by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois, PhD
Director of Research & Education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation
photo by Alice Breed
Labor Day weekend is a transition period for the island. The first Monday in September marks the end of summer—droves will have left the island by then. It’s also the start of school, the beginning of fall. Shopping at the Stop and Shop will tell you it’s Autumn for sure (the Halloween candy is already out). But don’t rush to put on boots and drink pumpkin spice lattes just yet or you’ll miss one of the best “seasons” on-island.
There’s a particular quality to September on Nantucket that I can’t quite name. Some still call it “Indian Sumer,” but that is a little too colonialist. A 2016 Slate article by Sarah Laskow suggested the term “Second Summer” and that suits me fine.
Second Summer is when the majority of people have left the island, school has resumed, and the heat wave has ended. Warm days give way to cool evenings – perfect for sleeping with the windows open again (no need for air conditioning). The water is still warm and, thanks to sea surface warming, the warm water will likely hold on longer into fall.
Second Summer is also my favorite time out in the wilds of Nantucket. September is aster season with multitudes of purple, white, and yellow blooms. Tall purple spikes of New England Blazing Star line favorite walking trails. All of those monarch caterpillars are now emerging as adults from chrysalises. The fall wildflower show is a buffet of nectar for them as they ready for the big monarch migration south.
The beach plums finally ripen. They spent all summer growing and soaking up the sun’s summer rays, but it’s those still around during Second Summer that reap the rewards of the sweet-tart fruit. With our maritime climate, the growing season is always a week or two later than the mainland. That makes for a perfect Second Summer to botanize and take nature walks.
Second Summer can also mean a chance to do summer right, or at least something other than what you were able to squeeze into August. What beach did you miss visiting? Need to catch one more wave this season? Want to get an ice cream cone after dinner without a line? Go for a sunset paddle on a pond? There’s time during Second Summer.
We can take the dogs to the beach again for a swim without risk of sandingup someone’s beach blanket. Since the sun sets a little earlier, we can have a beach picnic for dinner on a Friday night and still get the kids to bed at a normal time.
And the fishing—well, September fishing is fantastic. Right now, boaters and beach anglers alike are going for the Second Summer grand slam—bluefish, striped bass, bonito, and false albacore. Even if you can only be a weekend-warrior now that school has started, the pressure of summer has waned, and it’s like we have permission again to slow down and cast another line. September is also when the Nantucket Angler’s Club hosts the Inshore Classic Fishing tournament —open to everyone, this fun, friendly competition highlights the fall fishing show.
September is also an exceptional time for birding on Nantucket. Thirty miles out to sea makes us a great stopover for migrants. Early fall storms can also bring unusual birds from afar—a treasure for local birders adding to life-lists. Never gone birding before? Did you even know “bird” could be a verb? Second Summer is a great time to pick up something new. There are still weekly bird walks at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, several offered by Maria Mitchell Association, and nature excursions with other conservation groups.
I’ve heard from friends who live on the eastern side of the island that Sconset has been extra busy this summer. Claudette’s and the ‘Sconset Market have been destinations for bikers all season. Well, the cooler temperatures mean that now is the time to take along bike ride and enjoy the fresh September breezes. The Sconset Market is open until September 15 and Claudette’s is usually open until October, so there’s still time! Take a stroll along the Bluff Walk and look for whales off the east shore.
As someone who dabbles in gardening, I feel like Second Summer is a chance to redeem myself for neglecting my raised beds for the past month. There’s still enough growing season for a fall crop of lettuce, carrots, beets, and other cold crops. I may have barely had the time to water in July and August, but now I can tend to my beds with more care. Here’s hoping for a fall bounty.
I don’t mean to say that no one is busy in the fall. It’s more like the frantic pace of summer has waned and we can breathe a little deeper. The weather is still ideal and, if you’re lucky enough to still be on Nantucket, it feels like the island is your oyster. You may actually get a dinner reservation, a parking space, or a spot on your favorite beach. I’m going to do my best to take a breath, a walk, cast a line, and immerse myself in Second Summer.