In the blue

Thu, 12/08/2011 - 6:22am
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Winter is in the wings, creeping closer while we frolic in the mild. It will come, cold and windy and raw; but the sun, the afternoon sun, has ceased its journey away from us and at this week’s end, the sun will set a minute later than today. The weather will worsen and it will last for months and by March I will be back to the apocalyptic state these ever earlier sunsets have stirred since mid-November, but now the solstice is in sight and my heart is light.

My cousin in Seattle – why a self-employed indexer of books with the same daylight mania as I would move to Seattle is a good question – draws charts the way I slide the same numbers into narrative. It feels as if it has to be genetic, but I look at the globe and wonder how such could be so. Our shared father’s mother’s people came from Scotland, my mother’s father’s people came from Sweden. These mill workers and ministers immigrated to the mill towns of southeastern New England, a harsh place but in latitude much more to the south than their homelands.

It has been mild, but the normal temperatures for early December on Block Island are closer to those lands across the Atlantic where the sun is currently rising an hour and a half later and setting an equal time earlier -- before 3 in the afternoon in Stockholm. It is the land where young girls don white robes with red sashes and wear wreaths of candles in their hair, welcoming the Yule. It is impossible to look at the reversal of darkness and pretend these festivals did not have roots in the advent of the winter solstice.

It is always a surprise to look back and find that what seems unusual weather is not any different than it was three years ago, this disorienting combination of extraordinarily short afternoons and mild spring-like weather. There are even the same tracks on the beach, deep imprints that go up the face of the dunes then simply, impossibly, stop. The sand is shifting, as it is always this time of year, but then there were no gelatinous discs at the water’s edge, some perfectly round, intact, others broken in two, a few sloppily shaped by the sea.

It looks like summer, this string of moon jellyfish on the sand, but for the fact that the beach is empty and, of the few footprints not yet erased by the rising tide, none are of bare toes, all are of the soles of shoes. It is pleasant, near perfect, it might be spring but for the angle of the sun that seems to be wanting to slink away at 3 o’clock.

The ocean is lovely in the fading afternoon. Over the holiday weekend visitors asked where to watch the sun set. They did not have a car and didn’t want to walk far and I tried to tell them the east beach was highly underrated. I saw them later in the day, when the water off Crescent Beach was pink, reflecting a sky of salmon clouds on turquoise silk. They were walking south and I almost stopped and told them to turn around, to see what they were missing.

I happened upon them the next day; they still had it in their heads that unless they saw the sun drop into the sea, they were not seeing the sunset.

We are so fortunate out here, there are so many opportunities before us at almost every turn, and throughout this quieter season when there is so little traffic we can stop to marvel at the steady green light lying on the black water behind the Surf, or at the boat that with the same red and green running lights it has on all year, now looks like a Christmas toy out on the dark ocean.

The grass is green, there are roses still on the vines, but privet is turning yellow, fading, and but a few leaves still cling to the trees. It rained today, the sort of rain that does not always fall so late in the year, not slamming and horizontal but straight, unnoticed, falling on the roof and not the windows. More is forecast for the night, but for now Block Island sits in a sea of blue, the massive amounts of green and yellow rain on the radar following the coast, another blotch off to the east. There is too much for it not to dip or spread across the blue and sometime, in the night, cover us as well.

It was the same three years ago. The puddles were filling after almost but not quite drying up. Drift was settling, bleached by the sea and the sun, and trash in the beach roses was visible, waiting to be covered by blowing sand.

It is, today, as winter waits, the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the military base on Hawaii some 18 years before it would become a state. It has been in the news on and off all day, with some talk of the difference in the world, of the war that was so immediate, such a part of everyone’s life, before there was even television to bring it into every living room -- and of the distance today, when we have such extreme and immediate access. In response to a radio host, a lady who remembered the day called in to share her recollections.

They were in school, she said, and spoke of an announcement over speakers, of the teacher’s expression.

But it was Sunday, I think, I’m sure I remember some relative talking about coming out of the movies in the afternoon and learning of the attack. Perhaps the girl that grew to be the woman calling the radio station was remembering the President speaking of the attack “yesterday” and of that day that would “live in infamy.”

As it has.