We live in a cynical age, one flooded with distractions of our own making and by blowhards in Washington manipulating, yes, cynically, what we’re paying attention to and what we’re not.
October on Shelter Island comes upon us quietly every year, an agreeable distraction at first, but then we realize it has become more than simply a shift in the weather.
Out for a walk or a drive, we see great estates looming high over Peconic Bay are now almost all mothballed for the season, and some days the light glinting through the trees has become refined, highly polished, scoured clean and almost hallucinogenic, providing fragility to things as rooted and ancient as stone.
The wide bays are mostly empty these days, with just the passing gull in full cry overhead to keep us company.
You see — or rather, feel — what Seamus Heaney meant when he wrote of an autumn day near the water “when the wind/And the light are working off each other … You are neither here nor there,/ A hurry through which known and strange things pass …”
For many, October brings on a heightened sense of nostalgia, and its close relative, melancholy. Melancholy, conventional thinking goes, is an unhealthy mental condition or symptom, since we should be jolly, or striving to attain that state.
People in this camp are blind to the fact that an endless appetite for cheeriness is itself a form of madness.
An October sense of melancholy is not a symptom of anything. It’s a gift, a state of sweetened sorrow, and a reflection on things that haunt but don’t frighten us.
Melancholy isn’t grumpiness, world weariness or dwelling on the downside of everyday life, but usually a case of loving the world not wisely but too well.
Perhaps because of that conspiracy of clarified light and wind the poet writes about, a quiet October day here brings on a sense of something deeper and more important than the tragic or trivial events of the day.
Shelter Island lives up to its name, especially, it seems, in October, when we can feel safe during beautiful days and nights to take our time discovering what’s important, and to face, with a minimum of distractions, a world that seems at times to have gone haywire.