The Block Island Times

Porches and other places II

By Martha Ball | Jul 06, 2013

White flash met white flash all ’round me, with no delay before the booming thunder shook the foundations of the earth, and I wondered how it could be that I used to meet people who would speak of a raging storm the night before that was news to me. Still, wandering about, not wanting to do anything until the storm subsided, it was not until I noticed the modem sullenly dark instead of cheerfully lighted that I realized the power was out. It was another hour before I knew it was only me, not the neighborhood or the whole Neck — either of which would have been oddly comforting — or the whole Island, which can be the worst or the best of scenarios, something catastrophic or a quickly located blip at the plant.

After my trying-to-stay-calm call to the Power Company, I went out and looked at the pole at the edge of the yard, the one upon which the transformer sits, not knowing what I was hoping until I saw wires dangling, some fail-safe tripped.

It would be a while before they could get to me, there had been a bad strike at Peckham’s (Salt Pond Settlement), severely impacting a few units. Another call came and I learned that the Harbor Church had been hit, and there was a charred hole in the elegant tower of the Adrian Hotel, but the pounding rain, briefly filled with bits of wood and shingle, had kept any spark from turning to flame.

I settled down to do whatever end-of-month work I could do manually, without electricity or Internet, yet another lesson in the consequences of putting things off until the last minute, and thought of the steeple, a proper white spire, which once adorned the roof of the sanctuary of the church. It was removed after the second time it was hit by the lightning they say never strikes twice.

The Power Company truck pulled up not much later; there was a great deal of damage to be undone at the other site before the electrical could be addressed. The lineman found my transformer to be a total loss, perhaps it was one of the great white flashes I tried to ignore. He soon returned and installed a new unit. My electricity was restored in less than two hours from the time of that initial call of distress.

Yes, I have my own transformer, as does my neighbor, holdovers from the days when nearby new houses, now approaching 60 years old, drew inordinate amounts of power, what with their automatic washing machines used daily, and jeopardized the huge freezers that held the bounty of our summer gardens and fall butchering. Such was the smallness of the system then, we knew when our neighbors did laundry.


The east beach, I have long maintained, is a highly underrated place at sundown. The opinion was first informed by a summer evening on Mansion with one of my Shads, a dog shimmering gold in the bluest of blue water with the summer magic of a big white boat humming in the distance.

People ask the best place for sunset viewing and expect a spot where they will see the sun dissolving into the sea, hoping for an emerald flash, never mind that this time of year the day’s arc begins north of east and ends somewhere over that indistinguishable land mass that might be one of three states.

Once in a while I try to tell these visitors to give the shore nearby a chance, to go north a bit, to a spot where town rises like a multi-layered Victorian cake that will be illuminated as darkness falls. If I haven’t already lost them, I do when I start talking of the emptying evening strand bringing to mind the one young runners in white shorts and shorts with no commercial endorsements emblazoned on them flew down “with hope in their hearts and wings on their heels” at the start of the film “Chariots of Fire.”

And early this summer I found the back porch of the Surf Hotel connected, now, to the side porch, a space slightly larger and higher than it was last year, offering an even better view than it did previously. The day did not seem to hold promise of a great sunset, as a masked red orb slipped in and out of the thick clouds, but the perch overlooked the whole east beach. The tide was rising, the surface of the ocean that is so often broken by the rocks that rise from the sandy floor just off the red jetty, almost smooth, the last boulder that disappears vanishing as we watched.

It is perhaps the best spot from which to view the Neck Road shored up by truckloads of rock last December, and the lack of a beach below it despite all the dredging spoils dumped there when the harbor was cleared. Closer, there is a dark swath on the sand and in the waning light I cannot tell if it is a wrack line left by multiple high tides or a stretch of the black iron ore that normally settles toward the south end of Crescent Beach

The created dunes that block the view of the water lose their height from the elevation of the back porch of the Surf Hotel; cars parked at the restaurant nearly on the beach seem to be on the seaward side of the road, another example of the endlessly different perspectives to be discovered on this Island.

Boats on their summer schedule moved in and out of the harbor, the big high speed from New London appearing from behind Clay Head, flying over the water, crossing the smaller vessel from Point Judith. Showy girls they are, tossing out frothy white boas the traditional boats cannot quite manage, although the latter, on better days, are unequaled catching the long beams of the settling sun.

The whole wide ocean turned pink as the sun made a final appearance before sliding below the land already gray and muted by fog and, after a few minutes of glorious east beach color, darkness fell.

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