Sunshine Afternoon

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 8:45am

It is June and, when I am home, I leave the front doors, living room, hall, and entry all wide open. My springtime expectation of birds flying into the house, confused by plentiful natural light within, has not been much realized this year, although the season is new.

A nest was begun in a corner of the entry, and while I do hear startlingly loud tweeting there is never any activity when I walk out to investigate. Instead, I watch the red-wings and mourning doves and robins, none of them entry nesters, perched, in some sort of rotation, on the posts of the clotheslines in the back yard. 

It has been cool and gray, discouraging weather for field trips and early vacations but it is June, and gray and even cool is not without precedent. The sun returned late this morning, casting the first soft-edged shadows of the day, a cause for guarded celebration. 

The weather turned and was quickly — to me — near perfect, the warmth of the sun falling though cool air, the sky blue, the rediscovered horizon a sharp line, and the flowers of late spring glorious, nourished by the rains, protected by the fog, shimmering in the golden light. The smell of banks of seaweed washed up on the beach, baking, was no more than another sign of a cleared sky.

Grasses along the roadsides are dotted with yellow flowers, and hazy with seed, but green, still, and seeing the mowers moving down the Neck is bittersweet. The shoulders of Mansion Road will be shorn soon enough, the travelled way dusty, again, as it was before this last round of wet, and it will be busy with beach goers. Now, though, before the traffic mandates the shoulders be cut, before the grasses have had a chance to turn to hay in place, the tall cover offers a sort of comforting buffer, an old-fashioned country way.

There is a weigela beside the Mansion Road, planted, I presume, to mark the turn into an out-of-sight house. It is a shrub that looks deader-than-dead well into the spring. At the start of April its bare gray branches were reminiscent of a remnant of a once great forest destroyed by pestilence or flood or some other Biblical plague, a sad trace of a past glory. It provided no promise of the arching pink flowers that came into full bloom and are already dropping petals, leaving a rosy spray on hard earth at its feet in early June. By afternoon, this first day of full sun, it seemed to beam with happiness.

These woody shrubs were originally Asian, I read, and am quickly sidetracked to thoughts of the wild beach roses that are blanketing the dunes along the road, flowers that will bloom all summer but never match the intensity of this first, fullest round. One story has it they all can be traced to seeds spilled from one ship wrecked off Cape Cod, making this staple of our natural world seem an accident but for the fact the vessel — if the tale is true — was surely bound for the same land off which it broke into pieces. 

Every year the roses seem more profuse, a notion I dismiss as one of those tricks of memory before I realize the dunes grow almost every year, even when little effort is expended upon them. The first turn down Corn Neck, where there is a beach access post which seems completely contrary to every message we try, as a community, to impart to each other, to the next generation, to all visitors. It directs walkers to trek up over the dunes, not to walk the yards up the road to the wide gap opened every spring for beach access.

Time ago, there was a path between very low banks of sand, one that gradually, slowly, filled, but I still saw, in the way of any good Rhode Islander, what had been; only last year I found myself stopping, backing up on a no traffic day, and wondering how I had passed the sign so often without thinking about the message, or realizing how high those dunes had grown.

The monument that had to be excavated every year before it was moved across the street to the Solviken site, had been installed on flat ground, a photograph attests.  Perhaps most striking, east of Corn Neck Road, across from the end of Beach Avenue, rose-covered dunes rise, climbing almost from the edge of the pavement, fighting the cars that are parked there the year round. There is no hint that the ground was open, nearly flat for years, after the old Bathing Beach was removed from the site in the 1950s. 

None of that is meant to be misunderstood as an argument against dune protection; the facts are offered only as support of the validity of my “more roses” impression.

It is the time of iris as well, of the tall, grand, cultivated flowers that elicit gasps of delight but also of the smaller, wild “flags” that are close to translucent in the full afternoon sun. They grow, as they have my whole life, in the shallow water of the tiny vernal pond by my gate, and in the low land nearby, but they seem more prominent, more glowingly bright, in a trough on the east side of the Neck Road. They may be no brighter, no more cleared of grass, my impression may be a reaction to bright flowers after days of gray fog; they are stunning. 

The sky is clear when the moon rises, almost two hours before sunset. The temperature is dropping as the sun lowers in the northwest; when I put my hand out to absently pat the dog, just come in those open doors, I am as startled by her cool head as I was a few hours ago by the sunny warmth she carried with her. 

The sun was lovely but I welcome the cool night air.