Shadow Puppets

Thu, 12/13/2012 - 6:13pm

The sun is setting at its earliest time of the year, it has hit its nadir of 4:17 and rides along a plateau that will continue until next week, when we blessedly gain one minute, at the cost still of the mornings that will shorten into January before finally throwing off the dour shroud of early winter.

The sun is setting early — that is, unless one is on Block Island, in the range of the four towers of lights along the Neck Road that are allowing highway reconstruction work to continue during these shortest days of the years. White orbs fastened to poles attached to individual power sources turn to the roadway to an eerie brightness, a stage set where the actors are big pieces of yellow equipment lifting, dumping, carrying what was the roadbed.

On a still, still night the light blazed while the equipment stood quiet but for the generators’ hum. The area was gated off, fences and cones up, but there was no one about and I walked down to the monument, staying on newly created land, hopeful of a future.

It is, I say, “one of Lester’s markers,” knowing full well most people no longer know Lester is the same man who left his worldly goods largely to the town, a lasting gift of a college scholarship, repaying a long ago loan that enabled him to finish Brown. He left the initial building fund for the library, as well as his home, where it would be sited after years running in a tiny rented space (specifying, among other things, that no tar barrels were to be stored on the property). He put other people’s names on his bequests and his own is found only in records faded over time and on the back of these markers set about the island.

A car with state plates drove by me, twice, but otherwise the road and the beach were empty, the line of white surf illuminated by the false moonlight and, as has been the case since the first storm, nothing seeming to be exactly right, from the place of the blinking green light that has replaced the tower downed by the second storm to the relationship of the highway and the shore. Now, though, it is truly, quantifiably different: there is new land behind the great wall of stone built just offshore, one we all hope will hold for decades and not shatter like the end of the great granite breakwater.

They say it will get cooler tonight but we have had a respite, making easier this road work enabled by bright white lights that cut the morning darkness and are rekindled as the night falls so early.

Something is different today, and already this morning, in the predawn dark, I noticed the lack of those lights. It was like Labor Day night or the days immediately after Christmas, when the trees no longer shimmer, when the life and light is gone and we are poorer for it.

It is always a surprise to strangers, the amazing view I have of the town from this spot down, down, down the Mansion Road, the only thing that made me think possible the same view for a neighbor to the north. It is across the water, unbroken, allowing me, when the breeze is right, to hear music all the way from town and to tell the season purely by the number of lights shining in the distance.

I came home one night earlier this week, after dark, and realized the white lights were actually shining in my south-facing kitchen windows, bouncing off the old cream bottles I long ago set on the windowsill. It seemed impossible until I recalled the fishing boats offshore, swinging around in the night so brightly I awoke wondering, in that first instant of awareness, what the heck my neighbors were doing out in the field at three o’clock (the possibility is not that remote). I made shadow puppets on the wall, staying awake only long enough that I was sure I would remember it all in the morning.

It is a luxury of this quirky old house that rattles and shakes in the wind, the narrow ell, one narrow room wide, in which I spend much of my time, the south-facing windows of my kitchen below the room in which I sleep, which occupies the end space of the upper part of the narrow ell. The wind howls and I feel as well as hear it.

But, also, this time of year I open my eyes and see the moon setting, a bright orange disc in the west, then realize it is not the moon at all but the sun, or the reflection of the sun just climbed up out of the ocean. It happens only during this window of time around the solstice, like the opposite in June when the north face of the North Light feels the warmth of the sun.

It was a day that would be mild, begun with layers of white mist rising from every low place between the hills and every pond tucked into a hollow. It was warm and calm and filled with that certain dampness that belongs to months other than December, light years from that still night artificially made brighter than day.

The air is turning colder, the bite of winter in the wind. The four towers of light were illuminated again this evening, or late this afternoon when it felt it had to be deep night. These afternoons that will soon turn I find myself distracted, beginning at 4:30, thinking of how long it has been dark by 8:30, when in summer there would still be light in the sky.

Still, they always said that deep winter cannot come until the ponds are full. Some are summer dry and I hope “they” are right.