The Block Island Times
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Royal weed

By Martha Ball | Aug 06, 2012

Today the sun shone and people thronged to the beach. There are but a few days a year traffic is so crazily busy on the Mansion Road, when the upper and lower lots are almost impassable for all the cars parked in whatever way they can fit.

This was one of those days, I realized when part way to Corn Neck I saw cars parked in odd places usually reserved for pulling over to let someone coming from the other direction pass. It held the lure of a train wreck, and since it was the odd day when I didn’t have to be somewhere else 10 minutes earlier, I turned around and went back the way I’d come, then at the last minute took a hard left and headed for the Mansion, where I knew it would be like a mainland mall the day after Thanksgiving — but without the order.

The emergency access was, amazingly, completely clear, but soon after, on the incline rising to the site of the former Mansion, where the road is a tunnel between old privet hedges grown beyond reason, the way was narrow. It was the width of one vehicle and not an especially wide one at that.

The driver ahead of me panicked and pulled over into a driveway rather than try to navigate the maze. The plates were from Massachusetts and the hesitancy surprised me, seeming contrary to the general reputation, warranted or not, of the drivers in that state. My brother, long of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, once observed that in Detroit, literally down the street from his house, people were more concerned about their cars than pedestrians who might be in their way; visiting his children in Boston, he found the reverse to be the case.

A New Englander, always, at heart, he declared Boston the far more civilized city. It seemed a stretch, given that we were at the time in the Massachusetts capital, looking at cars driven sideways into snowbanks, as if the drivers had ignored the fact of a very significant storm and just parked as they normally would.

On this summer day, leaving Massachusetts in the proverbial dust, I continued up to the flat land, over, past the foundation, down through the parking lot, and back to the road, a caution-filled trip, eking between parked cars. I’ve been doing it for at almost 20 years, once or twice a summer, and this was among the worse days I’ve seen.

It was a beautiful beach day after one of cool damp, when rain came and went, and walking outside often felt like stepping into a cloud. It is August, when there is no longer the buffer of another month of summer and everyone who could, it seemed, had flocked to the wide, beautiful beach.

Massachusetts was where it had been when I first passed it, still trying to decide what to do.

I did stop, in a lull in the traffic, to talk to two neighbors sitting by the roadside. It is summer, the congestion is to me more a marvel than a bother, it will be gone soon enough.

Massachusetts drove up behind me, having given up the quest for a parking place without much of a battle (perhaps it was a rental car), impatient to be about their day. Just in the time it had taken me to make that round trip loop, even more vehicles were stationed along the road.

There are a few up-sides to all this traffic, on this first Wednesday unencumbered by a meeting (or so I thought until nearly six o’clock. Whoever sends notices of 5:15 meetings at 3:30 the same day?!). The Neck Road as well as Mansion was lined with cars, slowing traffic and letting me better see the Queen Anne’s lace that has grown so tall, its white flat-topped flowers waving above the tall grasses.

They fill the road shoulder and surely will come tumbling down when the mowers reach them, like the wild day lilies that once covered banks now grassy and neat. The orange flowers were a necessary casualty of cleared walls, a task begun so long ago I remember my mother, who died 25 years ago, remarking on the eventuality. They sprout, still, in the spring, and like the volunteer maples along the Mansion Road, I hope every year they will triumph.

The Queen Anne’s lace, and the black-eyed Susans, along with the milkweed that shows dark among the new grass in the meadow beside the Neck Road, are the flowers I always associate with the early, hot days of August when the roads are dusty and dry.

Wild carrot, we used to call it, a weed the books term “troublesome,” but a weed with a royal name — and a regal bearing — that is in its glory as other vegetation around it fades. It is like the chicory, growing with a long tap root that reaches deep and straight into the ground, focused, not meandering, searching out moisture.

We used to pick these flowers on their hairy hard-to-snap stems, and put them in water darkened with food coloring, and watch as the orange or blue was drawn up into the white clusters of tiny flowers. I always expected them to turn brightly orange or blue, and impatiently waited as they, so slowly, changed hue.

It was probably meant to be a lesson in botanical function; I saw only flowers in a glass jar, precariously, it proved, set on the dining room table covered with a lace cloth. It was machine lace, and I managed to get the dye washed out before my parents got home after a rare evening out.

It would be a good project, I think, before remembering I threw away the little box containing four vials of food dye, not so much because I never used it, nor even because it was so old it was likely made of a substance since proven to be toxic, but because I knew it was the one thing I would never, never, never miss.

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