No Good Wind
There is no good wind in winter, there are only those days without wind that come as gifts, spreading over the land with the ever-earlier morning sun. They are to be met with gladness and thanksgiving; Sunday, a week after remarkable and unusual below-zero temperatures, was one, a "where-is-my-coat? Oh, I left it in the car” kind of day.
The sun is setting late enough that I do not want the clocks to spring ahead, not at the expense of an hour of morning light. Monday was wonderful, the second day of sunny calm that so easily lulls us into believing winter has taken its leave. It was, by the calendar, if not the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Washington's Birthday, the legal name of the day, still, that was meant to be Presidents' Day and is generally so-called.
It is, weirdly, not a state holiday here, a grumble silenced with a reminder of Victory Day, that summer only-in-Rhode Island oddity.
It was the day my cousin John Robinson Lewis would tell me the back of winter was broken, a conversation I remember taking place on the beach in weather making the assertion seem plausible. He was of my father's generation and both men could recite poetry learned in one of the district school houses on Block Island, although my dad's speciality was more historical facts that had slipped into the realm of trivia.
At supper my father would ask when was Washington born? It was not the date then celebrated, before that Holiday Act, it was not, he explained — every year he explained — truly Feb. 22. George Washington was born before the calendar was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian, his “real” birthday was Feb. 11! My mother had, I am only after all these years realizing, the same expression folks I know have in early May when I go about asking, “What day is it?” (If it is May 4, it is R.I. Independence Day.)
I do understand the slowly evolving science of time measurement, this way of years and days not quite aligning, brought to the fore this Leap Year, this February of 29 days every four years, excepting century years unless they are divisible by 400. Still, this business of moveable birthdays... my solidly New England mother would have dismissed it all as the doing of “some Pope,” which she always qualified as "just an elected office.” Therefore, it does not come as a surprise to find among the “things you don't know” on one website explaining the calendar conversion: “Some Protestants viewed the Gregorian calendar as a Catholic plot.”
It is sometimes called the quietest time of the year — vacation week(s) in February — but it seems there has been a lot going on in a small town sort of way. On Mansion Road a tree came down in a great gust of wind, the same that snapped a branch of my oldest lilac. The wind rolled my errant trash can, already moved from the north side of the house west to the front yard, to the east and south, to the edge of the field next to the clothes line. It is still there, I remember now, at night, but the top is secure and as tomorrow promises to be yet another lousy weather dump day it can stay put in the scrub brush.
There were vehicles in the upper lot of the Mansion Beach one day, belonging to surfers either out on the water or on the high land, gazing over the temptation of the long rollers. The part of the road from the old stone tower out was graded, a spattering of potholes too varied to be avoided with an easy slalom run, filled. Tractors and a side-feeding rake sat inside a wall, poised, waiting for the months away haying season; they seem to be anxious for an opportunity to break at the most inopportune moment.
Construction vehicles began to fill the fenced-in north parking lot of the Town Beach and at Old Harbor Dock sat a barge filled with a certain-size stone for concrete to encase the cable that will soon be buried. It was unloaded with relative ease, a conveyor belt carrying streams of material to fill waiting dump trucks. Walking to the beach one day we, the dog and I, heard geese, and there they were flying overhead, a single line of them, headed to the open water of the pond.
The days were longer, the dreadful cold snap of the weekend broken, and the moon, working its way to its Full Snow Moon state, pulled at the oceans and drew the tides lower and lower, exposing mud and rocks that remain submerged for weeks between lunar cycles. This week it was the moon, more than the vessels offshore, that lighted my room, it was the moon, aflame, setting in the west, deepening my usual wakening confusion. It was as bright as the sun, but in too dark a sky, and the sun was already sending its first fingers up in the east.
There were days of near mild, when no one was feeling beholden to the cold, and all of the little things that can go so unnoticed, were jumping forth, vying for attention. Even the beach felt different, more sandy, than it did a mere week ago when a vessel sat just off the stony shore, half hidden by sea smoke. I wondered when last there just how much of the beach has moved inland in the last 20 years; this February there is the beginning of a dune where there used to be only the flat track of the entrance.
Tonight, the just past full moon is hidden by heavy clouds. I hear the wind out there, rumbling, threatening, heavy and wet and raw, hard out of the east.
The back of winter may well be broken, but it is not graciously taking its leave, not with March, its last chance, just around the corner.