Tennis Ball Trials
As December moved from its second to third week, new record high temperatures were reached. They peaked, apparently, at an unusual time, on either side of midnight, the 14th and 15th of the month.
Yesterday was foggy and mild, by 4:30 the sun was well below the tree line, the ambient light of a low visibility day even more diffused as it faded, offering no hint of the direction of its source and the season. My door was, again, open, to an outside warmer than the setting on the thermostat.
Darkness fell and the fog drifted away, which I might not have realized in my dark neighborhood but for happening to look up to see a sliver of moon behind the winter-bare branches of the old maple.
Then the rain came, not falling summer straight and soundless but hitting the windows angrily, and the wind began to blow in earnest, noises that carry the very feel of cold and I was surprised to see it mild, yet, warm for December, contrary to my conditioned expectation of “weather” in such an audible night.
Yesterday's fog advisory was lifted and replaced with one for wind, leaving me with a thought of awaking to wild white water and a cancelled boat.
Instead, the rain left a blue sky layered with silver clouds, and while there is a good breeze it is clear and sunny, another day to notice the lingering roses of December. It might have erased the memory of the rain, pushed it to the realm of “only a dream” had I not gone out early and picked up one of Autumn's rope toys left in the yard. It had not yet felt the sun and was heavy and wet and cold.
Even Autumn disdained it, taking another that had been inside all night, running off to thrash it wildly. Her unwavering disinterest in tennis balls continues.
She is enough happy to see a yellow ball retrieved from the desk drawer, she even catches the first few soft lobs I give her, but I think it is more that she sees it a signal I may go outside to play with her and she wants to nurture that possibility; by the time we are halfway from my yard to the turn onto Mansion her attention wanders to the hoped for shore, still a novelty.
The beach is different than it was when we last were here, not more than two days ago. It is not the level of the tide, it is the profile of the very shore that has been altered, the piles of rocks on the sand have moved, a gentle incline is now broken by a slight terrace.
The surf is gentle, almost lapping, and, again, I toss Autumn the ball. It lands barely at the edge of the sea. My dog is more interested in watching the movement of the water than retrieving and I leave her to exploration.
The tide is lower and I am able to locate “my” rock up near Jerry's Point, the boulder I years ago determined would be my sole gauge of the ever-shifting sand. It is an absurdly obvious measure, but my noting it in particular came only after the late Dr. Sirkin, a geologist with a house in Sheep's Meadow, suggested I narrow my focus to a single spot.
I was so, so careful, aligning it with gable and chimneys, all that was then visible of the old farmhouse over the crest of the dune. My rock was solitary, set securely in the sand, less than a foot high, that early fall day of first “monitoring.”
Now, it is in winter mode, exposed by feet instead of inches, surrounded entirely by a sea of rocks I had known were at the end of Mansion Beach, always there under the sand in summer. What I had not realized was that the little pinnacle I had chosen, only poking out of the sand, was so far north, and would prove to be a dramatic telling of the seasonal nature of this shore.
The difference in the long dune is not seasonal. There is a place where a once narrow, lightly traveled path to the beach was torn wide in the storm in the fall of 2012. That old house, which was in clear view back in the 50s, after Hurricane Carol swiped the dunes still recovering from 1938, and became gradually obscured over time as sand accrued, is still disconcertingly exposed three years after Sandy.
The faces of the then severed dunes are banked, again, sloping, but the damage done is still there for the looking.
The mild weather is reflected in the trash on the beach, the remnants of a small beach fire with the usual compliment of empty beer bottles. I say absently to the dog, whose tennis ball I am still holding in my hand, “I should have brought a bag.”
The beach has been moving inland for years. There was once a great puddle at the end of the road that is now more a footpath. In springtime it was full of rainwater reaching to the brush growing up on either side of it, with a bottom of slippery mud that took a few days of exposure to the sun to dry back to soft dirt.
Today, I am not even sure where it was, somewhere under all this sand that has blown in from the beach.
Autumn does manage to flush a pheasant out of the brush on the way home then insists on running up to my neighbor's house where she realizes neither of her hopes, not dogs nor guys working on the addition. I follow to be sure she does not go too far and walk closer to look at the new doors. A flash of white catches my eye; inside the shell, behind the glass doors, are two wooden chairs, set with a view to the east.
Winter will come, but for now I smile at this expectation of the summer that in this moment does not feel that far away.