, I never see that!” When I ask “when was the last time you got out of your car?” the response is a grumbled acknowledgement they have not. It is all a matter of where we go, I would have no idea the beach pavilion parking lot is so substandard did I not live down the Neck.

The cigarette butts — perhaps we should just put a bounty on the darn things, or make it a competition sport, or a solo event in which the winner gets a parking space.

Of course there are bigger issues in the world but there always are, but there is something extraordinarily wrong in dismissing the little things that leave a bad impression, especially when the little things are ones we might be able to manage.

Nonetheless, I do love the summer and hate that it passes so quickly.

 

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