Scattered Showers and Dappled Sunshine

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 8:45am
Category: 

It is going to be one of those days.

The sun was out early, brighter and clearer than I expected it to be given last night's forecast. I dawdled but still made it to the dump with bins of recyclables, stacks of paper and three bags of trash. That seeming bounty represents no more than a long time since I have been to the dump, time enough for both containers to be filled with plastic milk jugs and juice bottles and, the joy of summer, berry containers. Separately, there was a pile of paper and broken down boxes grown to a stack, and still, it was only the tip of the paper iceberg that, I swear, this winter I will thaw, or chip, or somehow diminish.

I came home, of course, to the plastic containers on the counter that I had meant to discard, the starter of my next overflowing bin. And the empty dog food bag of old papers. . . 

It is not even noon and we have been through rounds of weather, rain and sun, wind and calm, thunder rumbling in the distance and crackling on the radio, perhaps a better indication than any words broadcast. My old sweatshirt has been put on and discarded, over and again, the kitchen window closed and opened, over and again.

It is going to be a day of scattered showers and dappled sunshine, turning, they are still telling us, to a night of rain. 

It is meteorological fall and we are deep into the season of named storms, hearing now of the “I” hurricane that is battering islands far to the south and threatening Florida. We see these things far too early, these mammoth systems that we hope will be less by the time they crawl up the coast, if they crawl up the coast at all. A “J” is out there, brewing, readying. 

But I am of a generation that grew up in a shore bound place where the Great Hurricane of 1938 threw a long, long shadow. My earliest childhood summer memories of the 1950s are clouded by a series of late season storms. Providence, Rhode Island like so many cities, was built on waterfront, on the natural waterways that interconnect the globe, and it was badly flooded, in ‘38 and ‘54. This is a small state and we long heard much of the waters in the capital city, and of the construction of the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in the early 1960s, a series of gates that have rarely been closed, but have seemed an effective insurance policy over the decades.

Amidst thoughts of past storms, I pick up slips of paper, still thinking of my dump run. I turn one over and realize I am holding a photograph of the Old Harbor, taken a bit after the 1938 hurricane. 

It is looking east, across sand that today is the ferry terminal parking lot. The east wall of the Old Harbor, surprisingly intact, is in the distance, beyond a row of old buildings that lined the west side of the inner basin, some on solid ground, others over space leased from the federal government. One appears a bit off-kilter but that they remain at all after that big blow is a source of amazement. Not a one of them would pass today's building codes yet they survived that hurricane gale. 

remember many of them, adjacent to the sandstone breakwater, one an active fish market when I was little, others battered and aged, reeking of old fish and bait on those summer evenings when we went out for ice cream and a dock stroll. 

The 1938 photo was years before my memory, and when I look at what I thought at first to be the blank back I find, in the very faded hand of my Aunt Beatrice: “boats that have been hauled up on the beach. after the hurricane.” It must have fallen from a folder I had out a week ago looking for another image of another storm. There is no date; at the time it was likely deemed unnecessary,  

The focus of the shot is a row of boats, survivors of the fishing fleet, perhaps ones deemed salvageable, propped up on the sand awaiting repair.  It is not the standard issue 1938 Hurricane photo, not from the series of small black and white shots chronicling the worst destruction, other vessels on the breakwater, the ruin of part of the bathing beach, the Vaill Hotel pump sitting in the shambles of the shed that contained it.

Most of the vessels are missing wheelhouses and masts and surely have damaged hulls but there is promise of tomorrow in this image, as though the realities of a Depression economy and a massive lack of insurance payments to finance repairs had not yet been realized.  

There is hope.