Day Is Done
A few minutes before six, the land was near golden with the light of a lowering sun. The shadows were long, reaching down to the back lot, but still it was a shock to realize sundown was less than twenty minutes distant.
It is not yet — quite — that heavy hammer of winter that falls swiftly and suddenly, but there is no way around the fact of that other forgotten reality of fall, even more constant than the threat of storm seas with heavy winds and rain: the hastening sunsets.
The sun illuminates the underside of clouds after it has slipped below the horizon, but there is none of that frozen-in-amber endless evening of the summer solstice to October. At seven I went back to the kitchen windows, the ones from which I had watched the life start to drain from the pastel sky, and found nothing but darkness, broken by the discordant blinking red lights atop the towers at the power and telephone companies.
They remind me how the vegetation has grown, how wide and open the view of the Old Harbor from my house used to be, the long lighted porch of the Ocean View Hotel and the Spring House above it both clearly visible on a summer night.
The Ocean View, the behemoth of a hotel that sat on the hill above the harbor, had its own generating plant, at the edge of the wetland behind the hotel complex, back before anyone thought much of the potential long term environmental consequences of such activities. It burned on a summer night, when we were in town, as we often were, taking one of countless walks on the red sandstone breakwaters, past the fishing sheds still in place, locating the government benchmark (which I can find to this day), and talking to whomever we happened to meet.
We'd go up to Esta's and my mother would talk with Esther (the simplified spelling over the door an early lesson in marketing) while my dad, I am realizing all these years later, was most likely having an across-the-aisle political discussion with her husband, Jack.
So it was we happened to be in town, and went up to Spring Street to watch whatever has happening, and saw a ball of fire in the swamp down behind the then Florida House, today's 1661 Inn. It had to have been a way behind the traceable remnants of the foundation; as well as the hotel, there were several outbuildings, two of significant size, the paint on both faded in my memory, one green, the other red.
I knew there had been a fire, I knew it was the building that housed the generators, nonetheless it was a shock to come home and look south, to what seemed a half-dark harbor, without that great long string of hotel porch lights which would not now be at all in sight, any time of year.
I think of that view, permanently reduced to the Spring House after the Ocean View, itself, burned a few years later, as I look out into the dark and see, while the leaves on the overgrowth are still dense, only the towers and a few anemic pinpoints that represent houses.
More captivating is the sound I hear — or notice — the steady rolling of the surf from the beach that could not possibly have built up in the short time since I was last in the same spot, transfixed by the soft colors of the sky. It could not possibly have built so quickly, it had to have been there before, like the bell I used to hear only when walking a dog so very late it was very early, in a pocket of winter quiet I did not know existed, when the wind stopped blowing and the world fell silent.
It is warm and unless it is raining or the wind is whipping, most of the windows are open. Now, instead of birds or insects, I have leaves that need to be collected from the living room floor, the first of the intrusions that has made we wonder — albeit briefly — if I should re-think my no screens policy.
We've passed the Columbus Day weekend, one of the nominal guide posts on the way to winter. Restaurants are closing for the season, the boat schedule, that ultimate arbitrator of our lives, is scaling back, now in the last week of the four-run-a-day program, the only one of the year that does not confuse me. We have to remember the diminished hours of the groceries and the gas station, especially the gas station. It seems every year more closes than did when I was a child, but the truth may lie in there now being so much more open to close than was then.
The Great Pond, the New Harbor, is broad and blue and nearly empty, the mast lights of visiting sailboats a memory; life guard chairs and beach stairs and other seasonal dressings have been removed if not to winter storage away from their more storm vulnerable summer sites.
Banks of vibrant hydrangea have long since faded to dusty rose to brown, leaves — excepting those in my wildly overgrown fields — are drifting to the ground in such profusion I wonder how mere tree branches ever supported the life of so many. The Joe Pye weed in the lot is as gone by as the earlier rounds of goldenrod, following the water willow encircling the pond in hurrying autumn. At least water is more visible, a flawless mirror in the morning calm.
It is the season of the Montauk daisies, which seem to be shining especially brightly this fall, bowers of white flowers, a defiant yellow sun at their center. Every year I swear I will clean out some overgrown spot and plant some of these wonders that bloom deep into this season. Perhaps it is what I need to keep from drowning in my October darkness.