January Saturday

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 5:15pm

Last weekend some temperature records were broken. The longer we keep track, and the more easily accessible that tracking becomes, the more we see very little is new again.

It happens, I learned years ago, flipping back through columns with a like date and finding the weather I thought so noteworthy was just a repeat. One of the actual upsides of being on Facebook is the constant stream of reminders of something posted on the same date a given number of years ago. My photographs are almost entirely of the land and the passing of the seasons, reminders that, yes, it did snow or storm or blow, the purple flag flew or, alternately, the slanted afternoon sun spun the shorn grass of the fields into gold.

Already, I am surprised that it did snow, a slippery if not long-lasting cover, in December.

Overall, when the cold comes, it does not seem to last as long. A few winters ago there was slush ice in the Inner Basin of the Old Harbor evoking all manner of “never before” proclamations from people with short histories here. Most who lived here in the late seventies remember the deep cold and seriously freezing harbors, the little tanker that spent a day pushing through ice in the New Harbor, an aerial shot of the blue swath the Manitou left behind her in the white covered Old Harbor.

Then, by happenstance I came upon photographs of school kids departing Block Island, the boys standing on the upper deck of the astonishingly low-to-the-water Sprigg Carroll. There was that same slush ice floating upon the surface of the basin. It did not trigger any memory of the unusual, and by the attire and posture of everyone in the pictures it was just another winter day.

But last weekend was sunny and warm if absurdly windy, in that unrelenting way of Block Island wind, come in off the ocean from any direction. The moon was equally unrelenting and between the sound of the rushing air and the bright, white light sleep was elusive.

Not helping were the cyclical gravities of the earth and the moon, the latter being held in orbit by the former, and protesting that eternal captivity by pulling the oceans and turning the tides.

Saturday I saw what I apparently have managed to miss many times over the years, a local lobster boat seemingly grounded, someone, the owner I presumed, as was later confirmed, working on the hull. The responses to my “what's going on?” query sent into cyberspace were variations on the same theme, and the owner responded most graciously with “Mostly everyone got it half right!” and explained that he was “replacing shaft and rudder zincs and cleaning the bottom.”

Answering my unasked wonderment that this could work at all he added: “Novi lobster boats are built strong enough to do this, and on a small dock you might be 'beached' every day.”

Then disappeared another 30 minutes of my life, trying to track down a recent edition of Rachel Carson's “The Sea Around Us” for “young readers,” with its wonderful graphics of the oceans bulging out and the extreme tides in the Canadian Maritimes. I thought, years ago, before I ever ventured into internet buying, it would be a wonderful Christmas present, and went into a bookstore in Boston only to encounter blank looks. Yes, it was from my childhood but how could it not have been updated and available, that wealth of information so memorably presented? And I was in Boston for pity's sake!!

But here it was, before me, on a Saturday afternoon in January so empty it offered no distractions and I could see what was before me. The tide was very low, the line of its reach visible in the darkened pilings of the bait dock and colored stone of the breakwater. I had noticed it coming into town, behind the Surf, but especially in the Outer Basin below the National, where the rim of the dredged area was once a sharp edge on most low tides, but now I watch instead for a particular rock mass to be completely exposed, lying there like a big seal basking in the winter sun.

There were two fishing boats on the shore when I was in school, one, more battered, over by the granite wall below the Surf, and another, more hopeful for some time, on the sandy land somewhere to the south, below the street. I always thought they were reminders of a hurricane but of which I am not certain. That memory pre-dated the parking lot and landing, and while everyone spoke of fishing being on the wane, as it was, there were still a fair number of working vessels moored out in the harbor.

Looking down at the activity of a busy summer weekend it is hard to believe when the Interstate dock was first built I could not imagine how it would fit, only the single wooden pier, amidst the handful of fishing boats. That was before stern loaders and their ramps, before the great horseshoes of pleasure crafts rafted all the way around the interior of the jetty. It is now what I thought it then.

There are times in summer we see those pleasure craft come too close to shore and anchored on a high tide, tilting as the water recedes around them, unintentional groundings, and I have come to think of hauling as something involving trailers or fork-lifts and usually in New Harbor.

It was a beautiful, almost warm Saturday in January — words that cannot be repeated too often — the water was blue, and a lone fisherman was tending to his vessel in the windy sun. It was that near-impossible day I sometimes think visitors think fill our winters, in between picture-perfect snowfalls, almost like summer except for the lack of crowds.

Then the moon decided to return the ocean it had stolen for the other side of the earth and the tide rose, again.