White Board Down

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 9:30am

A single white board lies on the grass, lifted out of the slots of the two uprights that support it, forming a new sort of an old fashioned bar-way, a single piece of wood barring entry through a gap in a stone wall. It is just there and I have to presume it is a leftover of yesterday's great wind, the same that left my yard strewn with irregular sticks, pieces of the trees snapped off, ranging from twigs to small branches.

The wall itself, or a section of it, is new, only a couple of years old, a stretch of infill that does not have to it the “new” look of others that are almost too carefully crafted. I expected the spring after it was installed to field “was that always there?” questions but none came my way. Perhaps the white board was a distraction, making anyone who noticed think it was the only addition. 

Of course I might not have noticed but that I pass it every day. Also, the openness that had been there was ingrained by an exercise of observation undertaken some time ago, one day when I made a point of identifying exactly how much of the road from Scotch Beach to Mansion was not lined by a wall, free-standing or retaining, or a long-rooted privet hedge. Where the new wall stands there was nothing but the memory of a board fence. 

The house on the lot behind the fence-now-wall was built back when every new house was an event. Years later I learned the original owner had come to be in possession of two parcels of land, one of which he did not want and sold to a friend.  The unwanted piece was on the west side of Corn Neck Road, running from the highway to the shore of the New Harbor. 

The storm came on an east wind, in the early part of the morning blowing snow on a horizontal path above the brush of the front field. It would not long last, at least not according to the weather sites I favor over what have become hyped news reports, all trying to get ahead of the other and calling for extreme measures too many days out.

The snow would change as the temperatures climbed. There would be rain and wind and the air pressure was on an alarming downward trajectory, but at least it would not freeze, a constant worry of any winter storm with a potential of lost power.

We have not had that harsh wet wind most of the winter and as it built I was reminded of a high school teacher saying we could recall the fact of pain but not the true feeling – which, one supposes, could be said of any sensation once the moment is gone. For all we talk of the wind it can still come as a surprise. 

More, I thought of the story I seem to be telling more of late, of my mother's first experience with Block Island. She grew up in Massachusetts, in a small town on the rail line between Boston and Providence. Her father was one of a family of Swedish immigrants. He did not make a great fortune, but worked steadily in a jewelry factory and was able to own his own home a few blocks from the village center. My mother, his only child, attended college in a neighboring town then, perhaps sparked by childhood summers at her grandparents' farm in Maine, went far north, to Aroostook County, to teach children of farmers. 

It was then a place of deep cold and grinding poverty, where the school was secondary to planting and harvesting, in a time when Maine led national potato production. Today, VisitAroostook is the first thing to come up in an internet search for information.

For reasons she never quite explained, when she was thinking of leaving northern Maine, she answered an ad for an opening on Block Island, which had become an exotic southern locale. She came here for an interview, and always talked of being surprised at the first question posed by the School Committee Chair: “Does the wind bother you?” 

Later, she would say she understood the homespun wisdom. Had her response been “yes” nothing else was of consequence. 

It was a different world, I realize, the fields were wide open, houses sparse, and a young teacher would not be expected to have a car, to drive from the house where she rented a room to the school. Today, people generally walk by choice, not necessity; then, a ride was a luxury.

The winter has been mild with what seems an usual number of no-boat days. I know going from one place to another I carry more than wear the gloves and hat and scarf that I don to go out with the dog. I do not dress for walking unless I am going to walk.

Then the wind comes out of the east, driving the rain against the sides of my old house and as much as I hate the cold downpour I remain grateful it is not below freezing and that the threat of a long power outage, the underlying fear of all winter storms, diminishes by the minute. 

There seems to have been over the past decades more storm damage on the mainland, more and longer outages, a combination of aging infrastructures and trees grown taller than anyone expected when they were planted. Still, when visitors ask of dramatic winter weather they envision the ocean coming up to Front Street, and over the Neck Road. They think of no boat running, of grocery shelves emptying, but many seem unable to connect the dots between no power, no pump, no water, and no power, no heat, freezing-pipes. Maybe it is a country/city disconnect exacerbated by a preoccupation with the drama of rising seas.

Today the sun is shining, and much as I know it happened, yesterday's great wind is just a memory.