Among the Lobster Pots

Fri, 03/11/2022 - 2:30am

Sunday, it was gray when I left the Harbor Church after worship. By the time I reached the Seaside I had either driven down into the fog or it had deepened: the Surf was clouded by gray. Turning down the Neck Road it was a wall, none of that rolling-in business, just a wall, so dense I pulled over by the monument to marvel that the ocean was visible beyond it only in tiny waves close to the chore.

Wondering at it, I remembered I needed to go to the market and took a little Sunday Drive around by Twin Maples, and down Ocean Avenue — aka the New
Road, an Easter Egg for an increasingly small group of people — that does follow, as one might presume, the shoreline, to the BIG built when scrub land seemed fine for commercial development.
We're a bit of a mini-Boston, with roads that are not on a grid, a point brought home when there was a wind turbine on the corner of the dump road that was east of the Mitchell Farm barn from the road passing the Breakers and multiple failed attempts at sketching a you-can't-get-there-from-here map of downtown. There are buildings that are on land that should not exist, I often mention when the then-new Post Office was being built on the corner of Bridge Gate, the
first real structure, the older ladies who lived in a house overlooking the site, the high Cape, then the only structure on the lot, said they remembered ice boats coming in nearly to that spot, sailed across the Crescent Lake before channels were cut.
We are New England.

And Sunday that New England weather continued as I made my little journey, from fog to spattering rain when I arrived at the grocery, to rain as I headed home,
to real rain by the time I pulled into my barnyard.
It was snowing a dusty snow that could be missed when I sat down and started writing, now it is raining, and the horizon is straight, a muted pale blue ocean meeting a gray-white sky, the sharp edge fading as I watch.
March is the great pretender; we have beautiful days and then wind, rain, snow, and more wind, which at least helps dry the land. Yesterday there seemed to be hopeful green grass in the pasture; today is classic March, the sorry colors I always think of as belonging to an old, wet, ratty lion.

It is the time of year to pull out my father's diary, which I have always thought a Christmas 1930 present. It runs from January 1 to April 30, 1931 with only a very few days missing at the end of March.
It is not always easy to read, he was a left-handed kid compelled to write with his right hand, and he would likely have been writing by lamplight at day's end
when his eyes, weak from a childhood injury to one and over-compensation to the other, were tired.
But this time of year, March 4.
Weather: Heavy seas NE. Highest tide I ever saw. The highest in a good many years (in March 1931 he was 14).
Was over the neck road from the end of the lane (Scotch Beach) almost to the green house (likely one of the Indian Head Neck Road houses) in patches from 3 to 5 inches deep. It washed right through the gaps on the east side and the sea brought trash into the road by the bathing beach (then close to the Beach Ave-Corn Neck corner). On page 222 (other entries were laced with references to reading a book about Napoleon I and writing a paper about him that was turned
in on March 11).
The next day, March 5, he continued
Weather: It snowed about five inches. At noon we had a snowball fight on the Mt. Hope Dock among the lobster pots. No Sunshine League (a young people's
group, likely affiliated with one or more of the local churches). Went to bed early.
The Mount Hope was a big summer steamer that ran from Providence and Newport, and docked at a long-gone wharf built on the inside of the east wall of the big breakwater, just outside the inner basin. It is shown on a number of maps included in a report of the Block Island Harbor of Refuge issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in January 1993, a book with a whole section of surveys and plans of building and dredging, and various appropriations included in Rivers and Harbors Acts from 1867 onward.

The wharf where my father and his brothers and friends played among the lobster pots is not on the earliest plans of hope, then progresses from new to ruin
to gone, but identified most concisely on a June 5, 1924 survey, as belonging to the Providence, Fall River and Newport Steamboat Co.

It is there, a ruin doing little but worsening shoaling of the channel, in the background in some older photos, most notable in the series of 1938 Hurricane
aftermath, but primarily it is shown in summer in its heyday, with visitors streaming down to visit Barbers' then Ballards' restaurant.
Mabel Ballard Thomas, who in later years lived in the house across from the school, retired to high ground after living on the edge of the ocean during all man-
ner of storms, including the Hurricanes of 1938 and 1954. Decades later Mabel said she had developed a strong arm because her parents, the Ballards, assigned her the task of digging from drums of hard ice cream scoops of the frozen treat to sell to visitors on a hot summer day.

The wharf was abandoned in the thirties, before the hurricane, but would not have been used by the steamer in winter in any event. As many times as I have looked at my dad's diary, as much as I remember his terse reporting of snowball fights on that wharf and sledding down High Street and skating on various frozen ponds, I somehow never noticed “among the lobster pots.”