Eighteenth of April

Fri, 04/25/2014 - 6:20pm

The forsythia is shivering in the cold morning wind, the slow to bloom daffodils questioning their decision to unfold. The temperature was as low a week ago but once we have that point in April when the sun shines and the air warms, going back a mere six days is difficult even knowing the set-back is as temporary as the early... frozen precipitation on the ground.

Yesterday it was windy, rattling the windows, driving rain against the glass, a storm with the sound of winter fallen into mid-April. It left great puddles in my barnyard, ones that are drying in a day of a stiff breeze which earlier fell into “near gale” on the Beaufor Scale — with gusts to “gale” had they been sustained.


I love the Beaufort Scale, I love the very sound of it spoken, conjuring images of a Southern gentleman measuring wind and devising this odd system. He wears a white suit in my imaginings, creating this chart that jumps from breeze to gale, only moving to “storm” after “strong gale” hardly the parlance of my life on Block Island. Furthermore, storm winds, the little narrative reads, are “seldom experienced on land.”


It does not jive with my own concept of storm, a commonplace occurrence, a step below the fearsome gale. The measures are hugely subjective, these created, in fact — beyond my fanciful thinking — by Sir Francis Beaufort of Royal Navy. His were not the first but they became the standard; such are the spoils of being a high level administrator when one's country — then still Empire — enjoyed global naval supremacy.


It is referenced in a Billy Joel song of sailing off despite a storm front coming with “a possible gale . . . a force nine blowing on the Beaufort scale.”


There are other standards, with ever longer names, used today, but I love this one and returned to it after visiting Weather Underground yesterday for the first time in a while. Once the threat of truly devastating storms, cold and snow, the stuff of frozen pipes and drifted roads, has passed, I do not frequent these sites so often and was in for a shock.


It always was, at least in the time I have been visiting it, simple, all little boxes with either sun or clouds. Now Weather Underground, my go-to site, has gone the way of USA Today. It is almost — but not quite — enough to make me turn to the long, written narratives of NOAA, which I general read only when there is a serious threat forecast elsewhere.


Already, though, I am adapting to the over-the-top graphics. The radar images are harder, loooking to have been altered in a way I cannot quantify. Rain is an opaque green blob that has an end of the world air to it. The boundaries are obscured, the names of cities, the coastline references erased. Today, when it is clear and the sun is shining, Block Island sits in a blue ocean, well defined, but who looks at the radar when the sky is cloudless?


It should be warmer than it is, the snowy white should not have stayed in the shadows beyond early morning. The yard, though, is greener than it has been since fall, on the edge of growing in the crazy spurt it has in the spring, giving up perfect barefoot grass when it is still too cold to put aside shoes for more than mid-day.


The beach is back, or it was before this last storm which should not have much harmed it. A great wide hard apron at low tide a few days ago, up above the wrack line it was sandy in that sort of transformative state it goes through in the spring. It was too soft underfoot, still ready to fly on the least wind, any of Beaufort's five categories of breeze, moving, re-sculpting itself. The faces of the dunes that were so damaged in Sandy a year and a half ago are softening, sand that returns every season drifted to gentle slopes, hope for the summer.


It is different, changes that had been occurring for years, the inland march of the beach that goes largely unnoticed until one thinks “wasn't there a great puddle here just... years-with-a-great-big-S ago?” Sand reaches far up the old access road, today's walking path, and it is clearly never returning to the shore. The magnitude of the alteration is unsettling, more noticeable now, before the wild roses spread their greenery to create a misleading impression of sameness.


Walking home, I pass a spot where there used to be an apple tree and now there is only a pile of leftover wood. These terrible vines that threaten our landscape in ways of which the multiflora rose only dream engulfed it. They have shallow roots in the beginning and it was easy to pull them out then one year it rained and they grew like weeds, up through the defenseless branches, sprouting out the top. It was perversely fascinating, an apple with the look of a willow as vines headed for the sky could not stop growing and spilled out and over the host and eventually killed it.


Yesterday, in the gloomy rain, the morning radio was carrying talk of the Boston marathon, of people gathering near the finish line, and it was a while before I realized it was an anniversary of the bombing, not the holiday. It happened on Patriots' Day, we all know that, but as well as I remember the event I would never have put it on the April 15, as early as a third Monday can be.


Perhaps it is simply too etched on my mind, that “eighteenth of April in '75” when the British landed and marched to defeat at Lexington-Concord. More likely last year's Patriots' Day became too entwined with a local tragedy, a young man dead from drugs, strangled by them as surely as those vines took the apple tree.