It was a journey

Wed, 11/30/2011 - 3:32pm

There are days of pale sand and blue, blue water when the only appropriate response stepping through the gap between the dunes and coming upon a world wide open to the horizon is the rather inarticulate “What a beach!” It is empty, there is no one to hear, but it needs be said aloud.

The tide appears, at first, to be out, but walking down to the wide and hard and dry apron, I realize that it has turned and is incoming. The sea is calm and the waves are gentle but their progress is visible on the sand at the water’s edge. It has only just turned, and the tide is not rising fast.

It is strange to walk the shore thinking of the ocean beneath my feet, where it has infiltrated the sand and a bit of digging would expose it. Years and years ago, decades and decades ago, I remember a boy with a shovel up toward the dunes. The hole he had created, in which he was standing, seemed feet deep – as it probably was – and the sidewalls layers of stone and gravel, the phases of coming and going we see during the winter. At the bottom, there was water pooling around his feet. It was not a plastic toy he was wielding; in my mind’s inaccurate eye it was more the size of a coal shovel.

It is not summer and there are no gaping holes, the ones that are ignored until something happens, then caution is exercised until people forget and the cycle starts over again. It is afternoon, the sun is coming from south of west, shining out over the bottomless blue sea. The horizon is jagged, crumpled silk, and just beyond it a cargo ship looms, only its uppermost towers visible, floating. The green buoy catches the sun but most striking is a tall white sail that seems out of place in November. It is a beautiful day, but deep into a fall afternoon, one not too warm for a hat and gloves ay least part of the way.

More in keeping with the season, a solitary seal lolls on a boulder out in the water, immobile in the way of seals lounging. The water was rising, a gentle lapping ground swell, one of those days when the horizon is broken but there is no white water in sight, no breaking the blue surface. It is entertaining watching these creatures deny the rise of the water, but it will be a while before the tide is high enough to make him move – too long to wait.

The sand is returning, not as far north as I would like. Beyond Jerry’s Point it is more between rocks, still, than covering them, but moving in the right direction. I am, as always, surprised at the amount of sand when only a few weeks ago the shore was so rocky.

There are gulls aplenty, and a few sanderlings, but no more seals in sight and I turn and head south, expecting the little black dog to follow.

She doesn’t, taken by whatever she is finding, or hoping to find, wedged in between the rocks and drift. I have to go back for her and wonder how to explain to her master that I lost his good little dog, that while I wasn’t paying attention some bad spirited creature came to inhabit her body.

Eventually, thankfully, she returns to her good self, trotting along the sand. There is a rock I used to always reach, just beyond the north end of Scotch, which is quite a way from the south end of Mansion. The whole of the reach from the Surf Hotel to Jerry’s Point is Crescent Beach but I like that there are still these pockets that have no special designation. Surely people have their own names for them but I prefer the vaguery of "north of" or "south of."

Perhaps it is the tide or the angle of the sun, but I notice a piece of beach glass on the sand, a shard of green. It is not so common anymore; plastic bottle do not shatter and have their sharp edges ground away until they are semi-precious jewels waiting to be captured by fine silver threads. I’ve never collected it, didn’t even realize anyone did until 1976 when I remarked on a jar of it in a house I was visiting. There are four pieces in all in my path, the one green and three others, milky white. No blues or reds but still, for me, finds that are now on the kitchen counter.

The days are shorter, by 7 p.m. it feels like 10 p.m., and the temperature is shifting. I think of Thanksgivings and try to remember the weather other years.

It has varied. I have a snapshot from the 1960s, the cousin we always called “Aunt” probably because it was just much simpler, on the walk with my parents. My mother had an apron on over her pretty dress, a blue and white print I can still envision beyond the black and white image. It must have been on the way into the house.

Aunt Alice, always referred to as AA, was from an age when ladies wore hats, not the knitted affairs I pull over my head before heading out in the cool wind, but carefully crafted – and attached – millenary, usually dark, with a touch of netting and perhaps a feather. In the photo she has on her good coat, her good Republican cloth coat, but with the requisite shawl fur collar, her good coat from fall through winter and into the spring. I wonder how it was they were not cold all the time, those ladies of that age.

It was not cold that year, she alone was wearing a coat and would have regardless of the weather, it was her good coat and she was going out to Thanksgiving dinner. Other years it snowed, once an unexpected foot on the ground when we woke up in Massachusetts. It seemed there was a spell when the sea was always rough the day before.

It has become an odd holiday weekend on Block Island, marked with comings and goings. Only a mere half century ago a lady would put on her good hat and go to the Neck and it was a journey.