Summer lingers. It still calls, it still writes, it wants to remain friends. But the days have grown shorter and the calendar has turned. He knows he has to go soon but neither of you wants to close the door one last time. He is just holding out for a few more minutes.
With this dwindling summer, comes fog. It comes billowing in off the south shore and drips off the leaves and power lines. This time, though, nobody has lost a beach day. Cisco and Surfside have been left to the gulls and the Canadians. If you get to Nobadeer at the right time, the surfers are still sliding down the waves. Their ranks have been thinned by the college soccer season and the slopes of Aspen, but the remaining native diehards linger on a clean break and a long ride.
In the humidity, everyone is lingering. The golfers are back out in their shorts and hitting balls into empty fairways. The bicyclists pedal up the center of the street. The fishermen set up on a sparse Great Point and even the sailors flit back and forth in an empty mooring field. September is the summer we always wanted; warm, uncomplicated, and committed to just you. And you don’t have to wait for the ice cream.
Even the hedge fund managers and the recently retired visionaries are lingering at the White Elephant. They will come for the first Nantucket Project just as September becomes October.
I am sure that they will enlighten and entertain, just as the poster advertises, but I hope the attendees didn't spend all that money to come to Nantucket and stay in a hotel conference room. Nantucket in the fall is a magnificent place. The moors are turning, the cranberries are coming in, and the last eddies of summer keep the place warm. It will be a great weekend to poke about the town, go out to dinner, and walk a storm-racked beach. If this weekend is going to change who you are, I suspect that transformation will happen out near Altar Rock and not staring at another powerpoint about Total Quality Management. Envy is ignorance and imitation is suicide with nametags, icebreakers, and notepads on the table.
At Brant Point, the success on display is yesterday’s success. Like the summer, it is also slipping away. The visionaries saw remarkable things, the investors made intelligent bets, and it all paid off for them. But time moves on and the stars shift. The next great visionaries aren’t taking a long weekend on Nantucket, they are at work in another garage somewhere creating the next great thing.
If you want to change who you are, you should pick up a copy of Emerson: “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you.” The music of that iron string is too faint to be heard in a room where the lecturers wear wireless microphones and use laser pointers, but it deafens on the hill at Tupancy Links, with the white capped sound before you and it positively shrieks in the middle of the moors. Divine Providence wears comfortable shoes and polar fleece.
And the place she may have found for you could be hip deep in the harbor. Family Scalloping season opens up on the second day of the conference. Attendees and the speakers will get to see the men and women of Nantucket don waders, grab a rake and a floating basket, then go poking about in the water.
Family scallop season was once a quaint anachronism of times gone by. You went scalloping because it was a fun thing do in the warm silence of an autumn afternoon. Then, in the evening after the messiness of opening the shell and cutting out the muscle, you warmed them in butter and tossed them back like pistachios. Today, in the hunger of the banker's recession, when jobs and paychecks are rare, family scalloping fills the freezer and feeds us in February. The finest seafood in the world mixes with mac and cheese.
The families will be out along the sandbars. They will line up on the Coatue side of the channel and poke at the eelgrass. Perhaps it will take an hour. Perhaps it will take an afternoon, but hunger and prudence will keep them out there raking the muck for the next big thing.
That’s where you will find it. The best ideas, the transformative ones, don’t come from brilliant insights in the White House Exercise Room, but from the daily quiet grind of raking, culling, and stockpiling. You do the quiet and boring work of creativity alone in the cold tide, listening to the low note of that iron string.
The saltwater entrepreneurs enjoy one other strategic advantage over the binders and bagels set; they are hungry. An empty refrigerator sharpens the wit and fires the sinews. It has no snooze alarm and will send you wading into the dawn tide.
The visitors will linger at the White Elephant. By Monday, however, they will return to the Anastos Case or the Aubuchon account. A day later, the presenters will finish lunch at the Golf Club before they will jet off. The PowerPoint will be back up in another boardroom before the dishes are clean.
The 21st century leaders aren't working in hotel conference rooms. Their names aren't on the masthead, they don't make a phone number, and they probably don't get to park in the shade. Instead, they sit alone in a basement or an attic, at the cold hour of dawn, and they work. In the outgoing tide they stand and rake. Most of the time, they pull up nothing but crabs and grass. Over time, the floating basket fills with a few scallops. Later, they will be shucked, cleaned, and brought forth into the light.
By October, the Chris-Crafts and the Hobarts have gone south. The Lazers have gone back to school and even the kite boarders have furled their sales. Autumn has finally moved on and left us alone. In the iron hum of an autumn dawn, the scallopers bend to their work. They harvest more than dinner.
Photo credit: Peter B. Brace