The Block Island Times

Spring Unhalted

By Martha Ball | Apr 27, 2013

Write something happy they tell me as though it will make a lick of difference in the world we have known this past two weeks. Someone suggests it is time for the Troll of Clay Head Swamp to make an appearance; unfortunately, the troll is in his cave, dazed, not even caring that the daffodils have finally turned the hills yellow or that the shad is beginning to flower, at least where it is in the sun, out of the winter, at the edge of swamps and ponds.

The stability of our world is precarious at best and on Patriots Day, that time of my annual spree of annoying anyone who will listen with my “Who rode with Paul Revere?” trivia and bemoaning that the holiday belongs only to Massachusetts and Maine, the original Bay Colony. April is the cruelest month the poet wrote, cruel not as this month in New England and then on Block Island has been, but for stirring dull roots with spring rain, shaking them from the comfort of winter snow.

The sea was growing Monday when I came back from a day on the mainland. The wind had come around that morning, blowing open my back door as I was climbing up out of sleep, and by afternoon white water was breaking over the bow of the ferry. As night fell it blew as cold as the monotone voice on the weather station had promised.

The ocean was all crashing gray and white the next day, beating the east beach, filling the air, again, with salt mist. It threatened my windows, just washed clean by driving rain and made everything slightly out of focus.

Sand has been creeping over the Neck Road for years, narrowing to nothing the tiny stretch between the painted white line and the dunes, but it is even worse since the fall storms. It came in off the beach, tiny grains rapidly accruing, turning from the skim coat that endangers bicycles to drifts, mounds like so many oddly placed speed bumps even in the landward lane.

It has been interesting, watching this created dune be battered by the waves and wind, seeing steam rise from the wet sand, still held in place by fabric, when it is hit by the intense spring sun. I continue to hope at least a few of the rose bushes, hastily planted, their roots not even scored before they were set in place as the work crews literally headed for the boat, will take hold and bloom.

They are resistant plants, that much we know from watching them year after year but these, poor things, were uprooted by storm wind and wave before they had a chance to take hold. They lay on the road, bare stalks attached to roots compressed into the shape of the flower pots from which they’d been taken.

It is a dilemma because, in honesty, I do not really want them to flourish, to turn to the ocean-blocking hedge that needs to grow to anchor the hurriedly created dune. They will block the view from the road of the green light restored, an unwavering path on still water reaching back to the shore.

The wind howled, it moved sand and tossed mist, it moaned down chimneys and when I expected it to shatter the night it died, or moved off to bother someone else.

There was a big black dog in my kitchen when I came downstairs in the new rain and relatively wind free morning. These dogs who come to visit usually come upstairs at night and whimper to go out at first light, one because she knows she will get a treat when she comes in, this other because he continues to harbor a fantasy of being free to chase a deer or goose or pheasant or wayward cat, whatever is just beyond the window. He did not last night and out of sight and hearing I realized I had forgotten all about him and wondered how long it would have been before I noticed the dishes on the floor and remembered him.

So off we went in the no longer new day, not bothering to check the tide because there is no point, it truly waits for no one. Our perceptions are so shaped by our expectations: coming out of the passage through the dunes my first impression was of sand, more than there had been, sand returning, a hope quickly dashed when I realized how close the waves were on the other side of the absurdly narrow and very rocky beach.

It was one more case of wondering exactly where I was, had the spot where I was standing, at the base of the dunes, even existed last summer or had it been buried under a hill of sand swept way, which would make the beach even more narrow. It is less than an hour beyond high tide but this is very far from the summer beach, it is difficult to imagine how much more is here when it is covered with people and brightly colored umbrellas shading brightly colored towels.

It is not far to the still steep path that leads to the road that ends at the pavement of Corn Neck Road. A person sitting on the narrowest of strands startles me until I realize it is not a person wearing a dark hoodie sitting up, it is a black plastic bag, moored by a chunk of beach trash, blowing in the breeze.

Spring is coming, slowly, it seems there are not many more leaves than there were a week ago, struggling for the sun. It is omnipresent branches that mark this particular walk, fallen branches everywhere. Some are broken, snapped by the endless winds of this long winter, others clean cut by a saw, left in the same haphazard manner as those felled by nature. Above the main road I notice more of them clean cut and abandoned, hanging in the jumble of trees and vines.

They will soon enough be hidden by summer’s green; spring is coming, unhalted by cool weather and broken hearts.

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