October Red and Blue
Until we hit that day in early December when the setting of the sun stops its race back toward noon and sets a spell, realigning its center of gravity before creeping back toward five, every day I think of how unbalanced the natural world is.
In my perfect world, length of the orbit of the earth around the sun should be perfectly divisible by the times the planet has turned on its axis, without
the calculation of a spare day every four years except for that calendar shift every turn of the century, except for the ones when it doesn’t apply.
Then there is the moon, the grand, glorious moon we see rise out of the ocean, bathe the ocean in silver or seem to set Clay Head on fire depending upon its mood and the season. The moon baffles me, with its moods, its quarters that look like halves and, of course, its inability to fit its cycles neatly into a given number with equal days in each year.
In keeping with that theme I always equate May and October and every year am surprised that they are not six months apart. They should be, these
bookends of summer, May, month of shad, and October, time of groundsel. One of the high points of my fall was being asked if there was rogue shad
in bloom. No, it is the fall blossom of which so few speak, I was happy to impart, even with a photograph at hand of the bush at the north end of the Great Salt Pond.
It is difficult to explain fall colors on Block Island, once people had gotten past the extraordinary blue of the sea and sky and the feathery grasses soft
against them. There are a few trees that flame, the solitary maples that bud red in the spring, and the occasional orange outlier.
My mother came from one of those New England towns with streets old enough to be tree-lined, and a village common — I had to look that up, some
towns have greens — with a tall white church at the end of one of the paths running from corner to corner of the green space. There was color here, as well, she insisted, almost from my earliest memory, citing in particular the swamps on Old Town Road, especially that one wrapping around from the old Heinz farm to merge with Meadow Hill.
We had only evergreens, spruce an uncle planted after the war, and an array of the maples that grow out here like weeds, lovely and lush in earliest summer, providing shade, a canopy over the weedy grass of the yard. The roots are deep, they reach down for water and it often stays soft underfoot.
The maples then, as now, began dropping leaves at the first heat of summer, soft vegetation turned quickly to brown paper that would float through
the open windows or get caught on the dog’s long hair, and lie on the rug like a dead creature. Now, the tree at the corner of my yard is nearly bare, not quite ready to be that perfect winter calendar image, bare branches through which a full moon shines. Next month.
It is, these still glorious days, very much like May, when new growth comes in waves, announcing itself with yellow and white and pink blossoms, then bright green leaves that meld together by summer.
Now, I look at a bayberry tree on Connecticut Avenue and realize it’s half swallowed by October Red Virginia Creeper, and another is filling with bittersweet, another evil vine beautiful in its fall death spiral. A few short months ago, especially with this year’s precipitation, the road sides were lush, all the vegetation a thick, healthy whole. Now, we are seeing the reality of it as the leaves turn and drop and expose the winding branches, vines grown into thick arms, from which they grow.
Someone asked me of the once-most-asked-about walled cemetery, off Old Mill Road they had been told, a sacred place containing a single marker with an odd name on it. I thought I knew the spot, off Cooneymus, beyond Old Mill, yes, on the edge of the West Side, and wondered on the short drive up to the location if it was visible anymore, if it had been in decades, this walled lot set in the middle of another, or if it simply had been affixed so in my memory that I saw the hidden.
It had always been there, back when the fields were clear, and a potter lived in the old Peckham barn, the structure deemed more salvageable than the house, which had been razed, or burned, or both. He had built a stone tower — one of several scattered around the then clear fields of the island — on the rise, now softened to shrouded by over-growth, behind the enclosure.
They were extraordinary, those stacks, balanced in a way that seemed impossible, and they stood through many winds, so many some said he
must have drilled holes and set rods to hold them in place. When the cairns first appeared down by Jerry’s Point they had that same magic, then as they multiplied most looked more like dribbled sand castles. The proliferation caused someone who had initially loved them to want nothing more than to kick them over.
I’d thought there had been a gap in the wall between the big field and the road and there it was, the on-end boulder that is often part of gap ways, and a wobbly turnstile of weathered wood. The enclosure walls were higher than I remembered, but I am not sure I’d have noticed them at all had I not known they were there.
We are living in this very strange world, of lawns manicured within an inch of their lives, some irrigated, I am told, lush and green but that deep root
growth stifled and nearby them these areas that could hide Sleeping Beauty’s castle, without the magic of Disney to undo the tangle.