Feathered Sunshine

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 8:15am

Chiicory was leaning into the road, still the vivid blue in mid-morning that is generally reserved for early day. It opens bright and hopeful before the sun climbs high and blanches it to a pale ghost of its early self. It is a weed, with a deep tap root, the enduring green of an old yard like mine, steadfast even when the grasses have faded under the August sun.

Ragged Sailor it is also called, and that was the name given the boutique opened on the second floor of the old Odd Fellows' Hall on Water Street in the 1960's. The flower was local, tough, and simple, its single petals reaching out like many sunbeams, an uncomplicated signature image for the new business which grew into   the Island's first true art gallery. 

This morning it is cool and sunny and dry, even with a strong breeze from the ever-damp east. White discs of Queen Anne's lace, another tough wildflower, dot the roadside and before me goldfinches, small, agile birds of bright yellow and solid black, dart and dash over the road. 

It is something birds do, this throwing themselves into the path of a vehicle, suicide missions but that they maintain just enough distance to stay safe. Some, like these morning goldfinches, dots of feathered sunshine, engage in an aerial dance, others, the young pheasants of summer, pop from the tall grasses as if drawn by the sound of an engine approaching, only to run a few frantic yards before disappearing, again, into the cover of vegetation that lines the road.

They remind me of the mice that cross the paved highway on a winter's night, waiting, it seems, for the beam of headlights to light their way, oblivious to the possibility of fatal consequences, that sudden death that befell some of the birds that populate the cases at the school. The tags on them announce they were found by the children of Coast Guardsmen, fallen after striking the glass of the Southeast Lighthouse beacon. 

Last week's heat was near crippling, leaving us darting — in weather far too hot for darting — between places with the almost obscene luxury of rarely needed air conditioning. As is the case in bad weather of all seasons, I took solace flipping back and forth between reports of New York City and Providence, finding scant comfort in our being consistently cooler than both. 

It was, of course, the week of the final ramp-up to the Harbor Church Fair, sifting and sorting items for auction, hoisting the big circus tent that somehow survives year after year, through rain, storm, and wind, to the dismay of our intrepid Tent Master. “We” still struggle with what seem to be miles of roping and canvas enough to fill the masts of a tall ship. 

It has been the focal point of our fair for a good twenty years. It was borrowed at first, carted from wherever it was stored, then it became our own, stowed in the deep, dark, back-back basement which, like the third floor of the church building, emits some strange magnetic field, drawing to it all manner of but-we-might-need-it-someday stuff that soon morphs to what-is-this. There it remains, in some weird Baptist purgatory, until a singular voice of reason slides through a momentary tear in the curtain of “but. . .” and declares “we're going to the dump!”

The tent escaped. To the dump the never used moisture-gathering plastic side curtains eventually did go, and the main canopy, ropes and poles, were given to an organization which might have more use frequent for it. Still, every July, it comes back to the church lawn, and the sound of sledge hammers striking long iron pegs rings out on a late afternoon in July.

It was brutally hot the first year we had the tent, then it stormed the night before the fair, a crashing, windswept downpour that woke me with tent panic which I pushed aside certain there was nothing I could do about it. That was before I realized that the behemoth, properly raised and anchored, could withstand great punishment, to the chagrin of the Tent Master. That year, the rain cleared the air. 

This year, it was around three the morning of the fair that I awoke and realized it was raining, but only that straight down summer rain that barely makes a sound and sinks quickly into the earth. It would be gone with the first touch of the sun and do nothing to vanquish the humid heat. The tent would get a little soft-water rinse and be dry by the time even the earliest workers arrived with platters of brunch offerings — or stirred from their not-so-plush digs on the floor of the Sun Room of the church before pitching in to help move whatever needed be moved. 

There is something magical about early morning in a summer resort town, even before the first unlocking of shop doors and the first hanging of open flags. Springtime and all its promise is revisited in that lingering near calm when coffee is brewing and breakfast being served, and the flowers in the basins of the statue of Rebecca are being watered — before such a task involves dodging beeping mopeds. Then day begins in earnest; we had a hot but a good morning at the fair.

A day later it was cooler, then the weather truly broke, giving way not to refreshing breezes but cold, wet, where-is-my-jacket wind. I found myself closing the windows that had been open, and pulling discarded bedclothes from the floor. I left Autumn inside, curled up in a chair even before I closed the door, when I went to town. 

Fall came and now it is summer, again, the season at its best, warm, but not hot, sunny, but not searing, the air clear and dry and stirred by a soft breeze. The real and the “feels like” temperatures are the same, and vacationers are, again, a happy lot.