Sirens and Summer

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 8:15am
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A few minutes ago, the police stopped traffic at Fountain Square, something they do only when an emergency vehicle is expected. A moment or two later one of the ambulances, sirens blaring, came through and headed up High Street toward the Medical Center. Now, they have been followed by a fire engine, driving at a more moderate pace, but nonetheless a sign it is not headed to a fire rather to be a required presence when the medi-vac helicopter lands.

It is summer, the odds are it is not someone we know, but it is still someone. Years ago, on a beautiful Sunday morning, one of those sirens broke the peace of a service at the church on the hill above the harbor. We all pretended not to be distracted but we were until the pastor paused for a moment and said “the worst sound on Block Island,” the acknowledgement we all needed to hear before going back to his words.

In that same church someone recently asked the congregation to think of his 14-year old son who flew out at 3 a.m., and in the nano second before he continued I thought “but it was stormy last night” and “why are you here?!” Quickly, I realized the father was talking of a teenager taking off as part of a youth mission to one of our cities, parts of which remain stricken after a years-ago hurricane, a laudable effort for any teenager, this one underscored (my words, not his) by giving up a precious week of summer of Block Island.

Of course there was no medical emergency, his parents wouldn't have been be sitting calmly in church if one their children was in an off-island hospital, but I think we become hard-wired to visceral reactions at the sound of sirens or certain words. It will be an “old” reaction, rooted in the days when fires and rescue runs were announced not by radio but by the noon whistle blaring across the island, the location broadly defined by the number and length of blasts, the severity told by the number of repeats of those blasts.

Now there is no noon whistle. It sounds like a bad small town joke, but there has not been one since it went out of commission when the man who kept it going was dying and it never came back. Dogs might have howled as it wound down to a pitch humans did not notice, but there was something nice about that daily few seconds of unity when we were all hearing the same thing at the same time and knowing it did not speak of any potential disaster.

It is summer, and it is time to put away my Baffins, the big winter boots I wore more last year than I have since I bought them several seasons ago.

They lived by the front door for months. At first, I exchanged them for tired summer-worn sneakers or, when I went somewhere else, fanciful red and purple slippers. There was a point one winter night when I realized I had given up, when I had had the boots on all day, and from that point they were my regular footwear.  They are bulky and awkward, or they were until this past winter. By spring — whenever that was — I was no longer moving with caution for fear of running into something; my Baffins had gone from shoe boxes claiming real estate to my accustomed footprint.

Now, they are upstairs, by my dresser, a reminder of the winter that feels so far away on a day dawning gray and wet, turned sunny and not so wet by noon.

I should put them back in their box in the dark corner of the closet, an apt place for reminders of the darker and icier days but I sort of like them out, telling me to cherish these early sunrises and late sunsets while they last.

It is summer, I know by the location of the sun, by the dampness that is never a part of our golden summer memory until one morning when the doorframe — the doorframe! — is slick with early fog. 

It is summer because I have birds banging against my kitchen windows, flown in through some open door or window. It will be so much easier, I thought, now that I can open those windows wider than I have been able in a long time. Little did I realize even with the gentle assistance of a soft broom some birds cannot understand “over there,” a couple of inches away from glass upon which they are beating themselves there is a direct route outside. 

The white egrets are not just in my big pond or near the Beach Avenue bridge, they are making forays into the open ocean. One stood on a rock clearly visible from the Neck Road, stunningly bright against the blue backdrop of the summer sea. Beyond it the Athena, the fast ferry from Galilee, was trailing her boa of white foam, a photo opportunity but for it being over in an instant.

It is the time of day-lilies, the old-fashioned kind that simply grow, once a mainstay of old farmsteads and country road, flowers that survive incursions of vines that push aside the less hardy. Their blossoms pale next to those of their cultivated cousins but I love them for their random appearances, and their sheer determination to live. Today, they are in bloom, with buds promising tomorrows, beside violet blackberry blossoms.

And swallows, my air-dancers, two of whom have been sitting atop one of the clothesline posts for a good half an hour. Others swoop down but there is only so much room, even for these slight birds; like winter seals clinging to a rock as the tide rises, the first two will not be moved. 

My sweet Autumn ignores them, sleeping in the doorway. Fickle girl, she is likely dreaming of that nice Verizon repairman I hope she will not see, again, for a very, very long time.