Another Country

Fri, 05/21/2021 - 9:45am

Last Friday saw a big yellow Cat sitting on the beach. It did stir my curiosity — this heavy equipment on tank-like treads, not a kitty on little feet — as no one seemed to be about and no project demanding it was in sight.
It was there four hours later and I pulled over, not expecting my curiosity to be satisfied. I saw a young man appear and climb up the rocks from the shore and, instead of trampling the little bern of a dune, pull himself to the platform of the walkover. It impressed me, then made me wonder if the Cat was there to assist in resetting the walkover stairs.
Soon, to my amazement, someone arrived and the yellow machine began rolling down the beach, stopping short of the platform to move boulders. It seemed to be part of a larger plan, be it revetment improvement, berm refurbishment, walkover access, some combination of those. I managed an unlikely capture a friend called a “uniquely Block Island photo.”
But is anything truly ever out of place here?
Two days later it was out of mind, when I embarked on what seemed a perfectly innocent Sunday adventure, a little drive to the West Side of the island. I’d not been down a particular road since one day last fall, I think my first outing after my broken arm/Covid upswing confinement.
A friend was driving, we seemed to be in a constant state of:
“Didn’t there used to be a road here!?”
“Wait, where is West Hillcrest?” — as long as I can keep that old boarding house, the bell tower of the former church, or the John Rose house in sight, I feel less in peril.
It was a very beautiful but very windy early November day, the ocean a raging chop, underscoring my other refrain “it is so beautiful but I couldn’t live here.”
Then we were back to “didn’t so-and-so used to live there, where are we, what the heck, is that a swimming pool!? And where is Carnes’s house?”
There is always the reminder of how many decades ago it was some of these memories formed, one of a hay ride and someone yelling in the dark “that’s Pomeroys’ house!” Now, the main thought is of a truck large enough to hold a bunch of kids making its way through that narrowest part of Dunn Town Road.
It is May, the world is green and glorious, and last Sunday there was no brutal west wind, there would be soft new grass and spring blossoms.
First — after checking the gas gauge — how even to get to the West Side from the Harbor, Ocean to West Side Road, or Ocean to Beach to Center too complicated, so off to the first choice. I knew if I went down Grace’s I’d be fine but how lost could I get starting from the other end, winding through the alluring Dunn Town Road to the truly enchanting Cartway?

I found the unmarked entrance and I knew I was on the right road when I passed a particular house. I was on track, I recognized it and the house behind it and the ones beyond them, then, oh shoot, I was where I always take the wrong left and end up in someone’s yard but which turn was right?
Not the one I took, which landed me facing an unfamiliar house. It was clearly new, but startlingly familiar, with covered porches and steeply pitched roof and dormers, a descendant of a number of island structures. I turned around easily then, instead of going back to the not-so-distant road I let myself be seduced by a left turn, a shortcut!
No, just a dead end loop to the back of the same house. I think, now, I could have turned around more easily than backing out a curved, narrow, unfamiliar, am-Ion-the-edge-of-an-embankment lane.
I remembered being in Michigan and my brother telling me I couldn’t rely on the ocean to get my bearings; but I never got lost out there! Sunday, I was on the West Side of Block Island, and the towering vegetation had me in that crazy forest in Oz, where the evil trees start throwing fruit at passers-by. And there was no cell service.
Contrary to what may seem, I know that road once past this point of confusion, I know the incline and the turn, the winding between old buildings, the skirting a side yard of a perfect old house with a covered porch facing west, traveling through meadows still nearly open and the sudden ocean-finding that is the magic of so many side roads. It is another country but not a totally alien land.
Soon enough I could see Dunn’s Cartway, and the blue water beyond it, such an easy turn that I knew would easily carry me to Grace’s Cove, but I just couldn’t do it, instead I headed for another familiar house where there would be room to turn around without driving into a field.
That’s where I got caught and worse than by a stranger by someone I knew. After the confession that yes, I was on the West Side, and the insistence I did know where I was, I just needed to turn around and flee, I relaxed and had a nice little visit. I learned where at least one of those roads we could not find in the fall had gone (relocated), I was able to recall the damp spring night decades ago, when the
old house that had belonged to the yard in which I had landed, burned. I felt less out of place.
And while I see to the horizon from my window, it is over there, on the seaward side of the westernmost ridge of land, with the mainland in sight, that it feels wilder. I’d passed new construction, I’d learned roads had been moved, but for that moment it felt out of time, and the east side, with its busy landing and a Cat on the beach, seemed very far removed.