To Boldly Go: the North Shore of Block Island

Rocky beach and lighthouse, Block Island north end

I made the choice to not be a slave to my camera on this extraordinarily rare excursion with a friend, knowing the strong temptation to indulge in my private experience through the lens would take away from my short time to spend with Steve, since our time together we measure in hours per decade.

I did carry my shirt-pocket camera on our bike excursion to the north end of Block Island, though I find using it for anything other than macro shots to be an exercise in frustration and its results disappointing compared to the much bulkier Nikon DSLR.

Even so, Kodak Moments the Powershot can handle. And this first-time-ever walk along a rocky beach is about more than pixels and grain and color. It is about a brief excursion into a new realm of this world I’d not experienced before as a hiker, as a biologist, or as a pilgrim-in-place observer of how landscapes exert their influence on our lives.

For me, beaches have been wide, white-sandy and more often than not, strewn with Copper-toned bodies, beach umbrellas, gritty towels and orchestrated by waves crashing and kids thrashing in the shallows. So this was an altogether different experience of land meeting ocean.

Block Island is a remnant jumble of rocky debris left over after the retreat of the last Ice-age glacier. Are these quartz and granite melon-sized rocks from land, or tossed up by high seas? They are impossible to walk on (especially with my foot issues) and the more so as you approach the bust-your-ass zone near the water where every stone is coated in algal slime.

Between the stone-zone and the water is a thick mat of assorted wave-tossed sea-weeds. Again, there isn’t nearly so much variety in the green, red and brown algal groups on a Daytona beach, so I spent a good bit of time picking around in the flotsam. More on that soon.

Gulls are the 24/7 omnivores of the coast, and they were actively rearing young all around the lighthouse and in the intertidal zone along this beach. We finally sorted out the various immatures that belonged to the mature Rufous, Blackbacked, and Herring Gulls that reeled and circled overhead and whose young complained from the dunes.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Oh My!! My home – not Block Island per se, but I was born & bred in RI……….On my last visit to Block Island a few years ago, my sister & I walked from the town center to the North Light & back & then to the South Light. There is, or was, a little stand at the boat dock – Del’s Lemonade – did you try it?? It is a RI “institution” and to die for every summer. Oh dear – now I am soooooooo homesick!!

  2. You state those rocks are impossible to walk on, but from the rest of your comments it sounds like you did the impossible and walked on them, how far, it’s not clear. I’m glad your feet survived the ordeal (at least I hope they did.)

  3. Further inshore above the rocks and between rocks and thorny rose-covered dunes was a sandy strip to walk in. It still wasn’t easy with my gimp foot, but far better than the rocks!

    That photo (note the credits) is not mine. We came to the 100 foot stairs with this view but it was raining, we were exhausted and I was limping, so we admired it briefly and hurried back to catch our ferry. It was truly a dazzling view, and I’d have preferred to have had time and tolerance to make it to the beach and look up at those bluffs. Another time, maybe.

  4. Nice description of BI. As you stated part of the terminal moraine as is Long Island , Nantucket, Martha’s Vinyard, and Cape Cod. I like to think about the desert of lifeless soil and rock left behind by the glaciers, and the remarkably fast recovery of plants and animals in it’s wake. Thanks.