The radio rolled out with attacks in Libya, a new iPhone in California, and a memorial service at the World Trade Centers before it muttered out the “Beach and Boating Forecast” and the tides for the day. Then I shut it off. Instead of the radio and the traffic, the open window offered a thick slice of silence. Far off in the distance, the waves crashed on the south shore and a school bus drove up the Madaket Road. Otherwise, God had nothing to say.
In the quiet of an empty morning, the cleaning began. The summer ends when you feel sand in the carpets. We vacuumed it up as best we could and then swept out the kitchen. The toothpicks, the bottle tops, the golf tees (from the birthday cake) emerged from under the cabinets. Beneath the sofas, Lego and train tracks returned from years of imprisonment only to find that their time had also gone. We lined them up on the counter like boys at a dance, but no boy picked them up. The world had turned to phones and controllers and games that roared. Nonetheless, they couldn’t be thrown out. Nor could the sand dollars go. Instead, we lined them up on the top shelf and hoped that they would last through the winter.
Eventually, we filled the back of the car and drove down an empty Madaket road to the dump. The swallows had returned in battalions, only to settle onto the powerlines like guardian angels. The swans were also back, cruising through Great Pond.
Summer also ends at the dump. It ends with a loaded car full of trash and recyclables that have been building up in the basement and in the garage for the summer and now must be gone through. The beer bottles, the wine bottles, and the rum bottles (because we drank Dark and Stormys this year) go shattering into the bin. The complete summer set of Inquirer and Mirrors and Sunday New York Times, flutter down the paper slide. Three bags of plastic bottles, take out boxes, and plastic cups disappear, as do the pizza boxes and the UPS shipping containers.
Then it was gone. We stood at the back of an open car and talked about the selectmen with the workers. Wood, it appeared, couldn’t go in bulky waste anymore. Then, the boys ran to Take it or Leave it. We had books to drop off, t-shirts to ditch, and three broken boogie boards that may do someone some good next year. We left with two new books and a golf shirt.
At the Downyflake, we pulled into an empty space near the back of the lot and sat down quickly. The fishermen had come in for the next round of coffee for the day. The Bonito Bar was rocking, as were the stripers off of Tuckernuck. Otherwise, roofs were being reshingled, babies were being born, and marriages were fragmenting. Three cups of coffee, two donuts, and one side order of linguica later, we headed home.
September stands silent. The crowds have gone from the Stop and Shop and the Juice Bar. The firemen can put away their traffic cones. The boats are going back to the Bahamas or to storage, whichever is cheaper. The cars on Main Street just got a lot older. Nonetheless, you can stand next to the flowers and see nothing move but the clouds and shadows. The island has space again. The sidewalks and bikepaths are filled with nothing but leaves. The rotary sits empty for minutes at a time. Sanford Farm, Tuppancy, and Squam Swamp have slipped back into a world without men. You walk them in silence as in a cathedral.
Regrettably, I don’t walk Squam Swamp as often as I walk the golf courses. In the fading light of September, I have to get out by three in order to finish before darkness rises into moon and starlight. I stand on golf tees by myself, surrounded by grass, brush, and a billion lost golf balls. Before I add one more Titleist to heaven’s horde, the sun continues to set, the distant ocean rolls, and the warm air blows off the south shore in somersaulting puffs. I stand in the palm of a benevolent God.
The world has been jammed with folly and failure. Good men are killed for an idiotic video. A new toy will help us survive lines and airplanes by exchanging Words with Friends. Madmen crashed airliners into office buildings and created hundreds of orphans. God’s work is often bloody and pointless.
But, out here, we walk cheerfully in the divine light of a warm September day. We are redeemed by our abandonment. The families, the plutocrats, the workers have all left us alone at the moment of blessing. As with all boons, we have done nothing to deserve this. We have made no special prayers or gifts to bring about another golden September day. It came to us by accident, as if it were left in the road for us to pick up and enjoy.
So, enjoy we must. Each sand dollar, each swan, each donut passes through our lives. The trashmen, the waitresses, the golfers; we answer the God in everyone on a September day. This light, this air, these blueberries are only for us. Right now.
The Fire Chief and I took a ride from the Steamship Authority after Labor Day. The sun had risen over the Haulover in ribbons of purple and red. It paved a glowing path up the harbor. Once over the horizon, it lit up the inside of the Eagle in gold. “Just another perfect day.” he added. “I wish I had a camera.”
Bob Barsanti's novel, Milestone Road, was published last summer. His previously published book of essays about Nantucket, Sand in My Shoes, is available here.
Read his post on the attempted sale of Boy Scout Camp Richard here.
[Photo credit: Becky Holdgate Zadroga, NantucketLens.com]