The Block Island Times

Tomorrow's Sunrise

By Martha Ball | May 11, 2013

The first time I saw chunks of wood, chunks of tree, suspended from the cables near the awkward four way intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Old Town Road I thought — in that fleeting way ones thinks of things utterly preposterous before realizing the inanity of the notion — that they were markers. It didn’t make any sense that those particular wires would be needed to be made visible, they do not abut any emergency landing field, nor were they the orange balls that had once been affixed to a lot near the Medical Center.

They might have been something out of a painting, or a blend of imagination seizing images resulting a single canvas, a new work featuring melting watches and violin playing goats — who cannot love a violin playing goat? — and chunks of cut wood, bark still in place, floating on wires.

They were immediately forgotten until days later when I happened to be going the same route and that time stopped to wonder whatever had happened, sure I knew but there was something so bizarre about them they merited a second, closer look. Standing underneath, my suspicions were confirmed — the trees had somehow, contrary to all the tree and wire-shaking winds we experience, become bonded with each other. In one case the vegetation had made such inroads that it had parted the two segments of cable, leaving them attached only by whatever thread is used to bind them stretched across air.

This winter’s work of tree branch clearing near wires, in and of itself surely a good and practical thing, has left some strange circumstances in its wake. There is a funky tree on the west side of the Neck Road, in that tiny stretch before the Mansion Road but beyond the old stand of trees that marked the Sheffield Farm. Of the many so named, this is the one where Hannah, who bought the Minister’s Lot, legend had it, with thousands of dollars tucked in her apron pocket, lived. I do not remember a house, only a fallen down barn and a pile of red bricks still coated on their long edges with white mortar.

One summer, at least, a visiting family kept horses there, when it was still open enough for horses and, unthinkable today, another year a different family was camping there, living on the site in the fall when school opened.

The tree, on the west side of the wall, going up to the wires overhead, is not anything spectacular, little more than a tall shrub tangled with vines, one I never notice but for when I walk that stretch of road. Again, I am noticing the branches cut from it, not with chunks left hanging but with whole branches cut and let fall only a few feet, left where they stopped, across the heavier cable below.

The old television cable is gone, the upper wires are, I think, electrical which means the thick black lines are telephone. The fallen branches have been there for a while making me wonder how many factors are involved in our interest and land lines so often experiencing difficulties.

There used to be two sets of poles down the Neck Road, telephone and power. It is the vaguest of memories reinforced by old photographs of deep snow. More, I remember my mother remarking how nice it was to have only one set, how it opened up the sky. That from my mother who grew up in a town of tree-lined streets during that phase of forgotten prosperity of the early 1900s when an immigrant who drew gold in a jewelry factory could afford to buy his own house without it seeming an extraordinary accomplishment.

It made sense, having all the wires in one place on what we always have called “telephone” poles, an appellation likely predating the advent of electricity on Block Island. Even after there was an electricity generating plant rumbling in the center of the island, many places with phone service long lacked power. Now both utilities are on one pole, although one set seems tended at the disadvantage of the other.

Too many years of town meetings have voices in my head declaring all manner of disaster when one of those hanging, not so substantial branches falls, knocking a bicyclist over, falling into the path of a careening moped, halting a fire truck headed for a Bush Lot Hill consuming brush fire, then I remember such dire predictions are made only when the town can be blamed.

Going off-island in early May used to be tied to the completion of those crazy marathons of 1980s Financial Town Meeting. By chance or design, I still manage to get off for at least a day when the further north one travels the brighter the flowers become, the greener the trees, the more lush the roadsides. It is only a matter of a few miles but it feels as though one is moving from climate zone to climate zone in the short trip to Lincoln on the other side of Providence.

This was one of those days. It was gloriously sunny when I awakened, contrary to the gloomy forecast that was borne out two hours and three miles away at the landing where May fog hung in the sky, threatening to subdue the morning. From the boat, it was clear to the shore, where a fringe of white marked the line where the land emerged from the sea, splitting the broad sea. The view improved as waves broke, sending sheets of water over the glass of the cabin windows and washing away dried salt, but there was no sun to shine on the cliffs and make more visible the state of them after this storm filled winter.

The fog muted the line of the mainland and had me squinting to make out the form of the outer breakwater of Point Judith Harbor which turned out to be the houses along Sand Hill Cove. The day remained dreary, on and off again rain, but in early May it is a joy to travel to mainland Rhode Island and know the full bloom of spring is just behind tomorrow’s sunrise.

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