Windy but Hopeful

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 8:00am
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Tuesday was gray and windy but hopeful. We are near the close of a summer of ever-escalating terrible traffic stories, mine capped, perhaps, by meeting a truck on Water Street, in its busiest section, between the turn onto Chapel and the statue of Rebecca. It came at me, not with great speed but well over the double yellow line. It was moving slowly and it — and the lawn mower trailer it was towing — slipped back into their own lane before it was dangerously close, a fortunate thing as there is no where to go on Water Street on a summer day,

Then I realized the truck — and trailer — had been passing a moped. On Water Street. In August. 

It was hardly a beach day and there were people about but it was not crazy, there was not the frantic rush to get to the destination of the next moment. I was heartened by a young man, a dad I presume, pushing a stroller, singing a little song that had no rhythm or rhyme. It may have been of his own making or he was trying to remember an escaped tune. It was of little matter, I wished for a gold star to hand to him when I heard: “What do we do when we cross the street? We look both ways. What do we do. . .” as he paused before entering the crosswalk, and looked both ways, mindful of his precious cargo.

I thought of a distant cousin's four-year old grandson making that same careful choice walking with his dad. He is a city boy, where such rules are year-round survival tactics. Today, I will choose to find hope in these little actions observed, instead of wondering how old they have to be before the young dad stops making a point of crossing properly, or the child decides safety is over-rated. 

The forecast rain did eventually fall as day ended and night wrapped us in windy darkness. It sounded on the east windows and dampened the dog insistent upon going out and coming back in over and over again, unnoticed in warm summer, an annoying practice once the doors are closed. 

It rained off and on during the night, not the dramatic downpour of a couple of weeks ago, but any precipitation makes us mindful of the extraordinary weather in Texas, days and days of rain devastating Houston. It began with Harvey, the hurricane that pushed the ocean into the Galveston basin before being downgraded to a seemingly endless tropical storm as it inched inland.

“Isaac's Storm,”a book chronicling the great Galveston flood of 1900, is not merely on my to-read list, it is in my house. It sits, waiting, and I pick it up every few months, knowing if I ever get beyond the first pages it will captivate me, this story of a storm as deadly as this country has ever known.

Galveston, I was surprised to learn, had been the port city of Texas, a boom town built, fundamentally, on a low island, its highest point 8.7 feet above sea level. It was on its way to being what Houston would become in the Twentieth Century. 

Instead, in 1900, Galveston was destroyed, its death toll ranging anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 by varying accounts. It rebuilt but the real action moved to slightly higher, a bit more protected, ground and Houston grew to be the fourth largest city in the country. Additionally, one article says, Houston is an “important node in a highly networked country,” that while the actual building loss is not anticipated to be as great as that of other storms, the economic impact will be astronomical. 

As the debate over climate change and global warming rages I wonder how in the heck so much has been built, not just in Texas, but on both coasts and along major waterways, at least the ones we notice when there is great flooding, when destruction can grab headlines, again. Then I look around at our own island. I too often too smugly say “the old-timers listened in Sunday School and didn't build on the sand,” when referencing the long stretch of our never-developed east beach, or talking about the New Harbor cut, successful only when it was made through solid land instead of the shifting sand to the north. 

Then I have to remind myself of that whole expanse of filled land inside the corner of Corn Neck Road and Ocean Avenue. I was a little girl when they were planning to build the Post Office that is now the Bagel Shop, Ballard Hall Real Estate, Washington Trust and The Block Island Times building. My mother took me along to visit the older ladies who lived on the corner of Dodge and Corn Neck, where there is now a shop and hair salon.

One of them was ironing in the parlor overlooking that site; they spoke of remembering ice boats sailing up almost to that corner when they had been my age, before the harbor was dredged and the trash-filled sand used as fill.

The only surprising part of heavy rain filling the street there is that it does not happen more often.

A gray and windy morning after the night rain turned the sea silver, lighted the end of the breakwater and kept in motion the grass atop the nascent dunes. It turned to a sunny and breezy afternoon. Crescent Beach has been banked for days, as it is when the surf is high and the wind from the east. Now the water is a deep, after-the-storm blue and those great wild horses with the flowing white manes are charging the shore.

A visitor on the sidewalk exclaims “look at that!” and I want to hand her one of my imaginary gold stars. I need a basket of them today, another for the dad helping his little girl examine the pebbles in the rough old cement of the sidewalk, still clean after the almost forgotten rain and finding delight in the world around them.