Second springtime

Thu, 09/29/2011 - 4:56am

There were new green leaves on the forsythia — but forsythia is notoriously unstable — where is grows on the house. There, protected from the winds from the north and east and exposed to the full winter sun, it can flower, briefly, in December.

The extent to which invasive species have tangled themselves around host plants became evident as bright new honeysuckle sprouts wrapped around bayberry and shad.

Then I noticed the pin oak, stripped by the salt blast of the storm, which looked brown and ready for winter at the end of August. Now it was covered with new foliage, that bright new green of spring. The maples were less enthusiastic, more cynical, older and sadder, but they too were showing newly unfurled leaves of red. It wasn’t that a burst of warm weather broke through the ice of winter; more that the land decided it was not ready to turn dormant.

It was not a dry summer. The grass never turned brittle and brown, screaming when persistent lawn mowers drove over it, cutting an occasional hardy weed but mainly throwing up dust. Neither was it so rainy that the ground was sodden, leaving tree roots with little to hold on to when the diminished winds of a waning storm lingered.

Most years, when the grass has gone sear over the summer, it greens in September, renewed in the cool weather. Whole trees do not burst into leafy glory even as the cooler air comes rumbling in on the unremembered wind.

There is a quiet in the end of September that is more than a cessation of summer traffic and its related noise. There is a stillness in the land, a calming of the sea and a lack of wind, that lets distant sounds carry: the bell buoy, the motor of a single car or truck up on the main road, the calling of birds and, still, the crickets.

They are in the scrub, the low brush, the thick goldenrod and asters, along the road. The crickets are a constant sound from where I turn onto Corn Neck, at Mansion. down to Scotch Beach — but for one short bit of land where there is not wall or hedge, just grass cut short. It has struck me previously that there is no bound, stone or vegetation or both, defining that stretch of road, excepting that one place where there used to be a plain board fence, probably gone for decades now.

The sudden — and short — silence startles me every time I pass. Now, I wonder if I will notice when the crickets hush, or if the rush of inevitable wind will erase the quiet.

They surprise me one day in town, these crickets, grown bold by the lack of foot traffic, of all traffic, up Spring Street. They are, more accurately, in the grass, in the short grass, all hopping for the cover of the circle of low shrubbery by the sign announcing a hotel with a name visitors tend to mispronounce, leaning toward a familiar Civil War National Battlefield Park.

The crickets reminded me, without reason, of the story of the Mormons settling near the Great Salt Lake and their harvest being threatened by what are now called Mormon Crickets (although they are not crickets at all, but shield-backed katydids, which sound suspiciously like Rhode Island). The Miracle of the Gulls they called it, and erected a monument to the birds in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, one of my favorite bits of lore and legend gained from the fourth-grade reading book.

The gulls here aren’t especially interested in these crickets in the grass, they are more likely to be standing, ever hopeful, on the ridgepole of the red-roofed restaurant next to the fish market. Some days they are especially noisy and I hear them even over the sound of moped horns, but no one else seems to notice.

They are not likely to pass into legend.

I cannot help myself, I have to detour to search for a copy of the old textbook and I find a few, one I am sure is the right edition, with a battered red cover and cheap at that. But I hesitate at the last minute, not sure I want to take the chance that those decades-old imprints, my perfect memories, might be proven inaccurate. So I take another detour; the land area of Rhode Island is less than that of the Great Salt Lake.

It has been mild and still, a returned summer lingering into the early days of fall, but when I return from my sojourns into and almanac statistics it feels the season has turned. There is rain, making academic the fact that only 4 percent of the moon is visible.

Earlier there were whitecaps on the ocean and I wondered how the annual ride around the island on BI Express’ high speed ferry would be, remembering talk of a choppy sea last year. I was seasick once, when I was 11 years old and the Sprigg Carroll had to turn around and go back to the mainland after an hour of making no headway.

It wouldn’t be that bad, I was assured, they had changed the route, avoiding the worst leg of the trip. I didn’t want to appear a silly old fraidy-cat and gamely boarded the vessel.

The trip was wonderful, north, out around the rip, up the west side of the island, where the lowering sun shone on the eroding land, dramatizing the wear of the last year, past the big red buoy, then turning when the sea started to change, to retrace the way we had come. The big boat slowed and took its own detour on the way back to port; it turned and slipped into the New Harbor, as the summer boats used to do, from New London, Point Judith, Providence, even New York, depending upon the length of one’s memory.

It was a grand ride, but when it ended it felt another bit of summer ended as well, that the second springtime begotten of the hurricane would soon be just another memory.