By the monument

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 1:30pm

The water by the monument was up to the rip-rap below it this afternoon. There used to be a deeper strip of land there and a little beach below it.
In 1993, before technology and electronic communication had taken so much from our day-to-day conversations, a contingent from the Army Corps of Engineers came down to talk about the dredging program for the Old Harbor.
The meeting was in what was then the library of the school, a courtyard when I was a pupil, and art and/or music room since then, perhaps a theater in the future, the center of the 1933 building. The gentleman talking about the ever-eroding beach said a significant cause was the current that curled around the edge of the east wall and eventually gnawed the shore just to the north.
He casually looked around the room and did a cartoon double take when he realized there was an aerial photograph, the one where the land is red, the ocean dark blue, framed in the corner, and on it was that very curl. It explained why the dumping of the last dredgings just off shore had been such short-lived successes.
(The photo is in the Town Hall, now. I used to haul it to meetings when people started talking about currents and erosion and computer models, but no one wanted to listen to a Block Islander with a photo map when they could have a computer model done by a machine that had never visited Block Island.)
One, in particular, cubic yards of wet sand shot through massive conduits set on pontoons had seemed so hopeful, especially when there was so much material dropped it was visible, a dry sandbar just a bit of the beach. Another time they filled a barge with a hull that opened; the doors got stuck and they had to wait for the tide to rise to finish. That time was less inspiring.
But the high point of that trip was the receipt of a stack of green paper-bound volumes, 12 I think, entitled Navigational Improvement Study, General Investigation, Reconnaissance Report, of the Block Island Harbor of Refuge, New Shoreham, Block Island, dated January 1993.
It had been produced by a Committee Resolution of the United States Senate: “Resolved by the Committee on Environment and Public Works of the United States Senate that the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors is hereby requested to review the Report of the Chief of Engineers on Block Island Harbor of Refuge Navigation, Rhode Island, published as House Document numbered 828, Sixtieth Congress, First Session, with a view
to determining the feasibility of measures to improve navigation with particular emphasis on deepening the harbor and enlarging the size of the protected harbor.”
That Resolution was signed by Quentin N. Burdick, Chairman and John H. Chafee, Ranking Minority Member, Rhode Island’s own Senator Chafee.
Today there would be a link to documents that would require a big screen to even see. Then there was paper, the bane of my existence but oh so glorious when it arrives all bound, a work product detailing everything from the River and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1867 to 1993, and pullout maps of the various stages of the development of the Government Harbor.
The maps are more charts, listing water depths and showing proposed and constructed break walls more than land bounds, but they are fascinating and there were twelve of them so I felt no guilt whatsoever in... acquiring one. I also wrote “Council Office, DO NOT REMOVE” on one; of course, someone did. Mine vanished for years and turned up in the Town Hall, still with my name on it — and on an inner page, a trick learned from my librarian aunt. I hadn’t been taking any chances on losing that volume to a worn paper cover degradation.
There is an amazing amount of detail on these maps, the one I turn to at random is from 1930. It shows the Basin, what I have always known as the Inner Basin, then the Inner Harbor, the area within the embrace of the granite walls always known to me as the Outer Basin, and an Outer Harbor outside the red jetty, the wall beneath the National, but protected from the ocean by the east breakwater. There is a box of items “desired improvement not recommended” and another “Desired and warranted construction of maintenance” as well as cross sections of potential work already determined unwarranted.
The water at the monument was high and the seaweed-laden waves told of a rumbling off-shore but the weather Cassandras had been far from the mark. It rained a bit, there was an extraordinary rainbow last night, it rained almost enough to clean my car windows, but not so much I’d have remembered but for picking up sodden paper in the yard, a reminder I have to keep all my Kleenex-collecting wastebaskets covered or out of Autumn’s reach, in the tub, behind the chair, under a basket. Just beside my bed, slipped under a table isn’t enough to deter my paper loving dog.
The reports today showed us at .13 inches of rain over the night, ahead of most of the state, way ahead of parts of it, but it’s hard to take drought seriously when the reports from out west are worse every week, complete with mentions of the occasional skeleton coming to light as lakes created by marvels of engineering dams fall closer and closer to historic lows. At least one is near to losing the pressure needed to produce its expected hydropower.
A mega drought they are finally calling it in national headlines, 22 years into it, and too many people drawing on it, too much agriculture depending upon it, this water from the mountains that must have seemed an endless supply.
It has been cooler, rain has fallen, the night is still, and if the ocean is brown with seaweed, it’s just seaweed, it’ll settle.