After the Storm
Easter Sunday on Block Island was beautiful, sunny, not too warm, with a dip of short-lived clouds in the afternoon before a golden end.
Monday, I looked out and saw the egret closer to the house than I’d ever seen it, walking down the lane just beneath my dining room window. It is usually right around now that I first notice the white wings and see the elegant bird glide down into the swamp at the north end of the pond, and I had a day or two earlier. The weather was shifting, later the storm began and grew and raged through the night, the reported wind gusts reaching 79 mph, the highest in the state. It was, again, hard from the east, the wind I feel and dread the most. Tuesday the sun shone, the sky was blue with layers of white clouds, that no-there-wasn’t-really-a-storm look Nature is so good at assuming. But the wind was still blowing, gone round and hard
from the west, knocking down the waves, making it look almost as though the boat should have run.
Then there are the giveaways, the sheet of foamy water stretching far up the beach, much higher than it should have given the time of the tide, and spray tossed back from the crest of the waves, and reaching straight up further north where the shore is narrow and rocky. It would have been rough out there.
I watched it for a while, pulled over by the monument, to look at the water and noticed the clumps of beach grass, pale sticks, that had been planted not so long ago, but held fast through the blow, a hopeful sign that they will be softly green in a few months, spreading over time, sand collecting around them, turning their roots to anchors.
It is easy, after five on a mid-April day, to be captivated by the motion of an angry but calming sea, the sun that would have set an hour earlier in the depths of December, still high and bright, sliding diagonally to the spot of its disappearance, north of west, illuminating the spray, turning it all to tiny prisms. It was a while before it registered that the working vessels, notably the big barge, here to facilitate the splicing of the cables, were gone.
They had had to move before, round to the relative shelter of the New Harbor, but this time they were finished, the work done and tested before the storm. Back a spell when they had said they would return, needing five straight days of good weather I bit my tongue, thinking we have beautiful April days but we also have more days of March refusing to leave, slipping back in with roaring wind and heavy surf, making sweet April showers
floods, soft breezes biting gales.
It is mid-April, the week of many school vacations, of Patriots Day, a little history lesson, a holiday in Massachusetts (Lexington and Concord) and Maine (part of Massachusetts until the Missouri Compromise), and would be still on Block Island if we hadn’t been swept into the Rhode Island colony in 1664. The holiday — if not the date, another moving Monday holiday — was the ninth anniversary of the Marathon Bombing, a reminder of
horror being met by solidarity that swept a whole city and its surrounds. And sports rivals.
We have another planned, announced power outage tomorrow. It isn’t going to be for so long, and we know it is coming but like the last two, planned, announced, painstakingly publicized, I find it oddly unsettling.
I grew up here, when I was little some people still did not have electricity. The population was at its nadir, the power company was small. When houses were built on the road and one lady did the unthinkable, washed sheets every morning — we had a dug well, perhaps ten feet deep, steadily fed by an underground stream but we were cautious and laundry every day was unthinkable. And she had an automatic washing machine, a great consumer of water, and apparently electricity.
Our television, our little black and white box, went snowy and Captain Kangaroo disappeared. So-and-so is washing her sheets, my mother would proclaim. And a while later we would see them on the line back when the land was clear and sight lines were so different.
We got our own transformer, we and the farm next door as well. Many years later I realized it had more to do with chest freezers than Captain Kangaroo. My father insisted there was no need to worry about a lightning strike, it would be drawn to the transformer, higher than the house. Fifty some years later I saw that flash of white light coupled with a crash, at the corner of the yard; the transformer, finally, had provided that promised protection.
I think I’ve calmed down over the years as service has become more reliable. I did not have an electric clock for a very long time then realized it was the only kind that would keep buzzing in the morning, long after my wonderful Big Ben alarm had stopped clanging, and I only had to adjust it every few days. My 12 gallons of water have been reduced to six. I keep the landline I never answer but more than anything, have decided the past few years outages are just not the problem they used to be, or could have been had all my worst fears materialized.
And it’s not 1965, the whole of the Neck isn’t snowed in for a few days at a time.
Now, the power goes out and I wait a minute before getting up to see if town is dark, which is oddly reassuring, the whole island a void. Once I looked out soon enough to see the emergency lights on the tall towers come on. Now, I give it a minute before I bother to look; last time it came back on in that short time.
Perhaps that is why I am unsettled over a planned outage, I have become spoiled, unaccustomed to what used to be the norm.