Two weeks to go. Summers, which once seemed to be endless, now wrap in mid-August. Labor Day may be a day off, but it is no longer summer's swan song. This week, according to a friend who works for the Steamship Authority and has for years, the balance will shift. More cars will travel to the mainland than will head this way.
And folks who've told me that this was the worst, the absolute worst, the most congested, summer on Vineyard roads will soon begin to describe in dreamy prose the parking places they have begun to find on Main Street in Edgartown.
In every one of the 37 or so summers I've spent here, someone has said that very 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, when the kids have to be back at college, or at least at the mall buying back to school stuff. Folks use different standards to measure it and describe it, but here are some of the things they say.
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 (i.e. tourists and summer residents) come, and I love it when they go.
Now, the only place that's still crowded is Morning Glory Farm.
Fewer New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington license plates mean summer is over.
I had to wait an hour for an ice cream cone. The place had no help. Summer must be over.
This week people ask, How's your summer going? Next week they'll ask, How was your summer?
And, happily, it will turn out that everyone's summer was terrific. Even the grousing about the crowds will have been fun, though they'll never say so.
On- or off-Island, the pleasures of the summer that's over were intense. And, it's a shock that the time has come to pick up the tattered threads of our working lives.
There's nothing that will save summer now, except perhaps a hurricane. Hurricanes can interrupt the flow to the mainland of summer friends and disable businesses. We can turn our attention to sawing up broken trees and patching roofs until electric power is restored in a week or two, and we can reopen for business. No one wants summer to make that sort of extended stay, but it happens.
The signals of what's ahead are unmistakable. Brilliantly clear, nearly calm, cool and dry air, the late afternoon light flashing harshly across Vineyard Sound, the absence of sails, the way the far-off shores suddenly stand up so clearly above the horizon: it's all about fall.
Late one evening, a white sloop anchored off the beach will get under way. She'll spin around to head east. In her cockpit, the crew will add sweaters and jackets, and then sleeping bags as the evening grows cooler. She slips quietly along beneath 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 former Redstone ramparts, by Northern Pines, Tashmoo, West Chop, and home to Vineyard Haven.
And before long, the sun, moving south, will drop onto Westport, at the western end of Buzzards Bay, flashing green as it is extinguished. Soon the yellow moon will rise over Lambert's Cove to grow huge and silvery and light, the dark water hurrying east with the flooding tide. No yachting traffic in Vineyard Sound except this one sail, and until Makonikey the shore's wild, lonely look says plainly, things have changed.