The Block Island Times
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Winter, again

By Martha Ball | Jan 16, 2013

The temperature was 46 and rising this morning, the sun was shining but most importantly, the air was still. The sillies on the radio were heralding the January Thaw and I thought of those winters when a third of the Great Pond was frozen in eruptions of milky ice, when a great cloud of black smoke rose above the Coast Guard Station as the Coasties burned tires to melt the earth above their frozen water line.

It froze over New Year’s, the cold deepened as the days grew longer ever so slightly longer then well into the month, when the ground was stiff and the ponds smooth, the weather would break. The roads would turn to soup and it would be hard to appreciate the passing mild.

It was cold last week and there was a skim of ice on the big pond behind the house but it was not that deep, lasting, earth-and-water-hardening cold that sends frost feet deep. The newcasters’ chatter of the January Thaw reminds me of the same voices carrying on about Indian Summer even before the autumnal equinox. The season is yet young, I am not already thinking of it over.

Still, the morning after tomorrow, the online almanac promises, the sun will rise one minute earlier, at the unthinkable late hour of 7:10. The afternoons turned back in December, the solstice came and went, the next milepost — after the morning after tomorrow — will be that singular day when the sun rises before seven and sets after five and I will be able to exhale.

There is different traffic offshore in winter.

When the glow first caught my eye I thought it was my neighbor’s brothers embarking on some dark-of-night-cold-of-winter project not out of necessity but because why do in summer — or spring or fall — what can be done with much greater difficulty in winter? We have all lived here a long time, nothing much surprises me, the word “unexpected” has a somewhat different meaning in our little corner of the world and a yard alight at ten at night in January is a sort of curiosity, but not a real concern. It is part of the view.

My kitchen sink is old, cast iron covered with white enamel that is dented and even chipped, and it needs a splash of straight bleach every now and then, but I love it. It is sited where kitchen sinks used to be, when everyone did dishes by hand, under a window with a grand view — mine to the south, a gentle hill and the north side of my neighbor’s house, then, where the land dips, a sliver of dune and the ocean that looks like a deep bay from this perspective, beyond it the harbor and the land rising above it, topped by the Southeast Lighthouse and, in daylight, the big dark blue water tower off Sands Pond Road (there are two, I know, but they are aligned in such a manner that I see only one).

My sink has always been there and I have never thought it large so it is a surprise when I pull out a measuring tape and realize it is more than 40 inches wide. It is an exercise I undertake only when thinking of those bright lights that disappeared when I walked the short distance from one end to the other.

It should not have been a surprise that the source was a fishing boat, I not so long ago walked into the darkened kitchen to see the old pint cream bottle on the windowsill illuminated by similar light flooding in from the sea.

A second vessel appeared, and they sat of there, visible but not so dramatic in the day, at night marking the black sky. They move, sometimes in tandem, sometimes not, disappearing behind the big landmark barn that is so familiar to beachgoers and walkers from the side I do not see. The boats reappear on the far side of the tall building, slashes of white light in the dark, so intense the pattern of my curtain is repeated on my wall.

Who needs television, when I have these boats moving about?

I think of these views of ours, what is familiar to some, hidden to others, one afternoon going into the Post Office. In summer we rarely pause on that hill but now it is easy to stop and look out at the extraordinary view that is our gift for the task of going to pick up the mail. It was the end of day, that time when the sun is low, nearly fallen from the southwest sky, and its last rays were lighting fires on the mainland, spots of orange set along the shore.

For all the years I have lived here, and for all the times I have looked out my kitchen window to see these same reflections on panes of glass on the southern part of the island, or on the wide panels on the house on Clay Head to the north of me, I have never seen, never thought of seeing the same thing shining from the mainland.

They faded, these orange on blue jewels, in the short time it took me to go inside, open my post office box and retrieve my uninteresting mail. Already, the lights of the bridge, the familiar string of pearls looping just above the water, faint in the still light dusk, were claiming the view.

There should be, nearby, a green light brightening as the days fade but there is only the forlorn end of the jetty, ragged, ancient looking. Worse, perhaps, the dune north of the Beachead, created in the last run of the hurried road repair in mid-December, seems to be shrinking every day. The fabric put over the new levee to help stabilize the created land was pushed aside by a storm, the roses planted scattered to the wind, and now the bank seems simply to be vanishing.

The morning calm is gone, the wind is blowing. It sounds like winter, again.

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