introduction

Bill and I had been coming to Block Island for years before we made it our home.  We knew enough to get around, but it took time to learn the things we could only learn by living here, knowing people, watching their lives and hearing their stories, and having a number of experiences ourselves.  These articles include include some practical information, but they are heavily tilted toward those stories, because that's what you won't find anywhere else.  In some cases, they are told as they actually happened and in some cases they are cobbled together from a number of situations, but I hope they are true in spirit to how it is to be in this very beautiful, interesting and human place.  I've tried to be entertaining, and I hope you'll enjoy or at least put up with my jokes.  More than that, I've tried to give you useful information from an islander's point of view.  I hope it will make your life easier, keep you safer, and help you to have a wonderful time on the island.

Some of the articles have handouts.  You are free to download and print them for personal and family use, but please don't print the photographs or copy them with any electronic devices.   Several of the photographs you see on this site are for sale at the Spring Street Gallery on Block Island which by the way, is run by a wonderful group of Block Island artists.  (It will open for business just before Memorial Day and will stay open into October.)  You can read more about the Gallery and many other fine artists and galleries on Block Island in the blog post called "Art and Artists on Block Island."   You can see more of my writing and photographs on my other website, aphotographersday.com.

Also, please don't hesitate to contact the Block Island Chamber of Commerce for more information about Block Island.  Here's the link:  http://www.blockislandchamber.com/contact/.  They in turn, can direct you to the all real estate agents on Block Island who can tell you about summer rentals.  I want to stress this point.  When you rent a vacation place on Block Island, go directly to your homeowner or to the realtor who represents them.  Make sure you talk to them in person.  There are special things to know about coming here, and they'll be very helpful to you.

 

Why We Love it Here

This picture was taken from Mansion Beach one hazy summer morning. 

When I was little, my family and I used to come fishing in the waters around Block Island.   We had a sixteen foot Boston Whaler and the six of us children and my parents would trailer that whaler from Moosup, CT, to Point Judith.  We could get to Block Island in no time.  There were bluefish of course, and also in those years, there was an abundance of cod, in the waters off of Southeast Light.  We’d also go clamming in Great Salt Pond.   There were so many clams at that time that we could get as many as we ever could use by digging our feet through the sand.

We’d look at the people in the big boats, sipping their cocktails, and watching TV as if they were on another planet.  We had no way to even imagine their lives.  We’d look up at the big houses.  We’d say, “Who needs big houses?  We have everything we need right here.”  Once in a while, we’d go to Payne’s Dock and get those amazing donuts.  And other than that, we didn’t set foot on the island.  We knew very little about it.  We barely knew what was there.

So years went by and I met Bill and we decided to get married.  There was only one problem.  We didn't know where to live.   We were both still working in Hartford, Connecticut, but there simply wasn't any place we could agree to buy a house.  Bill had grown up in the city.  I had grown up in a tiny town. I felt best and safest in nature.  That was wilderness to him.   But we both did love the ocean.  The best times of his childhood had been spent on the ocean too.  We had started coming to Block Island on our sailboat.  Several years before, almost on a whim, Bill had gotten on the mooring list.  Bill discovered that if we bought property on Block Island, we'd move to the property owners' list.  That's how it worked at the time.   Well, as it happened, we'd be next on the list. That was all Bill needed to know.

That’s how we came to Block Island.  First to built a house, and then, much sooner than we had planned, to live here all the time.  It was the realization of a dream for both of us.   Well that’s not true, it was more than a dream, because we had never imagined it was possible.  But it was made possible by the people who came and rented our house in the summer.  That made a way for me to leave my corporate job where I was working about a million hours a week and take up teaching at the university where Bill was teaching.  I loved that job.  It also enabled me to become a photographer.  I love that too.

I want to tell you about the debt we owe to the generation just before us.  They moved the Southeast Lighthouse so it wouldn’t fall into the ocean.  They built the school, the library, the airport and the medical center.  They made sure all the beaches were open to everyone, night or day, with no parking fees and no special places where only certain people could go.  They established a network of hiking trails so you can go all over the island, with beautiful views of the land and water.  They preserved for public use, over 40% of the island.

This picture was taken from somewhere between Town Beach and Scotch Beach, looking to town.  The waves were a little big for swimming that day.  Plus, it was February. 

I can work my way around the Island and name a score of beaches and coves.  Baby Beach, Fred Benson Town Beach, Scotch Beach, Andy’s Way, Dinghy Beach, Pots and Kettles, Mansion Beach, Clay Head Beach, Cow Cove, West Beach, Charlestown Beach, Grace’s Cove, Dorey’s Cove, Cooneymus Cove, Black Rock, Vaill Beach, Mohegan Beach, Ballard's Beach.  You can pick big waves or little waves, sunrise or sunset, sand or rocks or in between, places to swim or places to gaze a the water, beaches with lots of people or beaches with few people or none at all.  I can also name so many public lands.  Rodman’s Hollow, Snake Hole Road, Clay Head Trail, North Light, the Hodge Property, The Maze, The Turnip Farm. There are more, but here’s what I’m saying.  Wherever you go on the island, there will be public land and public beaches, places you can go.

