November Landing 2

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 7:30pm
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What of summer do I love? Watching the boat come and go, watching the vessels pass each other just outside the mouth of the harbor, seeing the wide fanning wake of the traditional carriers spread and diminish, and seeing the very different plume of white foam quickly rising and falling behind the hi-speed, the sea closing upon it as surely as it covered the Pequod.

One of my favored views is one not to be found in any guidebooks recently written, rather the porch of the old Adrian Hotel, now the Harbor Church, perched on a hill overlooking the ocean.

At least such is the case on a summer day, when the breeze is slight. It is not so on a November Sunday when the noon boat is coming in, alone, not crossing the path of any other, when the source of white water is surf crashing over the east wall of the harbor, and the afternoon run has already been cancelled.

It was not a day to stand outside for the sheer pleasure of watching a boat tilt and buck as it made its way around the end of the wall and into the harbor, a reminder of drawings from the Army Corps archive.

The harbor was designed and built in stages, the first pieces inching out from the shore by what is today's Ballard’s; the red jetty, so called for the color of the light at its terminus, below The Surf, a later addition. I thought, the first time I saw one of these drawings, that it showed a proposal for an extra piece of east breakwater out in the water, a sort of buffer against the sea. Then, I noticed on later plans notations of that gap having been filled. 

It is an interesting concept, watching the boat charge in from the east on stormy days, then I realize as sturdy and powerful and well-captained as today's vessels are it would be hard to thread that needle then immediately make a hard turn south.

So it happened last Sunday that I was leaving church later than usual and saw the Block Island making its expected approach from the east. It was not a day to stay inside but neither was it a summer day when the parking lot would be filled with vehicles and pedestrians so down I went, savoring the growing warmth inside my car.

The tide was high, it had been notably so when I had come out a few hours earlier, one of those days when even the biggest always-visible rock off the beach behind The Surf was periodically covered by waves breaking far from the shore. The wind was blowing and I marveled, as I do on those calm summer days when the outer basin can be filled with pleasure craft, that the big, white boat turns, reverses its engines and backs up, sliding between clusters of pilings, gently reaching the landing. There is a burst of black smoke as the final push is made, and then it is easy to imagine a sigh of relief from even the most seasoned traveler, a collective “we made it,” how bad — or not — a ride it had been already increasing in storytelling potential.

When the gates opened there was a clear view of the ramp with a marked downward slant close to an hour after high tide, a touch of white water climbing over the wall in the distance. It was gray at mid-day and from where I had parked I could see a very few persons and what appeared to be a near-empty freight deck with lone points of light shining from the depths of the interior.

The moment of quiet ended and vehicles started emerging.

But I held onto that image of those lights that another time of day and year could have been eyes of a monster waiting to come ashore, fueled by all the passengers it had consumed during the ride. It's just impatient drivers, waiting to be off the boat, but in mid-November is reminiscent of an early sunset.

It seems that even for November it has been unusually gray, with no prolonged sunny warmth around Veterans' Day, only the wind whipping the bright new flags on so many graves in the Island Cemetery.

Two days after watching that boat dock I was reminded as much as this early dark is disorienting, and I really detest the decrease of sunlight, there can be soft November sunsets after almost completely cloudy days. It was at least twenty minutes after the sun had set, even longer since it had disappeared, if only behind the clouds, below the tree line that is my western view, that I went outside for some quickly forgotten reason.

There was only the softest breeze, and the sound of the ocean rolling up from the beach was no longer loud and angry. The cloud cover that had been that gray that makes gulls magically white as they pass overhead was a deep cottony blue, still touched with the faintest brush of rose. But over in the southwest was a patch of lingering pale gold light, the perfect backdrop for the lacy expanse of winter-bare tree branches and the tip of the cupola of a house up the road.

There was no sound of air rushing overhead with a promise of cutting cold if I stepped out one foot in the wrong direction. From down behind the remaining brush in the front field, came the sound of some bird I would recognize had I ever paid attention beyond “birdsong!”

Then I turned south and looked across the low hill and the bay beyond to the harbor and south end of the island, dotted with those pinpoints of first light, like the brightest stars that emerge while the multitude around them remain hidden in the pale evening sky, or those cars poised to zip off the boat.

If only it hadn't been 4:46 in the afternoon!