Old Not-Quite Friend

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 8:15am

There she was, when I returned to Galilee, after a day on the mainland, the Manitou, the vessel I have called the Ghost of Bad Crossings since 2012.  Sandy, the big hurricane turned to “nothing more” than a tidal storm by the time it reached Block Island, ravaged the east wall and made questionable the passage into the Old Harbor. It happened that I was dogsitting (it was the years before Autumn came to live with me) at the Harbor Church (before Percy, the Parsonage Dog, went to live with a family member out-of-state).

It was a glorious place to ride out the storm. Any worry that the building is old was balanced by the knowledge it has withstood gales since 1888. The view was magnificent, of waves crashing into the harbor over both granite walls. 

The morning after Sandy, we stood on the Neck Road, on solid-ground only landward of the yellow line, the dunes and part of the pavement gone. We marveled at the destruction at Mansion Beach and the North End, wondered at the bait dock carried to the other side of the basin and the almost new east dock buckled. Spring Street was undercut, but it had been worse in 1991.

The ocean had raged but, overall, we sustained much less damage than many other coastal towns. Ballards had feet of sand in it, but no one doubted it would open as usual come summer. 

The harbor was the worry. That first day the Coast Guard and Harbormaster had been in and out of the channel, but the end of the breakwater had been badly damaged, the green light  — that would fall a week later — precariously tilted.

The morning after, the view from the parsonage was from another era: the Manitou was at the dock. I think still of the cabin as green, although it has long been ghostly white, a feeble effort at disguise. There she was, sitting smugly, so, why not jump to the worst conclusion and presume that that was to be our boat, all the whole, long, dark, winter? 

Never mind that the Neck Road was out and any trip from my house to town would have involved a loop around by the police station, never mind that the bait dock was a ruin, never mind that everyone who lived south of the broken road on Spring Street would have a much longer ride anywhere; nothing compared to the prospect of the Manitou all winter.

By afternoon, one of the larger “real” boats had landed, and talk was of no runs before sunrise or after sunset,  quite late and early, respectively, in the season we were entering. That, also, soon passed with the installation of a little green blinker, an anemic replacement for the steady green beam that lay on the still black water of winter nights.

Yes, I was on the mainland for the first time in longer than I will commit to paper. I went to get a new — to me — car, an exercise exhausting in and of itself. In the morning, everything seemed fine until I turned from the Neck Road onto Beach Avenue, heading for the airport. The sunlit summer sky to the south vanished and ahead of me was borderline foreboding gray.   

I arrived at the airport to find no planes were flying, one of those singular “that's impossible!” moments quickly countered by assurances Westerly would soon clear enough for air traffic (It was only later that I learned the earlier flight had been cancelled, while I was blithely preparing for my adventure, oblivious to the weather to the west and north). 

The plane did arrive, we were loaded onto it and flew up over the green of the Nathan Mott Park and, the usual diversion for someone who rarely flies, the “what house is that?” game. Then the fog started rolling around us, like so many cloud babies escaped from their parents in the sky.

It never worries me, flying in these little planes, I have every confidence in the pilots, and I love being aloft, even when it seems eerily close to the ocean with no open sky above us. We took off and flew over and landed without incident and I was still there in the time frame I had given the person meeting me.  

Still, I was glad I was going with every intention of buying that car, and using my easily gotten boat reservation — it was, after all, for late Tuesday in the latter part of August — to return, filled with accomplishment. Worrying about the fog rolling in, as it did once afternoon came, was not on my day's schedule. 

The mainland weather, forecast but for which I was unprepared, was that pavement-magnified humid heat that would have been energy-sapping even without the additional stress of purchasing a vehicle, then the anxiety of driving one so different from the one I have had for 14 years. Time, at least, was not an issue; I was done and on my way soon after noon, oblivious to the sky. 

I even had a shopping list, prepared and in my bag, not written and left on the kitchen table. Still, it was so darn hot I did not use the luxury of additional time to wander around and look at the things I'll get “next time” or get sucked into the Job Lot vortex which, amazingly, never leaves me with a bag full of “what was I thinking?!” items.

It was foggy in Galilee, a reminder of the morning, the sky threatened rain, and heat poured off the parking lot surface. I was so exhausted I arrived even before tickets for “my” boat went on sale, perhaps a first in my lifetime.

And there was the Manitou, a sight yesterday afternoon that was a frivolity, a weirdly comforting reminder of a time when travel was not as relatively comfortable as it is today.