Sounds of Spring

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 9:15am

It sounds like spring outside. Not the peepers of the evening nor the birdsong of morning, but construction, some construction, somewhere, floating on the still air.
A pounding, it sounded from the yard, then a hammering, then a pounding, again. I remembered the sound of what I still say was a hammer but, of course, was really a nail gun, early in the morning until well after dark, the spring that the house above the Mansion site was nearing its completion deadline.

I’d see the lights at night, I knew what was happening, but there were still days of a soft southwest breeze that confused me, when the reverberations seemed to be coming from the north, the echo I would quickly remember, sounding off Clay Head.
There was more depth to this sound and it was calm. I wondered if it was coming all the way from the work being done at the landing, impossible as it seems. I thought of my mother, so many years ago, talking of hearing the announcements at the then State Beach, the Spring House bus being in the parking lot and the like, and the loudspeaker at Champlin’s, across the water, calling a dock patron to the office for a phone call or even going out with the dog so late it was early during that deep winter lull in the wind and hearing the bell off the west beach, a sound I never heard in daylight.
Or so I thought. Now, that I re-visit it, I realize of course I must have heard it over and again, to never have the slightest doubt what it was, for my first thought, on a still, cold night, was not “whatever is that?” but of the magic of the quiet, of all other noises, from Neck Road traffic, to planes overhead, to the wind and all of the resulting jumble, falling away, leaving that one, unmistakable, tolling.

The pounding of the pilings in the harbor — the fact of that source confirmed by two independent sources — in the harbor is hardly so romantic a sound, but it speaks of a normalcy that was in suspension a year ago.
Today there is road construction and water pipe replacement underway. A year ago, the sidewalk project along the start of West Side Road had been suspended, barrels and cones and yellow caution tape in various stages of uprighted-ness.
Toward the end of March the Nantucket paper recapped “A Year with Covid-19” which could have been an Anytown — or AnyIslandTown — USA story. Their Health Director, Roberto Santamaria, summarized where they were a year ago: “When people got scared, we became the object of their aggression. People felt their closures were us punishing them for the outbreak. But we were working on the limited knowledge we had of the virus at the time. We were seeing a national death rate of 10 percent, which is terrifying.”
Often, I think we have the same problems as that bigger sister to the east, only hers are much worse.

I always felt the people who live and work here who did not rally were a tiny minority. Most of us were hoping to salvage the latter part of the summer, not expecting things to move so quickly, people being so desperate to get outside and go somewhere, anywhere, and what better than a mini sea cruise, to a place so many people continue to think, despite all the headlines to the contrary, nothing can go wrong.
Today, I would have to back track to have any idea when things shut down and when they began to open back up. I remember the day I called the Depot to place an order and was told I could come in and felt like I’d been given a great gift, I could go out and see people, with great caution, but it was a huge step forward.
We are not on the other side of this pandemic, and vaccination rates seem to be slowing while Covid remains alive and well. I think, as I have so often, of how much the world has changed since that last terrible summer of polio. Even all those years ago people came to Block Island to “escape” never mind the reality that polio was here.
The vaccine came out in the fifties and everyone, it seemed, got in line. I was astonished to read last year that polio was not considered eradicated until 1974. And it makes me wonder how long it will be before Covid and its variants are truly gone and hope we do not, in our ardent desire to return to a less restrictive life, set ourselves back.
It seems busy in town, I keep hearing there are more people than ever here and wonder if April in My Mind is a busier time than it has been in reality. April has long been in my thoughts a time of hammers — I know, nail guns — ringing in the sun, of painters on ladders — now lifts, and of old shops preparing to reopen as new ones appear and we wonder what new clever idea they will hold. At least in any year but last.
It is also the month the shad comes alive, with a wash of pink across the land, Clay Head from my window, fading into the fog as I write, disappearing as easily as the last twelve months are fading into longer ago than they were memory.
Some years, the shad is in full bloom by late April, but this spring was cool and slow, and by the measure of the daffodils blooming late and in profusion, the shad should fill early May with glorious plenitude.