The Block Island Times

Paperwhites & Fountain Pens

By Martha Ball | Jan 11, 2014


Cold came on either side of the New Year, with high tides that fell and left white ice hanging from the grasses rimming the tidal pond on the north side of Dunns’ Bridge. A few days later, Indian Head Neck Pond was partly frozen, and a solid sheet spread over an area of the lavender marsh, another sign of how far the water had reached.

By the almanac on my bookmarked weather sites, wherein times are rounded to the minute, not second or portion thereof, the deadening stretch of late sunrises finally will have turned by the publication date of this paper. It seems to come later every year, this tag-along turn that finally stops the afternoon from growing at the expense of the morning.

Now, when I awake at first light, before the sun has crept above the horizon, I guess at the time before looking at the clock. One morning I got up to a magenta sky and looked out upon one of those scenes of literally indescribable beauty, the sleeping land and the stark tree branches still black, the pond that lies below the hills between me and the sea shimmering with this newly born color, a perfectly monochromatic landscape of light and dark there for the taking as I passed the landing.

I look up to the calendar and see a blank wall and for the umpteenth time the reflexive action reminds me that there has been none there since the end of December. Often, the others, wherever they are hung any given year, are changed when I get to it but this one is kept current, and now there is nothing there, no photos of Block Island through the seasons or birds of the world. And no boxed numbers giving me a sense of time, a visual of long it will be until that blessed earlier sunrise.

Last year there was an avalanche of these oddly unbalanced grids, with a variety of photographs of a wide range of subjects. It is nothing to switch the computer screen to a calendar, but the one not on the wall serves as another reminder of the distance, in time and temperament, since the days Christmas left me with paperwhite bulbs set on stones, ready to bloom and bring springtime to December, and fountain pens, old-fashioned, made to create words on a page with real ink.

It is brutally cold, after a freeze and a thaw and a snow and a rain and a crazy overnight plummeting of the temperature with a dusting of so little snow it was hard to be sure it was not merely a heavy frost on the grass. One of the saner radio hosts to whom I listen remarks that he is tired of hearing about this Polar Vortex; the response, from a newsman, is disarmingly honest, that his colleague doesn’t have to write headlines made to grab attention.

We seem, at last, to have caught up to the mainland, our temperatures are but a few degrees higher when the gap is generally greater. These coldest days it has been the difference between single digits and not, a softening factor no matter the wind chill, sometimes the sole softening factor when the velocity of the wind can be heard and felt, known without benefit of gauges.

And, really, who among us needs the weatherman to tell us the wind chill?

The deepest cold does turn the morning sea to smoke, where the coming of daylight is enough to turn the layer of moisture that lies upon the surface of the water to billowing clouds of vapor, cold fog. They rise into the sky from a caldron of an ocean to the east and mask the south end of the island from my kitchen window down Mansion Road. It rose the morning after the storm, when the wind was keeping the air filled with the powder snow fallen in the night and it was not until nine, when the white settled, that I could see tendrils in the air beyond the dark buildings of the old farm next door.

My dog, all five and a half months of her, is curled beneath my desk where she barely fits anymore, a space that once accommodated both a puppy and my feet. It is so cold tonight she came in with little coaxing after a short walk to the gate and back. Come daylight, though, she will be ready to go out and play, running for the north lot where a drift of snow, beaten down by the rain, remains in the shadow of the wall. Her soft-as-a-rabbit baby coat has grown out to a thickened honey swirl and she choses the bank of white over the field wide and bare. Straight into it she goes, mindless that her feet are falling through or that her tummy is brushing the compacted snow. It is not enough that she is a golden retriever, creatures who seem to thrive in weather such as this, her recessive genes, the one-quarter no one sees, are of a Bernese Mountain Dog. She delights while I stomp my feet to keep away the chill that will hit me after I have been back in the house for a spell.

I know it is cold but the air does not seem so cutting, as expected, even though I am headed west as I walk out into that lot, drawing Autumn from the snow with a tennis ball. It is not until later, when I turn and head back, up the little slope from the swale, that I feel the wind and realize I had gone into it but also down into the protection of the little hollow in the land.

It is winter and I take some solace in the record lows being lower than those recorded these days, and in that verification of my “but I remember it being colder!”

It is supposed to break soon, with temperatures in the 20s on the way to a real January Thaws. It will feel as though we have made it though winter when we know it may have only just begun.

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