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?"