Night air

Sat, 07/07/2012 - 2:30pm


he screen of my little computer changes as the day progresses, then darkens to night with a crescent moon hanging. It took me a few days to realize it wasn’t random but day and night, that there was a pattern: a balloon crossing a sunlit sky, and hours later, a blacker than dark blue airplane caught in mid-flight over the unvaried city skyline.

Before there was radar readily accessible via the Weather Channel, or computer screens, or the fancy phones that will likely always seem to me an unattainable luxury accessory, the forecasts for the whole northeast coast were divided into “from Eastport to Block Island” and “from Block Island to Cape May.” At the beginning of that sentence I was intending to go to a wish for a screen keyed to the specifics of local weather but I’ve already changed my mind. I do have a window.

Twice today it has rained, the sunny sky gone gray and layered and the sidewalk turned dark by quickly falling droplets. It never turned quite to a downpour but it was enough to leave puddles on the pavement and to keep the earth green for another day.

As the day ends there is a burst of light, bright on the flag at the Post Office, the fabric brighter still against a darkened sky. Rain falls into the sunshine and thunder rolls across the heavens and I don’t even think about my windows open at home. This happened yesterday too but was forgotten by the time I got back down the Neck.

I keep looking for rainbows but miss all but scraps fading over Old Harbor. The heavy gray cover broke, the sun set and the big moon rose bright behind the remaining wispy clouds.

The cow, for those keeping track, did not lumber out of my way; she simply lurked at the edge of the barnyard where she might have remained unnoticed but for the blaze of white on her face catching the moonlight.

Even the cow — she practically lives in my yard, I should know her name — shares the magic of the moonlight.

After a run of afternoons turned wet, Independence Day began, rather than ended, with soft splattering rain. I thought of another year when I woke at first light and turned on the local news to hear, “If you haven’t already started for Bristol, don’t!” It is the oldest parade in the country, and a focal point of any Fourth of July coverage. That year I groaned, wondering how many would rethink their plans for the day, realizing they might still be able to make it to Block Island.

That was a few years ago, when this holiday had become the one and only day of the summer I no longer considered a gift, the one day I wouldn’t urge anyone to come over.

This July Fourth, the first words on the news were of the weather and of Bristol, with assurances that by the time of the parade the rain would be long gone. It was a good beginning, a cooling rain to wash clean the day. Perhaps it would prove a good thing, a final seal on all the carefully drawn plans to keep the crowds under control.

The people came, the people went, there seemed to be a great change in the mood of the day from past years, a settling back to before, when it was fun. The afternoon air was filled with the sound of music, not sirens.

By evening things seemed truly calm, not just exhausted and worn, and when I reached the Neck it was hay bales that grabbed my attention, golden in the lowering sun, turned on end, drying after the early rains. The grass had been tall, pale, gone to seed when it was cut. The recent rains revitalized the land and the hillside shone green, crossed with the shadows of the oblongs of twined hay. There was no one around. It could have been any early summer day in the quiet country.

After darkness had enveloped the land, an orange moon rose in the east, working its way up beyond the webs of shad and apple branches through which I first saw it. There might have been thunder as well as the coffee pot percolating and there was the sound of fireworks rolling in from the west. The last is always a lesson in the speed of sound; the colors have fallen from the sky by the time the booming rolls across the land. I know it and still I get up a few times to see nothing.

The trees in my yard don’t help, blocking out any view of the distant sky, and I finally go upstairs to look out toward the Great Salt Pond, from where the sound seems to be coming. Bouquets of lights, red and white and green, appear, then there’s a flash of lightning in the west and tiny pinpricks of gold, fireflies, making their way about my field.

I’m beginning to get used to fireworks in the night sky, not the big scheduled ones that continue to baffle me; maybe it is the long awaited, finally here and quickly gone nature of them that goes against my nature. It is the other pyrotechnics I prefer, the ones last week in celebration of a wedding, and these last bursts of Independence Day’s color.

It’s faded now but there is still heat lighting off to the east, a surprising chain and a flash amidst the clouds, but so distant there is no sound, however delayed. The ocean is quiet, there is not even a whisper of surf, just a great chorus of crickets and the lonely bleating of a fog horn filling the night air.