High Tide and Green Grass

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 3:01pm
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The title of this column may be familiar; it is the same as a Rolling Stones album released in 1966. As if the year is not horrifying in and of itself, realizing that the title was actually “Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)” is worse. Over the years I have pared down the vinyl and do not even know if it is among the records I just cannot quite bring myself to discard. I am sure they would not survive the “would-I-keep-it-if-I-moved” standard, then I see the large collection belonging to friends who have lugged the heavy records through more moves than they care to recount.

A younger B.I. Times colleague reads a definition over the phone and I scoff and ask “you’re NOT reading that off Wikipedia?” knowing the answer but here I am a week later at the same site, seeing that “High Tide and Green Grass” was the Stones’ “first complication album” whatever that means. In my mind there is no “Big Hits” clouding the title and the scrap of unvegetated gray stone on which the group is standing  — next to flat gray water — in the image of the cover is in my mind’s eye what it should be, green grass.

Later, after putting aside Three Penny Opera and Judy Collins’ “In My Life,” both out for differing versions of the same song of the ship in harbor swinging round shooting guns from the bow, I think I may never have owned it, but I find a Best compiled a few years later, but still so long ago that the Rolling Stones, yes, those Rolling Stones are in one photo wearing jackets and ties.

It is quite a distraction, that music that I cannot imagine will ever feel old. And an annoyance, the having to keep flipping the disc.

High tide and green grass, five simple words that evoke a feeling of springtime, of plenty, of peace, of thousands and thousands more words that all fold back to the simplicity of those five.

The spring tides are running high. Along the beach road where the ocean always feels near this afternoon it seemed closer. I stopped at the monument and looked north and south and in both directions, where the rocks have been dumped in a futile effort to stop the march of Nature, there was no beach, not even a glimmer of a stony sand. The surf, low as it usually is at that point, was up to the rip-rap.

The one great boulder that is always visible out behind the Surf Hotel was as close to underwater as it gets, its top washed by the moving ocean. The tide was high but, I later learned, a full seven inches lower than it should be this coming Saturday.

But I did not know, and even had I that fact at hand, I likely would still have stopped at the walkway out to the shore of the Great Salt Pond, the big sturdy boardwalk put in to allow traffic over the marsh. We don’t always get things right in this town — a truth not negated by the fact we are doing better than many others. Neither do we often consider the things we did get right, like this bridge to the water that was unnecessary, too expensive, that would never be used.

The water was high around the pond, in places the marsh completely submerged, covered by a sheet of flat silver in that time after sunset but before dark when color leeches from the earth.

There was in this very publication a photograph of the walkway flooded, a sight I’d never witnessed, and with the ocean so high it seemed — or I hoped — it might be close.  The times of the tides are different in the Old and New harbors but not so much that the foot or more I found between the planking and water could be closed in the few minutes remaining. The distance was a disappointment, much more than the nine inches it should gain by week’s end.

It is another glorious extreme of spring, when ornamental trees explode in a single day’s sunshine, and it seems possible to measure the daily growth of lilies and iris. The landscape is changing quickly, the open barren spaces of winter disappearing, softened by new green leaves, tiny yet, but on the move.

The moon is growing, bigger and whiter each night, uncompromised by the sheets of clouds scurrying past it, trying without success to dominate the sky and shut out the light of lunacy.

What is it like away from the ocean, where the gravitational pull of the moon has no bearing on day to day life? It does not impact my daily life but I cannot imagine living without ever knowing the shore that is changed with every tide, strewn with a thick blanket of seaweed one day, impossibly cleared of it the next, more completely than an army of voracious gardeners could manage in that short a time.

I’ve moved from the Rolling Stones to another old, old record, Don McLean singing “American Pie.”

That’s another bit of Block Island trivia: Don McLean, that Don McLean, once performed on the stage of the Empire Theatre, he and Gordon Bok and others of the crew of the sloop Clearwater, Pete Seeger’s at-the-time newly launched Hudson River sloop.

It was years before I had any idea I had seen Don McLean, live and in person. I remembered Pete Seeger because he was... Pete Seeger, national treasure and champion of the green-banked Hudson, and Gordon Bok for his song of seal people in the cold waters off the coast of Maine.

Places of green grass influenced by high tides.