Eastport to Block Island

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 5:00pm

The past weekend was another Perfect Storm, fueled by the start of the first real heat wave of the summer, prompting people to want to get away, to the beaches, to the water, to Block Island. It was simply too hot, and there were too many people both from within the state and beyond our borders, all seeking respite at the shore, here and on the mainland.

We had, it seemed, larger numbers of young people, apparently not followers of any sort of actual news, who are still operating on the presumption they are invincible, that this is an illness that impacts only the elderly and infirm, and even then no one they know so it has to it no reality.

It was a weekend of the things that happen every summer compressed into one hot Saturday, exacerbated by the cloud of COVID always hanging over us, the weird sense of normalcy and worry with neither acknowledging the other. There were the usual ambulance runs, and two accidents at the airport, potentially catastrophic but by all accounts not this time. And hot tempers that come with heat and uncertainty.

It has become impossible to tell how many people are really here, four mopeds beeping around and around Rebecca look like eight and sound like sixteen. We see the visitors without masks and only secondarily notice many with them.

Strangely, by day’s end Saturday, the long lines awaiting the three boats back to the mainland were subdued, without the madness I was expecting when I dared venture back out to the dock. A sort of calm had descended as the temperature and sun dropped, as the exhausted stood or sat on the pavement, no tempers flaring, none of the expected histrionics in play.

A few even stopped to thank the policemen with whom l was talking.

Sunday afternoon brought, at least to this corner, just nonsense, a Four Rebecca Roundabout Report day. There was a jerk on a moped, a tire rolling — seemingly from nowhere — to land on the sidewalk, a Bike Crashes into Trash Can event, then the last I recorded, not bothering to spell out the title or even give a nod to the date.

RRR4. Anyone remember the movie “The Burbs” with a young Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher? That’s this corner today without the murdering neighbors. Third time in two days a car has stalled between Sullivan’s and here but this one wouldn’t start, again. Guys get out and try to push, no results, another guy appears in a Jeep and starts to line up to push, first guys panic: “it’s a rental” to which guy in Jeep responds “it’s okay, I work for Johnny.” Guess you need a scorecard for that one. [Tag line of “The Burbs,” from a teenager watching the neighbors from his parents’ porch: “God, I love this street.”]

But it was the worst of the weekend, not the nonsense, that was weighing, late Monday afternoon. It was almost six when I headed down the Neck, after the sun had changed from harsh overhead to long golden light on the pastures of Mitchell Farm and the traditional hottest days of summer activity, the haying of old pasture land.

The tractor, an ancient red Farmall, was hauling some piece of equipment and the field was etched with neat windrows of fallen and gathered grass and wildflowers. There was, I learned the next day, another machine waiting to create the cylindrical bales I’ve seen but never before witnessed being made, or lifted by a little bobcat/forklift with arms, to sit on waiting flatbed trucks.

It is light years from my early memories, of a Ford tractor dragging hay with a rope so thick men could stand on it, their forks guiding one of these long rows into a loop, and then pitching loose hay from the ground up into a dusty, suffocating loft. Just the other day I came across a photo from my cousins’ farm on the other end of the island, where the land ran to the edge of the bluff, and hay was piled high on long-bedded trucks, piled to overflowing, they were “posed” three abreast while the tangible evidence of a hard days’ labor was captured on film.

Still, this week there was enough that was familiar, the clanking of the machinery, the warmth of the sun, and, especially that smell of summer hay, new and rich, that stayed with me most of the way home and provided a brief but illusion of other-summer long-ago pre-COVID peace when we were known for fishing and “Eastport to Block Island” forecasts and little else.