February Fog

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 5:15pm

Among the many things I have had reinforced over the time I have been writing this column is the cyclical nature of our weather. What seems extraordinary likely happened if not last year then within the past several.

A while ago, now, someone called me — embodying the definition of “hair on fire” — with news that the inner basin of the Old Harbor, was frozen. My response, along the lines of “it’s really cold, it happens,” was apparently infuriatingly inadequate.

That part of the harbor does not have the traffic it did when I was little and the dwindling fishing fleet was still enough to support a fish market, perhaps two in the foggiest space of my not-quite-real memories. The Sprigg Carroll, the sturdy little noon boat from Galilee in winter and the little Nelseco II from Providence in the summer moored at the South Dock, provided daily traffic. While the island was at its economic nadir it still managed to support a variety of enterprises in the then soon-to-be-demolished row of buildings that lined the West Dock and extended out along the sandstone wall in winter as well as summer.

I had no clear recollection of ice in that basin but it seemed impossible it had not been there. Still, if not for that annoying conversation I might not even have noticed the slush ice floating on the water in a 1965 photo of the Sprigg sailing out with a school group on the astonishingly close-to-the-water upper deck.

Small wonder the face of Block Island changed when the Manitou, the first stern-loading vessel, with the ability to carry high trucks came on the scene.

And so it was with the fog that settled over the island Tuesday morning. A quick scroll through my own photos, which provide, at best, a sporadic record, found an empty landing with the East Wall of the Old Harbor a blurred shadow lurking in the gray beyond it in mid-February three years ago.

Fog has many faces. It can be oppressive, a sodden woolen blanket on a summer day, an unmoving cloud that leaves beads of water on the mesh of window screens and turns what was merely damp to dripping. It can block out the sun or intensify its warmth with the humidity driven summer “feels like” temperature counterpart to the winter wind chill.

Fog can be mystical, not just the ground fog that rises from low places in the early morning and on summer evenings. But regular old fog, covering parts of the island while the balance is in full sunlight, or rolling across the land in white clouds, like wind driven snow. We’re all seen boats emerging from it, the big white passenger carriers and wraith-like fishing and sailing vessels, with rigging still hidden.

Tuesday morning the fog came with an early peaking temperature, the high just over fifty on Block Island. It was a suspension of time cover, diffusing the sun even more than a normal overcast, shadowless day when there is still some sense of the source of the light, however well-hidden.

It had the feel of a winter storm a number of years ago, a snow that ceased only after coating every window on all sides of the house, that left us waiting for the full sun and the following sound of ice falling in sheets, startling at first, welcome as some view of the world emerged.

Except it was not cold, a change from recent days. Beyond the timelessness was the temperature that caused condensation to form on the window glass and make it weep, further distorting the winter bare trees and the March-in-February colored fields beyond them. It was strangely, briefly, ethereal.

The wind was yet brewing, there was a strange sense of equilibrium that is generally absent in all seasons in an old house, but especially in winter where on good days the low sun moves from window to window, marking time as certainly as the dog following heated patches on the floor. And on bad days the wind blows...

The fog was gone by noon, the forecast rain amounted to very little, the drying wind took some of the dampness from the land and the temperature dropped slowly, back to February norms.

Then I look at the news of severe weather across the country, from the expected, to the Pacific Northwest to the South and sweeping up toward New England but so far flying to our north. Even our pretty, benign — after the ice cover melted — snow is gone, eaten by the fog, the ponds are wide open, to the dismay of ice-boaters and the joy of the geese.

But we are only in the second part of February, and Washington’s birthday, neither the holiday nor his actual date of birth, is on the other side of the weekend.