Amazon on the Neck

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 10:30am

Nature in May is dauntless. Spring has waited too long, it is not going to be off-put by cool days and cooler nights. The maple outside the kitchen window, grown from a wind-tossed seed, has unfurled new leaves, red-tinged green.

“Amazon on the Neck,” I think, and wonder how many places there are where it could be a tale of errant packages from a nationally-known provider, or a commentary on a great yellow house just past the Dump Road. One of those island landmarks, an intact survivor of another era, the latter was the home of Amazon N. Littlefield. 

This May, it is of the former, of parcels left by new drivers guided by who-knows-what technology into the wrong yards. Another time of year it could be a nuisance, now, these errors are gifts, reasons to go other places and see the land, verdant, bursting with life, from different perspectives. 

Last week a mis-delivery sent me to a place in what once had been a little family compound, before words like “compound” were so applied. It was instead a “town” of a handful of buildings, barns and sheds and modest frame houses.

The view is wider than many, today, down across the Georgian Swamp, blue water ringed with greenery, and the clean fields and walls of the gentle earth that is Mitchell Farm. It is not so difficult to imagine all the meadows clear to the shores of Great Salt Pond. 

Later, a neighbor runs through the names of people long deceased who once lived in that little enclave and into the mix tosses another parcel, like those of pre-Plat-Lot designation days, known by an owner generations back. We are quickly far afield, and when so-and-so and his wife is qualified with “except we were never sure if they were really married” and “Hannah Ray Primrose” — easy enough — folds over to Hortense, I stop trying to write the words I am hearing, there are just too many.

Then we are strawberrying, collecting quarts of wild berries, in a once open field. “Your Aunt Alice sold it — she’d inherited it from Cordelia” and I am stunned to be folded back a paragraph or two, the tumblers of memory falling into place. We are yet only on the outer edges of the great labyrinth of uncertain Block Island genealogy, a maze at the center of which lives a fierce Minotaur guarding his particular Book of Names. I understand how my mainland mother came to be pulled into these stories lining high walls of dense hedge, even with so many dead ends and last minute turns in unexpected directions. Suddenly a marker, a “Cordelia,” pops up and with it comes the seductive possibility of it all making sense, somewhere downstream.

I have only a few minutes and reluctantly steer back to my original question, who was “Hub” who lived over there in what we always called “Hub’s shack?” There were a few of these men about the island when I was a child, day laborers, handymen, both on the fringes and a part of the fabric of life. His favored watering hole was the old Royal Hotel; he’d walk home, past the Georgian Swamp, calling out The Lone Ranger’s cry: “Heigh-ho, Silver, away... ” 

But who was he, where did he come from? People did not drift in the way they have over the past decades, a break from a their city job turning to a new life. Well, his name was... but, no, he was not related to anyone here. He may well have been another “home-boy” to start, one of several coming to the island to work on family farms — as there was at least one home-girl, who stayed, marrying a local fisherman-farmer.

Another day other packages showed on the tracking report, smugly “delivered,” which at first I took to mean only transferred to the trucking company. Allowances have to be made, especially in spring when everything, including addresses and drivers, is new.

“They are by the west gate” my neighbor, closer than the first, told me and over I went to collect a huge package of multiple boxes of Kleenex to get me through this flowering season of allergies gone into over-drive. Set on the grass, the cardboard was wet, the bottom layer of the contents damp but salvageable in the May sun. And for the trouble, there was a view of places I see, differently, from my house, and, beyond the clothesline, down the hill and over the dunes, lies the sea, in the greens and blues of summer, stretching out to the horizon. 

Out on the water rises the tower of the vessel from which cable is unwound, brought into the beach, under the sand, through the dune, into the pavilion parking lot. The work has moved along Corn Neck and over to Beach Avenue and the night is quiet, now, when the wind dies, but over the past weeks the sound of work has been floating on the air, the lights have been bright deep into the night, making the air pale behind the black lace of tree branches at the edge of my yard.

Even after the work has ceased, the lights of the vessel are bright, seeming to alter the look of the shore out around Old Harbor. It was a bit before I realized what I was seeing was not a new beacon of a lamp on some building unidentifiable in the night. 

I have enjoyed passing the construction every day, the energy and the activity, from the first glimpse of the black tower rising from the water above the dune beyond Scotch Beach, past the ever-changing pieces of equipment; I have loved watching the progress of the holes and trenches in the parking lot and along the road. I try to halt the notion, remembering I thought the same of the ill-fated breakwater reconstruction the winter before this one just past.