The First Full Day of Summer

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 2:45pm

The solstice came on a fair wind, the softest of breezes from the southwest.

The first full day of summer brought rain and sun and rain, again. The temperature wavered between cool and warm, comfortable and on the edge of humid. It was never truly hot and the pavement did not billow steam as it can during an August downpour, but it misted gently when the rain fell on it.

Grass along the roadsides, already leaning under the heavy weight of seed, bent more, drooping toward the earth. It has grown tall, as high as a baby elephant’s eye, although my concept of the size of a baby elephant has more to do with Dumbo than the Nature Channel, so it may be a bit off. Every year I am surprised by it, and remember when absent property owners to the north were talking about building a house. They had the land cleared and seeded with rye, new grass that grew so tall it reached the brim of my father’s white cap.

They never did build and the land went to conservation but when they talked about it, absently, they sent along pages of designs of houses manufactured, in part, elsewhere to be assembled on site. They fascinated me, those A-frames and chalets and sprawling ranches, and with the open plans that was all that was needed for a vacation house, be it in the mountains or at the shore.

The world would not have ended had one of those houses been built. It was not a site that had always been vacant; a little box is shown on the spot on one of the older maps of the island, one that identified each homestead by owner. There are trees there still, the maples that shimmer green in late spring and early summer, and have to them still the feel of a farmyard.

It is one of those things that is difficult to explain, the houses that used to exist that are no longer, and the ones that stood when I was a child, long abandoned, unwanted, even forgotten. Others show, neat and inhabited on the images that flash on a new screen in the Historical Society, falling into one of a few “what happened to it?” categories: burned, moved, or gone, yes, just gone. It is hard to convey that people just walked away, that the land had no cash value, even that parcel to the north of me, the never-re-built upon 30 acres, was on the block for the unimaginable sum of $500, far more money than anyone here had to spare.

Today it is the way to the beach, part of the Clay Head Trail that rises from the shore to the cliff. I wonder sometimes, crossing it, if would seem different if I lacked the knowledge of the history of the place, would it still have that feel of a farmyard, of a place once inhabited.

The grass must be bowing over there tonight.

Earlier, it poured and in a lull the sound on the street was of water pouring into catch basins. It pooled, making every depression in the pavement a puddle. I know better but I still expect the streets to be even, and am surprised when I find my feet in water, washing over the soles of my sandals, better than soaking shoes one supposes.

Another of my yearly adventures found me on the high porch of the hotel my Uncle Ray, the brother of my great-grandmother, had built in the course of one winter to replace the one burned to the ground one terrible July night. It was gray and chilly and the heavy plastic sides that could not have been imagined in the early 1900s had been lowered and secured, sealing out the weather but leaving a view, still, of the harbor in the waning light of a rainy evening.

The view wasn’t much different than it would be another time of year, the granite breakwaters hanging in the gray-blue muted light of a cloud-covered sunset, further muted by the thick curtains. They might have been a mural painted on a wall for all the life that was evident in the harbor.

Time stood still, the light outside did not change, then, suddenly, it was dark, the breakwater vanished. It seemed the storm was returning with flashes of lightning which I finally realized wasn’t lightning at all but the lights of the odd car coming up Dodge Street, reflecting fleetingly on the shiny plastic.

It is summer; just in the short time I was there the flashing lights of a police car preceded those of an ambulance, on a seemingly calm early Wednesday night.

We used to sit on the steps of this hotel when even in mid-summer it loomed dark and empty above us. It dominated photographs of the street, especially those taken from the approaching boat, gray and barren, lacking any of the picturesque charm of the forgotten houses, or even the tumbling down hotels since disappeared.

It took several tries by more than one owner to right the great ship that is the National, to set it on course, sailing from the bleak days of the 60s toward a second century.

Houses are lighted on the Neck Road, rented for Race Week many of them, and it is good to see signs of life after an endless winter. At home the sound of June bugs, scourge of the season, battling around the window is a distraction reminding me of the bird that came in the other day when I left the door open. It happens every year, poor things, they fly for the kitchen windows, drawn by the light, and hit solid glass, over and over, until I can catch them or shoo them in another direction.

There are no June bugs tonight, the sound was too regular and, finally, I recognized it to be rain, more rain, an odd, plodding rain, falling in the darkness, landing on the leaves of the bushes outside the open window.