Small islands have been inspirational for me since my long-gone days of bumming through the quiet waters of the blue Aegean. Most recently, I helped my daughter move from Providence, Rhode Island to neighboring Warwick, on the west side of Narragansett Bay. The long visit culminated with a day spent on Block Island, 14 miles into the Atlantic.
The night before the island visit, we (my wife, daughter and I) attended another grand performance of WaterFire in downtown Providence. WaterFire highlights a festival of arts and music along the city’s rivers. Since 1994, it’s celebrated the pagan origins of Providence with an award-winning sculptural performance given periodically on summer nights.
Listening to third-world music blaring from speakers while a line of blaziers stacked with wood along the middle of the Providence River is lit by traveling gondoliers, can be transformational, to say the least. And even though an earnest rain began to fall at the beginning of this typically peaceful and orderly event observed by thousands, we enjoyed the late day, getting wet while sipping brews and tasting Indian cuisine.
Our spirits “islanded” by WaterFire, we caught an early morning ferry to Block Island. The hour-long ride through the foggy waters of Block Island Sound took us 14 miles into the Atlantic for a full day of exploration. The island is an oddly-shaped glacial remnant that reminds me of a long-necked sea bird, maybe a cormorant or merganser. It’s about seven miles long by three miles wide, a place of rolling hills that’s home to 1,5oo people residing mostly in or near the singular village of New Shoreham.
I had already done some casting for stripers at Cominicut Point on the mainland and was fully prepared to continue my ownership of a Saltwater Fly-Fishing Skunk on Block Island, famous for striper fishing and other angling delights. Although late summer is a slow time for the shoreline fisher, it’s been said that, “If the year, the moon, and the tides align, you can reasonably assume a great encounter with a striped bass from the shore.” True enough, but something was wrong (again) with my alignment, even though I found it pleasurable to be casting surf-side in the fine remoteness of places like Charlestown Beach.
We rented bicycles and I pedaled seriously for the first time in 30 years. We had a fabulous work-out through the breezy and pastoral atmosphere of an island that the Nature Conservancy has called “One of the Last Great Places,” managing about 40-percent of the island in a wild and natural state.
Thankfully, the island remains largely free of commercialism, with no indication of chain store, neon sign or traffic light. Zoning laws and conservation efforts dating back to the 1960s have largely preserved a wonderful site for wildlife and migratory birds, with rolling hills, broad forest, marshland, beaches, chalky bluffs, and stone walls reminiscent of the Irish coast.
We pedaled and walked vigorously for 17 miles, sharing the roads with numerous other bikes and motor vehicles that, for the most part, were considerate of our island clumsiness. We took breaks for cooling off along the beaches and bluffs, fly-fishing or poking around at natural artifacts, stopping at conveniently located stands where lemonade, water and other refreshments could be purchased.
“No man is an island,” said the poet John Donne, and once again I found this sentiment to be correct. Remaining a piece of my rivertop realm, I acknowledged that all persons, places and things remain interconnected in the global sense. But it was nice to think that on a small oceanic isle, where humanity and wildness find a summer balance, one could know essential freedom and a feeling of separation, too.