There are so many beaches, so many places you can go.  And plus, the water is very clean.  That's what makes these waves so beautiful.

I wish you could have seen my father’s face when he sat in our front yard in his wheelchair because you know that house we said that we didn’t need?  We had one.  He could sit by the window and see the ocean.  He could study the people walking up the hill to Southeast Light.  And every day we would drive all over the island I would take pictures of everything we loved. At night I’d put them into the computer and we’d go through them quickly.  He’d dismiss each one with a regal wave of his hand.  I'd show him a picture.  He’d say “Nothing."  I'd show him another one.  "Nothing."  That's how it went.  Very quickly.  "Nothing."  "Nothing."  "Nothing."  And then there would be something he liked, a blurry wave or the back end of a deer.  And then he’d say, “Oooooooh.”  And we’d stop and look at it this way and that way.  Crop it a little.   That was the beginning of my learning about photography.

And when my Dad got sick, people on the island knew about it.  These were people who had been through a fair amount themselves, and they knew how to be strong for someone who was having a difficult time.  They knew how to stand with a person, and they stood with me like iron.   That’s the thing about Block Island, the people, and how important we are to each other.  People get to know you, and except for a prodigious amount of gossip and speculation, they know you for who you are.  They are not particularly impressed by power or fame.  In fact, the worst thing you can say on Block Island is, “Do you know who I am?”  That will spread around the island like a rash. 

The people make Block Island.  People choose to live here or choose to come because the chance to be here matters to them.  The chance to be together in such a beautiful place is worth dealing with the crowded ferries in summer, the cold open ocean in winter.  The chance to be part of a real community is worth it.  You have to want it more than you want convenience, because it’s not convenient at all. 

But it’s worth it to me and to a lot of people.  The nights are dark and silent.  In spring, the air smells like roses.  The Southeast Light shines in our bedroom window.

Bill and I have been here for 20 years now.  I found work I loved to do here.  I became who I most wanted to be here.  I was accepted here.  I was safe here.  I've lived in beauty here.   We built a wonderful life here.

If you want a life that’s filled with peace and silence and beauty than this is a place for you.  If you want your children to think that the most fun they ever had was splashing in the ocean and then collecting lots of stones and shells to smell up the back of your car all the way to New Jersey, then this is a place for you.  If you want to make memories that your children and grandchildren will have for the rest of their lives, then this is the place for you.  If you want the chance to go all over the island on all the trails and beaches, to be perfectly free and welcomed to do that at any time of the day or night, if you want to see all the colors that the cleanest ocean and the sky can make together, if you want to be part of a community that takes people as they are, if you want come again and again and if you love and care for it the way that we do, then this island is here for you too.

 

 

This is over on the southwest side.

This is North Light.

Getting to Block Island

There are many ways to get to Block Island.  You can fly from Westerly, using New England Airlines.  In the summer, you can take ferries from Montauk Point, Point Judith, New London and Newport. 

  • The Block Island Chamber of Commerce provides a comprehensive list of transportation options, both on and off the island here
  • But the only way you can bring a car to Block Island is through Interstate Navigation on the Traditional Ferry from Point Judith. Here are the link and the phone numbers:  https://www.blockislandferry.com/schedules-fares866-783-7996; 401-783-7996.     

All the things we love about Block Island - the quiet, the peace, the relative lack of crowds, the wildlife, the unspoiled hiking trails, the beautiful clean beaches, are here because there’s an ocean between us and the mainland.   And that means another step in our planning.  And that often means we'll be dealing with the ferry - with its limited capacity, which rides on open ocean - with its implacable ways. 

I was on the ferry one time, half way to Block Island, and talking to a four-year old boy.  He proudly announced that he was on his way to Block Island.  I said, "Oh, that's wonderful."  He said, "Are you going to Block Island, too?"  Well, in fact I was.  And this is the point.  Despite the fact that we actually do know that, we sometimes have to live through a couple of situations to appreciate what that means.  That extra step to get there, that adventuresome ferry ride, means that the consequences for a little mistake are so much bigger than those normally experienced in a non-maritime situation. 

There was nothing to warn me about this.  There was no sign that said, "Abandon hope.  There is no turning back on this ferry".  Oh, quite the opposite is true - it all seems harbor-like and lovely.  So it can come as quite the learning experience when we're half-way across and we start to wonder whether we left the lights on in our car.  There's no turning back for our keys or our wallet, either.  There is no turning back.  And if the wind is blowing and the ferries don't run, that's it.  And if we need a car reservation, and there is no room, we can't have that either.  It doesn't matter how much we want it.  The ocean is there, and that's all there is to it.  Many of us already know this.  We know that coming to Block Island is in equal parts, a vacation, a deployment, and an adventure.  One that despite it's quaint appearance, is wilder and more subject to the laws of nature than many of the other things that we have ever done.

With apologies to those of you who already know this, here are some of the issues.

