Heart of Springtime

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 7:45am

Everyone lauds the fall, and the fall on Block Island is beautiful, with its sharply blue ocean and grass restored to green after even the driest and hottest Augusts; September can be stunning, between hurricane scares, but by its end already I am feeling the closing of the vise of approaching winter dark. 

I think the unreasonable for a spell, that I want to live forever in the heart of springtime, when the shad is coming into full bloom, protected from the life-shortening full sun by sporadic white fog, when the days are just long enough, without the excess of light that feels too much, too unearned, by the solstice. 

The yard and fields are full of wild flowers, ground covering strawberry blossoms, short dandelions, tiny purple and white violets popping back a scant twenty-four hours after a mowing, bunches of self-heal hiding under the knotweed and along the edges of the walk. The forsythia is morphing to green leaves and the earliest of the daffodils are withered but the latest, the palest, are in full flower, some surprising me with their resoluteness.

The red maple across the Neck Road from Mitchell Farm is unfurling its dark leaves, distinguishing itself before it fades to green, and everywhere there are layers of new vegetation, varying shades of the same vibrantly verdant hue. The shad seems surprisingly on time despite the cold of April until I remember Financial Town Meeting, which I associate with the shadblow, was as late as it can be this year. 

It was in early May, when shad covered the hills, billows of white that seemed to cascade down from Clay Head, that my first puppy, my Shad, a fluffy pale delight, came to me. It should be no wonder that it is this white and foggy and sunny heart of springtime in which I wish to dwell. 

The sun shines though the fog which lifts and falls, materializes then dissipates. Somedays I see bright blue sky overhead and sharp sun-cast shadows around me then turn to the south and find a shining white wall where the town should be. The sound of the horn of the invisible boat blasting as it passes reminds me the harbor may be fogbound one minute, it may be clear to the horizon the next. I quite like having the fog around when the shad, that can sear and drop in one blazingly hot day, is in its fragile bloom.

white egret flew low, near the tree line, half lost in the afternoon fog, and the horses were no more than solid dark forms, nuzzling along, their mouths to the ground where new grass is sprouting when a visitor anounced, in appropriate goofy accent “It's like England!” and I did not think “Oh, to be in England...” instead, “No, it's the Neck!” (no poetry for me, rather the movie, “Field of Dreams,” wherein the reply to “Is this heaven?” is “No, it's Iowa”) 

But who is to say there is no poetry in “and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.”  

This spring, the memories are not from visitors drawn to bleachers around a cornfield in Iowa, they are from my brother in Michigan, coming in bits and pieces. They are those snapshot memories we have from childhood, not filed away neatly but stashed in an old shoe box, in fact and in mind, brought out by my relating news and sending photos via the magic of technology, of land clearing in anticipation of the arrival of the horses. 

“There was a horse on the farm,” says this brother enough older than I that he can remember what I cannot, or never knew, but suddenly I do recall hearing of the animal, a wild thing with an owner unable to control the poor creature. It was apart from the cows, in the inelegantly named Pig Lot, which I am only now thinking really needs another name, there isn't a soul alive who recalls such an occupation of that pasture. They had to summon, if I recall the story correctly, the go-to guy for horses, a man from out west, who truly knew how to swing a lasso to hit its mark.

It was also said he rode his own horse into the bar of the Royal (now the Harborside), a story I heard from enough different people over the years to believe it had in it at least a seed of truth.

It was when the land was being prepared and I sent my brother a photo of the cleared high barn foundation that he wrote of baseball behind the barn, a father and son scene straight from any number of baseball movies, usually set on a farm in the broad Midwest, not within earshot of the rolling Atlantic.

The barn is long gone, but it was a big part of our childhood, the place the cows went to be milked, with the loft where we played in the dusty air, and the pen where new calves were kept until they were big enough to go outside without their protective mother trying to hide them.

I went to a meeting and heard someone talk of pet cats destroying the migratory bird population and thought of that barn where barn cats, expected to live from hunting the mice drawn by a constant stock of grain, lived.

Then I recalled their airborne counterparts, barn swallows, sleek air dancers who, year after year, built their nests in the loft rafters. They dove and dipped, for food, catching insects on the fly, and for fun, swooping near then darting from the cats, the semi-feral barns and the house cats that hung with them then smugly came inside to eat and be petted and sleep in the sun on cold winter days and snuggle on cold winter nights when May and shadblow and bright