Water and warmth

Wed, 10/19/2011 - 6:32am

First fall arrives like the tides surrounding this island. It is akin to water, chill and wet and gray, that rises up over the summer sandy beach, turning it to a cherished memory —only to retreat, and let the extent of its coverage be briefly forgotten.

The little plaques on the shelves in souvenir shops everywhere, from seaside resort towns to metropolitan airports, carry little inscriptions that read “remember only the sunny days.” The fact is we tend to do just that. The fall, we tell everyone, is beautiful, some golden variation on the Columbus Day we just observed, so warm people ventured into the ocean. By October 12, the real holiday we used to know — the damp blow of the year previous that some of us had, before we were reminded, relegated to the deepest well of memory — was back.

We will have more beautiful days of low tides and sunshine, I am not about to let go of the notion of sunny autumn that easily. This morning began gray and cloudy with a threat of rain in the air. Impossibly, the sun, behind heavy cotton-batting clouds, rose just before seven and set just after six, too short too soon. The forecast that promises tomorrow will be warmer than today also allows that it will be a full “2m 40s” shorter, a loss that seems greater each day, the aggregate at the end of the week greater than the sum of its parts.

There are still places that spring shines bright. The maple at the corner of the yard, the same that was skeletal after the storm, is fully green on its south side, where the salt blast brought the most hurried winter. Since, there has been sun and rain and sun, water and warmth, a combination to coax even the most reluctant branches back to life.

Even on the sunniest, filled-with-new-life day, the emptiness that follows summer cannot be missed. The night of the holiday that had been so warm and inviting had the feel of Labor Day that had been missed in the confusion that was early September.

“The first cut is always the deepest” we were told by the singer who used to be known as Cat Stevens. Years, decades, ago, when Cat Stevens was Cat Stevens and before, it was the dual slam of the Drug Store and the Empire closing that darkened what was in summer the brighter part of the town, before some of the places that have the most life today were even built. This year, by Columbus Day it had been more than a month that I’d been responding to visitors’ queries prompted by the closed doors and shuttered windows of the movie house. The first cut this year came even before Labor Day, when the theater was the first to close, within days not showing even the life of a “closed” sign, providing a tempting opportunity for story telling with each “What happened to...?”

Now, in mid-October, it is not only the hotels and shops and seasonal eateries that have the look of desertion. The harbor is empty, a very few white mooring balls bobbing in the wind, and, along the Neck Road, houses are still and dark — not closed for the winter, but quietly waiting for the next good weather weekend.

The boat schedule is confusing, changing, and at night there are lights offshore, harbingers of winter contradicting the still-mild October weather. They are not the working boats of the cold but big cruise ships, off near the horizon.

Through it all — the days leading into the beautiful weekend and the weekend itself, now fading into a rainy mid-week — the moon has shone, has been bright, waxing then waning, shining through the damp. A hunter’s moon, the chart tells me, and that immediately brings to mind the deer that have been so visible lately, standing in the field, with their big white-rimmed ears showing above the scrub brush and goldenrod. They stop and watch but make no effort to run — they are emboldened by the increasingly empty landscape. One simply stood beside the road last night, and others pranced across the road in an unexpected spot, not where I am accustomed to seeing them pass. I’ve not been paying attention and do not know when the season will start, or if it has already started, the season of gunshots in the dusk, of things always feeling a little off, unbalanced, just a bit out of kilter.

There are pheasants, as well, annoying every day, refusing to get out of the road, moving but refusing to take flight until the very last moment. There is, one supposes, the possibility that it is the same dumb bird every day, not one of a great family all sharing a common death wish.

Rain has been coming since late afternoon, spattering, not even quite amounting to showers. Suddenly, late, it hits the windows hard, diminishing the persistent moon. It was two weeks ago I looked out at the end of day, after a shower, and saw the arc of a rainbow in the east. At the door I realized it was still raining, straight summer rain, falling into the slanted rays of the sun.

It was still umbrella weather, that odd luxury for someone who lives where the wind is a given much of the year, and I grabbed the old black umbrella that stays in the entry — its ribs broken, the fabric unattached — and went out into the barnyard. There was more than a rainbow, there was an arc, full and vibrant, climbing up from below the horizon, crossing the eastern sky, ending somewhere behind Clay Head. Above it a second, less bright but also full, spanned the heavens.

People ask if we have more rainbows and I do not know the answer, only that we have the whole expanse of the sky out over the ocean, the same sky that gives us the long unbroken wind that tonight is pushing rain against the windows.