Sand In My Socks

Fri, 01/15/2016 - 2:30pm

Yesterday, the rain sheeted on the south-facing kitchen windows, but the southwest sky beyond was filled with the light of the sun on its early afternoon path. It appeared to be shining on white buildings around the harbor and, despite the rain, there were shadows, albeit with soft edges, on the walls. 

It was an odd day. White foam was crashing over the east wall of the Old Harbor at noon-time, while the purple flag flew at the Interstate freight building. I think of signal flags that used to be raised at the Coast Guard Station — a single red pennant for small craft warning and up to two black-centered banners for a hurricane. There was some combination of those flags for gale and full-gale warnings. I marvel that it took so long for the suggestion of this single No Boat Day signal to be adopted.

The information is available on the phone or over the Internet, but I like the fact of the flag, it has to it a reality, a tangible presence that a recorded voice or words on a screen do not. 

Today it is colder and the sun is shining and I am sure the boat is running although I cannot tell with the usual ease of a few keystrokes. Yesterday it rained, my internet was iffy but seemed to be steady by nightfall. This morning the little green light on the modem was out, the land line dead.

This chronic problem, I thought, was a thing of the past, this no phone whenever it rained. At least today I was not put on hold to listen to a message about being able to fix most problems by going to It has been awhile since I called, since I had to fib to the person on the other end of the line and say no, the mysterious “box” they wanted me to test was not accessible knowing it would be a waste of time to answer in the affirmative; I did, once, and got the whole you will need an extra phone... narrative.

I wanted to say in my slowest, most deliberate, loudest, feigning authority voice, “Why didn't you ask that first? Accessibility is irrelevant without an extra phone which I do not have because I do not get a new one every time a different model comes out!”  

It has been a long time since I have had to say “look at your records...” and hear back “oh, you have had trouble, we'll get someone there sooner” the only advantage, if it can be called that, of multiple outages.  

“Why don't you just give up that land line?” I am asked and think of someone 20 years ago saying their mother had a phone like mine, an old black rotary, “but she is 84 years old!” I would have it still, that phone that was installed when Block Island went to direct dial, but it was cracked — I managed to crack a Bakelite phone — and more, it was not on a jack, but hard-wired and was getting in the way of new technologies, in my world a touch-tone device.

It felt more like winter when I went out to talk to the Verizon repairman, who after his first visit referenced my house as the one with “the big, nice dog,” my sweet Autumn, memorable on a summer day when this place, even so close to the crazy beach traffic of Mansion Road, feels another world. It was the wind, this time, pulling lose the cable, a relatively easy fix. 

Today, I will try to remember to wear different shoes to the beach, although I think I will end up with sand in my socks no matter what. The tides have been extreme, low when I was last there, but the dark line marking the final reach of the last high tide was at the foot of the dunes. Usually the debris of the ocean, old seaweed, sticks, pieces of plastic and assorted trash beaten by waves is left in a line at that water mark; instead it was scattered.

That was Saturday, the day before yesterday, before the purple flag. There was very little wind, the sun was shining, the ocean was magically blue but the surf was roaring, great rolls of water crashing on the rocks north of Jerry's Point, undercutting the sun with the ominous sound of weather coming, and this strewn flotsam and jetsam on the sand, the calling card of a roiling, even disorganized, sea. 

That pounding roar was still in the air last night after the rain, audible even when the sky was filled with the sound of the wind. My windows, I saw this morning, the ones beaten with what I had hoped would be a cleansing downpour, were already cloudy with fresh salt spray. 

I see the ocean beyond the fields to the east, out to the blue horizon, which at first appeared after-the-storm calm; then I realized that the seam of the sea and the sky was still ragged, serrated. The water is visible over the tops of dunes beyond my neighbor's lot to the south, but only on days of high surf can I see waves from my yard. This morning, when I went outside with the telephone repairman, the crests, silver in the sun, were mares' manes being tossed back by the great west wind. 

Another childhood memory comes with winter. The fierce Father of the Winds of Heaven kept for himself the mighty west wind, after being gifted all four for slaying the great bear, the terror of all the nations, in Longfellow's "Hiawatha."

We hope for breeze from the southwest when the seasons change but there are really no good winter winds on this little island. One is raw, heavy and damp, another sweeps up, unbroken over thousands of miles of open ocean, others carry cold down from Canada.

Any winter day when there is no wind is, quite simply, a gift. I will settle for today's sun.