The First of May

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 8:15am
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It is the first of May and it is green and gray, the sky a parfait of pale blues and whites over a calm and near-silver ocean. The shad on Clay Head is still waiting for a day or two of full sunshine to burst open.

The grass out back is thick but it is heavy with moisture, newly reclaimed, just a year ago I looked up in a moment of sunshine and saw it rippling, under a fluffy ruffle of a breeze.

We fill our April memories with daffodils and forsythia and this new, thick grass, with a flurry of human activity as businesses closed over the winter come back to life. Spring is in the night air, in the roar of the surf and the clamor of the peepers and increased birdsong. But April is, in fact, often chilly and damp, a month of days that change from fog to sun to rain and back again before noon.

We celebrated May Day at school for a couple of years with a teacher who did it up big. She dyed strips of old sheets into rainbow colors and had her kindergarten class rally round the May Pole, one of the plain columns in the old school cafeteria, when it took up the lower level of the south side of the old school. 

The space was more than was needed for the kitchen and eating area and the far, west end, was our little assembly area. Over and under the little ones went, obviously having had some practice, until the column was wrapped in fabric with the look of a braid.

I'd never seen a May Pole. It was Block Island, still trying to push its way out of the Depression, it all seemed too... celebratory. Even my left-leaning parents, especially my WWII-veteran dad who thought the Russian bear a moth-eaten imposter with a fake growl, dismissed the first of May as a one-time workers' holiday which had been usurped by USSR bravado.

Nonetheless, those couple of years fixed forever the anticipation of the first of May, when, magically, the dull cool days of April lifted and gave way to sun. We went outside without thought of jackets, wearing our cotton dresses and new season sneakers.

It is the first of May, and I find myself not only wearing a fleece but adding my winter jacket to go out and check on the horses. Autumn rushes ahead of me, headed for the ever-present Canada geese, the flock that loudly lifts into the sky every time she charges. In summer, when they molt and cannot fly, they stay close to the big pond and continue to easily elude her.

The horses are in the far lot, ignoring me even when I go to the tack room where on another day in another season the hope of treats might have them trotting, manes flying. They are ignoring me, completely, in favor of new grass.

I decide to ignore them, in turn, and look at a tree by the wall, part of the scrub when this adventure of the horses began a year ago last winter. It is a reminder of what happens all around us, easily lost in the cacophony of overgrowth.

This is the time of year to notice all trees. 

A model of a proposed project came into the Town Hall last week. I happened to be there before the architects left and asked why all the trees had been added.

Most already existed, I was told. Perhaps it comes of growing up in this place where the views tend to be wide, the horizon visible from so many spots, and living with the one-time truth of there being no trees, that I don't notice just how tall they have grown until it is brought to my attention.

It was a surprise. I know I see things as they bloom, or as they leaf out, all of the flowering ornamentals in town, where the covering white and pink petals cannot disguise the impact of the salt wind from the ocean, the unbalanced growth.

Through May, before all the greens blend together, we see the different trees, the willows with their yellow cast, the red maples and apples and the grand horse chestnuts as they unfurl their new leaves, slightly different hues at slightly different times.

There are a few sections of a few roads that I know are tree-lined; it is the size the trees have achieved in my memory that astonishes me. Other places there are near orphans I hardly notice; they are bare in winter when traffic is sparse. There is a spot on the east side of the Front Street I doubt I would have thought of as more than a hopeful seedling but for having seen folks sitting in its shade one summer day.

They are, for the most part, still relatively small, we are not forested by a long stretch, but old photographs, not of the wide and rolling farm land of the late 1800s but of the middle of the twentieth century are startling. There is a series of photos of the school, the original 1933 building with no greenery, then the same institution with two spruce trees flanking its old entrance, the current “facade” of too many budget cycles.

Today is a dreary start to this glorious month of May, with a subject-to-change forecast of no full sunshine for a week, but the date on this paper will by May 4 and it is for me to meet my annual obligation and remind everyone May 4 is Rhode Island Independence Day.

We were the first colony to declare independence from the crown, two months before the rest of those wayward other 12, and the last state to ratify the Constitution. We are also the smallest state but we have the longest name.

And our big little motto is ”Hope.”