There was no kindergarten when I was of that age. We started school cold, in a manner of speaking, the only “school” any of us knew was on Sunday morning, and on those first days of first grade we were sometimes given busy work of coloring. I hated it — fascinated as I was by my own box of eight crayons, big and thick. I wanted to draw, not fill in lines already printed on a sheet of paper.
So, I am surprised, all these years later, to find joy, even solace, in newly painted white and yellow lines on the pavement, especially on that section of the Neck Road most recently paved, just north of Beach Avenue. It felt, last year, when it was new, like a black hole, uncharted territory, a passage of danger in any but the brightest light, a discomfort that was eased when the striping was done, but increased again, as it faded.
Somehow, the lines make me feel safe, as though I cannot stray outside of their boundaries. It seems the wrong time of year — sometime to do with pavement temperature, I think I was once told — but I have to admit I also like the brightness arriving as the daylight comes later and fades earlier. I will take any counter to the darkness, no matter how small.
Autumn, my big golden girl, came to live with me on the day of the Autumn Equinox in 2013, light as the darkness descended. Among the items I happily purchased in anticipation of having a dog three-quarters retriever, was a net bag filled with tennis balls. They may be fractionally smaller than regulation; they were in the pet aisle, and were considerably less expensive than the ones in canisters I had purchased for other dogs. I even got one of those throwers, to better the distance and arc of my anemic underhand toss.
I was accustomed to dogs who lived to chase these fuzzy, oddly yellow orbs. One would stand by the desk drawer in which I kept them, his nose pressed to the crack, like an addict hoping for a whiff to sustain him. Another had a very particular whine, with an I-can't-reach-it pitch reserved only for tennis ball under furniture panic.
Autumn was different. Finally, these past few months, she has shown some interest, chasing the first toss with great enthusiasm, leaping to snatch the ball from the air or grab it on the rebound. “At last!” I think then watch her run past the next lob, leaving it, forlorn, in the grass.
It is October and the road speaks to the season. There are wildflowers aplenty, still, red clover, redder poison ivy, yellow goldenrod, chicory, deep blue in the early cool, and bayberry, its silver fruit more visible as the burnished leaves around it diminish and drop. There are bright red ilex berries glowing at the edges of the swamp and everywhere, tiny white asters, with yellow centers, road striping colors.
They are everywhere this time of year, these wild asters, white on my little stretch of road, but a soft purple elsewhere, in perfusion, I later notice, great splotches of color along the shoulders of the pavement in the little areas I think of as historically transitional. It is not where houses grew up around a city, not for use by urban dwellers fleeing, but for our own version of residents moving in from the outer farmlands. House lots were smaller, buildings closer together, and had porches where farm houses had only wide stone steps.
They had a feature which has fascinated me for decades. The edges of lawns tended to be higher than the abutting roads and joining the two spaces were sets of cement steps set in grassy inclines, some still in use but many more just sort of remaining. They might be in the middle of a mowed space, or the set at a gap in a wall or fence, with mossy sides, perhaps crumbling at the edges. Others rise between retaining walls of mortared stone, and lead to cement walks ending at front entrances, light years from muddy barnyards and lane ways of the far away countryside.
Today, many are unused, unnoticed in plain sight or almost entirely obscured by privet grown tall and wild. They are features almost as forgotten, as my Autumn's tennis ball after that first, exhilarating, catch.
It is October and the sky has been blue and almost cloudless these past few days. I used to think this image would be forever enshrined in my memory, an annual reminder of September 11th.
Then I happened upon photos someone else took a couple of days ago, of American flags, crisp and clean, free in the wind, the poles to which they were affixed pristinely white in the sun, all against that same stunningly blue sky. They were, of course, at half-mast, after the last and — as of this writing — worst terrible mass shooting in this country.
At Town Hall, the American flag had been lowered, still above but closer to the other three that are always flown: the black POW/MIA flag we once dreamed could someday be retired; and the flags of the Town of New Shoreham and State of Rhode Island.
The Town flag has a white field with the coat of arms in its center, a shield showing a lion rampant, a carryover from England, and our native fish and double-ender. The flag of the State of Rhode Island, with a field of white on which a gold anchor, encircled by thirteen stars representing the original colonies, all float above our motto, “Hope” written in gold on a blue ribbon.
It was the just the direction of the wind, I know, but, in the moment I stopped, the State flag was wrapped around the pole on the Town Hall lawn. Then it seemed to marshall its forces and unfurl, briefly letting “Hope” shine against that same terrible blue sky.