August Tuesday

Thu, 09/01/2011 - 1:00pm

We are past the point of denying that the days are getting shorter — tomorrow’s daylight will last two minutes and thirty-four seconds less than today’s — and the light is different, moving toward the south, the shadows lengthening sooner. To seal the deal, a hurricane is brewing. The projected track is too familiar so I listen to Providence radio and hear old guys offering hopeful reasons it will all move to the east before it gets this far north.

It is end of summer weather, filled with dire, harbor-emptying warnings that have amounted to little, if anything, in recent years: a storm that simply fell apart or one that passed far to the east. All the technology readily available hasn’t really been all that helpful, and we recall a massive hurricane last year, huge, terrifying, carefully watched then gone; or the year there were so many named systems they had to start over, back at the beginning of the alphabet with Alpha.

I open my email and find a message from my cousin in Seattle, the daughter of the uncle upon whom we all relied for weather forecasts. He read the maps in the newspaper, hours old by the time they arrived at his doorstep in California, and had as good an idea of what would happen as we do today with all our weather sites and colorful tracking maps and updates.

He would have called last night to ask about the earthquake.

“What earthquake?” I could easily have asked. It was filling the afternoon airwaves, pushing all the news aside, annoying me as I waited to hear about whatever else was happening in the world yesterday. There was a presumption these things happen other places, borne out by the people with whom I spoke. Fully expecting a certain negative response, I did call the BI Times office to ask if there had been any local reports and was at first sure the publisher was teasing when he said they — or most of them — had felt the tremors in the office.

Still, I saw people throughout the afternoon and evening and not a one mentioned this oddest of events. I’m not convinced it really happened. Or maybe summer traffic is more of a distraction than I realized.

My two tomato plants, one still bearing only green fruit, fell over, cages and all, and a door I was sure I’d left open was closed when I got home, but I doubt the tremor in the earth had anything to do with either.

Even these odd events that the local radio station is already calling “Biblical,” as though the rest of the nation hasn’t been suffering much worse over these past months, are not enough of a distraction to make less biting the end of the summer — technically almost a month away, but in the air already.

There is still a trace of light in the sky at eight but the dark falls quickly and it feels as though Labor Day is behind us, not a week and a half ahead. The island does not seem as brightly lighted as it did a few days ago. We are on the cusp of the creeping emptiness that makes bittersweet the days of autumn that, technically, I keep telling myself, are so far away.

Over the years I have loved summer nights, the velvet air, the sound of the crickets through the open windows, the rain that falls straight as plumb lines and I don’t always even notice until I see puddles in the morning. I love that the houses that stand vacant and ghostly and dark so much of the year are lighted and alive, that the New Harbor, blue and empty and clean in December, is a fallen galaxy and the beach is dotted with orange fires.

There is often an owl around when I come home, sitting atop the branch of a fallen tree that pokes up above the scruff in the front field, or, impossibly, balancing on a stick driven into the earth, a marker in the empty orchard. Usually, I see it too late and it flies away, wide wings in the headlights before I get long enough a look to know any more than that it is an owl. They startle me, always, these creatures of the night. One used to wait, I was certain, until I went out, late, when I was going out late walking a dog, then it would screech and frighten me almost as much as the deer that would huff from its hiding place a bit down the road.

They were in cahoots, of that I was sure. They may have pushed over the tomato plants, although I’m not so sure about closing the door.

The projected track of the storm had shifted slightly to the west, not good, but the expected intensity when it reaches us is not as great as it was earlier, good.

Sad news came on Tuesday, a longtime friend of so many on the island had died, so much sooner than most of us would have guessed just a few short months ago when we heard that the hopeful diagnosis we had somehow all expected — because anything else was unthinkable — was not to be. I last saw him by chance (if one believes in chance) on his way off to the hospital, dispersing and collecting hugs as he always did, nothing out of the ordinary, or so it seemed. Tuesday was a beautiful day on a beautiful island reaching summer’s end, but it was also one of those days, thankfully rare, when the gulf between these summer and year-round worlds is widest, that reality that the world keeps spinning.

In the afternoon someone stopped at the doorway, on an afternoon snack break, and asked me if I had heard about Rally’s passing. I did not understand why the kindness of that effort made me so sad. Perhaps, I am now thinking, it was because it was something Rally would have done.