The fall brings us darkening days punctuated by east wind driven rain. We think of extreme weather, the Perfect Storm in 1991 and Sandy in 2012 but the truth is it happens every year to some degree, the wet before the winter, the fabled filling of the ponds purportedly prerequisite to the settling of the deep cold.
Years ago, it was an endless October rain that caused my old roof to succumb and I awoke one morning to rain coming through the ceiling. It was a shock, never mind that it was over fifty years old, my father had put it on when I was little and I'd come to think it would last forever. I am sure the late Norris Pike best assessed it, with “any idea how much Lexonite he used?”
A lot, I was sure, remembering a 55 gallon barrel on a wooden frame behind the house, a drum of kerosene set on its side with a spigot, the spot where my father washed the black tar from his hands after a day of roofing.
Today is a bit of a respite. The sun is shining, unable to overcome the cutting cold of the wind, but it is making a valiant effort. I look south, thinking, first, that the rain has at least washed cleaned the kitchen windows; secondly, that now it is too obvious that I need to wash the glass on the inside, especially after I reached up and drew my finger across a pane.
The sink is old, with a high backsplash incorporated, so the double-hung windows are high and I'll have to get out the step stool to reach them. A whistle reminds me as well, while I am at it, I need to turn the locks and secure them for the winter.
I gave up early this year, and pushed the thermostat up to what many consider a laughably low temperature and brought down the remaining combination storm screens to hold off the east wind and rain, so I delay this final admission of cold.
But, first there is a sink of dishes to finish washing and, of course, I am distracted, not by a deer in the field or a hawk in the air but by a steady bright light in the distance.
The position of the sun is a tad different every day but it seems more pronounced in these seasons of intermittent rain and gray, when the morning comes slowly, behind curtains of rain, and the clouds mask the shadows after the torrents have turned to showers then ceased. The march is less steady and more noticeable. So it happens I see that spot of silver, of pure light, on the crest of the land to the south. It is, I know from years of looking out from this same spot, one of the water towers on Sands Pond Road, to the left of the tall tree at Payne Farm that has been there before my first memories became imprinted.
We are coming upon the fire in the sky time of year, when from this same place I see the orange flame of the setting sun dancing in windows as far away as the hill just this side of the Southeast Lighthouse, a mile away from my spot north of Mansion Beach.
Most houses these days have windows larger than were in those sparse few structures that occupied this landscape when I was a child. There was little brush, buildings were more visible, but there were not many wide expanses of glass to catch the low sun.
The roadmap of Block Island I have in my mind has little to do with reality. Everything, I still think despite knowing better, tracks north and south, east and west. For all the times I have stood in the little room I announce as “the top of the world,” the octagonal space holding the great Fresnel lens of the Southeast Lighthouse, and looked down on the twisting and turning of Spring Street as it falls away to the New Harbor, I am surprised by the depth of the curves. There was a wind turbine at the house on the corner of Corn Neck and West Beach Roads and until the ill-fated machine tumbled to the ground I remained stunned every time I saw it rising above Mitchell Farm when I reached the Breakers heading north.
Despite the confusion, there is something nice about these broad windows in houses having significant elevation holding the lingering light of a sun that has dipped below the land, or even the horizon. The afternoons are so short I will take whatever stretch I can get.
Today, though, the wind is cold. Autumn sits in the yard, and even her not especially big golden retriever ears flop in the breeze, as her longer hair blows sideways and she gives me that “if you aren't coming out to play let me in” look. Once she is inside, she turns from playful puppy into exceedingly large and lazy house cat, stretched out in a sunny spot on the floor.
I leave her there and head out to town, and stop where the gap to the shore is still open and the view to the green jetty wide. It is generally calm there, and the water is blue, a trick of the light I realize when I head home a few hours later. The tide has retreated, leaving the beach wide, with wraithlike fingers of sand racing across it. The surf has been beaten down by the west wind and the white tops of the low reaching waves are thrown back into the roiled green-hued water.
That ocean looks the way I feel, just plain cold.
It seems too cold too soon.
I remember digging in the flower beds in the November sun one Veterans Day and thereafter never being surprised at the mid-month warmth.
And now they are talking about snow.