The Block Island Times

p 280 of V O

By Martha Ball | May 25, 2013

The Canada geese were in the distance it seems no more that yesterday, staying out of sight, huddling at the end of the land behind my house, where the grass is thick and fast growing. The goslings are getting bigger and bolder, five of them now, already looking as much like small, albeit misshapen, ducks as baby geese, but for their fuzz, a dark yellow, a color more ugly than cute. Brazen they are, with their parents, marching up the lane, inexplicably passing grass dense and drenched with moisture, to pluck away just below my window.

The adults are wary, still, in a way they will not be when these babies are grown, but not as much as they were when they first started venturing near the back steps. Then, they needed no more than see the motion of me behind the glass to turn and in a hurried waddle retreat, now they move, slowly, with some annoyance, at the sound of taping on the window.

It does not take a great deal of traffic to establish a path, there used to be one around the corner of the house from the paws of a cat, then a dog, nothing more than a slight tamping down of the grass, and not easily seen in all light but there I notice another, telling the constancy and crookedness of web-footed travel.

Soon, these geese will be openly belligerent, again ignoring my telling them to be gone.

Today, they are out of sight when I look to see if they are still five, a thought prompted by the memory of a big snapper on the Mansion Road yesterday. It sat there, immobile, smack in the middle of the road, refusing to budge or even acknowledge the tiny stones I tossed at it, probably laughing if such a thing is possible at my absurdly poor aim as a row of big pebbles landed in a line, the same distance short of its impenetrable shell. Finally, one landed, square on the turtle’s back, and merited no more of a response, not even a slight turning of the head. I have watched these creatures lift up on legs longer than expected and virtually gallop across the road — an odd sight if ever there was one — but this one was not about to entertain me.

The road is wider than I think and I was able to drive around it. There was no flattened mess on the gravel when I came home so it did move before someone less sympathetic than I happened upon it.

They are wonderful and prehistoric but I also carry an irrational fear of snappers, a holdover, I imagine, from a butchering day long, long ago, when one of the men caught a big turtle and decapitated it before delivering it to an older neighbor who would be happy to get the meat-filled body. The head, left behind on the concrete floor of the shed, kept moving.

My mother explained it, all straight-forward and rational, but still it was a head, and it was moving, twitching, really, but that was enough for a little girl who could not stop returning to look.

The world is alive and moving. There is too much, days too long, grass too lush, shad giving way to beach plum blossoms, if ever there was an embodiment of an embarrassment of riches it is May in New England. The beach is slower, building gradually from the north, but only in the meanest measure, the shore from the path to Mansion out to Scotch is still heavily banked with stone. There is a surfeit of sunshine, even on days such as this one, edged by gentle fog turning to pea soup as day ends, shutting out all but the diffused light of a moon we know is near full by the level of the tides.

Memorial Day comes early this year, disconcertingly so. Today, crisp new flags flutter over the graves of known veterans in the Island Cemetery, a fitting tribute for Memorial Day, this holiday begun with the decoration of graves of fallen Civil War soldiers.

Another query comes to me, regarding another remembrance that came close to falling through the cracks a few years back. There are few enough pieces of paper upon which I can easily put my hands in my house but I have managed, so far, to not lose track of the file labeled “Lester” and can pull it out when I am asked about the flowers placed in his family plot every year, is it in his will.

No, I know without looking, it is not because for all his promoting all things Dodge and with it the history of Block Island, in fact, there was little self-aggrandizing in what Lester Dodge left behind. The library, built on the site of his house, is named for his father, Uriah, the scholarship for his wife, windows in the Harbor Church for the early settlers.

In my file I find a handwritten note that says simply “Lester’s flowers, 6/04/73, p 280 of V O.” Another lesson from my mother: knowing something is great but it’s knowing where to find something that is really important.

Armed with the volume and page, it is easy to ascertain that in 1973 when Lester Dodge was two years gone: “Mr. Lester Littlefield reported on a recent conversation he had at the cemetery with Mr. John Arbuthnot, concerning Lester E. Dodge. Mr. Arbuthnot noted that though Lester had given the town $350,000 [a princely sum in those days] to build a new library his grave was not remembered on Memorial Day.

“After discussion it was moved by Lester L. Littlefield, seconded by John C. Dodge to have the grave of Lester E. Dodge decorated with flowers on Memorial Day each year, and possibly on the day that the Library is dedicated, at town expense. Voted unanimously.”

It is the least we can do.

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