Monday, October 21, 2013

Block Island in October

For several years now we've been saying, "We have to go to Block Island." We keep telling ourselves, hey it's one of THE major attractions in Rhode Island, it requires a boat trip (a favorite past time) but more than that Block Island is a wholly different side of Rhode Island, physically and figuratively.

Well, we finally got to the island and the short conclusion is: you should too.

We couldn't have asked for a nicer day for a boat trip than yesterday, Sunday: low 60s, full-on sun along with just enough breeze to cool the face and lighten the walk. So off we went, pointing the Mini south in the direction of Narragansett and Galilee and the Point Judith ferry to Block Island.

Besides the glorious weather, tourist traffic was light, both on the highway to the ferry and on board the ferry itself. The summer season is over for much of this part of the country, a fact soon appreciated as we pulled into Galilee, a fishing village that relies heavily on transient tourists en route to somewhere else, tourists who need to leave their car someone safe. Well, the lot we found -- marked in bold "FERRY PARKING" -- was just two blocks from the ferry, half empty and no attendant. When I asked at the ferry ticket office what the story was, the young woman said simply that the lot, like all the others private and not connected with the ferry service, was indeed open and at this time of year was probably free. And so it was.

A beautiful day was already off to a great start.

Since we had plenty of time we strolled the village of Galilee -- but the stench of fish detritus downwind drove us back to the ferry terminal building. Anyway, it was also nice to get out of a brisk wind into the warm comfort of being inside.
waiting for the ferry
It wasn't long before the ferry pulled, or rather backed in. The cars unloaded first and then came wave after wave of humanity streaming off, lines weaving this way and that. The hugs, the goodbyes, the smiles all around reminded me that more than anything else, for most travelers Block Island is a temporary respite from somewhere else. It's a place where families and friends, new and old, share a few fleeting moments of simple pleasures before turning their faces once again to the complexities of life in Manhattan or Boston.

waiting to get off

With everyone and everything off the ferry, it was time to board. The young ticket taker scanned our boarding passes (we had printed them at home) and we walked on board heading up the stairs (topside for you salts) to find a seat.

heading out to sea

leaving the mainland
Since this was the tail end of a weekend at the tail end of tourist season there weren't many travelers heading to the island so we had a choice of seats. With the wind brisk heading south we stayed inside for much of the trip.

As we neared the landing in the "old harbor" we walked outside to take in our first glimpse of Block Island, the bluffs to the west, the breakwater, the small harbor. 

Block Island

From the ferry terminal building we turned up Water Street, past the statue "Rebecca," erected in 1896 by a local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. . . Apparently the consumption of alcohol among the fishing and farming communities on the island  had become a serious enough problem to warrant it's own statue.
Rebecca and the Women's Christian Temperance Uniion
Water street eventually became Spring street, which we followed up, up, up and further up hill until we reached the Southeast lighthouse.

Over the years we've seen quite a few lighthouses along the New England coast and even in the Great Lakes but I couldn't recall when I saw a lighthouse that looked so, well, nice: brick, three stories high, lots of room. Unfortunately it was closed for the season so we couldn't examine the interior -- though a peek through the windows revealed a rather rustic series of rooms, some of which were used for storage.  I guess we didn't miss much.

Down by the water, fronting the lighthouse, was one of those automatic foghorns that kept going off every minute or so while we were there, which must drive the nearby residents quietly insane. . . And as you can see, there was no fog.
Southeast Lighthouse
A favorite view of the French Tarte, contemplating. . . ?

In the shadow of the lighthouse and overlooking the Mohegan Bluffs and the open sea is a small stone bench that seemed oddly comforting if not oddly out of place.

It turns out that the bench is a memorial to Catherine Gorayeb, a single mom living with her daughter in Battery Park City and who happened to be at the World Trade Center attending a conference on the morning of September 11, 2011. Her story reminds us that all those who died that day left behind many more lives to suffer, lives further complicated by that act of terror.

You can read more about the continuing tragedy left in the wake of Catherine's death on

Just outside the entrance to the lighthouse and facing the road, was a small marker commemorating the incident that gave the bluffs their curious name. It also lists the number of ships that had wrecked nearby, which made me wonder just how effective the lighthouse had been. (The list concluded with the word "etc" which we thought a bit insensitive.)

Anyway, in 1590 a war party of 40 Mohegan indians were driven over these bluffs by a group of local Block Island indians, the Manisseans, or so the story goes. I thought that there were probably some locals today who feel like doing the same thing to many of the tourists that flock here.

Just a hundred meters further down the road from the lighthouse was the entrance to the Edward Payne Overlook and the stairs leading down the bluffs to the beach. (We skipped that last part.)

Back on the main coast road we continued a bit further before turning inland on Pilot Hill road. A dirt track off limits to mopeds, the road ran alongside one of the island's numerous ponds. We wondered if swimming or canoeing or even fishing was permitted or prohibited; no signage was noted either way.

We strolled along Pilot Hill road until it became High street which led us right into the Old Harbor and to the ferry dock.  Just in time for the 3pm ferry we found our way to the stairs leading to the upper deck, passing drivers backing their cars onto the ferry loading deck. (One way on and one way off on the Block Island ferry, apparently.)

Coming back to the mainland we spotted the Point Judith Lighthouse off in the distance:

And shortly after we caught sight of the entrance to the harbor.

Some folks miss the whole point of traveling, to experience a new world around them, rather than the old one they carry in their pocket, rather like. . .

this guy:

Back on the mainland we found our way back to the car and headed north to Providence. Recounting our impressions of the day  we both remarked, in the car and again over dinner later that evening, how relaxing Block Island seemed at this time of year.  Traffic was minimal on the main roads and virtually nonexistent on the back roads. There were few others out walking or biking; most of the time it was just the two of us strolling along. Plus it  was so wonderfully quiet. We could only imagine what the sky must look like in the middle of the night with all the stars out. . .

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