Patchwork pastures

Fri, 06/18/2021 - 7:45am

Many years ago, it one day hit me that there were two paved roads I rarely traveled, the bit of Center Road from Beach to West Side and Corn Neck north of the dump/landfill/transfer station.
By chance, I once found myself in sunset traffic at the North End – who knew such a thing existed!? It seemed, at first, there had to be an event, a party or a wedding, there were so many cars in the parking lot and lined up along that last little curve of road. Our sky is huge and open, the sunset is grand and glorious everywhere at day’s end, reaching all the way over to the “sunrise” horizon; when the tide is low the whole stretch of the east beach mirrors the colored sky.
It happens. Sometimes I am coming home just after the sun has set and wonder at the number of cars coming out of the Neck. One day I walked out of my house to see a molten orb dropping below the treeline and set out, happy that low, direct light would not be in my eyes going up the Mansion Road. It was summertime and when I reached Corn Neck a stream of cars was zipping past, fire-rescue traffic, then I realized the cars were all unfamiliar, with no flashing lights.

Still, it was not until I reached Andy’s Way, when the land fell away, that I saw that the orange sun I had seen from my barnyard had lowered and
turned that unusual shade of red that comes only near the horizon and only with the right atmospheric conditions. It’s just another piece of summer, this end of day traffic, primarily of people who have only the narrowest window during which to experience these wide sea and sky sunsets.
They make me think of a blazing summer sky, when people ran out into the street and a friend remarked, and not in the jaded way it appears when written “we have these all winter, just at 3:30 in the afternoon.” It was an exaggeration but it does feel that way, especially when the darkness falls like a great hammer.

So, I went to the North End on a different sort of errand, a casual dirt road count that almost immediately went awry a day or two earlier when I started at Scotch and stopped at Mansion, covering only the most familiar section of island road. I know a given track is a long driveway to a single house but is it apparent from the highway? And what do people see? Still, I missed only one in my quick mental East-side-only count.
It was approaching seven but still an hour and a half before sunset when I reached the North End to begin the second part of my count, which had to be from north to south because it had to end at Mansion, my touchstone. It is mid-June and the sun is almost as far to the north as it gets, the cast across Sachem Pond unlike that of any other season, the pastures across the pond the patchwork of this season of plenty, walls muted by greenery darker than the fields. There are tiny white roses over there, I am sure, they are everywhere this time of year, tiny and plentiful and
beautiful and insidious.

We are on the down side of the season of early flowers, the beach plum and apple blossoms, the clovers and wild roses some of which will remain the whole summer but never return to the profusion of late spring. But looking south, across Sachem, there is open green land, much of it, largely to the west of my photo, outside the left frame I am finally realizing, fallen off because I was focusing on the few pink roses blooming among the tall grasses between the pond and the parking lot. 

Whenever I look across the pond I see that land, gifted to the town so many years ago, by Nelson Breed, back when such things happened. This tract was larger than the others, over forty acres, and it was a view across the water, at land beyond Edna Sheffield White’s appropriately colored white house perched on the hillside.
Her house burned and was replaced; another simple, old-fashioned in its simplicity summer place I remember being built when I was a child that has been relocated, a larger structure now in its old place; the little Breed complex is fundamentally the same; overall it is more the landscape that has altered the view. The walls are there, but the dark green hiding them looks like seams on a quilt of green patchwork.
The pastures were to be left in their natural state, but back when the land was transferred, change seemed glacial. Even today one wonders if there was not a year where the once dominant bayberry that now lives under the canopy of shad, looked around and shouted in whatever triumphant voice bayberry might muster “we did it, wild brush brethren, we took back the land!”
Driving down Bush Lot Hill, toward the North End, yesterday I slowed, not realizing another car was quickly gaining on me, when I couldn’t see an old house that was once so visible it was featured on a picture postcard. Finally, after pulling over to let the other vehicle pass — only for it to turn immediately into one of the roads I’d soon be counting — and peering through the greenery, did I catch a glimpse of the familiar blue trim.
It is, after all a blue and green time of year.
At the parking lot at the terminus of Corn Neck Road, I stop and take pictures of the pond and the Breed land beyond, of the roses and ocean on the seaward side of the pavement, of the start of what will certainly be a wall of little stone towers and when I get home realize, nothing of what seems to draw everyone else, the North Light.
I had roads to count.