A change of heart


Summer ended the other evening at Menemsha Bight. Not because Labor Day was closing in, not because school was about to begin, not even because parties marked the end of the season and summer homeowners draped the furniture with sheets. The moment just arrived, and everyone knew it.

For a week or two, really since the middle of August, the balance has shifted. More folks are traveling to the mainland than are headed this way.

And friends who’ve told me that this was the worst, the absolute worst, the most congested, summer on Vineyard roads have begun to describe in dreamy prose the parking places they found on Main Street in Edgartown.

I must say that in each of the summers I’ve spent here, someone has said the very same thing. And someone else has said, we can’t fit any more cars, and if we do, no one will come. How can so many of us have been so wrong for so long?

Of course, everyone senses the pre–Labor Day change, and the moment when summer’s done. Folks use different standards to measure it and describe it, but some observations are common.

It feels as if we’ve got the Island to ourselves again.

Now summer begins for us.

September and October are the best months on the Island.

I love it when they [tourists and summer residents] come, and I love it when they go.

Now, the only place that’s still crowded is Morning Glory Farm.

I had to wait an hour for an ice cream cone. The place had no help. Summer must be over.

At a party at Menemsha, everyone wanted to know, from everyone else, “How was your summer?” And it turns out, everyone’s summer was terrific.

One teacher and his son spent the summer driving beautiful power yachts for wealthy Chilmarkers. Another traveled in Europe. Some of the parents had been sailing in Maine. One teacher had spent the summer on the beach with his daughter. Another had been in a Midwest city visiting relatives. Someone else traveled from one Major League ballpark to another across the country, catching a game wherever he stopped. A plumber and caretaker had been happily busy, keeping his customer list to 32, no more, and most of them old and valued customers. He said it was just the way he liked it.

On- or off-Island, the pleasures they described were intense. And over. Most were shocked that the time had come to pick up the tattered threads of their working lives. For a while summer had seemed, well, endless.

But it was the look of the evening that clinched the thing. Someone at the beach said the Vineyard is showing off.

The brilliantly clear, nearly calm, cool and dry air; the late afternoon light flashing harshly across Vineyard Sound; the absence of sails in the northerly distance; the way the far-off shores stood up so clearly above the horizon: all had the flavor of fall. Just a suggestion of fall that seems more melancholy than fall itself will.

Oh, and hurricane Isaac has spun into the Gulf, making a mess along the Mississippi and Alabama shores and promising to follow the Big River north to Chicago. There’s another tropical depression spinning in the middle of the South Atlantic, but forecasters think it will curve north and east in an arc across the ocean. It’s the season for hurricane mayhem. That’s a sign of summer’s end, for sure.

Late in the evening, sailors heading east in Vineyard Sound need a jacket or a sweater. As their craft slips along under Prospect Hill, by the Brickworks and Cape Higgon, south of Lucas Shoal, by Cedar Tree Neck and Paul’s Point and Lambert’s Cove, by Norton Point, along Makonikey, beneath the Redstone battlements, by Northern Pines, Tashmoo, West Chop, and home to Vineyard Haven, the sun drops onto Westport, at the western end of Buzzards Bay. Ahead, the yellow moon rises over Lambert’s Cove, huge and silvery, to light the dark water hurrying east with the flooding tide.

The chill moon spread a wild, lonely look over the shore. Plainly, the party was over, things had changed.