Mansion Road Maples

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 7:15pm
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This is the time of year I think with each week the land has peaked. Early flowers and blossoms have come and gone, the beach roses blanket the dunes, and the maples, the weedy trees that grew while we were not watching, have become great green canopies, spreading over roads.

When they are trimmed in the off-season I worry that they will be sparse in the spring, but they are not and when I flip back to photos from a year or two ago I wonder how stretches of Mansion Road did not feel claustrophobic.

I often mention the handful of photographs I have from when my brother and I were children, taken in the fall for Christmas cards to be sent to far away relatives. We were positioned at the Southeast Lighthouse, with nothing but brick behind us, or at Settlers Rock, in the rubble at its base, the remnants of the two-tiered cement platform upon which the rock was set in 1911, and later ravaged by rounds of hurricanes. My first memory of going out there was walking the remains of the road from the little turnaround east of Sachem Pond to the monument. 

The road was rebuilt, such as our roads were then, layers of sand and stone covered with a layer of oil then a coat of gravel that worked down into the sticky black and formed a sort of pavement, in time for the re-dedication in 1961. While there were still many of us descended from one or another of those listed on the plaque there were only two names still represented, Dodge and Rose, and two boys, a Dodge and a Rose had the honor of pulling off the drape, some piece of cloth that either went back into use in someone's house or had been a bit of salvaged material.

Or maybe is was a special cloth gotten for that occasion, I was only in elementary school and probably distracted by the uniform of that year, a longish “colonial” dress stitched by my mother during the winter, made from a pattern passed around among all the families. The boys, it seemed, had little fuss, some foil buckles on their shoes and hope for dark trousers. No scratchy organza collars for them.

And this is how every week I am distracted from the trees about which I intend to write.

Among those would-be Christmas cards photos are some taken in the yard, with open fields behind us, and the stand of spruce trees an uncle planted after the war – an early lesson in numbers, there were 100 my mother said, an astonishingly big number until she pointed out 10 trees in 10 rows and suddenly it was manageable and finite.

We took a few for Christmas trees, before they grew too tall, others died, and a number blew over when Hurricane Bob raced over Block Island. The roots, I learned, were shallow, more a thick disc of webbed earth than a ball.

There was an old maple in the yard, and to the north, at the site of a one time farm and the house beyond, many of the same trees, bigger, wilder. My mother tried to plant more, taking little seedlings from Mansion Road, the same a neighbor had successfully cultivated. His grew, then were overgrown by vines and scrub, but a few remain, on the south side of the road, just before the sharp turn to the right and to the beach.

As the woodpeckers decided to live in the old tree my mother planted a seedling in one corner of the yard, by what I later learned was an unsuccessful rose bush, largely consumed by honeysuckle, which I considered a fine bower when I was small enough to crawl into it.

All but the tree were eventually removed. Alone, it was unimpressive, lacking a single trunk, without a real summer cover canopy, and I had trouble taking it seriously. Decades ago, when it was still young, one of its more promising trunks/branches was struck by lightning and lost. 

Somewhere along the way it grew to be taller than the house, no great feat when the point of reference is an old farmstead, but it was still a surprise when I began realizing how large it had become. The tree must have been set in just the right spot, it seems to not be damaged lopsidedly, by the northeast wind or the salt spray that rolls up from the ocean, sliding through the low places in the land.

This time of year, it produces pale green seeds, sort of a poor man's version of the great creamy candles that shine among the new dark leaves of the more majestic horse chestnuts scattered about the island, more and larger than they used to be.

I think of my big maple, that I seem to notice more in the winter, when its branches scratch the pale sky of a moonlit night making me think of a calendar picture I may never have seen but well imagined, all black and blue with some crescent of white moon.

It is the opposite around town; now a whole section of Ocean Avenue seems to have sprung from air, the greenery filling branches unnoticed all winter, rising from behind the hardware store, others casting shade on the sidewalk on the other side of the pavement, a patch of cool shadow when the summer comes.

The trees are not all in full bloom, the colors of the various bushes and scrub trees on Clay Head have not melded into a single mass of green.  It is early June and the air is cool, the breeze steady, the masses of varying shades of green on the hillside are still pliant, filled with spring rains, their waves more a discordant roiling ocean than the closer fields of grasses, rippling as though the earth beneath them is a swelling sea.

In other fields, larger and more often mowed, we are coming to haying season.