Celebration of Summer

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 8:00pm

Last night the sky was dark before sunset, a dramatic band of gray blue that promised yet another storm that never quite materialized here. There were splatters on my windshield on the Neck Road, a flash of lightning as I swung round in my barnyard, some wet on a few west-facing windowsills, then a sunset in a shower, gold and bronze, the metallic sky we used to think held great threat.

It showers here and pours on the mainland, the wind picks up here and downs trees there, a flash in the sky here is met and raised with nearby, crashing thunder.

The forecasts says “thunderstorms” tomorrow but the detail shows a chance of rain exceeding 25 percent only fleetingly.

Today, the sun rose at 6 a.m. It felt only a few days ago people were remarking that the day was closing at 8; today the sun set at 7:37 pm. Tomorrow will be almost two and a half minutes shorter than today.

Tonight, I watched the last boat to Point Judith depart at 7:45 as night was closing in upon us. It was slipping behind Clay Head as I drove up across my front field, its white lights bright in the deepening dark, gone by the time I had a clear view across the low hill, the very story of summer itself.

When we were children and the summer boats landed at the New Harbor Dock, now known by its proper name, Payne's, there was enough magic in Friday night, enough greeting of friends and summer neighbors, that I never noticed that week in August when it was no longer light when the Quonset's lines were cast, when she bumped the dock and it swayed just a tad, but always, and the big side-loading vessel was secured with thick ropes before unloading began.

It was a process, the parking along the end of Ocean Avenue, the procession down the dock, the stop to watch taffy being pulled on a machine that seemed to fold over itself, the gazing at the private craft rafted out before there were any finger piers and, most of all, the greeting of persons seen only in summer, most often on these Friday nights on that old wharf.

Nothing was hurried, bellhops sent from various hotels called out their establishment and gathered the arrivals who had come without cars and would need transport. People disembarked before vehicles, there were reunions of families, greetings for faces familiar from last week or last year. Cars came off last, driven from the depths of the boat by crew members, but off the dock by owners who often talked to people who walked beside them, catching up or discussing matters of island or state or nation. It was, in all, a sort of weekly celebration of summer.

The Point Judith summer run moved to the Old Harbor in the mid-1960s and people still went to meet that Friday night boat, regardless if they had someone coming on it or not, first going out onto the wharf, then massing around the ramp when the tough little Manitou backed into it. The dynamic was different, but old ways die hard and of a Friday night we would still head for the “dock” that had become no more than an expanse of pavement.

Those were the years I first felt that dark of August arriving, with a whoosh, it seemed, on a particular Friday night when we no longer stood in that wonderful endless daylight that had seemed, despite all our experience to the contrary, would never end.

Every year it did end, every year it was a certainty, and a disappointment.

The numbers grew, the pace quickened, people changed and now when I describe the scene it feels I have taken it from a dream, or, worse, a book or movie, then someone remembers the taffy, down to hoping to snag from the samples offered one with a center of real peanut butter.

Next week, the last week of August before an almost early-as-it-can-get Labor Day, the boat schedule shrinks, starting the wind-down toward winter.

I do not go away in summer. I had thought today I could get up early and catch the high speed to Point Judith, cross over and get on the traditional boat and be back on the island by nine. It's been too long, embarrassingly long, since I have been to the mainland, it would be a good start, just a few steps from one vessel to another.

It would have been a good plan had I gotten any sleep at all last night, had it not been one of the few nights all summer when there seemed to be no breeze at all to cool the air but more importantly keep the bugs down. And, truth be told, I'd as well watch the summer boats moving in and out of the Old Harbor as be on any one of them. I like following them as they move through the water, their wakes touching each other as they widen, the paths they take, accounting for their respective speeds and courses.

There are only a few of the fleet I can much distinguish from any distance beyond fast carriers that seem to skim over the surface on a calm summer day and the traditional boats, familiar year round, plowing through the seas rough or smooth.

It is night again and the sound of crickets comes through one window, the summer surf through another. It is a quiet night, there are lights, still, in the neighborhood, but there has been no noise rolling across the New Harbor from one of the marinas, no fireworks popping out closer to town, no music with a heavy bass beat working its way across the miles to make me wonder of its source.

Tonight the crickets in the tall grasses and the surf on the wind-shaped shore are all I need to be reminded that there is time yet for celebration of summer.