Summer Gifts

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 1:00pm


The view of the New Harbor from the Neck Road has disappeared. It once was impossible to ignore the number of boats in the Great Salt Pond, white motorcraft most of those nearest the shore, the numbers in the ever-expanding rafts increasing with each passing year. Now, it is only at night when mast lights shine through the phragmities that the small town in the pond becomes obvious. Pretty white on blue on a sunny day, at night the vessels have the collective quality of a fallen galaxy, a gift of summer where in winter there is a black void.

Closer to town, beyond the beach parking lot, the view opens at last, and that is where I first notice the tides. Recently, they were extreme, high, and smooth when I passed. The swelling brushed the bottoms of warning signs posted at the edge of the channel that runs between Trims and Harbor Ponds, stretched up to kiss the tops of the wall that rims the waterway, submerged all but a fringe of green, green grass, and reached up the concrete of Dunns’ Bridge. It was a reminder to look out over the low dune to the ocean below the Surf Hotel, where only a few days earlier cormorants had stood on the rocks surrounded by calm water. There were no birds and only the peak of the greatest boulder showed above the silver surface of the sea.

I grew up on Block Island. I know the tides rise and fall by the gravity of the moon; I live out in the middle of nowhere where there is little light to disturb the beauty of the night sky. Still, the majesty of this Supermoon of July surprised me, flooding the rooms in my farmhouse with a silver energy; I felt I was walking through a sea of tiny, weightless herring or glowing phosphorescence. Even in a place of old, smaller windows, it seemed the glimmer surely would chase away sleep but it kept me awake only long enough to allow a few short moments thinking I had fallen into the movie “Moonstruck.”

The moon had risen earlier, to the south of east, a great white disc slipping up into a darkening sky. It was a spectacular sight; it was a marvel while rising, stopping people in their tracks in town. Nonetheless, even in our little village, sparely lit by most norms, that enveloping light was not a presence.

My niece writes — such as nieces write these days, via social media — from Alaska, where she is attending a music camp. It is light at 10 o’clock. She has just arrived in Fairbanks and thinks it a wonderful thing; I will wait and see how she feels after being there two weeks, long enough for the novelty and the attendant rush to wane. I wonder, as well, if it is brighter there than it is here in our bath of moonlight.

The dog is not impacted by the moon itself, rather its shining on things unfamiliar. One of these bright nights she was out, barking in the newly cut north lot, place of silken hay fallen on the ground. It was the open space of her first days — and her first winter — with me, lost to spring growth, returned by a few passes of a big red tractor with an extended sickle bar.

She had gone missing a day or two earlier, not running up over the hill from the pond when I called. It was the first I noticed the tall weeds in the gateway were newly trampled and realized the north lot grass, grown tall and green in the spring, turned dry and pale under the summer sun, had been cut. Autumn ran in circles, as she has since she was a puppy, slipping on the uncertain footing as I rejoiced in having our field returned to us.

This night, instead of coming when I called she not only continued barking but increased the pitch, to a near bark/growl when I finally went out after her. It was unsettling; there are no longer cows marauding through my fields and as much as it made no sense I thought perhaps an injured deer had made its way up near the gateway. There had to be something out there, alive and threatening to a not quite year old retriever.

I made my way cautiously, then I saw her, my golden Autumn, shining in the moonlight, barking at hay baled that afternoon, or at one bale in particular, standing on end, taller than the rest. It was a relief to know there was nothing more to it and it was awhile before I recalled other dogs making a great show of intimidating tractors and rakes left out in the field, dark dull things under even the brightest moon.

It took some coaxing but I convinced her to come back with me, to the yard, into the house, but it is summer and I do not close doors and soon she was out there, again, barking until she tired. Then the bales were gone and still she returned to the lot, for a strange dance with a deer — a protective mother I soon learned when twin fawns bounded from the scrub to disappear as quickly.

Rarely do I see fawns and for all the talk of multiple births this was my first twin sighting.

The forecast is dreary, overcast with fog and rain but for now it is mid-July and the smell of air along the Neck Road is evocative of the season, soft and sweet. Some nights I see flashes of yellow moving about my yard, more spots of light softening the darkness and hear the drifting music of a summer evening, sometimes no more than voices from one of the houses on the road, filled with people on an always too short vacation, all gifts of open windows and still air.