Spring arrived, with river herring in small streams, osprey on flat wooden nests and a hearty few folks on high rocks overlooking a graceful Pawcatuck River celebrating her arrival with foot stomping, clapping and coffee. Red-winged blackbirds are teetering on cattails, starlings are chattering feverishly about a day’s happenings and robins are again turning peculiar heads to subterranean sounds. Just as significantly, the day before winter left us, we celebrated the life of a true Block Islander and character. Everett Littlefield’s epic Spring passing was a day to remember and celebrate as he was laid to rest in a torrent of spring rains washing away a fine eulogy and tears from those who loved him. And there were many.
As Spring’s first sunrise deliberately pushed west a fog on calm salt pond waters and damp grasses, water dripped from bare maple branches just inches about the surface where hungry baitfish swirled. After several turns of the reel, from the low port side of my kayak, I reached for a surprisingly large striped bass, which celebrated winter’s departure with one of her own. So instead of cleaning fish, I returned to clean a woodstove with quiet hopes that such a rushed action would not portend a final blanket of snow, as spring often delivers. It’s fine to say goodbye to woodstoves, for a while, if we are thankful for their comfort, warmth and security in this energy insecure climate.
On the pond, I could see Spring’s impressions. Blue crabs went sideways with excitement and black-tipped gulls knew it. Hermit crabs emerged after a long rest and herring gulls knew it. River herring rode incoming tides and ospreys knew it. White perch schooled near the surface and eagles knew it. I cast a herring imitation and stripers knew it for what it was. Returning from my first spring fishing trip, roadsides were freckled with orange life vests and white seat cushions from eager trailer captains pushing the hinges on a new season.
Migrating striped bass are taking thier sweet time
Striped bass should come east to the west wall any day now as draggers have been working the beach for sea herring and mackerel. Keep those bucktails, shiny spoons, SP Minnows, DOA Cal Shads on 3/8oz jig heads and small pearl plastics handy. Spring will deliver new schoolie stripers as well-fed bass begin leaving ponds and rivers for open water hunting season.
To clear any confusion, Rhode Island waters which are stocked with trout by the state are closed to all fishing until the second Saturday in April, so if you want to fish in waters which are not stocked, have at it. And the Beaver River will not be stocked to protect any populations of native brook trout. Tip of the week: largemouth are inhaling those 3/8 Hijacked brush jigs with black and blue floating chunk trailers.
A day before Spring’s arrival, we celebrated the passing of Everett R. Littlefield, one of the last true Block Islanders. He saw much in his 83 years, growing up on open hills now dug up and built up with outside white corner boards, two month tennis courts and pretentious Range Rovers. Everett Russell Littlefield was born just six weeks after the ninety mile-per-hour winds of the Hurricane of 1938 which flooded the island, smashed or sunk eighty-six fishing boats and destroyed nearly every barn.
Back then the roads were dirt, the pace of life was slow and the island, geographically and economically, was wide open. His Dad was Lester Leroy Littlefield, “Shorty” to friends and family and he carted goods like coal, ice, lobster pots and the occasional piano to support his wife and three children. Shorty also pumped water from island ponds to refill wells and cisterns, some of which were fed only by rain following the lines of house gutters. Childhood for Everett was free from the ties of instant everything and the constant pressures of immediacy. He played in the fields and ponds of a sparsely populated small town but worked long hours to help the family business. Young Everett left the island for The Navy and the world, proudly serving his country as an airplane mechanic.
A proud family man who could fix anything
“I got to fly all over, to every country in Europe that had an embassy, most of the Mid-East and a big chunk of Africa”, he said, frequently in a Convair R4Y-5Z. The service gave him a love of aircraft. Backlit by windless sunrises, he flew his scale planes and helicopters from Corn Neck Road, practicing takeoffs and landings between the ocean and salt pond. His time in Naples, Italy blessed him with Verna, the love of his life. Together they raised their next two generations while running a family business from their home.
“Since ’81, together they have made over 750,000 kilowatts”, Everett said of his turbines. 37 years before Block Island had a “wind farm”, Everett Littlefield constructed his own backyard windmill on Old Town Road. It supplied power to his house and propane delivery business until 1992’s Hurricane Bob tore through the blades and gears. Not to be held down by some wind, he had another one up and running in less than three months. With roots in the farms of Ireland and England, Everett’s family are 16th generation Islanders and when adversity hits, they hit back with hard work and a tough spirit to be prepared for anything.
Everett Littlefield’s epic Spring passing was a just send off
Everett is a living reflection of the island’s past and future, with two of his sons continuing the family business. He always loved the island for what it was. He knew all the road’s old names, who used to live where and how fine life was and is in a small town. He raised his own animals, worked his garden with care, secured stores of necessities for an uncertain future and taught his children how to tear down and rebuild anything with wheels or wings or just interesting enough to crack open to see how it ran. He taught them all to be strong, independent and generous. How amazing, to live such an island life, especially as his hometown changed so dramatically.
Modern politics could rattle him as they’re lately fueled by division compounded with a lack of respect for the rolled up sleeves common sense which built the country he served. Everett Littlefield, like the windmill, business and farm, thrived in a changing world with the graces of hard work, family and a place in island history few newcomers might understand. His first book, Block Island Turkey and Toby Roe’s is a tale of childhood in the 1940’s and 50’s when fields were wide, salt ponds teemed with spring mackerel and fall stripers, when Ball jars filled cellars, tight with jellies, tomatoes and beans. Back then, the island largely sustained itself, just like the man with the windmill in his backyard.
As skies darkened and the inevitable was obvious, New Shoreham’s First Warden, Andre Boudreau, tried mightily to read a thorough eulogy. Lightening lit a northern sky, winds howled and rains came on hard. Quickly rains were biblical, but somehow it was funny, with no disrespect, to be there, with umbrellas tilted like windmills, reliving so many wonderful memories of our friend as quick wide streams rushed down gravel graveyard paths and mourners gripped a small tent meant to protect family from any stray showers.
Clearly Mr. Littlefield had other plans. Even the heartiest folks in the fanciest rain gear were whirled around by wind and rain before giving in, shuffling wet feet and laughing.
Everett had the last laugh for sure, as those who loved, respected and already missed him, stayed the course through a heavy Block Island squall. I will forever be appreciative of my friend Everett, an island institution, father of my close friends, the man who was fair to me when cross family politics might easily have harrowed some space between us. There was nowhere else I would rather have been than right there, in the mud, with an American flag snapping in the breeze, saying goodbye to a good man.
Just before Andre rung out his sheets and turned up his collar in smiling defeat, I heard him offer, “Everett lived the perfect man’s life.”
Amen Andre and Godspeed Mr. Littlefield.