• by Robert P. Barsanti •
I missed the meteors this week. In other years, we have driven out to dark beaches and watched the lights streak across the great dome of stars. Not this year. This year the statistics of daily life with doctor’s appointments and ferry runs overwhelmed the natural calendar. I looked up from a losing Red Sox game and remembered that there should be a flurry of meteors dropping. Outside, with a bag of trash in one hand, a pizza box in the other, I looked up into the hazy light of a full moon. Someone, somewhere, was enjoying the gravity’s long streaks, but they weren’t anywhere near my trash cans.
I also missed the whales. One afternoon, my son called me with the news that there were whales on the south shore. He didn’t know what kind of whales, exactly, save that they blew out a huge gust of spray and they were within a few hundred yards of shore. “See,” he said, “I sent you some pictures.” The pictures, sad to say. only showed dark waves and breaking water. Had I dropped the checkbook I was balancing or the crossword I was finishing, I still would have missed the whales. The whales of August were for him, and not for me.
It has been a summer of losing lottery tickets; I was one number off on each and every one. This was the summer when the water didn’t warm up to where it should be, the sand bars didn’t form, the waves don’t break right, and someone took my parking place.
The lifeguards have gone back to school and are now patrolling the backfields of Trinity and Wesleyan. Tanned, bright, and wiry, they smile amongst their crowd with the deep familiarity of the locker room. They leave with the confidence of the young, as if they were just stepping out of the room for a moment and would be “back” in a jiffy. One more race, one more shift, one more party and they had to be back.
The waiters, the tutors, the lifeguards all go back with the faith that all will be as they left it. The clocks froze in May when they left school and will begin to turn again on the warm August afternoon that they return. Gatsby was right. Give someone enough privilege and they can always go back. Next spring, they will come back to the island and, for them, it will always be the same. Time, to the lifeguards, is a lake; quiet, still, and unchanging year to year. The penny I dropped off the dock this year will still be there next year.
After you have enough birthdays, you lose that privilege. Each day catalogs the missed opportunities that piled up inside those hours. Time isn’t a lake, but a channel. The tide takes everything away in a boisterous and constant flow. The tide takes it all away; the whales, the meteors, and the Rainbow Fleet. It will never be the same again. It may be better, it may be worse, but the current keeps flowing. Don’t look for that penny you threw from the ferry.
By the middle of August, the tide rushes by. Summer is at its peak, and it’s time to go. Cars damn up at the Steamship Authority at dawn, and then head back to Darien and Ho Ho Kus every few hours. We stand at the wharf or, if we feel ambitious at Brant Point, and wave them good bye. The mooring field and the wharves start emptying as well. The massive, corporate “Indomitable” start to slip back to Florida and the Caymans as if they were mobile homes leaving the trailer park.
August is a strange month. In one way or another, we spend the entire year waiting for it. We wait for the business, or the weather, or the fish, then when it comes, burdened with all of those blessings, we grow tired of it. We are sick of delicious corn, sick of juicy tomatoes, sick of zucchini. The roses have lost the petals and the wild flowers bend in a weary technicolor. Berries and grapes weigh where the flowers rose up. All of the beach roses that lined the path to the beach have swollen and become beach plums and rose hips. We get bored by our riches. We sit on the edge of the beach and wish for the waves to be just a little bit better and the water to be a few degrees warmer. Then it would be perfect.
In the middle of August, in the midst of our riches, we realize what we have let slip away. We didn’t take the boys hiking. We didn’t go sailing. A stack of beach reads remains just where it was on the bedside table, stacked as it was when you bought them at Mitchell’s in late June. In the cool evenings of August, in the sunset of the summer, good thoughts and fine aspirations remain in the paper bag with the corn you meant to shuck yesterday. It all flows out with the tide.
One evening in the middle of the week, the two of us slipped out to Cisco with the dog in the late afternoon. In town, the air called for a t-shirt, but at the shore, a cool breeze from the southwest put us back into polar fleece and jeans. We set up the beach chairs nevertheless, left the towels in the car, and settled into watching the sunset.
The wind shoved the waves up the beach. Sandpipers have returned to the island; they darted amid the water and ate whatever tiny things sandpipers can find in the sand. Two shearwaters darted and dived just beyond the break and, beyond them, we spotted one black seal head on its way back to Muskeget. There was a moment there, at the beach, when it was as good as it was going to get.
Then the sun sank into a fog bank somewhere over Martha’s Vineyard, the temperature on the beach dropped ten degrees, and another August day passed into night.