For many who live on the Island year-round, summer is a beautiful curse. I wait all winter and through the rainy spring for June’s arrival, then count the days until Labor Day. Taking on as much work as I can, I feel like I’m missing the whole season. I am trying to make a living in a resort area where the days are truly numbered. I have to consciously stop and appreciate summer with its natural beauty. The overhanging trees offer a peek-a-boo view of sailboats gliding across a placid bay; deepest blue hydrangeas bloom next to a white fence; and a golden-lit sky is perfectly reflected in the water at the end of a hot day.
By the third week of August, my patience has frayed from the crazy energy of too many bodies on one island. Everywhere I go, I’m surrounded by people in a hurry, trying to use every minute of their vacation. My patience with their self-conscious grooviness is also at its limit. This is an island, something they often forget in their haste to transplant their lifestyles here. You can’t buy dragon fruit or Terra Nostra chocolate and everyone doesn’t have to have an 8 p.m. dinner reservation on a Saturday night.
One perfect beach day, while driving to work, I was stuck behind a red Volkswagen Bug convertible with a huge inflatable turquoise tube sticking out the back. I don’t think the driver could see around it. The constant flash of the car’s brake lights at every street made it obvious that he was looking for the shortcut road to the beach and had no idea where he was going. On the way home that day, the same car cut me off as it pulled out of the IGA parking lot.
I know this Island is not the easiest place to navigate. The first year we lived here, we rented a cottage at the corner of West Neck and West Neck. Now that was confusing. On the way home from the Heights post office, I often ended up turning onto Tower Hill instead of New York Avenue. It’s easy to forget that lost feeling now that I’m a local.
When walking in the Heights on Sunday evenings, I’m often stopped and asked directions to a beach that doesn’t even exist. I’m tempted to give directions like the kids do: Turn right at the first traffic light.
One of summer’s greatest challenges is driving on New York Avenue past the bicyclists riding three abreast — sometimes on both sides — without hitting anyone. I don’t yell out my window, “Hey, this isn’t Central Park!” but I think of it, every time.
Ever since I moved to the East End 25 years ago, the day after Labor Day is my favorite day. A friend calls it “Shelter Island Independence Day.” The weather seems to change on that Monday and people jam the ferries, heading home to their real lives. I know how they feel. For a couple of years, we worked here in the summer and returned to Florida in the fall. I hated it. I yearned to be back on this Island where I belonged.
Looking back on August now, it seems like a distant, hazy memory. Autumn is the most beautiful time of the year, our reward for having made it through the summer. Everything slows down, the frenzy is gone. The kids are back at school with homework and bedtime routines. The world around us seems slightly hushed, rested and recovered from the summer. The air carries that crispness of early fall, barely hinting at the cooler days and shorter nights to come.
I pick up my knitting again, after having put it down over the summer because the humidity made the yarn catch on my sweaty fingers. My sweaters come out of the cedar chest, opening their arms to warm me against the chill of the early morning. At night, I pull the blanket up to my chin for the first time in months. Even though it’s been years since I graduated from college, the beginning of fall makes me eager to learn something new. I sign up for an online class and buy notebooks and folders when my son buys his pencils and binders.
This time of year, pumpkins, gourds and apples are plentiful as the farm stands display their harvests, beckoning you to take time, to pick apples, to walk the fields and choose that perfect pumpkin, the deepest-colored mum.
Forgotten are those lost summer days. “Here I am,” the earth whispers. “You didn’t miss anything.”