Summer's end

Wed, 09/28/2011 - 1:40pm
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The sun rises late these days. I see it rising from the ocean, molten gold, just after 6:30 a.m. on this day we presume summer will end. The equinox can come a day earlier and I check to be sure I haven’t missed it and find this is the odd year when fall does not begin until the morning of the 23rd, slipping in before first light clears the eastern horizon.

Tomorrow, the last full day of summer, rain is predicted, although not as heavy as they were saying at the start of the week. It is a certainty but not a constant, or so they are saying.

Hurricane season does not end until the close of November, more than two full months away, but the named storms in the North Atlantic already have reached “O.” The most recent is Ophelia, one that should disintegrate sadly as it dances off across the water. We are sliding past the anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, the storm against which all others are measured.

A quick search brings it up in recent articles, predating the demise of Irene, that warned Irene was on the same track as that long ago monster. It is usually when I stop worrying about hurricanes, when they are going to be “as big as ’38!”

Still, the aftermath gives one pause, especially here where we grew in the long shadow of that terrible storm, when a plane set out from the mainland, came back and reported that Block Island had disappeared. My grandfather quickly typed a letter to his daughters in Boston, assuring them that we were, in fact, still here, that the water had only reached the door of the express office, now Finn’s. Today, the tide would sweep across the paved parking lot and rush into the building; then it was stopped by sand dunes and sapped by a cement-block ice plant it tore apart.

The magnitude of the damage, though — the death toll, land swept clear of summer houses, the visual of a school bus inexplicably stalled on a causeway, the things that have long been a part of the fabric of life along this southern shore of New England — is fading, put aside by the dreadful inconvenience of a week without power. Yes, easy for us on Block Island to say, given that we did not lose our power.

Autumn was rushed by the storm, leaves have been stripped from the trees, and in these last warm days of summer the forsythia has been tricked into producing new foliage. Flowers I expect in early July are in bloom, but generally, the land has the look of fall.

The fields are still yellow with goldenrod, as they have been for weeks. Multiple varieties of the same plant flower and then fade as others come into bloom, waves of this summer-ending plant. It is also the season of tiny flowers, homespun, the little ones that grow by the roadsides, uncultivated, but hardy and persistent regardless of the lack of care or attention or even notice allotted them.

There is a russet hue to the fields, and to the water willow ringing the pond behind my house. On this day that may prove the last of summer in every aspect but the calendar, the water is glass, a lady’s mirror, unrippled even by the occasional goose, offering up a reflection of all around it, a blue sky in the midst of fall colors.

One day I notice birds on the wires, four parallel wires, and wonder if I see them because I do not have to focus on traffic, or if they are there because they are not frightened away by that same traffic. More likely the latter.

Today, birds fly away well before I approach them. In daylight, deer pause in the field, wondering if they will be noticed; at night they plunge into the road and, startled, leap into the tall grass on the other side.

It is not me as much as the two black dogs, one larger and younger, the other smaller and older, that are briefly inhabiting my life. One would give chase if I let him, the other makes a bit of a show of intending to if only she weren’t so very, very good.

They are both highly attentive but also easily distracted. One, the younger and larger, suddenly perked up and dashed into the kitchen, then raced up the back stairs. He was, I thought, in pursuit of an end-of-season bird flown in through an end-of-season open window, and I dutifully followed him, ready to rescue his prey and toss it back out the window. He was chasing a fly. A big fly, but a fly. The other, older and smaller, lay down and slept, exhausted by his efforts, saving her energies for her sure-as-clockwork nagging reminder that her dinner will be due her in an hour’s time. For all his boisterousness, I know she will beat him to the dinner dish every time.

Sweet creatures, both of them, but black dogs unnerve me, they disappear in the dark. They are not apparitions, like the tall, pale creature waiting at the entrance to the beach the other morning, a ghost of a dog, darting up and down the sand, carrying with her the look of a regal scamp, the princess gone over the garden wall when the ladies in waiting were looking the other way.

Night has fallen and with the darkness, the promised rain has arrived. It is soft, more a heavy mist, not pelting windows but dropping straight. It makes a gentle sound I did not even notice landing on the vines outsides the window still open for that last bird. The lights of the harbor, so many fewer, are further diminished, clouded by the light rain.

There is little showing on the radar. I am hoping it will have ceased or the black dogs will be wet, slippery, vanishing though the curtain of darkness.