I met her in July. She had been a classmate of mine in graduate school, then had gone on to success in publishing. At ten thirty in the morning, at low tide, she had appeared at Ladies Beach in a big hat, big glasses, black bikini, and trailing a four year old daughter. The two of us re-connected for a moment, then went our ways. I plucked the seaweed from the waves for my son and she picked up a dead crab to bring back to her daughter. Never saw her again.
My summer was full of those missed connections. My phone would ring with an invitation that got put off, then rescheduled, then canceled as the boat pulled away. In a busy season, spontaneity needs to planned and budgeted. Arrangements are hammered together, then those arrangements fall apart at the slightest of bumps. “Next week” would be a better time to stop over for a beer and a fire. But there was work and there was school and we got sick in July and then Labor Day came on a northwesterly wind.
By mid-September, the folks at Sconset Market had gone fishing. I pulled into the parking lot for one last ice cream, perhaps a quick walk around for any good end of season sale items, but the shelves were empty, the door was locked and a VCR was sitting out front under a sign that read “Take Me.” We peered into windows and looked around, with the air of some clueless soul who was hoping that summer could come back an unlock the door. Unfortunately, I missed that connection as well.
But autumn has come at last. When the island drains of customers, tenants, and diners, there is suddenly time enough for all that. In September and October, the water remains warm, the air has yet to pick up the cold bite of winter and the land is late for the sky. The golf courses remain a deep, August green, the beach grasses blow tan and even the surf throws a playful white summer spray. You can make cocktails from the air. Only the sky has caught the change in seasons. The low clouds line up in purple drifts against a washed out blue. Winter looms, but is yet to descend.
Almost everything remains as it was in August, save the crowds and the chaos. Downtown, Main Street only fills with cars when Mass is being said at Our Lady of the Isle. The cars will stop for the ducks on Lower Orange Street and let them meander across the pavement to another puddle or perhaps to the harbor itself. Six couples sit at Surfside beach, in the lee of the dunes, dressed but ready. One woman brazen against the calendar, lies out in a bikini while her friends keep their jeans on. Singles and pairs slowly walk the courses, freed from caddies and carts. They hit and re-hit balls onto greens without the pressure of dinner reservations and scorecards. Or they sit like seals upon their surfboards and ride in solitary wave after wave into the onshore breeze. Then, at dinner, the room is half empty and there is time enough, finally.
My friends are back, even if they never left. If they rented the house for the summer, they are back from the Bedouin life of Connecticut and Vermont. If they did not, the pressures of jobs and guests have finally relented so that they could, after all, go out after quahogs for the afternoon. We have nothing new to say and all the time we need to say it. We trade hellos at the Farmer’s Market, wonder if you are following us at Island Variety, and know that it’s true at Henry’s. There is time enough, finally, for dinner and baseball and beer in the fire pit under the steady march of Orion in the dry and clear Canadian air.
And I feel that I am back. In the summer, I am a piece of everyone I bump into. I am a car, a list, and a phone. I go from one spot to another, pick up and drop off, buy, dump, and wait in traffic. By October, the crowds have thinned and I can sit, finally, on a bench in front of Mitchell’s. Save for the Norwood field hockey team, the morning is as empty as the sidewalk. I wonder what stores will make it until Stroll this year. I wonder if the real estate market will ever return. I wonder if there is a glazed donut left at the pharmacy.
If I missed the connection in the summer, I can make it in the fall. Now, she sits beside me in polar fleece, sweatpants and crocs, with her hair pulled back and long golden rice grains from her ears. There is time enough, now, to trespass the Bluff walk and watch for whales among the fishing boats. Time enough to talk and to listen and to repeat the stories again and again until they wear grooves in a comfortable boredom.
Appropriately, Autumn also brings the scallops. For months, they have grown beneath us and out of our reach. Now, we reinflate the ring, repair the rake, and find the waders, then shuffle into the water with our basket behind us. We may find a bushel in a few minutes or it may take hours. But in that time, we stand waist deep in our home waters, a foot from our own reflection and we rake for treasure. Later, perhaps we will sauté them in butter, or wrap them in bacon, or bank them in our freezer for the upcoming months. Treasure is treasure; you can spend it in one breathless rush or horde it for colder days.
You can only find it now. You can only find it when the water is still, the air is warm, and we have time enough. The missed connections that bedeviled us for months are finally reformed under the purple sky of autumn, waist deep in our water.
(Photo credit: Burton Balkind, Kindflow Productions)