Almost April, Almost Easter

Fri, 03/29/2013 - 6:00pm

On Thursday, the first full day of spring 2013, it snowed.

It was not the storm of the equinox in 1992 when I heard the rattle of a winter-weary plow coming down the Mansion Road in the night, pushing aside drifts of white. It was not night and I was not unable to sleep, distracted by the furnace I was sure would not come on and then would not go off (based on little more than the irrationality that overtakes my mind when storms hit).

This snow was an eerie white that coated every blade and every twig, reduced visibility to a scant quarter of a mile and left me standing in my south facing window watching a world I knew I could not describe.

The high north roof of my neighbor’s barn, a shape against the sky, not touched by the sun all winter, was solidly white, as was the like-facing slope of her house. There was an unusual emptiness in mid-afternoon, no lights trying to shine through the air that morphed from translucent to opaque, as soft fog erases the horizon and ties the ocean to the sky without boundary. There were two deer grazing in the underbrush, heads down, or two dark shapes I presumed to be deer, forms I would neither have recognized nor noticed had they not been so familiar.

There was no solid curtain of falling snow, more a filling of the air that made everything appear to be viewed through a clouded lens inside a frosted dome. Nothing, even the deer, seemed to be moving. There was no impression of a crystal palace sparkling in the sun, rare but memorable, nor was it the perfect Christmas card that can be the Mansion Road where the brush is turned to lace and a cardinal is oddly but often present. Strangest of all, it did not have the look of a snowfall, of flakes drifting from the sky.

Perhaps it was the partial visibility, the shutting out of the sun, the seeming lifelessness. The phrase that came into my head was nuclear winter, all white and dead like bleached bones carved into a strange diorama. Worse, my fanciful thinking was only reinforced by an internet search of images so titled. Or it was reinforced by the handful of images left after sifting out all the science fiction and oh-my-God-the-world-is going-to-end political nonsense.

It did not last, by evening the snow had turned commonplace and was melting, by the next morning it was a memory, the grass struggling to be green reappearing, the stalwart daffodils refusing to be defeated. On Sunday it was so calm even in the half sun I shed my hat and gloves and finally even my coat on a walk out along the edge of the beach. It is still, or was on Sunday, rock by Mansion.

For all that they have been beaten the dunes are still there, more than after the hurricanes of the early fifties that planted so firmly in my mind the notion that any year without a hurricane was a gift.

There was a bench, crafted of rough sun-bleached planks, on the Mansion Beach in those days. I have found only one other person who remembers it with certainty, such was the lack of traffic back then. It had affixed to it a sundial, something new and different in my very young eyes. In the way of early memories beyond that it is the colors I most recall, things stowed under the seat, paraphernalia left from day to day when visitors were few and leaving things overnight was did not pose a concern. There might have been umbrellas and chairs. I am told there were sturdy air mattresses, rubber to which striped canvas was fused, the ultimate in rafts from the exotic sounding Abercrombie & Fitch.

The man who put it together stayed up on the main road at the Cottage Farm House, a private home today, a place for summer boarders from its opening in 1889 until 1967. Its register for the year 1954 shows that he and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. Frank Kineke, traveled from Maplewood, New Jersey for their summer vacation. The other memory is four years longer than mine, a life time among children, and draws pictures of this man wearing a pith helmet and playing bocce on the sandy apron of the summer beach now too rocky to walk. I do recall from adult conversation that the bench had to be oriented for the dial to properly tell the time.

Astonishingly, the bench was not broken by Hurricane Carol, but lifted and carried inland, over the low dunes. It came to rest at the edge of the little pond in the hollow between the Mansion and the old farm, a blue mirror set among green hills, visible, still, from the path, but probably unnoticed by most beach-goers these days.

I remember the sundial and the colors of the canvas tucked under the seat, and someone, probably Mr. Kineke, sitting on the rough seat, putting on shoes. I do not know how much I would recall but for another after-the-storm snapshot labeled in my mother’s neat cursive hand “near Mansion Road August 1954” and years of listening to her talking about the sea reaching back to the pond.

It is almost April, it is almost Easter, early this year. Snow came and went last week but the worst of this past winter, raging winds and high seas continue, in the sand new gathered on the west side of Corn Neck Road and the salt film returned to my windows. I can, though, now dare say we slipped thought without the single digit temperatures that make me fear frozen pipes.

The temperature is climbing and the sun is shining; I am wondering whatever happened to Mr. Kineke’s sundial.