My long bed-making ordeal is over.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I wrestled a fitted, flat and two pillowcases into submission more times than in the other 38 weeks of the year by a factor of two. This is because when people come across the water to visit me, I treat them to clean sheets. Unless they have only come for dinner.
I am not good at making beds and I can’t do that square-corner thing. On the day in Girl Scout Camp they taught us the origami-move that wraps a sheet around the edge of the mattress, I was in the infirmary being treated for swimmer’s ear from doing laps in the mossy, concrete pit that passed for a swimming pool in Central Florida in the 1960s.
Ecclesiastes 3 goes, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” On the East End, we are almost past the time to plant, and are well into the time to pluck up that which is planted. For me that means plucking up things left behind by weekend guests and visiting family. For farmers, baymen and everyone who eats, this a season of bounty, that extends for another four months, the best time of the year.
There is no better time or place than the North Fork in the fall. Our winter squashes are positively iconic. The pumpkin that transformed into Cinderella’s carriage looks just like our Long Island Cheese variety.
When I am stuck in pumpkin traffic trying to get home on the North Road, I imagine that the car attached to the bumper I’ve been staring at for five miles is a giant Long Island Cheese on wheels, drawn by a pair of white horses, and Cinderella is sitting in there with her remaining glass slipper in her lap.
It takes my mind off the wait.
September used to be the time to pluck up scallops, but since the die-off in the late 1980s opening day for bay scallops has been the first Monday in November.
Baymen have been known to throw out a dredge in September and see what comes up to get a hint of what the season will bring, the way my son used to conduct a covert survey of the contents of the closet where Christmas presents were stored, months in advance of the holidays.
He never unwrapped, just shook and poked. In that spirit, baymen will toss the contents of an exploratory dredge back once they’re reassured there will be scallops come November.
The Lions Club has held steady with their Columbus Day Weekend date for the annual scallop dinner for the past three decades, because there are still enough tourists around to fill out the crowd, even though having the dinner before the start of the season means they have to serve imported scallops.
The scallop population has seen steady improvement in recent years, but this season there may not be as many as last year’s bumper crop of juvenile scallops, or “bugs,” would suggest.
According to a Long Island University biologist with the Bay Scallop Restoration Project, illegal harvesting of juvenile scallops during the 2016-17 season likely put a damper on this season’s harvest. The result may be higher prices for the lucky few who can get them.
The central question of Ecclesiastes 3, is “What do we get for all our hard work?” The week after Labor Day is a good time to entertain that question, which the Island’s economic stability, beauty and quality of life hangs on.
The closest the Island got to an industry other than tourism was the great Lima Bean Cooperative of the 1950s, which employed upwards of 60 people in the summer and fall picking, sorting and packaging lima beans in a factory near the site of the Shelter Island Historical Society’s new campus.
It was an attempt to establish an industry that would diversify the Island economy; serving lima beans to the post-war nation, and not just tourists.
Islanders with good enough memories to recall those days say the smell of harvested bean vines pervaded the Island. In 1954, Hurricane Carol damaged the crop and then three more hurricanes in a row finished it off, leaving the farmers of the cooperative in debt.
These days, our primary industry is providing beds, preferably adjacent to a swimming pool — the chlorinated kind. A water view costs extra. An opponent of the short-term rental regulations cited statistics the Airbnb site alone accounted for almost $2 million in vacation rentals of Island homes in 2016.
Less smelly than lima bean processing, and more lucrative than scalloping, the summer tourist season is a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
And a lot of bed-making.