The Promise of the Moon
Last week a leap of faith was using a year-old photograph with this column. It was taken last spring, showing my backyard at its hopeful best, new green surrounding shad in bloom, all under a blue, blue sky. It was the view I hoped would be beyond my window — the one that should have been beyond my window — by the time the paper was printed.
Finally, a week later, it is. The island is white, from a full moon moving slowly across the sky to egrets lining the greening shores of Harbor Pond off Beach Avenue to undulating land awash with shadblow. We have trees of shad here, not mere shrubs, and they are thicker every year, slowly moving across the slope of the south facing of Clay Head on a steady march toward the sea. They are no longer the scattered cones of vanilla ice cream to which our primary room teacher likened them. How lucky were we, we spent the first three years of our school lives in a room with wide windows and an enviable view, facing north, overlooking a landscape not yet overgrown, the New Harbor and the ocean in the distance?
More often our sights were on the side yard in the foreground, a then sloping ball field that made the requirements for a left-fielder not only a good throwing arm but height enough to see home plate. It was not that we took that wondrous view beyond for granted, there was simply more going on closer to the building.
In the spring, though, our attention was called to the shad. We had more flowers with less difficulty then; there were no deer, only the occasional marauding cows — known in my house as “your father’s cows” whenever they got out — and the rarely-employed “your father’s damn cows” when they got into the ready-to-be-picked peas, undaunted by a mere strand of electrified barbed wire.
The shad, though, even then, was a gift of nature, one to be noticed every spring. It was so long awaited and it could be gone so quickly it merited special attention.
There is a shad tree in a yard on the Neck Road, the one I see daily that always blooms first, in a spot sheltered from the slowing salt wind, competing only with grass that is mown around it. Often, its petals are falling by the time the rest of the Island has caught up to it.
Yesterday, it was cool and I was glad; too often we wait and wait for the shad to open only to have the fragile petals fall in a few days of sudden spring warmth. They have a short enough life as it is. Today has turned sunny and promising and I hang clothes on the line, hoping the dog and her dirty feet will stay away from the clean sheets fluttering temptingly in the breeze.
Whole industries have been built around the fantasy that these pets of ours have a thought process, and as much as I know it is foolish, again, Autumn has me wondering. The clothesline is just beyond my window, and I watch her, circling, then settling on the soft grass beneath the lowest hanging sheet, as if she knows I cannot keep a constant eye on her.
I let her wander down to the gloriously mucky pond and out in the field and think how much trouble can she cause, fox feet, black with mud, dry to dust that blows away, a stick here and there is of no concern. Then she is in the yard with something out of a what-is-wrong-with-this-picture puzzle, something with the look of a wild creature, the squirrels I remember from going to college in New Jersey, or the fresh kill wild rabbits with which a hunter filled the roomy pockets of his utilitarian jacket I always thought in part better to horrify me.
It was a deer, a part of a deer, the head of long dead deer to be precise, part of it that black leather the hide becomes when long exposed to weather. There was no blood or gore, just bone covered with quickly departing hair.
It is out in my front field, I can see it from my upstairs window, a mass of sorry brown flattened by time and carrion, not yet disguised by the new spring growth that is all around, new and green and pliant. But for Autumn I might never have even noticed it. Now, every time I look that it is all I see, bigger every day, spreading, and I wonder if it is more than one deer, but do not wonder enough to brave the field. These carcasses eventually disappear; they have littered my land other years, just out of view.
In those warm days that prompted the shad to open the knotweed went from somewhere between being knee and thigh high to towering a good foot over my head. Autumn dug holes there last fall, unearthing root clumps that I could not at first identify; they looked like knotweed but there seemed to be no gapping holes. Eventually, as she dug deeper the hollows became more pronounced; now they are hidden by the leafy stalks.
These warm days seem here to stay and on Sunday I walked barefoot on the beach, my toes sinking into sun-heated sand. It felt there would be no cold water reality of a stretch of damp days when it would be too cold to leave my shoes on the edge of the dune above the strand.
A few hours after hanging those clothes on the line, after a quick trip to the mainland where everything is in fuller flower a scant half mile inland, I realize all that laundry put out in the morning sun is there for the night; as day ended fog settled over the island, melding with the shad, closing out the promise of the moon.