  • If you are renting a house on the island, I assume you will need one or more car reservations.  Get that done as soon as you can.  Interstate Navigation starts taking summer reservations early in January.  If your "change over day" is on a weekend, get it done then.
  • Watch the weather.  If ferries are cancelled, it will be announced on Interstate's website.  If they run but it's a windy day, be prepared if your folks are inclined to be seasick.  Some people do better as far back and as close to center on the ferry as possible.  Personally, I do better lying down.  Some do better outside, but away from the smell of the diesel smoke.   Some people take ginger, some use sea bands.  If anyone in your party is needs seasickness medication, it's best if they take it before the ferry gets going.  In a pinch, I believe they sell it at the concession stand on the ferry.  Here is an article about seasickness from the Block Island Times.
  • The height and length of your car will matter, so just be accurate when you make your reservation.  If you’ve got bicycles added to the back of your car or a canoe and or a surfboard on top, tell them when you make your reservation.  Those extra items will affect how much you pay and whether they have room for you on the ferry. 
  • Leave enough time.  If you’re taking a car, Interstate will not be kidding when they say to get there an hour early.   The people  crowding the roads on the way to the Rhode Island beaches won’t know that they have said that.  Neither will the people wandering in the roads around the ferry depot.  Your blood pressure will be so much better, and if you miss your ferry and have to go on standby for the next one, or possibly the one after that, well, there’s only so much of that you will want to do.
  • If you are not bringing a car and you have a lot of things to bring over, you can get a “pallet”, which is a large box that can fit, say all the suitcases and groceries and stuff you could cram into your car.  You can find these on the Point Judith side by the freight office, which is just before the parking area for cars getting on the ferry.  You MUST get to the ferry at least an hour ahead of time in order to use these pallets, as they are typically loaded on before the cars, and the willingness of the ferry staff to make exceptions to this rule will go down exponentially when the ferry terminal is crowded.  And in the summer, it is crowded all the time. 
  • Once you get to the island, you pick the pallet up in the freight lot, which is on the right or the northern most part of the ferry terminal.  There will be a lot of cars jockeying for position.  You'll wait for the pallet, watch for your number, and wave feverishly at the guy so he can bring it close, or relatively close to your car.
  • If you want to walk on with your things, there will be shelves on the car deck where you can put them.  I would say groceries and suitcases are fine.  I wouldn’t leave cameras or computers.  It’s just that they could bounce around, and jammed in with other things and possibly get wet a little.
  • And by the way, the time that the ferry is leaving is the time when they actually leave.  It’s not the time to be in the general vicinity.  If the ferry has shut the gate, if they are underway, and by that I mean one inch away from the dock, it is too late.  You will need time to drop off your things, get a ticket, park the car, walk back to the ferry.  Leave enough time.
  • If you are bringing a dog, they will want to stop every five feet to read the wonderful information left by all of the other dogs.  Every twenty feet or so, someone will ask you if they can pet your dog, or will try to have their dog or child can say hello to your dog, whether your dog is amenable to that or not.  This is all fine, but you should feel absolutely free to say yes or no to any of these possibilities, because if anything should happen it is going to be your problem.
  • You can make your life easier, especially if you are trying to come on a weekend, by timing your arrival to the area to coincide with people getting off the ferry from Block Island and presumably leaving a parking space somewhere, just for you.  It could be a long walk.  Anything is solvable as long as you leave enough time.
  • Block Island is out in the open ocean.  This is different than any of the other islands in New England.  While it doesn’t happen very often in the summer, it is possible that there will be high wind, and in that case the ferries will cancel.  Talk to your realtor or homeowner about that possibility, especially in hurricane season.  Have a back up plan.
  • And last thing, when you’ve parked your car on the other side and you’re running for the ferry, remember to lock the door of your car, or if you can’t remember that, just remember to shut the door.  I mean, who would ever do that - come back to the car in the lot and realize they left the door open two weeks ago?  Well, let’s say I know someone who has done that before.  And she's not a flaky person.  I swear.  She's the opposite of a flaky person.  Her husband who is reading this, insists that she say that right now.  It's just that she has to learn that there are only so many things she can remember when she is in a rush.  She was always in a rush before she lived on Block Island, and now she knows there are certain times when it's important to slow down.  She has learned to check and check again.  She leaves enough time to do so.  In twenty years of living here, she has learned that one thing.  It’s better not to hurry.  It’s better to have extra time.

 

What You'll Need to Bring

 

Everything - the ferries, the food, the flights, the strollers, the car seats, the beach chairs, the bicycles, the sun block, when you put it all together, especially for a whole family, especially when you’ve got to bring it all on one ride, those are all things you have to plan for.  I would say that requires more than an administrative turn of mind.  It requires experience.  And if you haven't done it before I would say it requires genius.  So talk to your realtor or homeowner.  You will need the all information that they can provide.

Here is an interesting App from "Real Simple".  It provides you with a list of things to bring to a beach vacation.

Here is a source for grocery lists.

If you're renting a home, pillows and blankets will be provided.  Check with your realtor or homeowner about sheets, and bath and beach towels.

