The Block Island Times

Roses of December

By Martha Ball | Jun 15, 2013

The water willow that has rimmed the pond behind my house since long before I was born is always late to turn from bare winter wood to summer greenery. In late spring it is often barely higher than the level of the water but that gap increases as it grows so high it bends over onto itself, a change I have always thought a combination of factors at play, the vegetation growing tall and drinking greedily, a loss compounded by evaporation of the wide expanse of blue into the summer dry air.

Something is off this year, beyond, I fear, the rain. The green has always grown in the same place, not just around the edge of the pond but reaching out into it, two arms extending, reaching, but not close to touching, form a channel that separates one part from the other. One side does not seem to be returning, the level of pond is too high, different than it was a few weeks ago, and I go to the beach thinking I might walk north to where the drain should be running to the sea but the tide is high and past Jerry’s Point the shore is completely rock and I turn back, not willing to risk it.

There is more snow fencing recently installed at the too-often ignored Mansion Beach, and it reminds me more rain is forecast, a storm coming through to undo the slow battle of repair that the shore has been waging the past several weeks. They are talking of an unseasonable blow from the northeast and I hope the new lengths of shiny wood stand.

Nothing feels right as it has not since last fall and I wonder how long it will be before I am not stopped in my tracks trying to remember exactly what used to be where. It was hard enough before the storms, so much has changed over the years. The parking lot at the Mansion Beach did not have one-way traffic, the entrance and exit were the same before the egress loop was created and with it a differently defined access to the shore.

It was a way I rarely walked and it took me a few years to realize the old path, the way I knew from the parking lot, was disappearing. Sand swept up into it, at first doing little more than elevate the level of the walkway, making it obviously crazily high off season when the leaves fell from the wild roses that grew closer and closer until the old way was barely passable.

Still, the shore pushed inland, funneling into the path, building a dune where none had existed, a real study in what happens wherever there is a breach, a foreshadowing of the damage of this past winter when the ocean roared up into every access, ripping out years’ accumulation of sand and grasses.

It has not been at all travelable for several years, now, and I look at it, behind the new fencing, and wonder how many people remember that rutted path through the thorny roses, one that washed out in severe rains and made for cautious walking.

The beach is better, the great banks of rocks left from the storms that began in the fall and ran through the winter and into the spring are leveling slowly but certainly. The east sides of the dunes have softened into steep slopes. They are battled scarred, still, but far from the harsh perpendicular walls they were in early November.

When I was little, before the Mansion burned, we went to the beach through the farm next door, past the duck pond, through the barnyard and down the hill following a path through the low, low dunes. Then they had been ravaged by the hurricanes of the thirties and forties and early fifties, there was so much less there than there is today, even after a winter of storm, but that was a long time ago and now it remains a shock when I look up and see the farmhouse though a gapping hole left by Sandy.

Some things remain constant and we have come to the season of wild roses, the crazy multiflora, insidious invasives that have no justifiable place in our world but for these weeks in June when they bloom, their tiny petals white and fragrant. Flowers continue to surprise atop the sad mound of created dune out along the Neck Road, the roses of December planted as crews raced to catch the last boat out.

In a window of a shop on Fountain Square there are photos of the same stretch of road after the storm, asphalt broken, the rocky underbase seeping out, and weirdly, the restaurant along the road and the buildings of the town in the distance, virtually unscathed.

There is a shot of the monument and its two benches, intact on their old cement base, made back before anyone know about standards and just made things to last without concern for core testings. It is, to me, a sort of signature of the storm, damage and perseverance overlapping.

A third photograph, of the same stretch of road, taken the same time, has more the feel of what could have been had we not been so fortunate. The old restaurant, since demolished, is weather-beaten, standing as sodden and gray as the sky behind it, a sad survivor, one window a dead, blind eye, or worse, a horror story mouth blackened and empty after a tongue was torn from it.

A single bicyclist braves the broken pavement and I think only of a war zone, of a place trampled and abandoned absent the hopeful presence of solid buildings or the stubborn statement of a monument refusing to be broken, a place where there are cars only for the richest and most powerful. There is, I finally realize, no ocean in the image, no reminder that the damage had come from the sea, not, at least directly, from the hand of man.

It was before the road was rebuilt, before the dune reconstructed, before the vacant building was demolished. It was before the roses.

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