The Block Island Times
http://block-island.villagesoup.com/p/1217198

Performance Art

By Martha Ball | Jul 25, 2014

These are the days of summer about which we talk, the ones I sometimes think exist only in our memories — or worse, our imaginations. It is breezy and sunny in the morning, settling into beautiful beach weather that leaves the Neck Road lined with cars (160 on the east side only Tuesday). There are late afternoons when upstairs, under the roof in my old house, it is hotter than Tophet — as my Massachusetts-raised mother would say — but nightfall still brings a cooling breeze moving through the trees outside my window.

Flipping through the past week I suddenly remember — and as quickly wonder if it really happened —hearing booms in the night, enough to wake me in that slow out of sleep manner akin to floating up out of darkness. It continued until I opened my eyes to the unexpected — and the only thing it could be —bouquets of fireworks exploding over Mansion Beach. They were grand, higher and brighter than those to which I am accustomed to seeing there. It was after two in the morning, and now I have no idea if it was real or another summer dream.

Amidst all the noise and general craziness there are wonderful moments. Between incessantly honking riders of mopeds and plain rude cannot-navigate-around-Rebecca-without-loud-profanity drivers, between visitors who refuse to believe that “up here” is, at best, a round-about way to the New Harbor and those who announce their lock is malfunctioning and they have to leave their bike chained to the STOP sign (these are the times “and why is it chained to the STOP sign in the first place?” is a pointless question to ask), beyond all facets of the vocal minority that so easily grab our attention and worm into our memory, there are truly delightful pieces of summer having nothing to do with the weather.

One afternoon last week a man appeared on the corner of High and Water Streets with a bundle of worn rope. Both personable and intense, he said he wanted to make a Turks Head Knot on the telephone pole. Having no authority to condone such activities, and, truth be told, clueless to what constituted such a knot, I had a typically articulate response, along the lines of “ummm, yeah, I guess so” then watched and listened.

There used to be rules — maybe laws — against affixing anything to these poles, but if they still exist they are obsolete, dating from the time when linemen climbed with a strap attached to themselves, gaining traction with spiked half-stirrups strapped to their boots.

The knotmaker and his family were on vacation from mainland Rhode Island, one of those places north of Wakefield but south of Providence, and he was traveling about our island, leaving in his wake these knots of varying degrees of intricacy. “Over there” he nodded toward one I had not noticed, and “down there” to another, also not previously seen. Only then did I realize these were the braids I have been seeing my whole life, usually in a loop, tightly woven white cord around wrists, a darker hemp-like material in door and place mats.

It was, he related, a skill he had learned from the mariner father of a friend a long time ago, something that was part of a cherished memory; it proved a relatively quickly completed task in experienced hands.

Initially, he hoped to create a seven strand “knot,” an intricate process which he acknowledged as “too aggressive” as he reached the end and realized he had erred along the way. He had people waiting for him so he unwound the rope, salvaged from the beach earlier in his stay, and pulled it from the pole, promising to return.

To my amazement — and delight — he did come back a few days later and left his iPad with me while he renewed his effort and completed his task. The video he set in motion showed a group of young musicians, among them his cello playing son who is headed to university in the fall. He was, I learned, one of the many young talents who have over the years graced the stage of the Empire Theatre before movies.

When the knot looked completed to me he pulled out a little tool and went around the closed loop, tightening the rope, assuring it would stay in place, flat against the wood.

I like to think I would have noticed the addition to the pole I walk past a few times a day had I not watched the creation of this loop having more the appearance of weaving than knotting. The end result is five interwoven bands, each of three ropes, fifteen strands encircling the old wood, still with that “how did he do that?” mystique to it.

A few quick lessons in making the easier three part knot (comprised of a total of six lines) left me none the wiser. It is one of those things that looks too easy in the hands of a master.

This band on the telephone pole on the corner pole is not the only Turk’s Head Knot on Water Street, nor are all of the ones that he, Michael the Mystery Knot Weaver, created during his vacation located in town. Someone with a honed gift for remembering names, Michael talked of the shatteringly bright girls manning a lemonade stand on the far side of the island, and others encountered in his travels, fishing and knotting and relishing every moment of his time here.

It is nice to know, in the midst of the chaos and confusion, in a world where people are always running from one spot to another, that someone is willing to give a bit of his precious vacation time to making something for no more than the joy of it.

This was performance art at its best, and I was fortunate to be there to observe it.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Sandy Sherman | Jul 28, 2014 07:51

Just have to say after all these years I never tire of your wonderful stories, Martha.  They keep the Island alive for so many all during the year.  Look forward to seeing you against soon. Best, Sandy Sherman


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