Forgotten Reality

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 8:15am
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Monday and the sky is pale, almost without color, the mid-day sun diffused by a cover of fog. September, I am hearing, is never like this and I try not to say too quickly or emphatically, “well, actually. . .” 

September is remembered as crisp and sunny, a month of gentle breezes and warm water and streets less filled with people. That there are often hurricanes brewing, tropical storms threatening, distant weather systems swelling the sea, is a forgotten reality.

A truck from a Providence news station arrived Monday afternoon and went straight to Ballard's, I was told. Tuesday I saw it twice, in the same spot, overlooking the water, which was growing as the day went on, both with increased surf and a rising tide.

The boat service stopped with the last run on Monday; perhaps there will be no boat Thursday and, at long last, the antics of a Providence news outlet, which once it was long forgotten, will be countered.

The boat service was cancelled for one, then for two days and to Galilee the news truck went to cover the Big Story. It was winter, it was unusual, but two days was not catastrophic, we were most certainly not running out of bread and milk, or fuel oil and gasoline. (Note: The boat ran Thursday.)

It was winter, things were slow, and it was probably a story of some interest to the Rhode Islanders who forget Block Island exists when their own trips to the beach, be it over the water to our shores or to one of the Narragansett beaches from which the white vessels plying the waters between here and the mainland are so visible.

The punchline came the third day when, again, no boat ran from Pt. Judith to Block Island. Three days was more of a story and there was not a whisper on the nightly news, not even a few seconds of update. 

So it goes with weather reports, coastal Rhode Island means the southern shore; “the Cape and the Islands” are part of Massachusetts. We fall out of the equation, as though it is the early 1660s and no one is quite sure if we're still in Massachusetts or if we've become a part of Rhode Island, and, it being the early 1660s, finding the answer is more involved than typing a query into a search engine.

Wednesday afternoon, they were, at last, including us by name, along with our larger, richer, sisters to the east. We, alone in Rhode Island, were expected to get some weather, a side-swipe of Jose.

The storm is still out there, lolling around somewhere vaguely south of Nantucket, expected to move out but at last report stalling, intensifying slightly. It's a caution from a real weather site, not a screaming headline on the news which, once mainland Rhode Island, was in the clear, turned its sights on Maria, another brutal force devastating islands in the Caribbean.

The wind is here, making it feel, inside my car, away from the mild temperature, like a winter day. I meet an out-of-state vehicle on the Neck Road, with twin kayaks affixed to its roof, vertically, like two hard sails waiting to catch what is far more than a September breeze. Hitting that spot just north of Scotch Beach, where the elevation of the road is adequate and a wide view of the south end of the island presents itself, I think I am seeing rain then realize it is the white gauze of salt mist, rolled in from the ocean where the dunes are lowest.

There will be a new moon high tide tonight, but it will not come until after dark. In early afternoon, the beach is wide, and with the tide an hour before low the surf is long, filling the crook of the arm of Crescent Beach with roiled white water. The mark of a rough ocean, a line of foam reaching out from Clay Head, is there, in the distance, visible when one knows where to look.

The air is mild but the wind is battering. I feel it when I pause to look at the water and imagine those yellow kayaks carrying their vehicle like the tornado lifting the house, dropping it in Oz. Green seaweed, yesterday, in clumps on the sand at the south end of the beach, has been moved, pushed up to the wrack line, drained of its vibrant color, or pulled back into the ocean.

We have so many micro-climates, so many spots in and out of the wind, and taking that last turn on Corn Neck, is suddenly falling below the rise of the land, and into the lee. It is gray and green and breezy, leafed branches waving in the wind, but not threatening to break and crash. I turn up Dodge Street lulled back into a storm-gone-by frame of mind then approach the National corner, and first, see the American flag at the Surf, bravely whipping, and, in the split second before I feel it, know a slamming wind is tearing off the ocean.

The purple flag is flying at the landing, already an old-fashioned but much appreciated gesture in our world of instant information, and I think of the lights that burned and the pennants that flew from the tall tower at the Coast Guard Station at the cut.

They were under the National Weather Service, and flew at Stations and marinas and even yacht clubs, until formally discontinued in 1989, with the advent of weather radio and wide spread use of telephone recordings. The system, begun with flags 100 years earlier, required personnel to hoist and keep them up-to-date, then to turn on and maintain the red and white lights.

The tower was there when the boat house ramp ran to the water, before the channel shoaled; I think we could see the lights from the house when I was a child, when the land was still clear, points of color in the night, silent storm warnings.