It’s fall, time to start clearing out the paper accumulated over the summer, scraps with phone numbers (whose? no idea) and e-mail addresses (some containing clues), and snippets of summer’s little exchanges I wanted to remember, notes that went nowhere, among them:
A little girl with dark hair and eyes tells me “I’ve never seen a rainbow in my life!” She is tethered to safety, her small hand in the secure keeping of her father who does what dads do best — he smiles at the proclamation and affirms my assurance that she’ll see plenty of them, “you have lots of living to do.”
I remember, now, that day, and later thinking the same thing when first confronted by a picture in a story book, a boy leaning against a red barn under an arc of color. My mother painstakingly explained the splitting of the light, and told me the colors were always the same, red to blue. I am surprised I even heard, perhaps I remember only because it was so annoying, like that little girl, I wanted to see a rainbow, not hear about what it was. And why were all story book barns red when ours was weathered gray; our neighbors white barn at least had a red door!
It was not until the 1970’s that I witnessed the glory of a full rainbow, rising from Clay Head reaching across the summer sky, to the Littlefield Farm, always I think of it that way, left to right, like colored music written across the sky. It was more, it was full and it was double and I knew there was no need to write down the date, I would always remember.
July in the latter part of the 1970’s is the best I can do; there were, to my surprise, many more to follow, these double arcs out over the ocean, away from land and trees and buildings that can block one’s view of them. We do not have more rainbows, I tell those who ask over the course of a summer, it is simply that we are better able to see them (I am not sure if that is true but it seems kinder) with our wide open horizons. They are even in the surf, where the sun hits the cresting waves and is fractured by the spray.
There were no rainbows today, so far there has been no rain, contrary to the morning forecast, spoken while the sun was shining and while there was no hint of anything but a tiny shower on the radar.
It was a surprise, though, to look out this morning at the yard in early October and see the shorn grass finally approaching the color of August. There is a hint of a promise of some rain this afternoon and for the first time all year I am thinking the grass could use it.
Beyond the yard, the edges of the front field are brown, after a final cutting. For years, even while the land was still hayed, the walls were engulfed, first with weeds, then brush, then the ornamental olives and scrub poplar that flourish unattended. I do not even know how long it has been since the walls have been so exposed, big old rocks wondering at the warmth of the sun.
It’s been longer than I realized since even the field was clear, seven years since I wrote of the vanishing landscape beyond my window:
The part of the front field not given over to jungle is layered with varieties of goldenrod, faded to brown and white, some still brightly yellow in the sunshine. It hasn’t been that many years since the land edging the road was mowed but it has been time enough for bayberry to grow feet high, shiny green in the autumn, mixed with the weeds of gold.
It used to be bayberry that devoured the abandoned meadows, growing up when fields had been cleared centuries ago for grazing and growing. A multitude of factors, many not unique to Block Island, pushed out small farms well before development on any scale began.
The bayberry and the shad and all the wild roses and, for years, the vines that had some restraint, the Virginia creeper, October red, and bowers of honeysuckle, their sweet scent filling the damp night, even the grapes that grew up into old trees, using the branches as an arbor, but no more. Now it is every invasive for itself.
The field may be green but around the island the landscape has that rusty look of fall, goldenrods and, mounds of big, white fall daisies and purple and white asters. The miniature crab in the yard is laden with berry-sized apples and the pond ringed with burnished water willow.
Then there is the groundsel, the bushes of white flowers that bloom around the New Harbor and extend into the inner ponds, the fall bookend of spring's shad. I see it from Scotch Beach south, on both sides of the road, toward the dunes where there was beach plum in springtime, and mixed with the vegetation that is a thickening wall hiding the mass of boats in the summer Salt Pond. It is generally most striking where the pond opens just north of Dunns' Bridge, where the sun seems to find the blossoms and illuminate them.
From the end of Beach Avenue, by that bridge, The Sullivan House, with the big tent, a symbol of summer, is against the sky, the groundsel in the foreground, the seasons overlapping during this part of fall that is lovely between the increasingly late sunrises and early sunsets. The water at midday was blue, and calm, the high tide seeping out toward the New Harbor and the ocean beyond the cut.
In the foggy late spring roses bloom near the bridge but now they are few, an errant one here and there, out-of-place pink, a little voice from a season truly gone by shouting “remember me!!” as the nights cool and the days get shorter.