My peonies were late to open this year. It has been a cool spring but other people on the island had them in glorious bloom while I had the single plant by the door graced by multiple buds that seemed so tightly clenched I could only think “white knuckle.”
There were three plants from sometime in the nineties - the old ten-years-ago delusion - when I first put the little mail-order shoots into the ground. They came in a little set, white, pink and deep pink, and they all tried but only one, my least favorite, survived for long, then thrived.
It is by my door, on the west side of the house, where it might seem relatively protected from the blasting salt-filled east wind. I looked at the foliage this year and was reminded the same lay of the land, the same south wind that carries the sound of the surf crashing on the sand, the laughter of children on the beach, even when all is aligned the announcement of the boat leaving the harbor, brings the salt.
The leaves of the peony, around those burnished fists of buds, looked end-of-season beaten, brown around the edges, ready to fade into fall. Then, when I’d about given up hope, the flowers opened, tentative, then huge, deep pink but beautiful all the same. The forecast was sketchy, wind and rain and cooling and hot, so I went out with scissors, hoping to prolong their life by bringing a few into the house out of the blasting sun that was slipping in and out.
Two days later the outside flowers had gone into sharp decline, just as the multiflora did its blasting “look at me, look at me!!” June sorcery. It would be magic, this annual moonlight at mid-day but for the sad reality that the vines are evil, invasive monsters. The tiny white petals cast a spell, and we let them be when they are in bloom and easy to identify, then they fade into the surrounding greenery, another element in the subtly-changing background of summer.
“Remember when the worst of it was honeysuckle?” someone asked wistfully the other day. Honeysuckle, tough and gentle, with strong but smooth vines and those sweet trumpets of yellow and white, the flowers we desecrated for that sweet droplet deep within. Honeysuckle that gave us that scent of summer on misty nights that brought it to renewed life after parchment sunny days.
Honeysuckle that now seems so benign.
Autumn interrupted my thoughts of summer nights past with sudden barking, her borderline what-are-you-doing-here woofery that has as close to an edge as Autumn can manage. It was enough that I left my desk and went to the window, seeing at first an unfamiliar dog, slender and reddish gold in the front yard. It moved and I realized it was a young deer, with another, larger one, probably a mother, a few yards away.
She chased them toward the tall grasses then stopped and turned back, smugly pausing like someone dusting off their hands in a “well, I took care of that!” gesture. Thankfully, the fawn was larger than the babies this and another golden retriever have tried to engage, both to be chased by fierce mothers, rearing up ready to land with their sharp cloven hooves.
Autumn is fine with the horses, they ignore her as she mills around, trying to snarf up the tiny bits of food they spill on the ground, partial, still, to their troughs over her own bowl no matter how much I remind her the water all comes from the same well.
It is probably the third week I have thought the daisies have hit their peak but this week must be the end, graduation was last weekend. There were more, still, than last week when I was so sure they would not show up in a photograph.
This week they did, layered with red sorrel, under strata of white clouds against a blue sky.
I thought of that sky over the pasture later, after dark, when the weather person referenced some temperature “despite the clouds” and I wanted to protest, as I often do some aspect of the misguided, ill-informed news, “it is the patterns of the clouds that make the sky so magnificent.” Yesterday when I was out the clouds and the daises were almost a mirror of heaven and earth, the cloud reflections one sees in still water.
We live in a place of patterns, the sand rippled by the wind and the tides, the grasses bent to show the direction of the wind, the ripple of the water showing what lies beneath, we live still surrounded by nature.
Last night it was interrupted by a helicopter, this time of year followed by an assumption of a medical emergency, then another, and another assumption of another emergency then, finally, as they seemed to be sweeping around the island, the thought of the air maneuvers that happen every now and then.
By chance I happened to be at the airport one year when there were helicopters parked, or whatever helicopters do, and a group of men all wearing NYFD t-shirts. It is one of those funny memories of a thought, thankfully not quite spoken, “has anyone told them Block Island is not part of New York!?”
That time they were National Guardsmen on weekend reserve duty, a plum of an assignment until the reality of how else would they train for search and rescue hit.
There were no floodlights, and the tracks varied in altitude and direction and velocity, all weirdly disorienting from my dark yard. It was the sort of presence that makes one half-expect to hear Wagner swelling as these modern-day Valkyries swept over us.
Then I wonder how people live where such events are more frequent and less easy to pinpoint, these war-torn areas we see on television and remember, some of us, has the sight changed the thinking of a nation.