The snow started earlier than forecast last Thursday. It was soft, on the border between rain and snow and then turned heavier than we have had in a while.
It stopped me for a bit, knowing the storm was expected to last through Friday night and despite it following the track that had been predicted, I wondered if the projection of long but light snow after this burst would hold true. I am, after all, a Rhode Islander and for all that we make light of the ever-echoing Blizzard of 1978 we cannot quite shake it.
By late afternoon Thursday the brief whiteout had passed, the south end of the island was clearly visible and the temperature was teetering around freezing. I shoveled/pushed a narrow path through the few accumulated inches on the walk and the few feet of frozen land between its end and my car. It was a preventive measure, less about the snow and more about the potential of some slick coating. I’d even gotten out and pulled on the big winter boots I hardly wear some winters and was surprised to realize were more than a dozen years old.
The heavy snow never returned, the wind remained below any serious storm level and we were left with intermittent clouds of that mess of slushy rain. It was Friday after dark before it shifted back to white snow that fell softly and left a cover on the land, that rare, perfect blanket that doesn’t disappear by afternoon leaving behind drifts that last for weeks.
Most importantly, my road was fine, thanks in large part to the folks who tend the horses who live here and who come in twice a day. The cleared fields and the even snow provided, I also learned, perfect conditions for “skijoring” - tow skiing, in this case, a taught-to-be-willing Icelandic horse providing the power.
The longer connector to Corn Neck was fine as well. Mansion Beach was purchased by the Town in 1984. Prior to that, at least from the time the building burned in 1963, the beach seemed to be considered weirdly public and private, public to people who drove here from other parts of the island but still considered it their private beach. That the road was not public never seemed to cross their minds.
Summer traffic, as much greater today than it was then, does not bother me, apart from the occasional yahoos who seem to think the turn-off from Corn Neck is a two-lane highway. Even in winter, there is odd traffic, surfers, beach walkers, people just driving around to enjoy the stark, beautiful views. They come even on these slushy days when I stay in because I can; I know not because I watch but because when Autumn is outside she feels it her bounden duty to herald each passage.
The same places on Mansion Road that are lovely and shaded in summer, in winter used to be horrid, the ground freezing under drifting snow and, worse, later turning to a sea of mud in those narrower, more protected, less shined upon and blown dry spots. In early March of those deep winters of the late 1970s, the frost was deep, the thaw terrible. The little notes in my mother’s weather diaries are about mud, getting in and out – or not – with several such days capped by “made it to Huggins!” followed by more days of walking to and from the car left up on Corn Neck.
So I am grateful that it is only busy in summer, and has the whole long off-season to recover.
We look at old pictures of wide open spaces, many of the photographs taken from rooftops when capturing of any image was a production so might as well make it a big one. Most people remark on the grazed and cut fields, the walls cleared of brush and carefully tended in springtime, rocks fallen not for being hit by deer but by frost heaving the land, the same that made the roads a mire.
There are other, less distributed pictures, taken from yards, of people, not the landscape, which decades later are astonishing for the unintended background. Somewhere I’ve a grainy photocopy of a photo of the lady whose family always owned the Homestead, the now red house at the head of Mansion Road. In the distance is the Searles Mansion, visible for its whiteness, the old farm overlooking the beach and even my place, if one knows just where to look.
Our finite Mansion Road world became a little smaller and a lot sadder. Last week we lost two ladies, born forty years apart, the houses of their respective childhoods once part of that open landscape. In a few short days we felt the breath of winter and also the clouds rolled back like a scroll and gave us an It-is-Well-with-My-Soul blue sky.