It is January

Wed, 01/09/2013 - 3:22pm

It rained, the wind blew and I worried, needlessly, that the power would go out, and more to the point, my phone line and thus my internet connection would fall victim to the weather. It rained, the wind gusted up near 60 miles an hour but, amazingly, my worries were for naught, and the next morning all was intact and operational.

The morning was not sunny and bright, but it was calm and settling, the sea silver to the horizon, the land soaked, brown and tan and the green that surprises me every December’s end. The sky was oddly broken, hopefully light but not quite the after-the-storm scoured blue it might have been.

It had been one of those dreadful, brutal nights when the wind howls and an old house makes noises that may be familiar but are still startling, when I remember my second golden retriever. He was not as sweet and gentle as the first — no dog ever will be that — and for that fault I had decided he would stay downstairs. Until the night the wind rocked the house, then the bed and I gave in, grateful for the anchor he provided. He rarely stayed downstairs at night after that.

It is a wonderful room with windows on three sides but it is also a room in a very old house and in the raging storm I gave up thoughts of sleep and went back downstairs and watched the movie I’d earlier slept through. It’s all a matter of the direction of the wind which room is worse.

The power did not go off — I later learned it had in the middle of the island — and the phone was working. It was not until later, in mid-afternoon, that I went to town and found myself wondering where this winter will take us.

It is the road, still, and the beach, and the ocean, or a combination of the three, all against the ragged east wall of the breakwater, forlorn, missing its constant, its long green light. It seems with every storm the jetty is diminished and I am reminded of an old photograph showing a spur perpendicular to the long tumble of granite. I had seen it perhaps a hundred times but had never noticed that feature until the image was used when the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission used it to announce their annual conference, that year on Block Island.

In the archive of maps compiled by the Army Corps of Engineers back in the early 1990s that spur is documented, a stub set directly across from the end of the arm of jetty, now capped with a flashing red light, creating a narrow channel entrance. Over the years it simply disappeared, lesser and lesser in each map until with the 1938 hurricane it simply disappeared.

It seemed impossible just those two years ago when I was reading the narrative and searching the maps. Now, I watch the end of the breakwater, these same great chunks of granite, seeming to disappear before my eyes.

Twenty years ago we had storms all winter, a bad blow from the northeast in the middle of December, January, February and March. It was the year the Mansion Beach did not quite recover.

Now I wonder about the Town Beach and its ever diminishing parking lot. I barely remember the huge new lot installed just before the summer of Hurricane Carol. The aerial postcard I periodically pull out to substantiate my “the parking lot is disappearing” claim was taken later, after that summer, after the building had been painted State Beach Green. It was for decades an inventory mark, covering picnic benches and trash barrels.

For all the digging the parking lot is not near to the great basin it once was, a process that has been incremental over the years, exacerbated by the fall hurricane and following nor’easter. The great basin that could hold the high tide has disappeared; the water pushed in by the force of the sea meets no countering force and it continues to flow across the road, disconcerting to someone who has spent a lifetime watching the water recede.

Now it lies on the road for a day, swept away, finally, by the sunny wind.

Storms come and go, there has always been a rocky, narrow off-season beach and a wide sandy summer shore. Sachem is breached and naturally re-vegetates, but this displacement of sand and moving of breakwater walls remains disturbing, a real shifting of the world as I’ve always known it.

Days later, it is cold, hovering around freezing when the sun sets, not so terribly cold for early January, a thought confirmed by a report of eight degrees in 1999. That may have been the year of a week of bitter cold when I was sure if I could just make it to Saturday when the temperature was going to spike, I could get by without pipes freezing. The line from my pump was deep, I’d wanted it lower than my cousin William’s, which had frozen a few years earlier despite being a full three feet down. It was the line coming into the house that finally froze, on Friday afternoon. The neighbor said he’d be over after work with his sister’s hair dryer.

Well, I had a hair dryer and unlike my ill-fated attempts at fixing other things I knew I could do little damage and, for once, I was right, the hot air melted the frozen water and the next day, as expected, the weather turned and the air warmed.

Who would have thought it would be something as girly as a blow dryer that would be so much more effective — and much less dangerous – than the blow torches my father and friends wielded always with great care lest the pipe melt during those terrible cold snaps of my childhood.

It is cold, the brightly lighted fishing boats that appear in winter lie off the shore, shimmering at night. It is January.