Bring medications, especially those that are required daily or on an emergency basis, like blood pressure medicine, sea-sickness pills and epi-pens.  Most medications, by the way, can be filled on the mainland and flown over on New England Airlines from the CVS or McQuade's in Westerly, but they won't come at night or in the fog.  There are two CVSs in Westerly so be sure you have the right one.  Here is the correct number:  401-596-8182.  And here is the number for McQuade's:  401-596-0277.  Be sure to tell either pharmacy that your medications have to go over on the plane.  Medications that contained highly controlled ingredients, like opiates, for example, will not be able to be filled this way.  The New England Airlines number is 800-243-2460.

If you're walking on to the ferry, anything that rolls will be a good thing, especially if the wheels are a little more substantial, designed for uneven, sandy parking lots.  If you're bringing anything perishable, use a nice big cooler with lots of ice, as it will be a few hours until you hit refrigeration under the best of circumstances.   If you're taking the traditional ferry from Pt. Judith, it will be fine to leave a cooler on the car deck on the big wooden shelves on the right and left sides when you first walk on.  The other ferries are set up a little differently, but there will still be a place for large suitcases and coolers.  If you're coming in by plane, tell New England Airlines what you plan to bring, including dogs.  They'll tell you if there are extra charges or if you'll have to have some things come over on a later flight.

You know that all night pharmacy, gas station or grocery store on Block Island?  You don’t?  Well that’s right because we don't have any of these on the island.  So be prepared with plenty of gas and whatever you will need until morning. 

Your homeowner or realtor can help you make arrangements to rent linens and baby furniture.  They can also tell you about bicycles, kayaks, surfboards, fishing equipment and all the things you might not want to haul all the way to the island and then haul all the way back home.  The Block Island Chamber of Commerce can help you as well.

You can also buy groceries, dairy products, fresh seafood, fresh produce, farmer's market items,  gasoline, and liquor on the island.  All those things will cost more than they do the mainland.  I never go into the grocery store in the summer for example, without hearing someone muttering about it. 

I get it.  I really do, but I want to give you a little background.  The food comes over in special trucks, requiring a large ferry charge as well as a full day for a driver.  It costs five times as much as it does on the mainland to keep the freezers and refrigerators running.  The Block Island Grocery store (the BIG) hires and often houses an entire staff of people.  They have few economies of scale.  In spite of this, their produce and meat is fresh and good, and they maintain a wide selection.  They stay open through the winter, despite the fact they have to keep all their departments and specialized staff employed while serving less than 10% of the population they serve in the summer.  That's meaningful, year 'round employment for full-time residents of the island.  So I hope that makes you feel a little better about it.  Lots of people, islanders too, buy as much as they can on the mainland.  But the grocery store is there when we need it, God bless them and keep them open.

Some Thoughts for Friends and Family

So you're coming to Block Island.  You're going to stay with your good friends or with your extended family.  You're going to be their guests.  You've got a significant other and more than a few significant children, and you're looking forward to your visit.   Of course, it will be a little complex.  You've got to deal with distance, the ferry, the cars, sometimes plane tickets - many, many things.  It can be a lot.

Bill and I have been on many sides of these issues.  We rent out our house in the summer and we've met family after family as they've come.  Some of our folks have been coming for many years, and we've been lucky enough to know them through many events and stages in their lives.  We've also hosted large gatherings for our families and friends, here in our home on the island.  And since our family has a tiny house in Nova Scotia, we've also been the guests, the people who slept like sardines on the living room floor with about eight other people - well past the age where we might have thought that was fun.

So here are our thoughts.

Know that you are welcomed.  If your friends or relatives rented a place on the island, they did it specifically because they wanted to be with you. They want you to feel more than welcomed - cherished in fact.  They wanted to find a place to gather all of you, so that you could have this time to be together.  As our long-time tenants and now, our friends, have so succinctly and beautifully put it, they have always come to Block Island to make memories for their children and their grandchildren that would last the rest of their lives.   

Know that you are welcomed, even when your hosts seem a little perplexed  You know that feeling you had while you were rushing to come?  Well, multiply that by all the other guests and all of the interactions between them.  Consider the fact that your hosts might have been doing this for a couple of weeks now, and if they own the house, possibly all summer long.  As our friends are fond of saying, there are a "lot of moving parts" to hosting people an island. 

When most of us embark on anything like this, we start with a plan - a beautiful plan, a well-conceived, skillful plan.  But islands, families, vacations, and vacations with families on islands, all have their special ways of making people realize that they aren't in control of their lives.  As my brother would say from his experience in the military, "no plan survives first contact."   That is in fact, the motto of all our family vacations.  At some point, a vacation is all about improvisation.  And what do they say about improv?  (I learned this from Big Bang Theory).   Improv is about saying "Yes."

That is where you come in.  You're the one who knows these people.  You're the one who can see it another way.  When the three-year old says, "I 'fraid dat water, Mommy!", you're the one with the brilliant idea to gather all the children and take them to Andy's Way where they can pot around in the water without being hit by the waves.  And you are the one with the energy to do it.  You're the fresh legs that are needed at this point in the deployment.

You know how Napoleon said that an army travels on its stomach?  Well, in this case, your army travels on sunblock, bottles of water, beach towels, beach chairs, bathing suits, cars and skateboards and bicycles, blood pressure medication, pacifiers, ferry schedules, little sun umbrellas, chips and salsa, cans of beer, sunglasses, cell phones, mud slides, formula, late night Scrabble, puzzles, Lord of the Rings marathons, charades, talent night, food for a constantly rotating group of people, some of whom are vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free, paleo, juicing, cleansing or some combination thereof.

