The Block Island Times
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Representation of March

By Martha Ball | Mar 26, 2013

Today, Tuesday the 19th. It is March as it has been for nearly three weeks, but on this day the true character of this deceitful month is on ruthless display.

March in like a lion or a lamb, out like ... Sin as it is to wish away time, does anyone truly care as long as it is gone? February, three out of four years neat and orderly, expected to be bring cold and at least one snowfall, behaves as expected. There are those shirt-sleeve days, gifts, and whole segments of soul calming time when the wind does not blow. It is winter yet but the days are getting longer and the bulk of the season is behind us. Still, it is February and winter, contrary to hopes, is an expectation in New England.

March is another thing. Meteorological winter is, they tell us, past. Daffodils and iris and crocus reach up for the sun, coaxed into believing spring is nigh. Man’s arbitrary measurement of time aside, the increasing length of the days is underscored by the sun moving higher in the sky. There is a storm or two, like the back-to-back boat cancelling weather earlier in the month and, this year, the beach continues to erode.

But there is sun when the temperature drops as it did yesterday, there is sun, every day more sun, every afternoon stretching into evening with clocks sprung ahead, briefly stealing the hard fought gains of morning. We can almost forget it is March.

Last night it snowed, briefly, and today the sun is anemic behind a cover of clouds. The wind is rattling, the sea is high, the boat is not running. This is March gleefully dancing about the sky shouting “gotcha!”

In the gathering wind last night I heard thumps. I am used to the noises that are rampant in an old house but this was different, not the slamming of the last heavy coated wire the cable company never removed, or the rattling of a window, or any of a multitude of undefined but familiar sounds. Finally, I realized it was the big Rubbermaid trash can that has taken to wandering, no longer caught by the stand of knotweed taken down on a day when spring felt imminent.

Two weeks ago I wrote about that knotweed in my yard and referenced a photo taken in August 1955. I recalled one in which I was wearing a plaid shirt, more interested in the kitty struggling to be free than the visiting relatives. It was, I was sure, in one of those little spiral-bound red covered booklets that were produced by photo processors in the fifties.

Then I went to the closet where two boxes of snapshots reside. They are boxes, not cartons, and not so full that any search takes long.

The photo I had in mind, of the visiting family, was run with this column that week. It was not what I had thought, it was not in a booklet, I had no plaid shirt (of course I didn’t, it was the fifties, my mother would never have dressed me in a plaid shirt when Aunt Orrie was making her only trip to Block Island), my interest was in a cousin’s camera, not a cat. Had I not known it was in front of the knotweed, the trigger that brought the image to mind, I’d probably not have noticed the barely visible leaves that did not reach above my father’s head.

There was another, that in one of those little booklets, taken the same summer, of me in the plaid shirt holding a disinterested cat, the clear field and my neighbor’s towering barn, then painted a solid white, in the background. Very few people had “fancy” cameras then, and the photos are basic black and white, most of my older brother and myself, part of my mother’s annual effort to capture us for a Christmas card for all our distant relatives, a few the aftermath of major storms.

It is one of those I’ve been unable to locate but am sure I remember, down to the shirt my brother was wearing (as the plaid memory above demonstrates is questionable proof). It was taken after the 1954 hurricane showing erosion I had not seen since, a tearing away of the eastern face of one of the bank lots east of us. My brother and I stood on a spit of earth a foot or two high extending out over the rocks, an extension of a piece of land left in that strange way of dramatic erosion that takes great chunks in single bites.

Now, there are these same ledges of earth just south of Mansion, the yellow-brown, one of the truest indicators of how the shore had been beaten, starting with the long arm of Hurricane Sandy and running through too many storms to want to count.

It is more of the same, this confusion of where-am-I-and-what-used-to-be-in-this-spot. It was a bank against which the moveable beach had accumulated, held by grass and bayberry roots, proven now far more tentative than I ever guessed, and always I wondered at the staying power of shifting sand.

A distance from here, out toward town, there were three swans, swimming in the nearly calm ocean off the south part of Crescent Beach, moving around the rocks by which the least observant of us can read the tide. They seemed confused as well, their heads disappearing as they sought food below the surface of the sea, reminding me of the great white birds that lived in Sachem when it was replete with vegetation. Those swans had green necks, of that I am sure without any photograph.

They used to be everywhere, most visible in Sachem and the Spring House Pond; lately they appeared in the Sinclair Pond beside the old gas station, the mere thought of which makes me cringe. Out on the ocean this triad of misplaced swans is an elegant counterpoint to the storm-battered breakwater in the distance, a good representation of March.

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