A strong northeast wind blew across the Island just in time for Halloween, blasting away any illusions that Indian summer might linger. The powerful wind whipped up the waves on Vineyard Sound and rattled our hundred-year-old farmhouse. Ferryboats were cancelled, snarling Vineyard Haven and bringing back
our houseguest who put his dirty sheets back on the bed.
My husband and I ran from room to room dropping storm windows while our dogs took cover under our bed. Expecting to lose our electricity, we filled the claw-foot bathtub with water and gathered a hefty supply of candles, oil lanterns, and flashlights. We brought in plenty of firewood, figured out a meal we could cook on the gas burner, opened a bottle of wine, lit the fire, and settled in for a good storm. We weren’t disappointed.
The wild storms that punctuate each season are part of the thrill of Vineyard life. Tomorrow when the storm has passed, the beaches will be strewn with drift wood and other treasures. Surfers will gather in the parking lots of Squibnocket and other beaches eager to challenge the huge waves. Tonight we are all home waiting it out, pacing our houses, like sea captain’s wives. The whistling winds and thrashing waves accentuate our smallness, and we are grateful for neighbors whose lights, like ours, are off.
The wind reached its crescendo shortly after midnight. We lay awake in our beds listening to its howl and moan. By morning the storm had blown by, but traces of it remained everywhere. Wind and a high storm sea carved deep gullies around seaside boulders, and Lambert’s Cove Beach was sharply cut. Heavy rain lingered in potholes and deep puddles. Trails in the woods were blocked by big fallen trees. Matted leaves and sticks lay atop the grass seed we’d waited too long to plant.
We are entering those months visitors question us about, wondering how we survive here when we don’t have them to entertain us. It’s true there is less of everything except sky and sea. Deciduous trees are stripped down. Fields are reaped, and home gardens have been put to bed. Spring pigs and sheep have been slaughtered. There are fewer homes lit at night and when I’m driving up Island in the evening I can often count on one hand the number of cars I see.
Daylight savings begins this Sunday and falling back is hard. The afternoons are over so quickly. My husband checks the Farmer’s Almanac each day and calls out the number of minutes lost until Winter Solstice, when the days start getting longer little by little once again. This season I’m noticing that with less comes more: more sky, more moon watching, more time to see friends, to read, to cook, to walk. I am enjoying the paring down. I look forward to the hard frost that will sweeten the carrots and provide a clean break to a new season.
There is something benign about lying in the grass in August and watching the predictable parade of shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. This is a soft kind of wonder. The huge winter sky is altogether different. With Orion in ascendance, the sky opens wider and wider as leaves fall and naked branches reveal yet more constellations, more universes, a multitude of suns.
I dress warmly, wear boots and gloves and challenge myself to really study the sharp night sky. Almost immediately its vastness overwhelms me. I love our watery planet so fiercely that I have to look away. Any thoughts about our significance falter. Thank goodness for the moon, our close companion. It’s comforting to know that no matter where we are we are all looking at the same moon.
Now that I’ve lived on the Island for over a decade, I find these stripped down months are what keep me here. The short days hone something essential inside me. The long nights, swirling with galaxies I can’t comprehend, challenge me and whet my appetite for spare simple truths. When all the fanfare falls away, I remember again how sturdy my love is for my family, for people and animals, for plants and stones and all the blessings of this earth.
Laura Wainwright is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury. This essay, written in 2011, appears in “Home Bird,” a collection of her essays published by Vineyard Stories in 2012.