Mist over New England
I was, as usual, half-listening to the news, and not watching at all. It was almost 7:30 and had been on for quite a while, recycling some bits of local events and human disasters that have become the staple of newscasts, no matter how distant, and a blurb or two about the
machinations of Hollywood stars, most with unfamiliar names.
I heard “mist over New England” and looked up, not to the television screen, but to my own windows and went out into the fading light, not realizing at the time how late it was. It had been a gray afternoon and at day’s end there was that phenomenon common in such weather, a band of paler light between the tree line and the blueing sky.
That newscaster had been talking of it being cool for late April but it felt fine; there was absolutely no wind. The peepers were in full chorus from every low damp area, and there are many down here at this time of year, but there was also the soft tolling of the bell that drifts over from the ocean off the west beach when there is a near calm and that certain quality of quiet that comes with damp air.
Every day I am more aware of our lost landscapes. Someone posts a photo – or reposts a photo of mine — on social media, one that captures the island decades ago, my brother and I looking like the farm kids we were, by the picket fence that once encircled the yard, its whitewash fading. Again, I am struck by what is behind us, the chicken coop down in the field, the spruce now nearly gone that were so small but seemed so big because I was a toddler, and the entirety of the beautiful white house up on the main road that was visible from its porch up to its ridgepole. It is not visible, now, swallowed whole by the overgrowth, the scrub brush I call with great pretense, the “treeline” and on the crest of the hill behind it, probably three-quarters of a mile behind my brother and me, the shape of an old farmhouse.
My mother was friends with the lady who owned it, whose husband must have come on weekends, my memory of him is vague, if real at all. She lived somewhere near Providence, by what seemed a sea of curving railroad tracks, in a big yellow house that likely had tenants upstairs. The property here had odd rentals in outbuildings that once had been something else. It was not so long ago I finally connected it with the farm in an old photo, the outbuildings sheds, a barn I’d never seen and presumed to have been taken by the ‘38 hurricane.
A few summers ago someone asked me about the farmhouse and it was a surprise to hear the name after so many years. I had little to offer but they seemed satisfied simply to have found someone who knew the name at all.
The house is gone now as well, but I remember the kitchen ell, with a shallow cistern beneath the floor and a porch on the south, and an unused door at the far end of the structure where there were only bedrooms. It would likely have faded from my memory after the house
changed hands and we no longer visited but for someone finding an old obituary, more an odd take on someone who had lived there, a distant relative I later realized, gone long before I was born, a sort of hermit she was characterized, a lady who had not been outside for years, had kept not only to the house but her end of it. My mother wondered if she had suffered from agoraphobia which had recently been in headlines for reasons I do not recall.
She would not have gone out, even on a soft evening such as this, although she would have heard the bell from her hill, had there been a bell back then.
The grass is greening and growing, the clumps of wheat-colored grass losing their prominence. Looking toward the south end of the island, at the muted blue of a misty dusk, I noticed the old disc harrow, sinking into itself, more flattened than it was a year ago, recognizable to an increasingly few number of people.
It has been there a very long time, once next to the big garden plot, hauled over the earth broken by the plow every spring, loosening the chunks of dirt, cutting the new roots trying to bind it in place. It sat the rest of the year; I was the generation of Saturday morning Westerns and remember fancying it a stagecoach ready to be pulled by imaginary horses.
The crumbling side-feeding rake is beside it, quite recognizable. To me.
It was so light, the pond behind the house a classic lady’s mirror perfectly reflecting the growth around it, still a long way from green, I did not realize until I went back in that it was nearly 7:30, the exceedingly long evening news loop shifting over to some silly star-loaded “magazine.”
The sunset was still a few minutes off, but here, on the east side of the island, it slides below the land a few minutes before it meets the horizon. There was no golden hour, no golden minute, just more softly fading blue-gray. So many years it is cool nearly until the end of April then May Day bursts sunny and bright.
Such is not being forecast this year. We have moved from a soft dusk to a damp night. There are lights in the neighborhood but my south-facing kitchen windows are still salty from the high surf so when I let Autumn out I follow and look across the bay, to the harbor, and see only a thin strip of pale yellow.
A vehicle is on the road, seeming to be coming from the beach. It is late but not that late and I watch and wait. It moves along, turns the corner and I see the flash of its tail lights as it moves west up the Mansion Road and I wait, and finally, just before it disappears into the dark mist, Autumn barks.