by Robert P. Barsanti
By the last weeks of August, summer is preparing the grand finale for the season at the same time that most of the visitors are washing the mildew out of the towels, emptying out the refrigerator, and making sure the kids are doing the summer reading.
The people watchers on Main Street will tell you that the season is changing. The Cobbletones are down to four singers and the “End of Season Sales” signs are popping up discreetly in the windows of the dearest little shops. If you sit on a bench in the evening, the best of New York and Connecticut will still walk past on their way to dinner, but they will be wearing blazers and wraps. The Pilates Professionals have learned that their four inch heels and the two inch platforms don’t work well on the cobblestones or on the brick. The wind has gone easterly and they can feel it; it will take them away.
Out on the beach, the young adults are gone. College and career have sucked them all up and deposited them in Greenwich or Needham for the winter. In their place, for a moment, are a swarm of SUV families: the Denali. They flit from those long cars with boogie boards, umbrellas, and golden retrievers. For an afternoon, their friends catch frisbees on the top of waves, the retrievers swim after tennis balls, and the pok-pok of Kadima paddles continues without a drop.
The Denali have enough chairs, along with coolers and umbrellas. The older folks swim out beyond the breakers to where the seals swim. On the sand their grandchildren forage. Once the kids have collected all of the sand dollars and mermaid’s purses they can find, they dig a massive hole for them. Their parents, and their friends, and maybe even the rest of the family, sits in the shade and cheerleads for a moment or so, before returning to that thing that was done at the Club. Then, in the shadow of a cloud, they have gone to Millie’s for dinner and then to the Juice Bar for dessert.
I could live as a Denali. If they would have me, I would pull over my beach chair, crack open a cold beverage, and figure who of their friends roomed with me back in college. I can’t play Kadima for more than five seconds and my hole digging has gotten rusty, but I could body surf with them. Then, of course, my kids would ruin everything.
You can’t just become a Denali by body-surfing. You need to be born to it, go to the right schools, get into the right firm, and then rise up. They drift in a river that runs straighter, truer, and slower than mine. They can stay for the last week in August. The rest of the world can’t.
Summer specializes in time. She slows it down to the meandering drift of a slow stream, and then sets you adrift in its stillness. Summer delivers that same day, over and over until we grow complacent in its heat and its stillness. The moon parcels out the surf in ever-moving low tides. Yesterday becomes tomorrow becomes three weeks ago when we first found this sand bar.
And then you have to go. Summer lingers in that slow drift, but it’s all about ending. Things redden, ripen, and burst, and are harvested in baskets like rose hips. Each day copies the previous, but the stars move, the sun sets, and the bills come due. The Denali stay later than everyone else, but then, eventually, they have to leave the beach and go back to the firm and the school and the well-scrubbed houses of Simsbury.
The greatest hoax that summer plays happens in late August. She holds her best fruit and sweetest days for the day after you leave. The Denali drive onto the ferry with backwards eyes, watching bigger waves approach the sandbar, sweeter corn lying in the crib, the clouds massing for one more spectacular sunset. And they will miss all of this because they need to beat the traffic on 84 in Hartford.
The island’s children, those who come from Ford pick-ups and scarred Toyotas, gather those last fruits. Instead of driving to Farmington or Lancaster for an all-day soccer round robin, they get to bike at low tide at Cisco and catch the last waves. They will be eating the marked-down corn, zucchini, and tomatoes through the fall. The Autumn stream will eventually pull them away as well, Orion will climb in the evening sky, and the year will be upon us again, tempo rubato.
When my boys are thrown and rolled beneath August’s last great waves, I can’t tell them about Septembers and ferry rides. They should roll under the current and pop up behind the crash. Let them roll back into the waves of July and June and last year and the year before that. When the truth becomes implacable and our borrowed time has run out, they will have the feel of a gigantic wave pulling them higher, the slip as it passes under them, and the thunder of its crash. That wave will pull on them for the rest of their lives.
The Denali will return; their stream brings them back each summer. But each summer moves along through the years, through the births, deaths, and disbursements. Even the Denali live on borrowed time. They get Summer’s invoices as the rest of us do. Time drifts along, taking us with it until there is a boat, a lighthouse, and one tossed penny downpayment on the next summer.