The Block Island Times
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Summer Passage

By Martha Ball | Sep 04, 2012

Lest there be any misunderstanding, no, I do not have a new dog. Hours earlier during my first and likely last evening of the summer spent on the beach, as the sun set and the moon rose, as the lights of the harbor brightened and the planes flew over head, as the moon lay on the water and gentle surf lapped the sand, I kept thinking I had to go home and write — and I kept not moving, because how can one leave such a place? Four years it has been since the end of August was not about a storm, threatening or landing. Four years ago the beach was a daily ritual. Next year I will have a dog, next year the world will be right again.

That tomorrow I would be lame was a given an hour or two ago, after I’d closed the trailing lace of my sneaker in the door and tumbled onto the cement slab of the entry way. It was an accident born — as most are — of sheer stupidity, stopping to talk for a minute and putting on the shoes I usually carry from the beach on these most precious of summer mornings, but not lacing them because I’d wear them only for the walk back to the house. An hour later they were still on my feet, still unlaced.

And so I sprawled on the hard floor, amazed and grateful that there was no shattering pain in my knee, then wondering, as I always do after such a tumble, how it even happens when one foot should have been out the door and firmly planted before the other was caught; the same comes of stepping on one’s shoe laces.

My knee does not hurt, even the initial intense stinging has faded, but I do have, of all the absurd indignities possible, a skinned knee. The sort of thing a little girl in cotton dress and short white socks — or corduroy and knee socks — might achieve walking across a gravel parking lot on the way to Sunday School. A reminder of the blue jeans that seem to disintegrate first at the knees, even today, are a literal result of wear and tear.

Yes, I am too old for this, but four years ago [eight years now] both candidates for the highest elective office in the land managed to fall off their bicycle, prompting at least one late night talk show to ask if they were running for class president. I remain baffled by the young people going about with all manner of piercing of their bodies; my pockets catch on doorknobs and furniture corners as I walk past, not doorknobs and furniture corners of a strange house but of this one, where I have lived so long and where any changes have been of my doing.

The summer shore is near its peak; sand has swallowed the rocks that are winter’s dressing of the stretch north of Jerry’s Point at the end of Mansion Beach. They are, the seasons prove, only the ever-present bones of the beach, always in place, visible or not. These are the days I dare walk barefoot — hoping to avoid another of my seasonal accidents, a toe smashed against a rock in plain view — as far as the sand and time will allow.

Often I see the morning boats leave the Old Harbor. Before I see them I hear their engines, the sound carrying easily over the open water; it is that rumble that makes me look south.

The traditional boat sails out onto the ocean, smoothly, easily on these perfect summer mornings. The high-speed follows and gains ground, passing the slower vessel. I know the way of the water by the passage of these different members of the same family. The crossing over point is dependent upon other factors, most obviously the times the respective boats clear the sanctuary of the breakwaters, but the currents we cannot even see are at play.

The ocean is a summer sea most mornings. Perhaps there is a tug of the tide or its surface is crinkled silk, not smooth satin, but it does not appear different until that day the high speed moves away from the land and looks ready to fly, rising high, it twin wakes white boas trailing behind it.

Today I was particularly distracted by tire tracks. Along Mansion they were partly erased by the tide, but the vehicle that had created them had had to move higher, away from the boulders, below Jerry’s Point. They ended where there is an outcropping of rocks and I marveled that there was virtually no overlap of the track where it had to have been in reverse, retreating over ground already covered.

Then I saw, on the other side of the rocks, the continuation of the track, as though there was a little bridge or air-lift. The tires didn’t look especially wide but the vehicle must have been very high to maneuver over and around the small boulders; the tide had swirled up in that particular spot and the sand was smooth.

The dog was happy to continue north. He is generally quite satisfied with the smells that settle on the sand in the twenty-four hours we are away from it. It had been days, maybe a week, since we had walked beyond those rocks and there was an invisible banquet to be had. The chop was slight but visible and the high speed was still trailing the big boat.

We crossed Riley’s Harbor, where a trickle of water from the big pond behind my house is flowing after all these rains. Clay Head had faces this morning, with the appearance of the great heads of Easter Island pushed together until they folded into one another. Part way up the bank, water, without a source, hung in the way of ice melting in the winter.

The tracks continued, up to and around the bits and pieces of Pots and Kettles, and went on, around the bend. When I thought to look out to sea, the high speed had just pulled ahead of the big boat and was gaining ground, headed for the mainland.

Only where the sand ended in a wall of unending rocks did the tracks stop. There had been a problem, the ruts were deep, lined with boards, the turn around awkward. As I was investigating, the dog found treasure on a paper plate, bait I presumed, and was surprised that anyone would be fishing where there was no place to cast a line without catching seaweed. It was blueberry cake.

Sustenance, after all, should be any part of a beach driver’s survival kit.

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