Castle in the Air

Thu, 01/28/2021 - 5:00pm

The big pond behind my house is shallow, surprisingly so, and more surprisingly, it rarely freezes. Even these days of deep cold, a significant portion of it is open, moving water, one moment a roiling mass of diamonds catching the scant sun, another the deep blue of a suddenly cloudless sky. The geese still land and paddle about, dark shapes in the morning light.

The back part of the pond, more protected from the cold northwest wind, is frozen but in layers that tell it is not completely protected. Winter had been coming toward the end of January of late. It snowed first on the 24th one year when it was beginning to feel we might have eluded winter altogether. The next year it happened again, in the context of an isolating coastal storm. This year is not a lesser version, a couple of days late.

By afternoon a dusting of snow had turned the ice white, the open water that dusky blue-gray that is a color of winter. “Snow showers” a weather site terms such undecided weather. There is much green left in the land, when there is no long, low sun to turn it gold. By January’s end it is hard to know if it is lingering from the fall or pushing toward the spring, either way it seems to hold some warmth of its own, fending off the cold cover.

It was not a day of dramatic weather changes, no blue sky turning black, no wild squalls passing quickly, allowing the sun a few moments of glory before setting. There were bright patches this morning, but the sun couldn’t get beyond that pale gold that is almost silver. It has been so windy and cold that nearly calm sunshine was a gift, and, today, when the snowflakes started, big and wet, it felt almost mild.

As the sun, well covered by clouds, neared its descent below the land to the west, the line of the horizon where the sky and sea are sealed, was clear, and the south end of the island had emerged from behind a curtain of snowy rain and fog.

Now, the lights of the harbor start to show in the half light. It is part of a memory of childhood, these winter afternoons turning blue and seeing town take shape, even when there was so little, no boat later than mid-afternoon all of the winter, no lighted landing, no hotel cupolas shining golden in January.

It surprises me, still, to realize how obscured that old view has become, in part by overgrowth and in part by things planted, or sprung up and left untouched, with no expectation they would grow so high. We cannot be any less windswept these days than we were decades ago when the land was so much emptier, but there had to have been a point in my early life when the low brush began providing cover to itself, the preparation of an evolution of vegetation that followed.

Now there is a lift boat — or two — out on/over the waters between here and the Old Harbor. It is hard to know why so many of us are so fascinated by them, be it the lights in winter, the shifting activity, the wonder where will they be tomorrow. People start with reservation, as if they are confessing an undefined sin, an admission of liking the work platforms, seeing them over the dunes, off the beach, in the harbor. Someone confided they wanted to live on one, with the stability of land and the mobility of a boat.

In the half light of a morning that could not make its way to lasting sunshine the working station looked like a dark vessel, back-lighted from the southeast. It could even have been the Black Freighter, which upon the whim of Pirate Jenny, turned around in the harbor “shootin’ guns from her bow,” in that fantasy of vengeance from “Three Penny Opera.”

I don’t want to level the town, truly, I don’t, I just like the song and, yes, the justice afforded Jenny, however harsh it may be. This is not the first, and I doubt it will be the last, ship — or ships — I fancy to be the embodiment of the Black Freighter off the east beach.

Then comes that blue end of day, and my Black Freighter morphs into a magical Castle in the Air. As twilight deepens, the lights brighten until the scrub trees that felt so in the way in the morning start to fade to nothingness.

As true night falls and the land vanishes into the darkness, leaving only the lights of town suspended in air behind the lift boats, they could all be a part of one fabric. Tonight, everything on land, save the flashing tower beacon caught by pure chance in this photo, has vanished into rainy blackness.

Tonight, there is only a tiny city out there.