When I ask people to name the best day of the year on Shelter Island, most of them don’t miss a beat. It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day.
Upon reflection, some say they’d trade in Tumbleweed Tuesday for a perfect fall day a little later in the season.
The Island doesn’t start to approach ghost town status until January and tumbleweeds are not one of our indigenous plants. Besides, no one really wants all the summer visitors to go away permanently.
I think of the first day of the new season as Homecoming because starting in May, this place swells up like an alarmed blowfish, until it reaches a peak around the last week in August, when a few thousand people go back to their homes, and we go back to ours.
Joanne Piccozzi was in constant motion as the hostess of The Flying Goat every single day since mid-April, outdoing Yankees rightfielder and DH Giancarlo Stanton, who played in every game from May 29 to September 1.
As of Friday night of Labor Day weekend, Joanne was still standing and even able to smile, claiming a secret source of strength is her fall trip to Italy, “There’s an olive grove at the end of this.”
If your line of work involves making beds, serving or cooking food, or water safety, the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day went by in a frenzy of earning. Marie Manuella said for the past three years, she’s been scheduled to work seven days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. “And I am grateful because during the season, I earn enough money to coast through the winter months.”
The end of summer comes with rituals that mark the gearing down of the economic engine that powers the whole rest of the year. The beach party on Tumbleweed Tuesday organized by Keith and Ali Bavaro, owners of SALT, is a highlight of the year for Island restaurant workers.
Although more places now stay open well into the cold weather, it’s almost impossible to dine out here on Tumbleweed Tuesday because everyone’s at the party.
Somewhere near the beginning of the long transition from resort to frozen outpost, school starts. The morning ferries trade day-trippers for teachers, and trucks full of swimming pool water for school buses. Tracy McCarthy reports that her daughter Eliza started back at school last week, going into 2nd grade. According to Eliza, it was, “infinity thumbs-up. The best first day of school ever!”
Tracy works at Sylvester Manor Farm, where the busy season is not only not over, it’s arguably busier now. Fall means crops ready to harvest, and fewer hands to harvest them, since many of the farm workers left for school or winter jobs with the kale, carrots and potatoes still going strong.
The summer population boom brings much needed capital to the Island, and is also a catalyst for new permanent residents. Many an Island family settled here because someone took a ferry ride on a summer day long ago, and fell head over heels for the place. I have no doubt that a few of the tourists and day trippers that came through this summer are plotting right now about how to come back to stay.
Fall is an auspicious time to sell a property located near a body of water because unknown and unsuspected water views emerge once leaves begin to fall. At an August open-house in Silver Beach, I watched a couple reject a home based on the view before they even got out of their car.
Too bad they were visiting during the only month of the year when the view from the main room was obscured by foliage. For the next ten months you can see the water from most of the house.
Some say the whole idea that summer ends after the first weekend in September is old-school. “The sands have shifted,” Phyllis Gates told me, “Thursday is the new Friday, October is the new September, and until January/February, weekend crowds don’t thin much.”
For me, the sweet spot between vacation hotbed of August and unvisited rock of March are the six weeks after Columbus Day when I will eat scallops, work, vote, and hope for a hurricane-free fall and a merciful spring.