A very good example of the reason for Block Island.

Anything you can do to help with this, to make things go a little more smoothly, is likely to be met by your hosts with pride and appreciation.   And you should feel good about it, very good, and then as soon as possible, go out and take a break.  Take the time before you need it, take it even if you feel guilty, take it before you have the meltdown that goes down in family history.  Any extended family can have a good time together as long as they have enough space.  This can be a roomy house, a walk on the beach, or just some space in your minds.  You may not need a lot of it, but when you need it you really need it.   Don't be a hero.  Say what you need, or better yet, hatch an escape plan and go. 

Walk.  Swim.  Read.  Lie on a blanket.  Pretend you're asleep.  Do what you need to do.

Sometimes people hang so many hopes on the perfect vacation for the family, that they create a level of stress that they don't really need.  Just assume it could rain, that Mohegan Beach or some other favorite beach might be little rocky this year, that the washer might break, that someone might forget their iPad.   That's how you'll know it's a real vacation, accomplished by real people, and it's imperfectly, perfectly fine.

Sometimes people come with well-established connections and habits of being together.  Some hope that this time on the island will heal or form connections that aren't yet, actually there.  I think it's a good to keep things simple, try to share the load, and then relax about everything else to the best of your ability.  Think of little memories whose meaning will be different for everyone, but which will nonetheless, lock in.  Things will grow a little this way and that way, in imperceptible ways. 

You've worked so hard to get here.  Let the island do the rest of the work for you.  I really think it can.  The ocean forms a natural boundary.  It holds everyone in a place together and gives them a shared experience.  It offers fresh air and fun and breezes and beauty.  The children will remember every inch of the house and the yard and the beach and the ferry.  Before you know it, they will own the whole place - they will start to talk about "our room" and how they have to get back to "The Block."

Two little girls came to visit me up at my studio, a couple of years ago.  (They're teenagers now, I can't believe it.)  Their grandparents are the folks who have gathered their clan together, year after year, and they're shown in the big group picture above.  They said, "Grandma and Grandpa are the founders of our whole vacation on Block Island!"   They certainly are, and more. 

That's the best thing about the island - how we can be here, year after year; how we can build something that passes through generations - memories and love for the island and if we're lucky, for each other.   We are so lucky, however we can be here, whenever we can be here.

So welcome to Block Island.  I hope you can relax, stay safe, take care of yourselves and each other, and give each other some room.  (Read the other sections of this blog if you want, especially the ones about staying safe on the island.  The one about forgettable things will probably be helpful, too.)  Enjoy the island.  It's beautiful here.  It takes care of people with its beauty.  That will never stop.  That's the easiest thing about being on Block Island. 

PS.  Joshua Braff writes eloquently about being a dad, a member of his extended family, and includes his experiences on Block Island.  He's the fellow on the far left in the family picture up above.  You can learn about him and his art and writing here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Alive on Block Island - Part One

IMG_2327 blog.jpg

So let me just start by saying that in my opinion, Block Island is the most peaceful place, the homiest, nicest place, the place where anyone is freest to roam and soak in all the wonderful things it offers.  But this story is not about that.  It’s about the fact that it is so easy for any of us to get smitten with all that wonderfulness that we run out and get hurt, really hurt, and occasionally killed.  I’m not exaggerating, unfortunately. 

Bill and I came here for years as visitors.  But we had to live here to hear the specific stories, and some of them are pretty terrible.  These are personal, private stories belonging to people who don't need to see them on the internet, so I won't share them here, but I want you to have enough information so that you can imagine them yourself, as I'm sure you can. 

Just so you know I’m not judging, I’ll start by telling you that I used to think that Block Island would be the perfect place for my father to drive when he could no longer drive on the mainland. In the winter, dogs and chickens can sleep in those roads… drivers can meet each other coming from opposite directions and stop for a ten minute conversation.  That’s when there are less than 1000 people on the island, most of them at home, pursuing that great maritime tradition of ordering stuff on the internet.  That’s what our roads can handle… just a few people, most of them not on the road.

Block Island has narrow little roads with virtually no shoulders.  In the summer, we have 12,000 to 15,000 people at any given time.  There is simply not enough room for all of the people who come here and rightly need to get around.  So now let’s talk about who those people are. 

There are workers, and let’s pretend it’s the middle of July.  So let’s say they are mowing lawns during the day, washing dishes at night, and cleaning houses on the weekends.  Let’s say they are living with a several other people in less than ideal conditions.  Let’s say they’ve already lost 10-15 pounds from working all the time and that they’ve been getting five hours of sleep a night, and that’s being optimistic.  So let’s say that’s group number one. 

