Far side of the pond

Fri, 04/23/2021 - 11:00am

There is a day in the fall when I look west from the Neck Road and see the New Harbor, emptied seemingly overnight, the blue water that had been populated with boats, as many some summer days as there are houses on the land, wide and open.
It is wide and blue and empty but for the mooring balls, bright white dots I never see the summer long. It is when I notice, finally, that the life has been dissipating at the marinas, the awnings are gone.
Now it just wide and blue, waiting. In another month the land all around it will will have peaked and that shimmering verdant of early May will already be sliding over to the seeded grasses of June.
On a Wednesday, on the Neck Road, I pull over to take a photograph of the empty harbor. It’s Wednesday in the still off-season and like every Wednesday in the off-season it takes me a moment to register that there is traffic, that there really is more traffic because it is the only constant weekday the transfer station is open. The stuff in the backs of trucks heading north and the empty cans in those heading south is also a sound clue.
There is weather coming, which is a given out here, it’s just a matter of time and variety. I pulled over, into the little parking lot, land filled with the best of intentions but no permit, after such things were required. The bridge across the marsh, used by more people than ever imagined when it was first constructed, largely by people looking for no more than a visit to a beach with real waves. Some even abide by the crosswalk painted on the road.
A few years ago the photographer for whom I work had in his window a photo of the walkway, under a winter colored sky, the weathered planking running between winter-colored vegetation, leading to a winter-empty pond. A couple came in to purchase it, talking of biking around the whole harbor and inner-reaches, on a futile search and finally returning to their boat after a swim, following the same path they had already, a few times, on that walkway they did not recognize in another season.
People who tell such stories laugh at their own folly and the lesson learned and it is easy to imagine them relating it to their friends in winter when they dream of summers on the water.
There was nothing of recreation in the early attempts to create a harbor from the pond. The Rev. Livermore gleaned from records, old even in the 1870’s when he was compiling his history.
“In 1680 the Islanders were throughly united in an effort which organized a Harbor Company with “liberty and license to erect and build a harbor or harbors upon the Island in any place.” The town gave the company “all the land or meadow... gained by the making of the harbor or harbors.” It also gave “two days of work a year to each inhabitant,” and also “the whole privilege of the harbor.” Capt. James Sands was the leading man in the company, into which several new members were admitted, and
acknowledged such before Chief Warden Simon Ray, Sept 14, 1686. This first harbor on Block Island was the Great Pond, as the “land or meadow” produced by it must have come from lowering the water, and as no other water could be so reduced. This was done at a place on the west side of the Great Pond where only a narrow rim of sand separates it from the ocean, and hence that rim extending southerly and widening into arable land was subsequently known as “Harbor Neck.”
“In July, 1694, fourteen years after the Harbors Company was organized, it surrendered back to the town the charter, evidently because the enterprise was not successful.”
They regrouped, struggled along, in various incarnations, until June 1706 when “the enterprise was abandoned, after a continuance of twenty-five years and great expense and anxiety. The principal reason assigned by the town was that by “the providence of God that a prodidgious storm hath broken down the above said harbor and laid it waster.”
How can one resist such reasoning, especially when laced with words a twenty-first century spell check rejects?

By 1717 they had moved east, to the then New Harbor, “the Pier,” that delta of rock spreading out from the shore near the southern end of Crescent Beach.
And so it went, back and forth, those most prodidgious storms laying waste to effort upon effort until the later part of the nineteenth century when Government, now Old Harbor, was was begun under the Harbor and Rivers Appropriation Act of 1867 and the final breach was cut into the now New Harbor, through that Harbor Neck, in 1895.
There were all manner of grand plans, some brought to fruition, others never going beyond first stages, before being buried in the pages of old town records, I was reminded the other day when I found a privately owned, in 1955, “light house site.” It was before plat maps and often property descriptions held historic clues. I remembered it from an old zoning application, which never got beyond the “it’s a postage stamp!” stage. It is still there, at least in maps, a tiny piece of land hanging off the interior corner off Beane Point, still under separate ownership, the planned site of a channel beacon, long before the Coast Guard Station was built across from it.
Today, the station is in clear sight on the far side of the pond, red and white buildings on the spit of land holding the blues of the ocean and sky apart. They are shining in the sun, braced for spring winds and the soon-to-come summer.