Moving Into April

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 9:15am

Last night, after the final downstairs lights had been extinguished, I thought to look south, and for it saw a faint edge of a haze beyond an empty space I still call “The Mansion” after the grand structure that burned 51 years ago this spring.

A story higher, even an old-house-story-higher, provides a greater elevation and a wider view. The white glow from the huge lamps illuminating a worksite on the Town Beach was flanked by two red eyes, the beacons atop the towers at the phone company and the power plant. 

While the worksite is surely bright as day, the lights must be pointed downward, for unlike the north sky in summer, when the activity close to the mainland shore increases manyfold, there is no unnatural pink glow reaching up to diminish the heavens.

There is, instead, a pale wash, a bit of fallen galaxy, just beyond a hillside still ragged with brush kept in its winter scarcity of dress by a chill and drear March. 

It is temporary, this nighttime distraction, it will not be there every spring, a bit brighter and higher reaching, with every passing year.

Off-season, it is not a disturbance, rather a story unfolding, and the energy of it is late enough that it feels a jump-start on summer, not an interruption of a winter that will yet have time to close its darkness around us. 

From the road closer to town, the equipment on the beach could be toys left behind by children unwilling to leave when first called, rushing at last when it seems their departing parents might, this time, really leave without them. 

The lights, the equipment on the beach and in the parking lot, the motion, are part of the ongoing work on the cable coming into the shore. The crew is scheduling its digging around the low tide which, I have been reminded, waits for no man —  or woman — and certainly not for National Grid. 

I stop, in the daylight of late morning, but it is overcast, there is no sun to make the moving blades of an offshore turbine visible from the Neck Road, over the tops of the dunes and for an unexpected instant on the south side of the beach pavilion where the sand is flat. 

There is something surreal about the process, even in the full light of day. The yellow and red mechanical creatures lumber down the shore, scary mouths on the ends of long, jointed necks, taking great hungry bites out of the beach. The sound of them is nearly drowned out by the surf, long and low, the white crested rollers that give us a sound as much a signal of spring as the peepers in the swamps.

At day's end the workers have retreated but some thing remains in the water, unidentifiable from a distance, but looking very Norse, a funeral pyre ready to float out to sea, or a wreck of a ship without masts or form, upended in the soft surf. 

The beach parking lots full of equipment seem even smaller than they are, and are smaller than when the beach house was built with great optimism and enthusiasm in the less populated 1950s, just a few years after the airport opened.

The size of them has diminished over time  and they could vanish completely, devoured by the inland creep of the shore like cities of legend lost in vast deserts. 

The excess, the spillage from the dunes into the lot, has been removed in part and relocated to become the base of dunes along Corn Neck Road out where there used to be land, then dunes, then a narrow shoulder.

The deposited sand is following its nature, settling and shifting, and the east wind has been sending the most loose across the pavement, so many wraiths on the road.

It is a marvel, I think on such days, that there is any beach at all then I remember these are the counterparts of fingers of sand running over the hard apron of the low tide beach, like a blanket being pulled over winter rocks, restoring the strand to its summer profile. The wonder is that there are any dunes remaining.

It is almost April and the daffodils that were racing for the sun in February only to come to a screeching halt when struck with the cold of March, are fully budded in places, in flower in the more protected south facing areas.

They peer out from the cover of vines still winter bare and they show beside the road, dabs of yellow trying to break free.

The new smooth asphalt south of the Pavilion reminds me that last year crews were working along Beach Avenue, digging a trench for the big cable and I lost spring on that wonderful inland road.

Beach Avenue is back, smooth and black, a satin ribbon of a path from the center to the beach, or the old Town Center — before commerce shifted east and grew around the Government Harbor — to the site of the old Bathing Beach — before the State came in and moved it north of the intersection, to a location where a larger parking lot could be created.

The road is a bridge between the insular farming and fishing island that was and the outward facing summer and beach-going place it became.

March is almost gone, we have reclaimed more than half of that morning hour lost when we sprang ahead and now full light lingers after seven in the evening.

The winter was not bad, all in all, and March, miserable March, was not so great a price to pay.