Heralds of the Season

Tue, 03/19/2013 - 5:30pm

The beach continues to astonish. Sand has come, it seems from the sea, to begin rebuilding the dunes just south of Mansion and there is a smooth albeit narrow swath at their base, a foundation, a beginning we can only hope.

Great banks of stone cascade down to the water’s edge, the shore still winter-narrow an hour after low tide. It evokes the mantra of this year since Sandy side-swiped our poor little island: nothing feels quite right in a way we cannot define, the oft repeated “it wasn’t like this before...was it?”

There are two boulders I have been watching for years, decades probably, just below Jerry’s Point. It began one fall, after talking with the late Dr. Sirkin, who suggested the embarrassingly obvious way to monitor with certainty the ebb and flow of the beach. There was, that first day, a little pyramid of a rock poking up, the only one marring a wide and smooth expanse of lingering summer sand. I carefully aligned it with gables and chimneys, not having any idea how good a choice I had made by sheer dumb luck.

The last boat out last Wednesday bucked and rolled as it made its way across a growing sea. From my house I usually follow it only from the windows by my desk, as it slips across the places where I can see the water between the hills. That day I went upstairs and sat on the landing, just 11 very old-house-steep steps up. Now, from that elevation, in mid-March before the leaves return, the vessel is visible above the land most of the way east of me before it disappears behind Clay Head. It is not so different from watching it leave the mouth of the harbor in bad weather, when it seems impossible anything so small can successfully go forth and battle the power of the ocean.

The next run after that one was a special Saturday morning trip, added to the schedule after a two-day interruption in service, unusual but not extraordinary.

It was the storm that did not move faster than forecast, the one that lingered as the High Wind Watch was extended rather than truncated. The wind tore in from the ocean, funneling sand, visible on the gale, through the beaten access points along the east beach; waves slammed so close to land that water splashed windshields on the Neck Road.

We were spared significant snowfall, but the wind raged and whitewater stretched far out to sea. Sunday afternoon the air was hazy with salt, rolling clouds catching the sun as they blew in off the water.

The dunes have changed, the beach has changed, the breaking of the waves tells us that even the ocean floor has changed. In all the foamy fury off Jerry’s, I see protruding that same little pyramid, which I had soon learned that autumn so long ago was merely the peak of an alp of a boulder. As the surf swirls, another rock, lower and rectangular, usually completely hidden by beach in summer, emerges and disappears. Hard as it is to imagine, every year the sand has returned, to the level of the low tide on this day.

Monday night there was but a touch of breeze and at first I wonder how it can be so loud. It is the surf, not the ambient sound of the summer sea, the beach music that wafts up over the hill. This ocean is still angry, roiling offshore, crashing on the rocks, keeping the air filled with window dulling salt

Then the rain came, a growing drizzle when I went out late Tuesday. Those are the evenings off season I spend burrowed in the lower level of the library, little blocks of time literally removed from the world, in the worst of winter cocooned against the cold, windy dark. These weekly gatherings are filled with talk and laughter over the clatter of knitting needles, a productive diversion punctuated with “I dropped a stitch, anyone have a crochet hook?” and “These direction makes no sense!!” These are a few hours to spend passing around recently acquired yarn, reporting on trips to mainland shops and visits to a range of websites (for any who think untold hours can be consumed by the electronic games played on line: you have no idea until you have experienced that anti-matter black hole of yarn and knitting and patterns and videos of how to follow certain directions or fix mistakes and stories and pictures and more yarn). We share the thrill of completion (for some of us qualified with “Finally!”) and agony of disaster (“Can someone help me fix this mess?”).

The clocks have changed; it is still light behind the light rain when we go in. When we leave the weather has morphed to cloudbursts pushed sideways by the wind, cold and raw until my neighbor pauses at the open door and utters the thanksgiving prayer of spring: “peepers.” And there they — or their voices — are, the little frogs that herald the season, turning the dark wet suddenly mild with their song.

So I text out the wonderful news and replies come back: “peepers?” from a distant clime where spring is not so treasured; from the other side of the water a natural scientist cites the perfect storm of warmer air, ever-increasing daylight and damp; from across the island “Heard them, too!” a blessed simplicity reflecting my own.

I thought I heard one, weeks ago, a lone voice in the wilderness that could have been a forgotten fancy but that someone else mentioned the same experience. It was a freak occurrence, like the pair of Sand Hill cranes that landed in my field one Easter weekend providing a first light tableau making the mundane Canada geese and plentiful white-tailed deer fleetingly as miraculous as the storm swept birds.

The peepers have awakened, the pounding rain washed the salt from my windows, the patches of sand on the beach will, I tell myself, knit themselves into summer’s blanket. The equinox is at hand.