On the Way to Summer
Yesterday I went out to check on the dog’s whereabouts, thinking it is coming to that time of year when I have to pay her better mind. She’d been under the big maple at the
corner of the yard but seemed to have vanished from that nice, shaded spot. As my eyes adjusted to the bright sun I realized she was still there, and thought fleetingly of deer, mothers and fawns especially, camouflaged on the forest floor where only bits of light filtered through the canopy of green leaves.
Yes, I thought of “Bambi,” which I did not see until it was re-released when I was in high school, but the closest thing on Block Island, a Disney comic book. Movies on the screen were limited to a short summer season, and our luxury was having them in print, instead, “Bambi” and “Sleeping Beauty,” a thick comic, and Little Golden Books of Cinderella and Peter Pan and Dumbo, so sad with Mom taken off to circus jail for trying to protect her baby, and probably others I am not immediately remembering.
Today, I went out expecting Autumn to be in the same spot, and she was, but just a tiny bit more truly dappled than she was yesterday. It was the tall grass in the field, the first cutting of hay it might have been in another time, that had caught my attention earlier in the day.
Along the Mansion Road road it is still gloriously tall, heavy laden with seeded heads, turning from green to a purple mist. It rained in the night, not as much as it sounded in the forecast but enough to leave a few shallow puddles in the road and to bend the tall stems.
Sometimes it is a downpour that flattens the grass, which can almost completely rebound as the water reaches its roots. Last night it was less, leaving the grass curved, like a long row of cresting waves, the seeded heads the churned foam, white for being filled with air.
It was an arc I had never noticed before, be it the time of day, the angle of the sun, the stage of growth of the grass, or some combination of the above I do not know, or maybe just a few degrees in the path of my travel as I try to avoid the huge new pole on the corner, the one that seems to edge out into the road a tad more every week or so.
But it was the field behind my lounging dog that had taken me out. A few years ago it was all multiflora in bloom this time of year, land-bound moonlight at midday, and scrub laced with bayberry reaching toward the sun and a multitude of invasives. It was a beautiful melody in late spring and early summer, honeysuckle and milkweed and with the most evil bittersweet creeping, but it was on the edge of becoming a jungle from one of those Disney comics.
Then it was cut and chopped and seed thrown out, a fact that seemed to be spread up and down the flyway like a bad rumor. The hope had been it would take in spite of the invasion of birds, that the ground vegetation would provide something of a cover, and it did. The oldest grasses with the deepest roots never quite die and they came back, reminding me of the very few brightest fields in the springs of my earliest memories. They’d been burned to ash in the winter and the new grass had no competition, no dead last season growth to push through.
The land has redemptive qualities that sometime need a bit of coaxing but are generally there just below the surface. I might have been more surprised if I didn’t remember a time when people cleared land and built houses and mowed the area around them into submission over a couple of years.
Burning the land isn’t the option it once was, back before Albion Tried to Burn the West Side. I was in college but remember my mother telling me they had called the school asking the high school boys be released to help fight a brush fire that would not be contained. Then they called asking for anyone else who could help.
There had been a brush fire permit issued, but in the days before plat and lot numbers it was simply for the West Side. There was likely a presumption one would burn someone else’s hill but still...
There had been an earlier fire, before my memory but I heard of it often. A burn barrel on the West Side (I do not make this stuff up but, in fairness, it is a larger land mass than the Neck!) was left untended and sparks jumped then ran up over Beacon Hill.
The other day someone asked me how to find a place on Beacon Hill and I started to say “just turn at the. . .” and realized not only were so many of my reference points known today by names very different than those I know, the one of which I almost spoke is there only if one knows where to look.
And back I am in that animated, threatening, sun-blocking fairy tale forest. But it is June, that high tide time of year, when if ever come perfect days, when we balance on a razor’s edge between the seasons and waiting for the last round of wild roses to explode even as the first leaves of the fullest trees start to drift earthward.
The light was wrong when I went out, the purple haze was not evident. Then I looked at the grass beneath my feet and saw the same leaves I’d been thinking only yesterday would soon start to fall, the first of the maples. It follows a pattern, distinctive leaves unfurling, then in the first rain after a dry spell, even this early, shaken by just a bit of wind and let loose. They were scattered under the spreading branches, perhaps ten of them in all, a little blip on the way to summer.