Once or twice a month I go to the airport to pick up some prescription, by a slightly out-of-the-way route, across the bridge and along the length of Beach Avenue. There is dramatically less traffic than there has been, the funny little jog when Beach and Ocean cross not a spot of merging traffic, and I noticed for the first time the overgrown hedge in front of the lovely white house, a place frozen in my mind as neatly-tended, with its green trim and perfectly spaced windows. It was a private residence before it became a guest house, home of a successful local businessman, set on a rise at a junction in the road built to connect the two harbors.
Block Island was booming then, at the end of the 19th century, and there was likely an expectation that commerce, removed from the old center to the harbors, would expand and a little town would line the corridor between the docks. It did, in a sense, as many other residences were built, places removed from the farmland surrounding them.
I explain to visitors, yes, this is the town, and if they are interested — and some are merely baffled that it could be so small — explain that we have no cohesive village center. Instead of a green, we have the lawn of the hotel onto which a church was built and an orphan park adjoining it; the Town Hall grew around an old district school; the police station is in the other harbor; and that the fact of the library being in “town” is no more than an accident of fate, that it was the house site of the man who left funding for its construction.
It is, overall, a stretch of road I love, from Corn Neck, over to Center, from the wide shoulder where bowers of mutiflora bloom in the spring, past Twin Maples, one of the best examples of re-purposed buildings we have, the grand one-time Weather Bureau, the Hygeia House, and Dr. Handley's tall, towered white residence hiding behind privet hedges, a sort of mini Historic District where newer structures have been carefully designed.
There is that jog and then the falling down nearly to the level of the water, and a trench running ultimately to the Great Salt Pond. There was a wide field there when I was little and I think a barn, or at least a barn foundation, upon which the center of a no longer especially new house rests.
And there were work horses in my foggy memory, two of them, sturdy creatures who fascinated me whenever we drove that way. Unless they were in another field with a tumbling barn. It is these snapshot memories that make me long to go back in time for the sole purpose of seeing what was truly there and what grew in my imagination from an errant seed.
That there was a mill on the far side of Center where Beach runs into it I know, a mill and a hotel and its annex, the last the only one surviving, a certainty because there are photographs, otherwise I would disbelieve the story, there seems not to be enough land.
A set of cement steps greets anyone coming up Beach Avenue. They define a whole era for me, one of moving in from the country, away from the granite slabs that are coveted for their authenticity today but were always slightly uneven. The modern poured steps are all about for the finding.
The ocean to the east is the bright blue of an October afternoon, touched by whitecaps, and while it feels nearly warm the trees have gone from swaying to whipping in the wind and I can hear the movement of the air through the closed windows.
It is not a surprise that the afternoon boats are cancelled, or not as much of a surprise that there are still afternoon boats on a Wednesday.
There are trees that are nearly bare and others that cling to their leaves, defying the change in the seasons. There are more surprises than those of boat schedules; on the far side of the old orchard lot behind my house there is more green than I had noticed before the wild scrub was cut and a couple of privet bushes became evident. They must have been there awhile, they are far from small.
The privet are like the silver trees waving in the front field, still lushly dressed, the ornamental olives planted before we knew better, intentional vegetation turned loose in a receptive habitat and run very wild, spread, one presumes, on the wind and by birds. They remind me of an open meadow of new grass in the springtime, rippling in the breeze, an ocean of undulating spears, except they look more like the green water of a storm.
In October I look for roses, domesticated and wild, both, today making a point of driving slowly down the Neck Road, watching for a flash of pink to pull over and get out of the car. The first that caught my eye was a ghost of itself, wilted, ready to fall. Another, nearby, was wind-tossed, appearing to be on the same bush as rose hips, those spherical containers of seeds and Vitamin C, some already withering. Poison ivy, as red now as it was in the spring when it was new, was interwoven with the thorny stems and I moved along the shoulder.
There was another flag of pink, a bit improved, and I noticed flashes of improbably bright green, the color of new spring leaves and among them a bud, a beach rose bud in October. There are always roses, most in better shape than these, but the promise of another yet generally takes a bit more looking than it did today.
And as the sun sets the wind picks up, the cloud scuttle across the sky and I wonder what leaves will be left come tomorrow.