Lobster cars and Ancient Mariners

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 8:00am

It is raining, again. It did so in the morning, yesterday, a series of moving precipitation ranging from downpour to shower. By ten it had stopped and the sky to the east was oddly light, a reversal of what I expect of a storm sliding up the coast.

The sky cleared, and by noon we felt the weight of a leaden day, hot and humid, the air filed with the moisture that had been on the grass when the sun came out, bright and hot, August muggies come early. 

We have had wonderful days, I reminded myself, even borderline hot, but they were dry, with breezes coming up in the evening and cooling the night. And it is always hot, sometimes brutally so, in the days preceding the Harbor Church Fair — always the fourth Saturday in July, save the date — still a week-and-a-half off as I write.

It was overcast to foggy by dark, and there was none of the lunacy-inviting, sky-filling moon of the previous nights, none of the blinking red lights that betray the location of the turbines often hidden from me in daylight, if only by the fact that I am not upstairs. I had been baffled one of those bright nights, looking to the south, moving to a window from which I can see what I believe is the fourth of the towers, counting from the east, one, two hidden behind my neighbor's barn, three and four. 

There was another red light, or lights, not as bright, nor as evenly spaced, and more of them, in a straight line, the highest about on line with the towers. Then I remembered there had been an elegant white sailboat off the east wall of the Old Harbor, one of those vessels with a mast so tall it required warning lights. Or so I presumed that to be what I was seeing, not some vertical, non-flaming, out-of-season ghost of the ship Palatine

It would have been miles closer to me than the turbines but appeared the same height, another one of countless lessons in perspective provided by the wind farm. 


Downtown is a morning kind of place, as the sun goes over the yardarm and afternoon arrives people drift off to the beach. Even the lobster car disappeared from the spot it occupied for a few hours.

I remember once reading “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” although I cannot recall ever finishing the fantastical tale, it was just too. . . much.  I was a Block Island kid, I wanted to know what truly was being seen on a town street, as exotic to me as a big city square.

The lobster car... last summer a small white car with a big yellow duck perched on its roof was a novelty, and it has remained the gold standard, a vehicle almost dwarfed by the inflatable — and inflated — water toy affixed to it. Later came reports of a lobster and flamingoes and other sightings, repeated this year, but all on larger vehicles, some even in beds of trucks, amusing but not as fanciful as that first, grinning, duck. 

Today there were, I thought, pirates about — it is Pirate Week — only to learn, no, they were the members of the Ancient Mariners, a fife and drum corps from Connecticut, joined by players from a sister group in Basel, Switzerland. Their costumes varied. Some were clad in the plain striped shirts and light-colored trousers that comprise traditional old-time mariner garb, easy to mistake for lightly disguised outlaws of the sea. Others wore plaid kilts and dark jackets, and the hats one expects of a fife and drum corps. One of the latter had rope sandals on his feet, which seemed more suited to the more nautically themed dress but were quite wonderful nonetheless.

They had been here a couple of years ago — I was told four years, in fact — and I realized, finally, they were the same group that had played on the lawn of the Harbor Church on Sunday morning after services, as well as at today's venues, the Historical and Library. They had not been not what I had expected Ancient Mariners to be, this group of neatly dressed players whose music was punctuated by cannon fire.

They are a delightful lot, happy to be showing Block Island to their Swiss visitors.

There was, seen on Water Street, the requisite “I'm-not-hurt” moped spill, and countless bicycles traveling on the wrong side of Rebecca, honking mopeds and one of the big, refrigerated trucks, noisily running as cartons and cartons were unloaded. 

There may be, I think, contrary to perceptions, too much order. There are none of the tiny deer, muntjacs, that used to be so good at escaping the Abrams Animal Farm, and not even a thought of the maundering llama, Joshua, who liked going to the Atlantic and venturing out onto High Street. There is no roving Black Swan, the same I encountered in the Manisses parking lot. So accustomed to adventurous animals had I become that I simply told it to go home and went on my way and was horrified to learn it kept going and somehow made its way across the water to one of the Westerly area beaches.

It was a day surprisingly light on direction askers but among them was the man who came back to thank me for directing him to Ernie's. He had had a wonderful breakfast on the back deck, and his taking the time to come back was one of those little gestures that erases any annoyance over “where is the Post Office?” The answer (“up there, the big building with the tower”) I have learned to qualify with what I think should be screamingly obvious (“the one that is not the church”) and be happy to live in a place where the lack of an institutional appearance to the facility makes the question necessary.