The End of February

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 8:00am

“Winter won’t come until the ponds are full” the old-timers always said, an adage haunting me through the ceaseless rains of February. “But we had winter!” was my silent protest every wet, gray, day, citing the already long-ago deep cold of January. “Real but short” I would concede, hoping to appease the weather gods. 

On these final two days of the shortest month, the sun is shining, the wind from the west unfurling my neighbor’s flag. The daffodils and iris that have been struggling through this March-like February are glowing brightly green, and the peonies and knot weed are pushing red buds through the earth. 

There are random iris scattered about my yard and beyond, in once tended flower beds, and in the grass, where extra bulbs, tossed aside, took root and flourished. Another improbable group, grown from the contents of a bonus pack, free in a shipment of other things long since dead and forgotten, has been spreading, untended for years.

Inspired by the field clearing going on around me I go out and pull dead grass and leaves from that group until the long metal teeth of the rake hit stone, a ring of stones I made to encircled the original planting, which it did, once. It is, as it has been for some time, absolutely empty with not even a shoot of green. The plants have migrated, a mass of them, and I think of the resoluteness of this particular flower I never chose but love for its sunny brightness, and wonder what would happen were I to transplant them, already sprouted, this wrong time of year. The fall, I easily convince myself, is the better time.

It is yet February, but it feels like spring. Even the forecast, earlier in the week calling for a full day roaring entrance of the March Lion has been pushed forward, the stormy weather coming later and later in the day, the air-pressure reaching a nadir on Friday. 

But, it is only a forecast and we all know forecasts and reality are fluid things, not in any way a criticism of meteorologists, merely an acknowledgement of the fickle nature of . . . Nature. Still, much as I know better, for the second week in a row I have put off going away on Thursday because of a long term forecast. 

Next week. . .

They are replacing utility poles along the Neck Road, slowly moving north, as they have been for a time, now. It is a task for the off season — or for off-season non-dump days — when a stretch of one lane traffic rarely creates a wait on either end. The ground, frozen in that spell of deep winter in January, is soft and yielding, amazingly clear of frost, and despite the rains, it is not a mire. Neither is the earth dry and hard, as it can be after baking in the bright summer sun. 

Perhaps it is a by-product of living here year round, and experiencing the “off-season,” when the roads are relatively empty and views more open, but I love the poles along the Neck Road. I’ve the vaguest memory of there being more, of my mother remarking upon the openness after a removal of a secondary set of poles, and a merging of the telephone and electrical wires carried on them. 

Or perhaps it was the removal of an obsolete set that had carried a separate wire, like the phone line that ran down across the field behind my house, over the pond, and to the edge of the beach. It ended at one of telephone equipped World War II key post stations, where the Coast Guardsmen patrolling the beach could call in any sightings of danger from the water. 

While I do not remember them I know they were in place long enough after the war had ended that my parents had returned to Block Island. My late neighbor told me once when the company came to remove them “your father said they were on his land, they were his poles and that was the end of that.” He used them around the little farm, his own version of beating swords into plowshares. At least one remains out by the wall, a relic of another time. 

As the land is cut, memories are released like migrating butterflies rising from a tree they covered, resting and unnoticed, until they spread their orange and black wings and flew, a smudged cloud into the sky.

I am well aware that many people look at the utility poles and see clutter, especially where the road bends and from a distance the wooden shafts appear to criss-cross; others see a kinetic dance, frozen in the instant of a camera shutter opening and closing. I see the story of weather, of the gales that have gradually, over time, bent the weathered wood to their will. More visible in off-season, when there is longer, low light, is a sun-powered alchemy, through which basic black cables are spun to strands of rose gold.

That said, the last segment of power line to my house was long ago buried in a trench across the yard. It may have been done in reaction to one of those terrible storms of the 1970s, when a line fell onto Corn Neck just north of Mansion Road, and the winter night was filled with flashes of intense, unnatural light. 

The telephone line across my yard remained— and remains — aloft, a nuisance beyond measure if it falls, but not a real danger.

At 5:25 at the end of February the sun has not quite dropped below horizon; it still casts its light on the west sides of houses high on the land and stone walls most open to the sky. A slow flow of water along the side of the road is a wide seam of silver, but most notably, at 5:25 the sky is blessedly pale.