I have become accustomed to the journey between the mainland and Block Island. And it’s a real journey - you don’t just pick up and go. You check the weather and the ferry schedules and those are limited in winter. You make a boat reservation if you are bringing a car or you go down and load a pallet with your belongings if you are walking on.
In any case, there are stages. You drive and wait, you get a ticket, you load up, go on the boat and then ride, unload, reload and then drive again and unload again. It takes the whole day and usually requires an overnight stay. So you bunch everything together… visits and work and groceries and sometimes a Christmas tree or some cord wood or a piece of furniture so you don't just travel, you deploy. And then you can always do something stupid, like let’s say, realize the moment the boat leaves the dock that you have forgotten your keys and you have to take a cab with everything and your two dogs and find a hotel for the night so that keys can be sent over in the morning.
Because the island is out in open ocean, if the wind is high enough the boats do not run, and in winter that happens about once a week, usually for one day, but sometimes for two or on rare occasions, for more. So it is not in your control. I actually like that… being back in a relationship with nature that is more like what people have lived in forever… but ask me how I like it if I am teaching on the mainland and have to leave four days early to be sure I get there. Also ask me how I liked it the day the boat almost cancelled and the weather was bad but I really wanted to get home and I decided to go anyway. Old seafaring salt that I am, I stayed in the car to keep the dogs from being afraid. We had 6-8 foot seas but the bow reaches up and out beyond the waves, and that is where I was so it was more than that. I can't even say. We were rising and falling 10 feet? 12 feet? It was too late to get out, as I could not have navigated the deck in those conditions. So I was stuck, with nothing to do but pray for death as the bow lurched up, held and swung for a moment, and then fell and slammed into the water, hitting hard. Cars bounced on their tires, straining against their emergency brakes. Spray and green water came over the bow. The steel hull boomed like a drum.
You can imagine under those conditions what coming to a safe harbor feels like. The boat turns and in bad weather that turn is something. There is the last high swell and you ride it down and sometimes it feels like you’ve got to hit bottom and then you pass the breakwater. The sea calms. The boat stops slamming.
When I came home last week the weather was snotty. There were waves but nothing like that other time. I unloaded the car, put the groceries away, cooked, and settled in. My life is different here than it has ever been anywhere else. I go out and take pictures with many open spaces, trails and fields and beaches open to everyone. I feel safe out walking (after accounting for hunters) day or night, wherever I go.
It’s strange how I forget when I go away. It’s like the mainland is different from here, and it’s changed in the fourteen years I’ve been on the island. So I really do feel like I’m in another country. So many cars, so many people. (Sometimes I wave by mistake at the people in the other cars, like we do on the island.) Stores are open all the time and filled with everything. There is amazing fresh produce, amazing choices. I go into a mall and it sparkles and my mouth hangs open. I have to switch channels and the island and my life here disappears. And then I have to switch channels to come back so it has taken a few days but my life has reassembled and it feels very good.
Home is a place of course, but there is also a way to come home to yourself, to define and protect your life like the ocean defines the boundaries of this island, and maybe deciding you can do that and then learning how is a most important journey. And guess what? I’m leaving again on Monday. Bill is arriving after four weeks working in Southeast Asia and we’re going to see our children. So I’ll be changing channels again, but I’ll be taking my cameras with me. I’m hoping to go with my family to take some pictures of fine old trees and Bill will be with me and we’ll all be together and that will be home also.