Water light

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 7:45pm

It is January, the traffic is sparse and the town highway crew is out with its long-armed mower, gnawing back the ever-encroaching brush that grows up over walls wanting the roads. That effort, coupled with the seasonal loss of leaves, opens the wider view we experience in winter. The sun is in a different place as well and, suddenly, a renovation unnoticed is apparent, the new shingles already silvering to the weather. Ponds emerge in winter, silver-backed mirrors shining through a maze of branches or — this year, after rounds of rain — filling and brightening folds in the land.

There has been so much precipitation the land is sodden, unable to quickly adsorb more water, and by afternoon of one of these recent days of endless rain my road was pale, a river of light. Part of the field held a series of puddles that were a brief demonstration, gone by nightfall.

Skims of after-the-rain water that would be black ice in another year, and might be in another week, lie along the edges of the pavement collecting light, isinglass paths where in a warmer season there would be a row of bikers or, early in the day, joggers and walkers.

The field south of my house is a rolling hill that bloomed white with multiflora rose in June, where paths were cut between honeysuckle vines and newly-greened bayberry, between goldenrod and tall grasses. It was a haven on the long, temperate evenings that lasted all of two weeks in July before we fell into oppressive heat and humidity. It has been cut, completely, for the first time in at least 10 years, it may have been a bit longer. I happened upon a photo of Sand Hill cranes, here in the spring of 2010, standing out there, at the edge of tall grasses and weeds. It was around Easter, I think, that those cranes and Canada geese and deer all appeared in the misty swale, not quite the peaceable kingdom, but a start.

It was clear, of course when I was growing up and for decades thereafter hayed by some generation of neighbors. The world changed, the bales from it were not needed one year, the next it was turning to weeds, the way fields do so quickly. It was mowed now and again, reclaimed, even, but never for long and that running verdant grass of deep spring became a memory.

Everything, everywhere, grows quickly and as much as I knew for the past few years I had to go upstairs to be sure not only mine but the power on the rest of the island was off — oddly reassuring, and illogical, part of the Neck could have been a single fuse, everything could have been a catastrophe at the plant but, somehow, I never thought that through. It meant only it would be righted soon without my having to call and worrying I was the tenth to do so. But, I had to go to the second floor to see above the brush and clearly across that sort of a bay that is no more the curve of Crescent Beach on a map.

There was new clearing going on as the year began, I knew, but it was not until I went to the door with Autumn one night the end of last week that I looked south, across the yard, past where there had been scraggly half-dead ornamental olive trees, to and over the shorn hill and my neighbor’s west lot. It was when I saw the lights of the town glimmering brighter than I had seen them in years that the enormity of the change became real.

It was not a flash behind a waving branch igniting an old memory, it was true, all white and red and yellow in the darkness.

Autumn came back in and I walked to the other end of the house, where my position would be eight or ten inches higher than the front walk. I looked out and could see not only the harbor but the flat ocean in that bay, slightly illuminated by a waning moon but a waning moon in a cloudless sky. It was a deep pearly blue, as though the light had been trapped by that curving arm of beach.

The elevation of my house is not great but the land between it and the ocean rises and falls and often I can see the water lighted by the sun in the morning and the moon at night, which may be a line from a song but is also a fact on the east side of this island.

Now, less than a month beyond the solstice, the sun is still in the south, and at mid-day it shines silver on the newly visible water beyond my neighbor's field. It is so bright it diminishes the land around it to darkness, so bright I have to look away from it. Later in the day I looked, again, and saw pale blue laced with darker lines, the look of the gently moving ocean.

It has been almost a year since the first conversation about horses coming to live in these pastures, then increasingly overgrown fields, bounded by deer battered stone walls. The North Lot, half heavy thicket a year ago, has become the North Pasture, and sweet animals come to the gate when I arrive home or go out to leave anywhere around their expected feeding time.

“They brought you light” someone said the other day and by their being here, yes, I have been given light in many ways, in spirit as that comment intended, and by the little mirror of a pondlet in the swale of their pasture and the clear view to the sunlit sea to the south indeed, this expansion of the water light that surrounds us the year round but is more precious in January, making these short days less dim.