Then there are full-time Block Islanders like me and part-time Islanders like you, who have come to the island with cars, and that’s group number two.  We come in all varieties, some of us stone cold sober, and some of us not so much. Some of us are older, like myself for example, and endowed with whatever lightening reflexes an older person may have.  Some of us are carrying nine people in the back seats of our vans or cars.  This includes our best friends and closest loved ones, which when we have a house on Block Island in the summer, can include everyone we’ve ever met.   I should mention as well, that a number of people in our cars might not wearing seat belts, because certain people have to sit on other people’s laps, because we’re not going far, and because of luggage and coolers and beach umbrellas and because of the dogs and all.

The third group is pedestrians.  The trouble with pedestrians is there is no place to put them.  The ferries come in and drop them off from Long Island, Point Judith, Newport, and New London to fill up the island just as fast as they possibly can.  So there they are, walking three abreast and stopping to take selfies on their cell phones.  They think this is not a problem on such a pretty country road, especially because you could easily go around them by taking your chances with whatever might be coming the other way.  The fourth group is the same group of people except that they are on bicycles.  There are variants within these groups as well…  groups of boy scouts, young children who have barely ridden bicycles before, ninja warrior bicycle guys, dressed like action figures and able to go completely around the island faster than anyone else because of the way they can zip in and out of traffic. 

Let’s say you’re a little distracted, because for the second time today, you are bringing a group back to catch the ferry, but your son's girlfriend's cousin realized at the last minute that she couldn’t find her medication.  And that delayed everything, but you still might make it as long as you rush, but now you realize you can only rush as fast as the slowest person who is in the middle of the road, and that could be a jogger or a bicycle or a moped or a group of people, sauntering along.   So you might frantically pass them, and that might gain you 200 yards, because as soon as you get by one group, there will be another group, immediately to follow.

And the fifth group is the people on mopeds.  Now, before I make my point about mopeds, let me tell you a story.  I was 25 years old and I had three weeks between the end of one job and the next one.   I hopped on a plane and took myself to Cozumel, Mexico.  I decided to rent a moped and drive around the island.  I had driven around to the rural side of the island.  It had taken most of the afternoon.  And that’s when I saw an old farmer, dressed in his white baggy cotton outfit with his big straw hat.  He was plowing his field behind an ox.  In any case, I thought this would make a good picture and I would have pulled to the side of the road, except that I didn’t know how. So I took a brief but hysterical tour through some bushes on this fellow’s farm, finally coming to a stop by heading directly into a thicket.  He and the ox raised their eyes and quietly considered me with an identical blank expression.  I would say they had seen people like me before.

Five minutes of practice was not enough on dry roads with no traffic, in daylight, when I was sober, young and fit and paying attention.  Two hours of practice was not enough.  But when people come to Block Island and rent a moped for themselves or for their children, they are often on mopeds for the first time in their lives.  They walk right off the ferry and pick one up.  They often get trained, right there in the street, for a few minutes, and then they launch directly into traffic. 

I have two suggestions for you about mopeds.  (1) If you are planning to rent a moped on Block Island, practice before you come, or come in the shoulder seasons, when there is no one else on the road.  (2) When you see a moped on the road in the summer on Block Island, especially if you're on a bicycle, pulling your beloved infant behind you in one of those little chariots, imagine the likely degree to which that moped is under control.

I used to work in India, and to tell the truth, I couldn't even cross the street there by myself.  Well, Block Island has everything in the road that they have in a city in India, except for cows and water buffaloes, and it's just about as crowded.

I wanted you to have a more specific picture, one that I didn't have until I lived here.   Please come - come with a car or on foot or by boat or any way you like.  Just be guided by this information.  May you and your loved ones be well and safe and happy.  May you and everyone else you care for and work so hard to bring here, have a wonderful, wonderful time. 

 

 

Staying Alive on Block Island - Part Two

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People who come to Block Island are not in the mood to think about danger.  They're in the mood to relax.  And if they look for danger, they look in the expected places.  For example, almost everyone watches their kids like hawks when they're in the water.  But we have a combination of crowding, drinking and vacation thinking, all happening in a natural and even wild environment, perhaps wilder than it looks on a bright, cloudless day.  Every so often, that combination can throw a real tragedy into our lives.   It doesn't make sense that such a beautiful, sweet, little place could rise up and run us over.  Well, I'm here to tell you it can.  I want to give you a little information about some particular and in some cases, peculiar dangers that you may find here on Block Island, or in any other community by the sea.

You know that wonderful warm stuff on the beach?  That stuff where you buy those colorful buckets and shovels, so you and your toddler can while away the hours?  Imagine it's not so cozy all of the time.  Imagine that a chunk of sand, as heavy as a boulder, and in fact, containing boulders as well as sand, is up on a bluff a hundred feet high, being worn away.   Imagine there's grass growing over it, so that when you're on top of the bluff, you can't see that it's deeply undercut, so what looks like solid ground to you is really just a ledge made out of nothing... nothing solid at all. 

So now that you know, you have a couple of options.  You can take everyone that you don't like and have them stand right there for a picture.  And usually they'll do that because almost no one realizes how dangerous the edge of those bluffs can be.  Or if you actually like them - if, for example, they're your entire family - you can hope that they'll know enough to jump really high at exactly the right moment.  Because if that bluff lets go when they're up there....well, you understand.  Of course if you're at the base of that bluff, let's say, digging clay to slather yourself for a little nudist sunbathing, I won't say where... then you have the same problem as the people on their way down, you're just at the opposite end.

