Flag of Color
It was the grass that caught my attention, richly green, nearly springtime verdant, freshly washed from the overnight rain, sparkling in the afternoon sun. Then I saw the sun dog, a fragment of a rainbow, caught in the white cloud over the battered spruce tree.
I knew it was unlikely I’d be able to capture it, they can vanish quickly, I had to locate and center my phone, I was shooting into the afternoon sun, and I was right, there is no more than a trace of color in the photo. Playing with the various adjustment tools I did make it sharper but the price was turning the sky to the blue of a 1950’s postcard so I am left with “trust me, it’s there!” - or was there for a brief and shining moment.
There is one tree down in the corner left of the originals, planted by one of my uncles after the war. My father cut one down for Christmas for a few years when I was little and even then we could use only the tops and then it became impossible. There had been 100 planted my mother said, an unimaginable number until she said it was only ten rows of ten and some, by then, had been eaten by the cows.
Cows were the bane of her existence, “your father’s cows” or when they had managed to breach the electrified barbed wire around the garden the night before she planned to pick perfectly fresh peas “your father’s d*mn cows” and she very rarely swore. Before there were deer there were these marauding cows who went through a back road, long since overgrown, to a house beyond the wall and over a tract of brush-filled land, someone knowing that a neighbor had left a basket of apples on her kitchen porch. Cows and pheasants and blackbirds that one year were hung in the garden.
It didn’t seem at all odd, they were eating the new sprouts so my father, who I saw with the shotgun only when he was teaching my brother how to use it, dispatched the birds and strung them up. A spaniel who fancied himself a hunting dog and belonged to the caretaker at the Mansion, trotted over one afternoon and “caught” one of the birds. He proudly pranced about with it.
It is an hour later now than when I took the photo and when I turn from my east-facing desk to look at the fading western sky and notice the east side of the house over the wall — no longer “The Neighbor’s House” — is dark still from the rain last night, the same rain that washed the grass and left little puddles in the road.
I remember when that house was assembled in the dark, with great spotlights shining on it, and before that when part of it was a big potato patch, visible on old aerial photographs taken in the spring, one of a number of strips of near-white in the black-and-white prints. Some piece of abandoned equipment, a sprayer of sorts, lived against the west wall for decades. I used to think it a practice peculiar to Block Island, this leaving of a rake or harrow or even a tractor untouched, even moved about, waiting to be used, again, until rust had overtaken it. Then one Sunday I picked up the Providence Journal and read a column by a weekly contributor who wrote primarily about nature and discovered it was not at all that unusual.
There were years there was nothing more than a single haystack over there, covered with a tarp and a fishnet, held down with black rubber tires. The artist, who came summers to live in the stunning white house behind the high hedges beside the public safety complex, then an empty lot on some maps at the Hygeia Corner for the grand hotel that had occupied it until a 1916 fire, would be on the Mansion Road, the scarcely traveled Mansion Road, painting that field and haystack.
The house is dark and I remind myself the field was empty for a very long time before it wasn’t. The red gate has stood open for a few weeks, now, and every time I pass it I am tempted to get out and close it.
The gate isn’t very old, I have been telling myself, I shouldn’t be bothered by a change in it and finally, as I am sitting here writing these words do I remember there was a gate there previously, a photo of it my sister-in-law took in the
snow in the late 1970s hangs on my living room wall.
Of course there was a gate, there had to be a way to get in to plow the potato field and tend the crop, and mow and stack the hay, and I know the gap down by the corner went in much later than that. It was widened, I think, when
the red shed I am told will be relocated, arrived in pieces. It was the first time I had seen, or noticed, that the big supply trucks carried their own little forklifts. It just happened that I was on the Mansion Road, on my way home, not headed out, so time was of no concern and I watched the operation thinking of how supplies were moved in my earliest memories, when a year of four or five new houses merited a “Building Boom” story in the Providence Journal.
As beautiful as November days can be and often are, there are also days like this one, mild in the morning after a rainy night, then sunny and windy and, by the time I saw that flag of color in the sky, feeling like winter. The sun will set less than 15 minutes earlier before reversing its course next month but now, at six, it feels like eight o’clock.
November has reverted to form, that ever-darkening month lying on the edge of winter.