From the Bayside

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 9:30am
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The poet who gave us “what is so rare as a day in June... ” called that month the “high-tide of the year” — which seems apt early in that month, when the days are still lengthening and tall grasses are just beginning to go to seed, when the beach roses blanket the dunes, and a lingering pale sky fights off the dark of night. 

But that long high tide of spring starts to truly swell in April, when, in the course of a few days, the grass turns green and the faint wash of color on the first round of low shrubs and vines deepens as new, small leaves unfurl.

It struck me so on a Monday evening, as I headed for town a few minutes early for a seven o'clock meeting. The rising and setting sun, almost a month past the Vernal Equinox, inches north of west every day, a fact more apparent in an old house with windows the same size they have been for a century. They are portals, each one of them, marking the progression of the year as accurately as a dial tells the hours of the day. 

I know well the topography of the land along the Neck Road and understand how the sun falls at a given time of year and still, every April — and every May and June — it is a new-found joy. There are houses aplenty from Mansion Road south, but they fade behind shad waiting to bloom, and eye-catching walls, then come the open pastures of Mitchell Farm, a place someone once told me looked like their homeland, Ireland, but for the materials of the buildings, wood rather than stone. 

There is a bit of a history cluster there, the farm and the land surrounding, once belonging to Motts and Paynes and Smiths and Littlefields and Willises, some remaining still in other generations of the same families. Amidst the farmland there is an old-time, old-fashioned boarding house, a bed and breakfast and lunch and dinner, or, more accurately, a bed and breakfast, and dinner and supper place.

It is one of those former establishments, the Bayside, that is the first “marker” on my journey to town, a half mile south of the juncture of Mansion and Corn Neck. The white house long sat well hidden behind a tall privet hedge, trimmed like a labyrinth wall on the interior but to the world wild and rangy.  

The structure is visible now, and lovely, as are her sisters along the road, reminders of another era when folks came for weeks at a time and women, with little assistance, toiled in the kitchen all day to produce extraordinary meals.  

The Bayside sits on a crest and the road before it offers a wide view of the south end of the island and, on this Monday, of new green land and blue sky. I happened to pass at the moment the sun struck the blades of the turbines off the southeast “corner” of the island, which is not a true corner but such is the language we use. Perhaps it was that I had left my house with whole long minutes to spare, perhaps the great white towers were more in my mind for my having been on the bluff overlooking them earlier in the day that made the lowering glow of springtime — and whatever direction the wind was blowing offshore turning the blades toward the light — seize my attention. 

Whatever the reason, they were more visible than I had noticed previously and I stopped, knowing they would be no more then dashes of white in whatever picture I could take standing in the road, in the luxury of a low-traffic April evening.

They were no more than dashes, hardly visible, but other features of the road shone. The serpentine wall crawling over the land on the east side of the road lay partly in full sun, partly in fingers of April light reaching through the undefined wall of wild growth just south of the Bayside. There is an oddity to pieces of the wall built on a slope, the earth rising higher on one side than the other, raising more questions than providing answers to their past.

It would be gone had it not been carefully tended over the years, all the rocks knocked off by the earth heaving as frost was released in times of deep-cold winters, by cows looking for the greener grass on the other side, and more recently by the deer that often stand in those fields at last light, all of these errant pieces painstakingly gathered and re-stacked. 

It and the more even stretch beyond are a sort of trademark of this island, balanced walls, anchored by boulders set into the earth, rising and falling with the swells of the land. 

Later, I realized the sun was so bright it turned the little cottage, so popular in local art, to a white blur, and dulled the edges of the Breakers and Willis house across from it, the sentries that guard the entrance to the Neck — or mark the start of the transition from it.

The telephone poles — because there were telephones before island-wide electricity and old ways die hard — catch the sun and glow, masts without ships, rigging running between them. They lean, I know out where the road runs so close to the ocean, for having been beaten by the east wind, summer witness to winter gales.

I like the bent poles along the Neck Road, I love the way the cables running between them can be illuminated to glowing by the slanting sun, and I never cease to be fascinated by birds able to perch on the flexible, swaying wires in the sky, and lift as one in flight. And they are not metal, all shining and straight but plain bent wood, basking in the long light of an April day.