Sound of sunshine

Thu, 02/23/2012 - 2:16pm
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O

ne night last week I went out very late to retrieve something from my car. It is February and it was dark, there were no lights from the row of houses leading up to the beach, nor was there any glow from those beyond my sight, as there is in July. As I walked across the yard, the ground was firm but not frozen hard — it had none of the crustiness that comes when winter breathes on earth softening with a thaw.

The air was exceedingly still and the sound of the ocean’s whispered story floated up from the shore, as gentle as on the mildest summer night, little waves lapping on the sand. It could have been another season but for the darkness, and the cold and quiet that let these small sound be amplified.

Usually such moments are a distant memory by morning, when the weather has turned and the wind is blowing loud and hard. This isn’t a usual winter, and the snow that fell that night was a thin blanket, a coat of white, just enough to catch all the light of a waning moon and to hasten the dawn.

In the morning sun it was quiet, as the sun melted the snow and chased away the look of winter. The tide was high, the sand above it smooth — the winter beach we forget from year to year, the one that slips in after the fall storms have ceased and stays until those spring gales that rake the shore and make us wonder if all will be well by summer. It almost always is.

It is quiet, a morning without an early boat, or the clanging of metal that travels across the Neck from the transfer station. Walking up the old right-of-way withheld for the use of the inhabitants of the town when the eastern end of the Minister’s Lot was sold, I hear the sound of water running. It’s not a noise that bodes well coming from an empty house after a night when the temperature has dipped below freezing

Such a sound should have a visible source, but there was none easily seen through the brush. Going back down the path, I remembered another nearby path, one which may or may not have been there a very long time — I never noticed until it was announced with a pristine private sign.

There was something there. I never paid it any mind, a walkway or a deer trail or a combination of both, depending upon the time of year. Now it is smooth and manicured and oddly not inviting, and it takes only a few steps to see what is happening. The coat of snow on the metal roof has been turned to water by the new sun and is rolling off, splattering on some surface below.

It is simply the sound of sunshine in February; I can go back to my drifting walk.

The leaves fell long ago but there is something to this part of winter, these last long weeks before the earth stirs, when vistas that seemed open in December are so much clearer. It is not a surprise, exactly, but always it is an amazement that there is a place in the Minister’s Lot from which the buildings in the New Harbor are in clear view.

The walls are more visible now, and the beer cans and trash in the brush against them. Out on the road, where they have been overgrown, then cleared, thick trunks of brush still protrude from the lower reaches, reminders that Nature is always there, waiting to reclaim the land.

Another day it is 40 degrees and mild and gray. The flood of morning light that comes, comes earlier each day, pouring into the kitchen widows when I rise, diminishing the glow of the night lamp on the counter so much that I some days forget to switch it off until afternoon. On decidedly gray mornings there is no sun to wash over it and diminish the tiny bulb contained therein.

It is 40 and mild, soft but damp, and I would gladly trade a few — a very few — degrees for drying sunshine. It must have rained in the night or the very early morning; there are outlines of raindrops on the road.

It feels as though it is still raining. Gloves put away in the un-February morning, I extend my bare hand, palm up, expecting to feel a drop or two — but there are none. We sometimes do not even notice force of habit, and it is a surprise when I reach the top of that town right-of-way and realize I am headed east, down to the beach. Almost always I come the other way.

Again the leaves are down, the morning is still and the ocean reaches out to a sharp horizon. The hat I have kept on is damp, but the air is clear all those miles out. There is a dab of pink out there, under the clouds, a signature lingering an hour after sunrise.

The tide is low and the beach empty, a broad band of muted color running to the sea and the sky. There is a great sweep of strand, and I half expect to see young men in white running along the water’s edge, grand music welling behind them. Years ago someone said this shore reminded him of the opening of that film, and on days when the light is right I still think of “Chariots of Fire” and hear that magnificent score.

There are no runners, no footsteps at all marring the sand, damp and dark, until I approach the gap at Mansion. Something has run across the opening. At first I think of a dog, then look more closely and see the sharp imprints of deer hooves in the sand.

Different runners than those young men in white.