I have a photograph I took of my grandmother the year before she died. It’s a black and white print, made in the darkroom I had set up in her basement then. She is sitting in front of “the picture window,” in her living room in Richmond, Virginia, reading. The light is cool and quiet, the room peaceful. She is content. Yet, out the window, clearly visible, snow is falling hard and blowing. It makes a pleasing contrast. The date of the photo, written in my own collegiate hand, is April 15th.
Other photos from the same day show her beloved and locally famous rose garden covered in blooms and covered in snow.
Yesterday it was 70 degrees and sunny. Today, April 7th, and over 30 years later, it is snowing again. The forecast predicted 2-4″, but the cold front has not arrived in time to make it so.
Still, it comes down and coats the hyacinth and redbud, the narcissus. As I write this the lawns across the neighborhood are frosted white, though too dark now for photos.
The wood stove is on high. A good day for local beer and a big bowl of chicken and broccoli curry soup.
It’s early, and T is sleeping in for the first time in months. After coffee, I leave by the screen door, wade fifty steps through soft sand to the Bay and turn left.
There is only one house on the island. There is no one else here.
The island is two miles long, most of that north of the house. But it is very, very narrow. For most of its length, so narrow you can stand in the marsh and throw a stone across to hit the Bay. More than a sandbar, but to call it a barrier island perhaps exaggerates. There are trees, many of them quite old, but dunes throughout are flattened by overwash from Bay to marsh. It’s clear that water often flows through the trees. No barrier; more like a split rail fence.
The place is raw and wild. Animal tracks everywhere – birds of all kinds, but also otter, fox, raccoon and muskrat. And terrapins. With no one to disturb them, the tracks persist between rains. We find many skeletons. Like the undisturbed tracks, bones remain in place, composed where each creature took a last step.
The island has no official name. It has not been an island long enough to get one. Perhaps a budget office calculates it isn’t worth updating maps and charts, that it may not be an island for long. Even for locals it has no name. They simply refer to it as “the island.”
Not quite here, not quite not.
While most islands in the Chesapeake are disappearing – Smith, Tangier, and Hoopers; others like Holland already gone – new islands do appear, created by the same forces. That’s how this island came to be, about 40 years ago.
We have a small brewery in our little old one block long town. We’ve lived here long enough that the kids I coached at soccer, when they were first graders, are now past college and grown into young adults. Last night, a few of them stood on the sidewalk outside the brewery and, after a few double-takes at my grey and grizzled countenance, recognized me and invited me in to join them.
Melonseed Aeon with her topsail flying. photo by Kevin Brennan
Today it’s 97 degrees. In the shade.
But back in May of 2013 wind off the still winter-cooled waters of the Patuxent was almost chilly.
I remember well when these pictures were taken. The day was old by the time we all arrived and launched. Some had been delayed by work or mechanical issues, but the early arrivers content to wait until everyone was ready. The light low as we pulled away from Broome’s Island on the Patuxent. That was the year of the 17 Year Cicadas, and the the water was littered along the way with twittering and buzzing bugs, twitching on the surface in the last throws of their brief and bellicose lives. Many still buzzing in trees along the shore with that throbbing cadence that sounds so Southern to my ears. Big rockfish, already engorged, still half-heartedly rolled the surface to swallow another and submerge.
photo by Kevin Brennan
We were making our way toward Sotterley Creek for the night. A short, easy crossing, and a beautiful evening. Kevin B circled back to check on me, as he often must, and took these wonderful photos as we passed each other. I had the topsail up for the first time, and set unusually well. In the last one, I in my Melonseed and Mike in his Haven crosse a carpet of glitter that quickly turned to gold.