In the rearview mirror

Thu, 02/23/2012 - 5:36am
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We call it Presidents’ Day, a Monday in February that recalls George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two great U.S. presidents with birthdays conveniently falling in the same month.

It is a day I will always associate with another generation, with my long deceased father who felt it part of his duty to impart dinnertime trivia. George Washington was born on February 11, 1731. The February 22, 1732 we honored when the holiday stood alone, the date still on some calendars, was after an adjustment in 1752 when the unthinkable happened, September 2 was followed by September 14.

Calendars had been drawn by the most learned of men, but they had political overtones, and reading through the travel of the charting of the days and months and years, it seems a miracle that we have the uniformity we do today.

I think, too, of the late Captain Lewis on the beach, wearing a gray hat and what seemed too few shirts, proclaiming that the back of winter was broken, probably already counting the days until his would be the only footprints — not shoe, but foot prints — on the sand.

The past few years the holiday has been iffy, the threat or realization of raw rain or snow surrounding it. It has also been beautiful. Perhaps it has to do with the increasing sunshine, but I am surprised there is ever anything but the promise of spring.

This week has been glorious, February is passing without incident. Now we still have March to come, and March can be terrible — but it doesn’t much matter anymore, the back of winter, such as it was, is broken,

The snowdrops and witch hazel have been in the expected February bloom, but the daffodils, too, are inches out of the ground, with reports of random blossoms here and there. The daffodils that have been coming up for weeks are already showing signs of depredation from deer appetites. It is too early for the winter to be over, we remind ourselves on these best of days.

The beach, wide and sandy last week, is still that, but its form has been altered by gnawing surf and one day there is a ledge almost two feet high creating upper and lower levels. Two cycles of the tides later it has been softened and there is no sharply cut divide. Gullies have opened and there are tidal pools, the stuff of the highest tides in summer, in the rippled sand.

Things are backwards. Take the great twisted tree trunk that came in with the season-ending storm last year and roiled in the white surf, a dragon rising from the ocean, before settling. It has not moved north as drift should in winter. It has not even stayed in place — it has moved south, and is partly buried in the sand.

There are several dead gulls, partly covered, more than there should be. I see them walking the upper part of the beach, where the sand is not still soft with the receding tide. I go south until the bank rises, where several sets of stairs lie on the cliff face. I half expect to see Montauk daisies blooming, it is so warm, but there are none. A piece of old foundation still teeters in the edge, waiting to fall, as it has for years.

There is another dead bird, an egret perhaps, long of beak and neck, sleek of white body. One of its black legs is missing — odd, but not as odd as the body in the tidal pool.

The little dog, my visitor, is not overly curios but she wants to investigate this find. It is not much more than a torso, brown hair moving in the water. I wonder how long it will be here, and hope it will be buried under sand before it dries hard and black.

It is not especially windy but there is a breeze, I realize when I turn around, and with the wind at my back mild winter turns to spring.

It is February, the sun is shining, the wind is no more than a breeze, the ground is long past frozen. There was a question on Groundhog Day when the creature saw his shadow and we heard we’d have six more weeks of winter, winter as we think of it, or six more weeks of this winter. So far, so good.

Hours later, I almost miss the sunset, coming home in the dwindling light of late afternoon. The deer are everywhere — driving in the near dusk is an exercise in avoidance, and it is not until I stop, in my barnyard, that I see it in the rearview mirror, an oblong of flaming pink suspended from an expanse of glass. In the windshield behind it lies a fading blue sky. The reflection of the west, where the day is going down fighting, is set in the middle of a view of the east, where night is firmly in command.

It is dusk but not dark, and as soon as I am inside I hear the familiar bang of a gun, a sound I hate in large part for its extraordinary intrusiveness. Over and again.

Looking back to see what the weather has been other years, I found a preface that was self explanatory at the time. Three years ago I wrote of a meeting that I would have guessed was much longer past. The matter remains unresolved and I wonder if it is as obvious today as it was then which application before CRMC was the subject. Nine years since it first appeared, is that possible?

It was a question asked at a meeting, not at the first, when it should have been, but at the last. The question was not asked at any of the first year of subcommittee hearings. It was a basic question, the most basic of questions when review of a major development proposal is on the table.

It was asked at the last meeting, after the subcommittee had concluded its hearings and made its recommendations to the full committee. Ask anyone who follows proceedings of any application over a period of time and there will be certain moments they remember with startling clarity.

Mine is simple: “Does anyone have a ruler?” Too little, too late.