Here's another example and I'll warn you right now that it's hard to think about this story.  I struggled with whether to put it in.  But it might be something you'd never imagine could happen, and I think it is better that you know.  Lots of people build sandcastles.  They leave them behind for the tide to fill in.  A big enough sandcastle means cavernous spaces, big fragile walls and buttresses.  Well, unbelievable as it may sound, a sandcastle is not a safe thing to leave behind.   They also come down... and if, let's say, a small child finds the wonderful depths of that cool cavern, and if the parents would never expect to see smothering danger in that situation, because after all, who would?  I certainly wouldn't have known.  I'm telling you this, to honor this family.  I thought we could do that best because in knowing this story, I am quite sure that none of us, if it's in our power, will ever let it happen again. 

Here is an easier story. 

I was riding in the launch late one evening.  There were about twenty of us being dropped off on our respective boats.  And two of the young men who came aboard were completely drunk, so drunk that the only thing one of them could manage to say was, "I am an American."  A group of strangers huddled around him.  They spoke to him gently.  They repeated themselves over and over.  They practically begged him.  "Get into your boat.  Go down below.  Do not come up for anything.  Not to pee.  Not for anything.  Stay below.  Please.  Stay below."  He looked at them earnestly, a little besotted not just with alcohol, but with all the attention he was getting.  He'd pause, try to rouse himself, and blurt, "I am an American.  I am an American."  That's all that he could say.

There have been people who, when they'd been drinking, have gotten up on deck in the middle of the night, or who have tried to climb out of their dinghies or kayaks and onto the swim platform on their boats.  These are the people who have hit their heads and fallen into the water and we've found their bodies on the beach in the morning.  Nobody wanted that for this young man.  I love to remember how everyone spoke with such urgent kindness.  "Stay on the boat… stay down below… don’t come up for any reason."   They didn't want to wake up the following morning and realize that his body had bumped along the hull of their boat in its dark passage to the shore.  They wanted him to be well.

Maybe that’s one good thing.  There is a way that people want this for each other, and we can see this on Block Island, even among strangers who are suddenly put together on a launch, on the beach, in the water, on the roads, on the ferry.  There is something about being on an island.  It makes us feel that we're in something together.   And of course we are.  And if all of us work on it, by that I mean if we let people know what can happen in the nicest possible way, we can make each other much safer on Block Island.

That's what makes me into that lady..... When I'm walking on the beach and I see the shovels come out, when the people are building a sand castle the size of an ATV... or when I see them digging at the base of the bluffs..... well it makes me that lady who walks over and says, "I used to do exactly what you are doing.  Do you mind if I tell you something?"

 

 

 

 

Block Island in All Seasons

It's amazing, the colors here in winter.

Every so often someone will ask me what we could possibly do here in the winter, spring and fall.  The answer may well be that we do the best things we do all year.   There will be beauty everywhere you look, especially beautiful light.  There will be bright stars.  There will solitude and safety and delicious peace and quiet.  The air, depending on the time of year, will smell like snow, or like the cold ocean or like blooming shad, which covers Rodman's Hollow with tiny white flowers, so many that it looks like it's snowing, and which make the air smell like roses.

Generally speaking, just be sure to watch the ferry schedule as it winnows down and down until some days, there is only one boat running, and depending on weather, it's possible that it won't run at all.   Be prepared to stay the night, as you often can't get on and off of the island on the same day.  Also check the Interstate Navigation website.  (Here is the link:  https://www.blockislandferry.com/)   You should have choices, give or take a day, to enable you to bring your car on and off the island. 

You should be able to pay less money for your accommodations than you do in the summer, especially for long-term stays.  The Block Island Chamber of Commerce can give you information on Hotels, Inns and B+B's.  They can tell you which ones are open, and whether they have availability or not.  (Link:  http://www.blockislandchamber.com/),  They can also lead you directly to realtors.

Most of the shops, the theaters and restaurants will be closed after Columbus Day Weekend and into late spring  There will be a few exceptions.  You will be able to get breakfast and lunch at Bethany's AIrport Diner, as well as sandwiches, some pre-made items, and some hot foods at the Block Island Grocery Store (The BIG), which will be open every day.  Pot's and Kettles, a truly wonderful food truck, should be open.   Some restaurants may be open at other times.  That changes.  Check the Block Island Times or the Chamber of Commerce for that information.  Believe it or not, you can actually get take-out food sent over from Westerly on the plane.  Here's the link for New England Air.  http://blockislandsairline.com/  The gas station will close in the early afternoon and if the ferries don't run for a few days, they may run out of the kind of gas you want.  You'll be able to get taxis.  The Chamber can tell you if mopeds or bikes will be available at the time of year that you plan to come.

Shops and some restaurants will be open over Thanksgiving Weekend for the Christmas Stroll.  Something might open especially for Christmas and also on Valentine's and Mother's Day.  The Harbor Church will have a wonderful turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.

