The Block Island Times
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On the edge of the storm

By Martha Ball | Jan 01, 2013

The temperature dipped below freezing in the darkest hours of the early morning, but quickly changed, turned with the rising of the sun, which made it seem much milder than the 32-feeling-like-24 — and a half an hour later, the 36-feeling-like-28 — on the weather map.

After several unfulfilled forecasts of bad weather it sounds as though the storm moving across the country will this time impact us, with strong winds and “heavy wet rain” — one of those odd phrases that catch my attention and make me wonder if the newscaster is like me and will be slapping his forehead as soon as he is off air, wondering that he could have said aloud “wet rain.”

The ocean is deep blue, sparkling with little white caps, but the sky is pale, nearly white at the horizon. By early afternoon the ocean had turned gray, the sky was overcast and the talk of the threat of a storm felt much more real than it had in the morning. By evening rain was falling, driven by the wind that looks likely to continue well into tomorrow morning.

Three years ago, just before Christmas, we were also on the edge of a storm.

There is a storm moving up the East Coast, radar images on weather sites giving some credence to the forecasters we have all come to distrust with their histrionics.

Listening to reports of retailers on the mainland I think of last summer and remember all the rain, all the washed out weekends, all the bad forecasts, and realize there are times when the weather is more than a topic of polite conversation on the mainland. There is the usual disconnect, the talk show host telling listeners if they can not get out they can always shop on line. I grew up on Block Island when there was one boat a day all winter and that the Sprigg Carroll, a small vessel that carried few cars. We shopped my mail, from the catalogs that were the malls of rural areas before there were malls, the same catalogs that became popular in the cities as work schedules changed and downtown shopping districts died. When people talk of on-line prices I think of shipping charges; today I think of delivery times as well.

Crushing weather before Christmas is not unusual, I think of back-to-back no boat days, and during years I went off-Island sitting in the ferry parking lot, feeling my car buffeted by the wind, remembering being in the same place the previous December. Once, I sat in Galilee waiting for the inevitable cancellation decision as the sun rose over the Dutch Inn and the metal stop sign fluttered in the near gale. Or being in Warwick as the snow fell and my plane to Newark for a connection to California was covered with snow while I watched.

A week ago I was in Connecticut tempted by the thought of coming home briefly then turning around for the holiday. It wasn’t the weather but the thought of dealing with more boat reservations in a time likely already solidly booked that was off-putting. That and wanting to be here for the Christmas Eve service at the Harbor Church. I am glad, now, that I decided to stay here.

My eldest cousin calls from Massachusetts wondering about the weather. One of his grand-daughters (he is the eldest child of my dad’s eldest brother) is scheduled to return Sunday after a semester in Spain and he is watching the weather, fretting that Logan, the big Boston airport, will be shut down. He is pleased that she has seemed to have taken advantage of her time abroad and I try to assure him if she could manage to travel about Spain she can deal with a delayed plane. Probably, I think, better than I as I recall my Christmas trip to California.

The storm winds are coming as the sun sets and I decide to move the car in case the barnyard is drifted in the morning. I may be in for a while so I take a little ride, to the North End. It is almost four-thirty yet dark, an impossible notion in the endless days of June.

The mainland is visible, the snow that is showing on the radar south and west of us must still be in the thick blanket of gray clouds overhead. It looks cold, the ocean churning behind the ever sinking Settler’s Rock that I fully expect to be toppled over some day. Sachem Pond is empty, covered with new white ice, and the North Light, with its light colored tower melting into the sky stands alone – and dark – sentinel in the dunes.

At home I leave the car out on the edge of the field, hoping there will not be the snow forecast or if it comes it will be the rarest of snow that does not settle feet deep in my road. It is nearly dark, the fast falling dark of these last days of fall, and a few minutes later I look out and see lights offshore. It is the boat coming in, and I am surprised to see that it is running an hour into the blizzard warning, knowing it has to turn around and return to the mainland in what must be a building sea.

And I wonder if it will run tomorrow.

The forecast is calling for more severe winds after midnight and the possibility of thunderstorms.

The weather system has slowed to a crawl; it looks as though it will be with us through Sunday. In my imperfect memory blizzards end before dawn but I know tomorrow there will be no morning sun rising into a storm scrubbed sky, no bright new day of deep blue and gleaming white, none of the perfect, albeit short-lived peacefulness that settles when the wind wears itself out.

We are going into a holiday week with an early deadline and I am convinced the power will go out and I will be snowbound, left with these words I can neither access nor transport.

So, as I did three years ago, I sit on the edge of the storm, and send out words while I can, with hope for a new year.


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