Joyful Noise

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 7:30am
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My Rose of Sharon is in full bloom!” I heard someone comment and thought “No, it is too early. It is an August shrub!” then realized it was very late July, almost August. 

Last night, while I slept, the calendar flipped to a new month and it is, now, August.  My own Rose of Sharon, a living testimony to the strength of these old trees, the summer counterpart of springtime lilacs in many farm dooryards, has few flowers. 

An earlier one was at the edge of the lane behind the house and I remember my Aunt Beatrice saying she wanted to cut a slip from it. She had no idea she was going to drop dead in her own garden before she had a chance. Several years later I realized the tree seemed to be dying, providing notice, until one day, like Beatrice, it keeled over, falling onto the grass. I tried to salvage a few leafed twigs, but, unlike my mother, who needed do no more than place such things in water to have thready roots reach out, wanting to be put in earth, my efforts were futile. 

Even the one I managed to coax into a shoot large enough to plant met what felt a fated death: I looked out one day to see my sweet, stick-loving golden retriever lying beside it, happily gnawing.

Frost wrote “something there is that doesn't love a wall” which I always want to misquote “something in Nature. . .” but at my house it is more “something there is that pays no attention to a wall.” While I had been fretting and trying, then accepting a loss that represented was more than a tree, the Rose of Sharon had been quietly working its way back to the sun and a renewed life. The old root grew up through a few feet of earth on the other side of the what is a sort of retaining wall defining the north side of the lane and emerged one year, a misfit among the blackberries. 

The blackberries, I was chagrined to realize, were consumed by the ravenous, nefarious, multiflora roses, those vines that make adverse possession attorneys look like Habitat for Humanity volunteers. My Rose of Sharon, this August first, is not covered with flowers but it is in bloom, and I have every expectation it will flourish in coming years now that the land around it is clearer. Unless it grows too tall and gets bruised by the salty east wind blowing in from the ocean. 

It is muggy but at least it is finally August when we expect the damp to descend in force, to swell doors, turn crisp paper limp, and leave everything feeling touched by a cloud of fog. More than a passing day of hot humidity in July is like windblown snow in early December, worse for the possibility of so much more to come before the weather turns, again.  

The breeze, welcome even when it takes the form of the wet east wind, comes and goes, the sun slips behind the clouds and creates an illusion of cool then pops out and broils the day. 

Every summer week on Block Island is busy, crammed with overlapping activities. But even by mid-summer standards, which reach a zenith as July ends and the mad rush of August starts, things at Harbor Church have been especially. . . complicated.

As everyone who lives on Block Island and/or reads The Block Island Times knows, our pastor, Steve Hollaway, retired at the close of July, so we found ourselves with a weekend of Fair and Farewell, which would roll into a week of Vacation Bible Study.

Everyone is on summer schedule, increased work loads, visiting friends and family, and, of course, everything that happens at Harbor Church these days happens under the third floor where construction of year-round apartments progresses non-stop, around the always needed exterior maintenance work an old building demands, with allowances for meeting calendars set in stone, all amidst the nearly round-the-clock operations of the International Students' Center. 

We, the members of the Leadership Board, are fortunate in one respect, we can meet when we darn well please, without the constraints of legal advertising — once we nail down a time least inconvenient to the most people.

And so we came together last night, short by only one, a minor miracle, and found ourselves without a space to meet. To the lovely underused north porch we went, a spot removed by elevation but not distance from the town, overlooking the new Reflection Garden, and reconfigured front lawn. Sitting facing west I didn't realize the source of the commotion on the grass until I turned around and saw it was the children of Vacation Bible School (VBS)  under and around the newly installed pergola, playing the sort of game children love, loud and active, in the long light of early evening. What in another context could have been an annoying racket became that longed for “joyful noise.” 

It was a moment to pause and take a deep breath and let the wonder of all that was good wash over us. 

We concluded our business, declaring a long day, a very long weekend, done. I arrived home in near darkness, and saw the horses, hopeful as ever, approach the gate, dark shapes against the faint colors in the western sky. An awkward bird call startled us all and I looked up to see an egret making its very end of day circuit, the same it or one of its heron cousins has been making for decades of summer nights. 

A bit later I was reminded every group on Block Island has the great gift of seasonal residents with enthusiasm and energy and Harbor Church is no exception. A couple of emails came through from one of those individuals, with photos attached, children learning new lessons on the grass, and older students in line waiting to be fed by more volunteers.  

Thank you, everyone, for making it so!