Palm Sunday

Fri, 04/03/2015 - 8:30am
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The day after Palm Sunday there is a red-wing blackbird fluttering about my front field and crocuses have braved the cold. It was my long ago understanding that the trinity of spring, the appearance of this fauna and flora was sealed by a flurry of snow.

Saturday night the dog came in wet, but I thought little of it until I went upstairs in the dark and realized the land all around was white.

March gives us redwings and crocus, promises of spring, but then instead of that a flurry gifts us with real ground-blanketing snow. It covered the little snowdrops that only the day before had finally braved the elements and begun to look like the real flowers they should have a month earlier.

On the day that was Palm Sunday, on social media people were posting photographs of snow, either with the wonder that comes with the first, long awaited white after a season of dull brown late fall and early winter, or with the “enough” that has been the refrain for the last weeks.

It was beautiful and many of us who live far off the road agreed we would rather have snow than mud. I thought it like February, 13 months ago, until I looked at the older photo, taken from the same south-facing window when the sun was in a different position and the land looked not softly covered but frozen in place by that breath of winter from children's books.

By early afternoon, roofs were dark when snow had melted and the morning's ice was gone from the roads. The snow that coated every blackberry vine behind my house, every twig of every bush in the front lot, that lay in an even coat on the rooftops, was almost gone, fallen in clumps, running in rivers down south-facing shingles.

The days are longer; when Autumn and I left for the beach, it was 4 p.m. and the sun would not set for another three hours. We dawdled, meandering around mud puddles, stopping to look at places there should be daffodils reaching for the light and walked onto the sand at nearly the same time as sunset in early December.

It had been too long since we had last been to the beach, back when there was ice on the ground and every step was taken with great caution. Now it is merely an obstacle course, these potholes filled with water, some almost reaching the full span of the road.

There was an oddity: the imprint of tire treads, the kind that belong to heavy equipment, on the path to the shore, from something wide enough that it nearly touched both shoulders. Had there been a shipwreck I wondered, or some other catastrophe that could only be undone with a backhoe or tractor. The tracks stopped in the gaps between the dunes, as if whatever it was vanished into thin air.

The beach is still partly covered with winter rocks, and the tide was not the optimal low but there were gulls to chase and the ocean was blue out to the rule of the horizon. We went only to Jerry's Point, where the sand stops as it often does this time of year and turned around, headed home. There was no one else there, a surprise on such a day.

Sound travels over the water and I heard an engine, thinking a boat would come into view but it was a plane, flying out over the blue water, one solitary aircraft. Looking back toward the Old Harbor I saw the long arm of the now familiar crane against the sky.

It is still cold, there was snow enough in the shadows for Autumn to roll and push her snout into it, then there was mud puddle water to drink. And a pheasant to flush out of the brush, pure instinct at play, Autumn was as surprised as I at the squawking of the bird as it took flight.

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My Aunt Alice Ball Laird slipped away in the early hours of the morning after Palm Sunday. She was the last of my dad's generation and as much as I knew she was not well it is a start, this realization we, my brother and cousins and I, no longer have any one of that Ball-Partridge generation remaining above us.

She was born in the house in which I live, in the room in which I sleep, with its grand views of the land and sea. On the rare occasions her family could get her to make the great long trek (true Rhode Islanders they are) from Lincoln (Rhode Island), she would have another treasure for her grandchildren, pointing out which window the cow looked through in an obviously oft-told tale, and which path she took to the beach.

There was a dress in my grandmother's house, one of those bridesmaid dresses that even as a child I looked at in horror. It had been Alice's and one year when we went to visit her we took it along. She had had four children by then but she was able to close the zipper enough above her waist that she dared come out and model the creation.

Suddenly, this awful dress was transformed, and the aunt I knew only as a grown wife and mother was the beautiful young woman who caught the eye of the bride's cousin, a handsome Marine back from the war. They lived here one summer when I was very little, a time I do not recall, but there were few jobs on Block Island and they moved to the mainland.  

She talked of going with one of her daughters on a Christmas tour of a restored farmhouse in their town; and hearing the guide talk about the desk that had once belonged to a 49er, her great-grandfather. Alice smiled and said, “We didn't tell them who we were.” She was a gentle soul.