Veils of fog

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 8:15pm

Much of last February was weirdly mild, springtime come early it felt, after a short winter of deep cold come and gone in early January.

Winter never truly did return, but spring, even for Block Island, was exceedingly late and short last year, after a seemingly endless misery of chilling damp.

Yesterday it hit 52, my gold standard of “warm” winter weather, established by early morning radio, once a blast of news and weather and cheerful announcements. I've no idea of the year but I was still in school; the radio sat on a shelf between the kitchen and dining room, the sound of goings-on about Rhode Island played from before I got up until we left the house.

It was Salty Brine, beloved host of both morning radio for all and an afternoon television program for children, who read school closing announcements, now a legend familiar even to people who never heard them spoken by him, it was Salty who made that declaration of a warm day when the temperature had hit what must have been an unseasonable 52.

In February such a temperature, especially on a calm, almost sunny day, is balmy, welcome, I remind myself in non-winter months when the same is chilly, at best.

The days of this week have run together. We had a morning all silvery mist that turned into veils of fog erasing any trace of the mainland and leaving the north end of the island a mystery from the road along the shore. A bit of pale beach shone in the sun, the muted edge of Clay Head, back to the green gully, pushed its way out of the soft gray cloud, meeting the seam where the blues of the sea and sky meet, creating an illusion of an horizon where there should have been a blur of distant land. My neighbor's landmark barn stood tall and visible, other buildings I usually can see if only for knowing where they are, were vaguely present.

The sun was shining on the winter-bleached vegetation taking hold in the little berm of a dune along the road and the sky above the Neck was a bright almost summery blue. At night there was fog as thick as I remember, floating over the dark of the pavement, making a trip home almost as trying as one in whiteout snow, but without the threat of a sudden skid.

Later, when I let Autumn out a final time I heard surf, that sky-filling roar that is so captivating on a calm night, the unique sound of “spring rolling in” too early to be a real true harbinger.

We have not even had snow enough to last into mid-morning this winter. It is unsettling going into February, month of blizzards in New England.

We had abnormal weather in the late 1970s, terrible winters remembered with more romance than is merited. The New Harbor froze, not with chunks of slush that rose and fell with the tides but solid ice that called for a Coast Guard ice-breaker to make a channel for the little oil tanker that then serviced the islands. The broken path of the sturdy little Manitou into the Old Harbor has been memorialized in aerial photographs, proof it really was that cold.

We were young, it was an adventure, one I have no wish to re-visit.

On this day in 1976 my mother cited “light snow.”  A year following she wrote “Heavy snow. Drifts. John [Littlefield, Sr.] plowed gate 3 times. Huge drift in barnyard.”

It was, of course, 1978, that set another standard, like Salty's “warm” 52. On this day that year, a Monday, she wrote more words than the few lines in her five-year diary provided: “Bad storm. Power off. Worst [winter]storm in R.I. History. Blew over 100 m.p.h. here. Snow stopped about 10 p.m. on B.I.” Later she went back with a pen of a different color and noted “Everyone at store at 10 a.m.”

It appears that she also added “no boat” perhaps a few days later when it became apparent it was going to be a long haul. The power was restored about twenty-four hours after it had gone out, not bad given the severity of the storm and the fact the Mansion Road was not yet owned by the town.

We did have, as she often noted, two generations of neighbors, and one of the “boys” opened the road with a bulldozer on Wednesday. By Thursday school was open, the only one, we still brag, in Rhode Island, and under a dispensation granted by the governor who had declared a state-wide emergency.

The shore was battered, the dunes sheared, the north end parking lot covered with rocks, with “east side of road all water,” one of those imprinted images I hold without a written reminder.

It was a whole week later, February 13, that her single notation was “Last Monday's mail.” It was 1978, we had no internet, the Post Office gave us more than bills and junk and the occasional card, it was our connection to the mainland. A few parcels were delivered — if not to our doorsteps to the front seats of our cars — but most still came, heralded by colored slips in our boxes.

Actually, I think, at first, that the number of packages we receive at the Post Office must be greatly decreased by home delivery. I then think of what I, hardly an economy-driving consumer, still pick up and realize the sheer volume of what arrives even on a winter day must be exponentially larger than it was 40 years ago. We are so much less remote than we once were.

There is rain and wind and even a possibility of snow in the forecast, but it is a beautiful day. The fog has lifted, the front field is shimmering in the sun, and the temperature on Block Island, while not truly mild, is safely above freezing and, more to the point, a degree higher than Nantucket. What else really matters?