Steadfast and True
It is only 36 but the wind is not blowing and the moon is almost full and it is not until I return home from the Mansion Beach – low tide empty, the lights of the harbor shining bright — that I realize how cold my ears have become. Somewhere I have a hat...
Autumn, my golden dog, is blissful and sleepy. She has been running on the sand while I have been one of Those People, although not quite... I am not sure of the success of my efforts to text friends and relatives across the island and the country relating this nocturnal adventure, thinking, somehow, they will understand this singular moment of beauty I cannot begin to describe. Come to the beach I want to say, knowing no one will, or worse, that they might and it will no longer be mine.
It is a night that every cliché about magic in the moonlight is real on the early December beach, even the early December beach in New England. Soon enough the wind will pick up and make the temperature “feel like” something so much worse than it is but, for these moments, it is the stuff of waking dreams.
The moon shines brightly through the tall privet that line the path that used to be a vehicular beach access before the Mansion burned, before the empty site had to it a presumption of public space, unwarranted until the Town purchased the parcel 20 years later. The ground is dappled, not the look of a lawn under a sunlit tree, but one of the summer ocean floor, when the water looks and feels calm but the surface is all tiny crested hills and shallow valleys, casting shadows on the already rippled sand.
The road, beyond the shadows, is almost white but not quite, it is whatever hue is one end of the strangely colorless spectrum of the almost full moon. It is so like mid-day out there, even without the magnification of fresh fallen snow, it is not until I am back home, inside, after my ears have warmed, that I realize I did not even think to take a flashlight with me.
That was last Thursday night, now it is late Tuesday and the earth is wet, the puddles in the barnyard so large they have merged.
By the rounded numbers on my favored weather site, the sun is setting at the same time from Dec. 3 through Dec. 13. As I write we are more than half way through that time span. It is like February’s snowdrops and April’s daffodils, now it is so much longer from the time they last bloomed until they will open again; heralds of a new season. Such thoughts diminish the winter still ahead.
Yes, it is still fact that the sunrises continue to eat into the mornings until early January when the sun will rise a minute or two later than it did back before we changed the clocks and “gained” an hour in the night.
This is the time of year the sun should shine every day between still, moonlit nights. The boats should run on glassy seas as Christmas approaches and so many people are going on and off island. For reasons that defy explanation some of us, in June, blithely made a routine dentist appointment for far off December. Who can think of winter weather when the days are longest and the world is lush with new life?
Yesterday, the last round trip of a usual three round trip day was cancelled. When I heard the news in the morning it was a surprise. The wind blasting out of the north is not one I feel at my house and the ocean to the east did not appear as threatening as it has other days when the big white vessel has plowed through with no difficulty.
Then the wind came ‘round, shifting between northeast and east, the chop out beyond the buoy increased and a high wind watch was posted. By day’s end, it was certain there would be no boats the next day — and there were none. It is December, I again remind myself, although this dreadful travel plan-altering weather usually comes closer to Christmas, or did the years I went off for the holiday.
Today the wind tore out of the east and fallen rain sheeted on the pavement of the wind tunnel that is the east end of Chapel Street in such weather. The surf was high, burying the east wall of the harbor with the sort of crashing white water that makes us wonder how even blocks of granite, weighing tons, generally stay in place under the unrelenting power of the ocean.
Generally stayed in place. The wall was rebuilt when I was still in school, the top smoothed in a way it is not in the oldest of photographs. Years later, the end was reconstructed, huge chunks of stone that had drifted toward the channel put back in place, the tower of the green light set in concrete air-lifted from a mixing truck in the beach parking lot.
Then came the fall of 2012 and with it Superstorm Sandy followed a week later by a bad blow from the northeast. The steady green beacon, one of the bright spots of these long winter nights, fell, and its emerald path on the black water reaching all the way to the shore became a memory, a lasting testimony to the power of Nature. There is a sturdy little can out at the mouth of the harbor, blinking forlornly as if it understands it is no match for its predecessor. I will grant that, perhaps, for living down the Neck and traveling that stretch of road so often, I feel the loss more acutely.
This year’s Christmas wish is that the beam, so long as steadfast and true as my old flour sifter, will be returned in the new year.