The Block Island Times
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White boats on blue water

By Martha Ball | Jul 25, 2012

That the New Harbor would be filled with boats was always a presumption; it was a fallen galaxy that would float just above the surface of the Great Salt Pond.

It was wonderful, a gift of summer, never taken for granted in the way we use that expression — unseen, unnoticed — but very much taken for granted in the sense that it would be there on any given summer night.

The view was perhaps clearer, the phragmities not so dominant, but then I recall the field where an old stand of the tall grasses burned to the ground, and within a year the new plants were as high, perhaps even more lush for not having to fight their way through the last season’s growth.

Maybe there was less of the other ground vegetation we don’t even notice until we walk down the bridge to the shore. (Remember when that was a “Who’s going to use that?” and an “All that money!” folly? Some things do, in the long run, work, I think every summer night when I go home after dark and make the turn from Dodge Street to Corn Neck Road, grateful for the sidewalk finally in place.)

But, on a fine summer day there are white boats shining in the sun on the clear blue water of the New Harbor and all it well with the world.

Fleetingly.

At mid-day the Neck Road was lined with cars, the sand covered with people trying to escape the heat and humidity that seemed even worse that the day before. At three fifteen a few were moving, by quarter of four more than half of them had left and suddenly there was the traffic we never expect, doubling the time it took to get to town (silly, of course, it’s still only a few minutes).

I thought, headed south, I was just ahead of the storm, and was glad I had thought to disconnect those things that need to be disconnected before the lightning comes, and to close all the windows that need to be closed against the rain. The weather band on the radio was filled with warnings, the sky darkened and the temperature, blessedly, dropped four degrees in three miles.

An hour and a half later the temperature loss had been reversed and there was no more that the trace of a shower, spattering rain that didn’t even clean the windshield of the day’s dust. There were a very few cars along the edge of the pavement and none of the crazy backed up traffic there had been on the Mansion Road when I had gone out. I came home to a house stuffy from the windows closed on a hot, humid day and threw then open again, unsure if I was still waiting for a storm.

It had rained, I learned, crazily, on the mainland. The late afternoon radio talk was of caution driving on the highways still slick from the sheeting water that had fallen, and of hail up north in our tiny, tiny state.

The weather line has to fall somewhere; last week it had barely sprinkled in town but had poured on the beach a mile away. We live in a state that is a standard of size: “bigger than Rhode Island” which I doubt really means much of anything to people, including those of us who live in Rhode Island — and then we live on this little outpost, this fragment of land I once fancied to be anchored to the ocean floor before I was disabused of such nonsense by a Deluxe Golden Book, Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us.” I was long grown before I realized “Special Edition for Young Readers” meant exactly that, it was not a book written expressly for kids but a revised edition of a “grown-up” book.

By then I was horrified to realize it was not like other classics, not like “Make Way for Ducklings,” still available, updated and freshly printed. Of course today’s children do not have to rely upon the printed page for images of battles between the squid and the whale or the tides fallen around Mont Saint Michel.

“You can depend on it,” the radio assures me of the accuracy of the forecast I have just heard, of the storm watch they said would be in place until a time eight minutes earlier. The sky to the south had been black, that ominous color usually foretelling a squall.

Thunder eventually did roll around the heavens, lightning flashed out over the ocean but it never came crashingly close, there were no jagged lines of white light coupled with deafening claps splitting the sky.

It was a while before I realized it was raining, because it was perfect summer rain, umbrella rain, the kind against which no windows need be closed. It was still light outside, I could see the walk darkening and, briefly, the sky seemed an odd color, although it may have been no more than the edge of the night sky so often tinged pink with the lights of coastal Rhode Island.

While I wasn’t paying attention, the storm floated off and the rain stopped. When I first went out the air seemed cool, the temperature down almost fifteen degrees since the afternoon high, and the brightest stars were visible above the canopy of the trees. It was quiet, that particular quiet of a freshly washed earth, the bell rolling across the island.

Not so much later the sound of the surf rose, owning the night, and the crickets were back in noisy form.

The forecast is still cloudy with a chance of showers but I have every expectation that the sun will shine and through the phragmities I will be seeing rain-washed white boats on summer blue water.

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