by Robert P. Barsanti
September is here and the fields are calling. Football fields, soccer fields, field hockey fields—if you can still find them. The exodus has swollen in earnest. Yukons and Suburbans and Defenders, laden with the surfboards and beach chairs, are rolling onto the boat and heading back to Maryland and Connecticut. Meanwhile, out here, the September skies came in during the night and dropped all of that humidity into the puddles.
For most of us, Labor Day has become the end of something. If you work out here, it caps off the end of the Season of Madness. The owners are now bussing the tables, and their friends and debtors are prepping the vegetables for dinner. A busy day at the shop brings out the rueful smile; I guess we can’t close early yet. Can’t stop: won’t stop. For the visitors, the Season teases as it ends. Now, on the last days, the fog has cleared and the humidity has broken and you can park even closer to the beach. The jellyfish have drifted away, the shark warnings have returned to the movies, and the waves seem to be building. The weather is never more perfect than seen from the rear deck of a Hyannis- bound ferry. Time’s up.
September is also the month for the retired. They stand in loafers and polo shirts in line at Sayle’s Seafood, waiting for the six lobsters they ordered for the kids for dinner. They had people do the waiting for them, once. They were too important for this, once. What happens to the surgeon who no longer cuts, the builder who no longer builds, the leader who no longer leads? Who are they now that their office has been assigned to another, their parking place is gone, and all of those ties just hang? Some people don’t leave on Labor Day, some people are left.
One man, former Headmaster at some school I couldn’t pay for, stood with his Labrador on India Street and waited while his good boy took care of business in the middle of the street. Resplendent in white hair, Bermuda shorts, and loafers, he tugged on the leash while the dog squatted, busy and unimpressed. Finally, the former Master looked around, squatted and picked up the deed in a plastic bag. It was a long way from the playing fields and Morning Chapel at Exeter. Retirement and redefinition come for all of us, with a wag, bark, and a plastic bag.
For me, Labor Day presents yet another summer I have spent in contemplation of my red sea-kayak. Some years ago, in preparation for summer, I bought the kayak from L.L. Bean and had it shipped to the island. This craft replaced a yellow one, sold many years ago, that kept me buoyant as I paddled around the harbor, into the Sound, and in a very rash and silly expedition, over to Tuckernuck. My new one replaced the old with a smartly turned heel. It was made sleeker, longer, with expertly installed rudder and controls. Load it up with gear, drop it in the water, and go. Or not. Because it still sits in my garage, complete with life jacket, paddle, drag anchor, and spray skirt, all gathering bark chips, dust, and spider eggs at the far end of the garage.
The kayak, and the trip over to Coatue, sits squarely at the bottom of the to-do list, far below recycling, making dinner, and buying new batteries for the remote control. Like the proverbial carrot, it hangs right in front of me and may, if the sun is with me, join me after I mow two lawns in Tom Nevers. But it won’t. Every moment when the kayak rises up, a more worthy and needy task sinks it back down.
My deepest fear is not that I can’t paddle it anymore. My fear is that I would enjoy the trips more than I enjoy these trips to the dump and to the store. I think of myself as a husband, as a father, as a teacher, but not as a kayaker. To be in a kayak is to indulge in a solitary and expensive pleasure. Paddling about not only costs money, but it also costs time. If I am poking a plastic nose into Coskata, I am not paying bills, I am not helping others, I am not being who I should be. I am simply messing about in boats, leaving a fading trail of bubbles in trackless water.
We all have stored our own kayak, be they made of plastic or glass. On Polpis Road, a house was sold and a yard sale occurred to help clear out the junk of the old for the junk of the new. The wine cellar had been brought into the sun and sixty bottles of Breitenbach Amish County Wines lined up on the counter (not for sale). They had been bought in the hopes of gleeful uncorking, but had remained in the dark at the bottom of the to-do list. And now they head to the broken glass chute at the dump.
The kayak waits for retirement and redefinition: we push all of the hard decisions forward until time and tide answer them and take the kayak away to a yard sale or a recycling bin. In the meantime, it defines me by negation—I am a person who does not have time for kayaking. The harbor is calling, and I will not answer. I have papers to grade, dinners to make, and yards to mow. I make the red plastic blood sacrifice to be the person I am today. During the crowded daylight, we are what others perceive. In the solitary and cool dark, we remain who we are afraid to be.