Depending on the time of year, there will be bird watching, running around the island, poetry readings, movies at the library, fishing, biking, surfing, photography, hiking and hunting (get an orange vest, check the hunting schedule, look out for trucks parked by the side of the road, and do your hiking on the beaches.  If you're bringing a dog, get an orange vest for him too.)  If you're going to hunt, you'll need a permit from the town.

For photographers, there will be swans for most of the winter, and blue heron, as well as lots of seagulls and tiny piping plovers.  There will be cardinals and mourning doves and many other beautiful birds.  Great white egrets will leave in the late fall and return in the spring.  There might be snowy owls in the winter but please don't follow them around.  They need to be undisturbed because if you cause them to fly when they don't want to, you'll expose them to crows, and those, working in groups, can kill them.  They also need to sleep during the day.  They're out of their normal range and can easily starve to death.  Of course you'll have waves, beautiful waves, and the thing that makes them so beautiful on Block Island is the clarity of the water.

It will be warmer in the fall and early winter than it is on the mainland and cooler in the spring.  Bring rain gear but don't bring an umbrella because if you open it, the wind might blow you right off the island.  Bring a book.  Bring tea.  Be prepared for quiet and your own fascinating company.  Bring things to do that you always wanted the time to do.  Bring wool socks and sweaters.  With notable exceptions for truly brutal conditions, think Ireland or England in the winter.  Usually not too cold but very wet and windy.

You'll find it very different from what you will find in the summer.   If you're up for some beauty and solitude, you might find that it is your favorite time to come.

 

Swans near Sacchem Pond on a very cold day.

Rodman's Hollow in late Spring.

Looking to Vaill Beach in early Spring.

Great Salt Pond on a Winter evening.

Fear and Loathing and Appliance Repair

So you've come to Block Island.  You've been waiting all year and it's your perfect vacation at last.  And let's say it's the Wednesday of your week long stay, and there's a brown out.  (Before I go further I should tell you, that now that we have electricity from the mainland, our power should be more stable.)  But that brown out does something to the tiny electronic brain in the washer and dryer.  So you call your homeowner or realtor.  You have every reason to expect that they will call you back right away. 

If it's our realtor, they might come right away to diagnose the problem and if it's our house, they might also call me.  I will also come right away and using my legendary electrical skills, I will go down and switch the circuit breaker on and off and see what happens.  Then I will press the buttons on the washer and dryer.   Then I will gaze at the washer and dryer with sorrow, and then I will try it again.  Then we will call the repair man.

Now, Block Island has miles of beaches and walking trails that are open and free to everyone, and it also has water so clean that if it wasn't salty you could drink it.  But it doesn't have a favorable ratio of appliance repair people to the number of washers and dryers with post traumatic stress disorder.  The appliance guy will often come right away, and by that I mean within a day or so, which is amazing given the number of calls that he has to make.  And meantime, your realtor or homeowner will work to make it up to you.  They'll pay for your things to be washed at the Eureka, for example. 

Sometimes the appliance guy can't make it in a reasonable time frame, no matter how hard he tries.  In that case, what happens next depends on your realtor's or homeowner's level of impulse control.  They may start calling the repair guy on the hour until that he stops taking their calls.  They may start following him around on the road because even if the repair guy knows that someone is stalking him, he does have to stop sooner or later.  The next thing is we call the company where we bought the appliance to begin with.  They immediately put us on the list for their guy who comes out twice a week all summer.   That means they'll be at our house within two and a half weeks and that might only be to figure out what part they have to order.  So at that point we might actually run out and buy a new washer and dryer, but then of course we have to get it over on the ferry and that can't happen, let's say until the following Monday, and then we have to get it delivered and installed, and that takes us to the following Friday. 

I wanted you to have the backstory about appliances on Block Island, so that you'll know what to expect if anything like this happens.  You should expect us to care, to respond, to take it on and do everything we can to fix or mitigate the problem.  Just try not to be too upset with us if we can't change the laws of nature, because it won't make anything happen more quickly, other than giving us all the chance to be miserable for your vacation.   Instead, I hope we can realize we don't love Block Island because of its washers and dryers.  We are all, after all, hearty seafaring people who have braved the wide ocean to be here.    And we can realize (and this is one of the best things about Block Island) that we can know what is hard to know in places where things are more convenient.  We can just be people, getting to know each other, accepting things as they are and doing the best for each other that anyone possibly can.

Art and Artists on Block Island

If you've ever wondered if artists run out of inspiration after spending years and years on such a small island, look at these two photographs.  They are the taken under different atmospheric conditions, with different shutter speeds.  One is farther back from the other, but they are taken of the same subject.  The wind and light are always changing on Block Island, and there is beauty everywhere.  That's the biggest thing.

Here is an incomplete (and growing) list of artists and art organizations on Block Island.  Much of this information is derived from the "Block Island  Art Trail Map” and used by the permission of the Spring Street Gallery.  You can download the map here.

As you view these websites, you will find the wonderful work that artists on Block Island have created.  You will also learn about the artists themselves – what they love about what they do and why they choose to do it here.  So please explore these sites and when you’re on the island, come visit our artists and galleries.  You may find some kindred spirits and may find in some of their work, a lasting expression of what is most beautiful and meaningful about Block Island.