On a Small Island

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.

approaching Block Island by ferry…

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.

commencement of WaterFire, downtown Providence

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.

gull consuming the only fish I’d see that day…

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.

Franklin angling on Charlestown Beach, against all odds…

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.

a typical rural scene, B. Island…

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.

This ain’t yo-momma’s waffles, Belgian style w/ blended fruits @ Buttonwoods Brewery, Providence…

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.

the botanical gardens at Roger Williams Park, Providence, were amazing…

“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.

Mulhegan Bluff, Block Island…

Southeast Lighthouse, Block Island…

prior to the celebration, Providence…

WaterFire, Providence River….

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to On a Small Island

  1. tiostib says:

    Truly an inspirational ramble. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mark Kautz says:

    I can finally comment on your posts. Like I said before, WordPress and I don’t get along. That said, thanks for taking us along on your trips to places I would probably never get to go to. Also, thanks for the encouragement for keeping Northern California Trout alive. I’m pretty sure it will be around at least for another couple years.


    > WordPress.com

  3. Tio, Glad it resonated with you, thanks!

  4. Leigh Smith says:

    Those waffles look good! Sounds like a great trip. Hope your summer is going well.

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Well, the fishing return seems to be the only small disappointment in a place full of delights. Small enough and quiet enough to cycle, yet large enough to contain wild and free spaces, Block Island is a little gem. Glad you enjoyed your time there, and thanks for this great report!

  6. Jet Eliot says:

    I so enjoyed this visit to Providence and Block Island, Walt. Nature Conservancy did the world a great service by protecting 40% of this magical island, and I thank you for showcasing it here in the photos and your mesmerizing words. Really enjoyed the Island especially, the bicycling descriptions and the mellow ways.

    • You’re welcome, and thank you, Jet. Yes, without the quick protection of environmental groups and some nature-loving individuals willing to stick out their necks, a little island like Block would have been swallowed immediately by developers. We can be thankful for the wild remnants that are great for plants and animals and then our own enjoyment.

  7. Brent says:

    Rhode Island offers an inspiring diversity of locales and attractions for such a small place. What a great tucked-away piece of coastal paradise!

  8. Bob Stanton says:

    Lovely! Brother, even the cadence and meter of your prose rings poetic, to my ear. Love your mini travelogues!

  9. loydtruss says:

    My wife and are visiting four states in the Northeast in October. I wish I had known of this place while I was working up our itinerary, I would have entered it as a place to visit. I have a feeling you and your wife are going to spend a lot of time on Block Island. I hope you can share more post concerning the island. Enjoyed the read, thanks for sharing

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