There were, last night, traces of light in the western sky as seven o'clock approached and I reminded myself how differently I will feel on the other side of the the year when such is an indication of lengthening sunlight, a climbing out of the abyss of winter.
Except there is no true counterpart to these October sunsets in the springtime; they are lost in the block when humankind's attempt to measure time wreaks havoc with our internal clocks. I know this but, every year, I think the seasons should follow some symmetrical perfection.
It should be October and April that balance each other out in my imagined world where all is measured on a scale with a precision of one belonging to a jeweler. But it is more October and May, both of which bring us great shows of white blossoms, bookends to our summer. Now there is groundsel all around the near-empty New Harbor and its inner ponds, unheralded, so unlike the showcased shad on the hillsides that announces with certainty that the winter is past.
Perhaps the fall display is more obvious to one who lives down the Neck, as I do, and every day sees it traveling that stretch of road where the late blooming groundsel is so prevalent, growing amidst bayberries with their shining silver fruits, stands of persistent goldenrod, and the remnants of beach rose foliage — and an actual rose here and there. There is even the occasional dark green pine tree, so many of the examples of vegetation listed in The Outer Lands, the shoreline handbook written in the late sixties. Our notoriety, such as it was, came primarily from sports fishermen and the broad brush marine weather forecasts that came over the radio, but we were on the proverbial map, and the volume proclaims itself a “Natural History Guide to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Block Island and Long Island.”
We are even on the literal map, on the cover of the book, right where we should be, between Montauk and the Vineyard.
In another season, after the shad but before the summer, beach plum blossoms along this back-side-of-the-dune plane — or is it plain, seems either works in this case — bright white fronds marking the places to remember for fall harvest.
Now, the land by the Neck Road has the burnished look of fall, both on days when the sky beyond the dunes is either low and cloudy or the bright blue laced with pure white trails that we chose to remember and associate with the season.
This was not a summer of good wind. There were days upon days the beach was a narrow ledge and I wondered how all the people from all the cars along the road had managed to cram themselves into the small space left for them, so unlike the usual shore, wide even on a high tide.
Perhaps, though, the lack of a southwest wind that pulls the sand down and builds upon the bones of the beach helped the dunes this year, gave them an extra season of growth, creating more space for all that vegetation to thrive.
At home, I look at grass, the green it turns in the encouraging fall cool, fed by the nourishing fall rains, grass recovered from a field begun to go to brush, and other new shoots, as bright as springtime, little seeds sprouted and pushed through the earth seeking the sun before cold dark stunts their growth. There are wild softly yellow flowers out back, the butter and eggs the books say bloom from May through October but I notice most in the fall, perhaps because so much else has faded away.
The maple at the corner of the house and the larger one at the edge of the yard have lost many of their leaves, a shed that started in early summer. One day, perhaps as long ago as August, standing out there, talking, I realized they were drifting to the ground, making little crinkling noises as they fell. There have been leaves in the yard, leaves blowing in through the open windows, but, like most seasonal changes, there is one day I truly notice the extent of it. Now, coming home, I am seeing mainly sky through the branches that supported a thick canopy back in early June, and the corner boards of the house that were hidden from the road by more greenery.
The leaves land on the grass and blow about, they collect themselves in little mounds that disintegrate, feeding the same earth that will nourish their host when the new year turns to spring, the shad blooms and the sun is setting markedly later than it is this month. It does not seem the trees could hold so many leaves.
Tonight the dark came earlier, hastened by a mist that rolled in and settled into fog as afternoon ended. At first it was beautiful, a gray through which the brush at the edge of the fields showed, but shrouding the outside world as well as any mist ever covered the purportedly mythical Brigadoon.
It went from soft and sweet to dark in an instant, or so it seemed; I suddenly felt the need to complete a chore put off for months, if not the whole summer and, in the brief moments consumed by it, the world outside changed, the brush gone, the trees vanished, the air dark and thick.
There is a storm down south, a raging hurricane that tore into the Florida panhandle and has moved onto Georgia. This morning a local radio station carried part of a broadcast from a small town down there, and I heard the eerie echo of the Great Hurricane of 1938 “those storms don't come here.” It did today, and is mapped to pass south of us as a tropical storm, casting out wind and rain.
It looks favorable on the map but it makes me uneasy. It is not that I distrust forecasters; I do not trust hurricanes.