Benchmark

Thu, 03/22/2012 - 4:59am
Category: 

Spring came in the dark of night, quietly, on a soft southwest wind. It came early, in the second hour of the twentieth day of March, spawning the usual change-of-season confusion that follows whenever the turn does not come on the twenty-first of March or June or September or December.

It should be a good omen for the coming season, that soft wind, and at its start spring has bloomed, even more dramatically than it had over the previous week.

A foretaste of winter swept in howling at the end of October, on the two decade anniversary of the Perfect Storm, blasting the mainland with snow that clung to trees still in leaf and wreaked havoc with power lines for the second time in a few months’ time. Then it retreated, lurking, lying somewhere beyond tomorrow’s sunset. First we got through December knowing there was January and February to come, then the talk shifted to “we still have to get thought February,” then turned to “March is still to come.”

Up to the moment of the Vernal Equinox I remain haunted by the memory of the sound of the plow coming down the road, scraping in the night, pushing aside late March drifts. There was the inevitable grumbling in this beautiful spring sunshine about the lack of a real winter.

The first full day of spring began bathed in heavy fog. Through the winter I listen to morning radio out of Providence and hear of traffic disrupting weather so different from what I see beyond my window, but this day we are in unity. I hear that there, “the visibility is less than a mile across the entire state,” and instead of feeling adrift as I normally do, I feel, unexpectedly, a part of Rhode Island.

The sun comes out here, eventually: first the fields, then the ocean, and finally the horizon come into view, a whole new world emerging. There are daffodils in bloom and forsythia petals hanging from the woody vines that scraped against the old shingles, blown by the winter night wind. At night I’d think to clip them back more than I had in the fall, then the day would come, the noise would fade and the impulse, like the sough, would be out of my mind.

The grass was greening last week when I went out in the north lot. It hadn’t been more than a week, possibly eight or nine days, since I’d been there last and I was stunned to find a deer lying on the grass. It happens every few years, but before it has been in a distant corner, and by the time I wander there I usually find a pile of bones and remnants of hide, parts of what was a deer.

This one is different. It is whole, and unlike the one on the beach, not even partly buried. It does not make any sense that it would have just keeled over in the field when the brush is so close, but the other two, or the other two piles of bones, are in the open as well. It is disconcerting, the dead animal, and as well the thought that there must be more in the brush.

There was one on the carefully mowed yard of a summer house one winter; the crows would be at it when I walked past. Then it was gone, removed, I always presumed, by a caretaker. This one looks more removed from life that that one — but that is impossible, it has not been that long since I have walked this lot.

It is strange; there seem to be more dead things around: these deer, and birds, a big one in the back lot, the assorted gulls on the beach. It’s not the stuff one would expect of a mild winter.

The fog rolls back, the sun shines, the day turns glorious and I go to the still-quiet west dock of the new harbor, now called the Old Harbor, the new big solid wharf I think I will hate for its newness, but I love it more than I could ever have imagined. We used to walk down the red breakwater. Now, from the heavy planks neatly joined, I look over to the oddly worn stones.

It was, the records tell us, a temporary breakwater, meant to be removed when the big granite walls were finished. It has been there well over a century, a part of the history of the inner basin.

There used to be buildings associated with the fishing industry along the west side of that breakwater; when I was a child and we went out to walk about town on summer nights, it was part of the tour, the uneven breakwater lined by buildings, some still reeking with the smell of old fish.

There was a benchmark, a circle of metal set in place by the government, in one of those big red rocks. My father pointed it out, on a sort of ledge on a northwest corner, a slight step down. There were and are others, but that was the first I ever saw, the first one explained to me.

I have not been able to locate it and thought it had been buried over the years, by fill, or a cement repair leveling the surface of the breakwater. With the old buildings gone and new land created where some of them used to stand over water, it is hard to know where to look. Still, I keep trying and with this last attempt, noticed a bit of rock set on a corner of a great slab.

It moved easily, but had I not known to look for it, I would not have seen the metal disc almost completely obscured by a layer of sandy earth.

It has been, literally, decades, since I’ve seen it. It’s a reminder of chocolate cabinets and summer night walks on these great temporary slabs. There were more fishing vessels, a number still moored in the outer basin that is all ferry wharf and pleasure craft now. There was a big, new streetlight that turned a blue sweater purple and was the source of much discussion.

The fog came back in as this first day of spring ended, erasing the horizon, then the ocean and the field until, as daylight faded, the brush at the edge of the yard, so gloriously on the edge of spring in the sunshine, was brown and winter bare, backed by nothing but pale gray fog.

 

It is of little matter. The sun will shine again, record breaking warmth is forecast for tomorrow, and I know with absolute certainty that the benchmark is still there, embedded in the temporary breakwater.