The Block Island Times
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Wind like winter

By Martha Ball | Sep 25, 2012

Autumn comes late this year, on the morning of Saturday, the 22, the date that will be printed on this issue of the paper; yes, look carefully, even on Block Island the weekly comes out on Friday imprinted with Saturday’s date. The sun will rise and set at the unthinkable times of 6:34 and 6:42; the day will be less by eight minutes than today.

One of the almanacs cites an old Irish adage: Fall comes running like a rabbit across the moors. It’s a dour image.

My view is more than it was a week ago, more than it was before the wind blew like winter. I can see the sky and a bit of the blue pond through the pussywillow and shad out below the clothesline. Leaves are falling. The maple, one lone maple, is blanketing the front yard and beginning to fill the road with crinkled brown discards.

Part of me said goodbye to summer on the moonlit beach the week before Labor Day. Last Sunday, I realized I had fallen back into the routine of putting on my shoes before I left the house rather than running into church with them in my hand, holding on to every moment.

Tonight, it is close to seven when I head home. There is no red delight in the sky but it is beautiful, all blue and gold, and I decide there are just enough minutes of light left for a quick trip to the cemetery to check and be sure the flag on my uncle’s grave is still in place. I’m reminded, as I will be every time I go up there until I do something about it, to put clippers in my car to kill the vines threading themselves through the monster yews flanking my grandparents’ stone.

It is green and quiet, a solitary deer walks across the road. The flag is in place. The view, though, I make a point of noticing, is not what it used to be.

Last weekend, a few minutes earlier than this, I was headed down the Neck. The sun had set but the sky was still light and a great plume of black smoke rose up from behind The Sullivan House, coming from somewhere, it appeared, out over the pond. It was curious, there was traffic, there were people walking on the road, but no one seemed to be paying it any mind, one of those bizarrely summer tableaus wherein life as we know it goes on parallel to the vacationland. I had come from town, had heard no sirens, seen no trucks headed for the Fire Barn, and wondered what this was, something burning out in the New Harbor?

A while ago I had looked at the vegetation west of the Neck Road, between it and the Great Salt Pond, and noticed there was more than phragmities blocking the view, that there was a lower layer of brush, bayberry and roses and everything that grows where there is no intervention. It seems this last year or two to have exploded, all this wild stuff, and it wasn’t until I pulled over by the bridge out to the shore that I could see the source of the smoke, a long line of fire over by what appeared to be general vicinity of the Coast Guard Station.

Still wondering how this could be happening in a vacuum, I started to pull out to head back to town when a big truck, lights flashing, flew past me, a local fireman on his way.

Then began the confirmation of what I had sort of known for quite a while, that there are no more open views. The tent at The Sullivan House was alight, I didn’t want to drive up there while a wedding celebration was on-going, so I thought of the cemetery, the hill overlooking the harbor, and headed that way.

The Fire Barn was open and empty, the engines gone, the follow-up ambulance just leaving as I approached. There seemed to be something going on anywhere I would have stopped in winter, and I continued on to the Boat Basin, deciding what was confirmed today, there is no view in that direction.

The strange disconnect that I had first noticed on the Neck Road, the walkers and drivers oblivious to the great billowing black against the pale after-sunset sky, was the norm. Even a taxi driver (aren’t they supposed to know everything?!) responded to my query with a blasé “it’s a fire.”

A group of random boaters waiting for another round of dinner seating were watching and I approached them; surely someone had heard what was going on over there across the pond where the flames were higher and brighter in the darkening night. One offered that he was sure it was not a house fire because he was a fire chief and for all the trucks and flashing lights there had been no sirens filling the sky.

It was the strangest thing, there was a fire and no one seemed particularly interested. It was not the complex, the rooflines of the Coast Guard Station and Boat House were clear, black against orange, and I know the Motor Pool is directly behind them, but I wasn’t so sure about the old Chief’s House, the brick building in a perfect summer setting, overlooking the cut.

Finally, I left, announcing that I guessed I would have to go to Payne’s to get any information; I did not bother, it felt somehow word would have floated back had the fire been any more than it first looked, a long line of grass and brush.

Still, I kept trying to see it, expecting to find a vantage point somewhere along the Neck Road from which there was some kind of vista, but I kept finding nothing but walls of brush, even from a hill I had expected to afford me some view.

That was before the wind blew like winter and rattled the windows and tore dying leaves from branches and gave me back the pond, rimmed with burnished water willow, and the wide Atlantic sky.

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