Bridges to nowhere

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 10:30am
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Last week we had a Primary in Rhode Island. Block Island almost running out of ballots, having an additional batch sent over on the last boat — which the Captain held until the packet arrived — was a story that got picked up by the national press. It was, in some cases, turned a bit on its side, a ferry “rushing” over the water, underscored by a file photo of a white water wake, even “dispatched,” some said, as though it would not have been coming that afternoon but for the need for ballots.

Oddly, it was not part of the post-election dialogue on the Providence radio station to which I listen. Granted, my ears are not on it all day long and I could easily have missed a mention or two or three but given the general tenor of the talk, all of everything that went wrong at various polling places, it was hardly a surprise that a story of cooperation, of things working as they should — but so often don't — would be avoided.

The planets aligned. Our Town Clerk flagged a potential problem, the closest town had extra ballots, the Board of Elections cooperated and there was one last boat at the dock in Galilee, needing to be held a few minutes. There was a delay but not the kind that early in the day could ruin the schedules of the company and passengers both. Even the one factor none of us can control, the weather, was not an issue.

It had been raining off and on all day and suddenly I remember being asked if the boat ran in the rain, gentle, summer, straight-from-the-sky rain it was. I looked out at trees, expecting them to be swaying in a wild wind I had not noticed come up. They were bowed, slightly, by the weight of the water, nothing more. How does one say, on a calm July day “well, it is expected the ferries will get wet. . .”

Primary Day provided a positive, fun story, and it was good to know such stories still garner attention but it seemed the tag line should have been The Way Things Should Work and Sometimes, in Some Places, Still Do. 

Last month, Massachusetts embraced Patriots’ Day with, among other things, a marathon and a baseball game, rites of spring across the state line. It is May and in Rhode Island we are ignoring the holiday unique to our history.  

May 4 is the anniversary of the day little Rhode Island declared independence from the crown, two full months before the signing of the document we celebrate in July. We were the first colony to declare independence, the last to ratify the Constitution of the new United States. We are the smallest state — in area — and we have the longest name, the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

A college professor of American literature asked on the first day of class what had happened in 1636 and I was thrilled to know the answer, it was, of course, the year Roger William left/fled/was thrown out of the Bay Colony and began a new settlement that would be rooted in separation of church and state. No, Dr. Brown said, it was the year the school which would grow into Harvard University was founded.

But Rhode Island was important, too, I protested, it represented an early break from the theocracy of the Bay Colony. And so it was, but it was not the answer sought that morning.

On the mainland they do make an event of remembering the Gaspee in June, making an event for near summer days. In 1772, a full three years before the Minutemen held the bridge at Concord and gave Massachusetts (and Maine, early part of the Bay Colony) Patriots’ Day, His Majesty’s Ship the Gaspee, here to enforce the crown’s customs collections, ran aground in Narragansett Bay. The colonials burned it.

It used to be a good thing to be Rogues.

It is May. A pair of cardinals flit about in the lush green grass and disappear into the new bright leaves of the flowering crab in the yard. This morning I saw Mr. and Mrs. Mallard swimming in a puddle in the Mansion Road. Bad parents they appeared to be, forgetting their sole surviving child, then the “duckling” in a distant puddle became a rock and I was relieved that they had not abandoned their duties.

We are readying for summer; they are building some sort of structures not quite over the not quite dunes that line the stretch of the Neck Road that runs so close to the sea. They are quite unlike what I had envisioned them to be from the drawing printed in the pages of this paper a few months ago. They are incomplete, still, their seaward side not installed, and they seem huge, like viewing platforms extending out over the rocks, cantilevered, awkward. I do not notice them so much heading south but going home, north, back down the Neck, they are odd frameworks, bridges to nowhere, looming in the May fog.

They are new, I tell myself, I will become accustomed to them in time, then I pull into the Solviken parking lot, and am stunned at the view, or lack thereof. The fact of them annoys and baffles me. It is not that people spend the summer trampling over the low, sandy ridge that is so astonishing; it is that they do so to climb down the bank of rocky rip-rap to a virtually nonexistent shore. The water, I know, is enticing; many a summer day I think if only I could snap my fingers and be in it I would, it is not the ocean rather the hot sandy beach I find so off-putting.

Perhaps a water slide would be a good addition, multiple water slides, wavy troughs with interiors painted aquamarine, something to build upon for the day the inevitable closing of the road to through traffic arrives.