Different Perspectives

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 5:00pm

The horizon looks impossibly high today, the world sunny and calm. I go to the door and am met by the sound of spring rolling in, long breakers rushing to the shore, the same lines I watched earlier, a steady march toward the shore that makes me marvel that there is any island left.

The atmosphere has shifted as the earth made the turn into a new season.

The air is still, the pond calm, I expect the rumble coming up from the beach to be louder, tonight. It always is, as all the noises of the daylight hours fall away, even out here where it seems there should be little ambient sound. Our senses shift in the dark, as well, the visual, be it jumble or feast, fades from sight and, wrapped in the night, we hear the earth speak. Years ago, when the ladies of the Harbor Church produced a community calendar — when it was still possible to still have room on a calendar for the date as well as meetings and scheduled events — a box on some March day read “listen for peepers.”

The peepers are in happy chorus, a welcome certainty, but here, on this old farm so near the water, it is that surf rolling up from the beach that first greets me when I go out the door. It is not the angry pounding of a storm sea, rather another assurance of a constant in a world still unsure of tomorrow.

There was heavy fog this morning, bright sun during the day, and as afternoon melds into evening, the soft haze of a warm day fading to cool is muting that seam of sea and sky off to the east.

There has been a great boat offshore this past week, the Global Symphony, a lyrical name for a working vessel. When I first noticed, it was distant, but obviously huge and, at that moment, pointed toward the land. I know marine tracking sites exist, one I followed during a phase of stalking the USCG Eagle, the wondrous barque that drew too much water to clear the cut but sometimes anchored off the beach, a ghost of a ship rising through summer-morning mist. But, why go to that work when a simple text to a former Council colleague will provide an answer I know to be accurate and with geeky detail, not only confirming what I thought it to be, with the details of name and size, but also “It uses direct positioning drive to keep it on station” and has a “heli-deck on the bow.”

I live a three-mile drive from town, a road that bends and curves but basically follows the same direction and, always amazingly, provides vastly different perspectives of ships off the east beach. There were huge tankers when I was growing up, that sometimes rose over the farm next door and looked to be ready to come ashore but did not look at all that way from town.

One winter there were two huge fishing plants just off Mansion Beach, always brightly lighted and at work, gulls flying around their illuminated sterns at night while voices in a language we did not understand floated over the water.

All week people have been taking photographs of the Global Symphony, from different perspectives, a tower above the harbor, a hilltop on the far side of the inland salt ponds, the landward side of the sandy berm along Corn Neck, the top of a paved curve that embraces Calico Hill. The ship is only about two-and-a-half times the length of the Block Island, but it is so much higher, and the rules of the road of the working vessel require such a wide berth, that the appearance of the two “meeting” is preposterous, a whale and a minnow.

It is the glimpses from the stretch of road just south of Scotch Beach, where there are dips in the dunes, that have been my favorite these past years as big construction vessels have been off our beaches. They provide a very different perspective as well and this week, there the vessel was, a white tower above a bright red hull, seeming to be nearly aground; absent any point of reference, and with the bright sun blurring the details that add depth, it could have been near or far.

I enjoy watching the activity on the water. It may be simply because it amplifies old memories when we saw diesel submarines out of Groton, and those big oil tankers we could tell if empty or full by how they rode the water, and our own diminished but larger than current fishing fleet.

Or it calls up a time I never knew, when there had to have been much more activity, when cargo ships were smaller and sailed closer and wrecks were so common the government chose two lighthouses and three lifesaving station locations for our tiny island — and, over time built a total of five of each.

Our little island long has been witness to extraordinary things.