Patchwork pasture

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 5:00pm

Spring, such as it is in this part of the world, arrived by the calendar, the beginning of last week. Here, it has come and gone, over and again, since then, even in the course of a single afternoon.

Saturday, I know, was beautiful, as we older folks flocked to Legion Way at our appointed times, our little vaccination card in hand, and waited, queued up the long hill that in another time was Cemetery Street, part of the lengthwise, north-south artery of the island. The road, then, came up over Indian Head Neck, crossed a bridge to the site that became the landing ramp, because the Town owned the land, then passed the farm that would become the Narragansett Inn, ran past the sunrise-facing hill of the graveyard on its way to the town center, on its way to the south bluffs.

Waiting the very few minutes I had to wait, in the late March sun, I looked down over at the old stones on the hill and thought about the old accesses that are there for the noticing, one running straight up the slope, the other curving around it. I wonder how often we notice the hollow in the cemetery that abuts the lowest part of Center Road. It was, for decades, simply there, in my mind unrelated to anything else, until an older lady talked to me of the creation of Legion Park, long before the little hall was built, or any monument set. The west end of it was a part of that same dip in the land, and was filled with the sort of materials that would horrify us today; I remember only the old horse, who died in his traces as he was hauling fill and became fill himself.

It wasn’t related as a story, just a fact, a practical, even a happy coincidence. No need to dig a burying hole.

At the time I never thought to ask if the last, lowest, piece of Center Road was elevated before or after, or if it existed at all.

We look at hand-drawn maps and old photographs and try to place the exact locations of the roads, wondering if they appear on the maps at all and marveling that in the photos how different they seemed when the land was open and buildings sparse. We look at some of the roads we travel frequently and wonder how they happened at all.

This time of year the places where the fields are clear, down here sparking memories of animals and earth ready to turn in late March, of other pastures closed off to let the first rush of grass grow into hay, and, everywhere, of water running, those swollen streams that in April so cruelly awaken the sleeping land.

There is one lot in the neighborhood that is always the first to green, no matter what has or has not been mowed or grazed or hayed or left alone for a season. It is the lead, the master field, that the rest follow soon enough. Everything will meld together and our patchwork of pastures, with their seamwork of stone walls, will flow, ocean swells turned solid and green.

When I was little, land was still burned at winter’s end, on a calm day after a drifting snow, when ribbons of white hugged the walls, and the new spring grass grew unencumbered by the old brown. It is strange to consider now, but there was little brush to catch fire, few houses in the path of blaze run out of control, and, perhaps, most of all, the access to the ponds was open. None of which explains the greening field, because the barn and assorted outbuilding lie at its edge.

There was a tale of a raging fire crossing Beacon Hill, all from a neglected burn barrel, and probably the event that ended such management, which remains a real tool in other places, the wildfire grown from a permit issued with trust but taken literally covered the West Side, or so the fire-starter insisted.

We did get our vaccines, in a way that was efficient and steady without feeling rushed, all with the good will best voiced by a volunteer at a Roll Call dinner one year, happy to help, saying “there is a joyfulness in working together.”

It is the sort of attitude that is spreading — one hesitates to use the word “infectious” as freely as we did in pre-pandemic life — a feeling of everything, for one day, working as it should, as it can, buoyed by that all-important prospect of making a real difference. There is a long way to go, but we have a good start.

The next day the gloom descended, fitting for the well-advertised, shouldn’t have surprised anyone, aching arms and joints and heads, and much more, all with the sort of out-of-body realization that we were sick with the glorious certainty we were not.

Then it was Monday, the rain had stopped, the field was markedly greener, the always-voracious geese delighting in their spring feeding.

April, month of green and gold, is on the other side of midnight, the forsythia is ready to bloom, the daffodils, later than last year, are in bud.