Last Wednesday, two women paused on their evening walk, and leaned on the whitewashed fence that runs along Crescent Beach to admire the sunset. “I haven’t been down here all summer,” said one. They were there for some quiet enjoyment.
Quiet enjoyment has been hard to find in many of Shelter Island’s public places for the past six weeks, but on Labor Day Monday, things changed. My hound Mabel and I had Volunteer Park all to ourselves on Wednesday morning, after weeks of sharing it with people having a picnic breakfast on the benches, and enjoying the view of Dering Harbor from the gazebo. If a muffin-eating child dropped a hunk, Mabel was on clean-up. She misses that.
September is the hinge, the time when the mood swings from warm nights that seem like they go on forever to shorter days full of showing up on time and responsibility.
At Marie Eiffel Market, Jason Penney had a latte ready for me before I was aware of having asked for it, partly because I was the only one in line at that moment, and partly because for the past six weeks, he’s made so many he could do it in his sleep. He said sleep is what he needs now that the official end of the high season has come. “We’re just trying to catch up, getting home a little earlier, and getting to bed a little earlier,” Jason said. He estimates he’ll need a couple of weeks of that to recuperate.
If Tumbleweed Tuesday was a day to rest and recuperate, Wednesday was a day of reckoning. Mike Anglin was on the sidewalk outside his store, Jack’s Marine, a little wistful, and thinking about assembling a fire pit for display. He’s been selling them at a steady rate that picks up come the cool days of fall.
“It’s kind of sad,” he said. “You were seeing these people all the time, every day and then all of a sudden they’re gone. Some people say they’re glad when the summer people go, but everyone knows you can’t make it here in the winter. You need the summer. It’d be nice if it was just a little bit longer.”
He said the Bridge Street area is becoming more of a destination for day trippers who just want to shop, have lunch and walk around a little. The reputation of the store for creative, high quality things to keep children of all ages busy has spread, “People come here from off the Island by boat, or on foot across on the ferry just to shop for toys,” Mike said.
A post-mortem of the summer of 2019 should include notes on the natural world. Most notable to me was that I did not see a single jellyfish, not even washed up on the beach. As for pests, around my house, there was a bumper crop of ants, fewer stink bugs, and a ridiculous number of rabbits. The wasp population on the porch was pretty much the same as last year.
Farmers got off to a slow, wet start, so the strawberries and peaches this year were not memorable, but the melons and the corn were as good as I’ve ever tasted. As for figs, I don’t want to talk about it. Too soon.
A staple of back-to-school time is the question: What did you do on summer vacation? The beautiful warm days of summer allowed me two memorable activities during the part of summer vacation when I wasn’t working. I attended my son’s wedding, and I shucked a lot of corn. Both involved attending outdoor events at which food was served.
The corn-shucking was part of a volunteer effort that began years ago when Amy Zavatto organized her sisters and friends to shuck corn on the morning of the Fire Department’s August Chicken Barbecue. Today, when the truckload of corn is unloaded, a team of volunteers — some wearing “Mother-shucker” T-shirts indicating years of experience — line both sides of a long table and go at it.
At this year’s shuck, Linda Zavatto, Vivy Ganter and George Goodleaf — among the original volunteers more than a decade ago — were going through bags of corn like an Iowa thresher.
This was my first time, so when Keith Clark examined an ear that I had just tossed into the pile, and pointed out that there were quite a few strands of silk still attached, I loudly denied knowing anything about that ear of corn, and quietly resolved to be more careful. Less than an hour later, upwards of 3,000 ears were ready to be cooked and the volunteers had told some great stories. It was a highlight of my summer.
Now it’s back to reality. For the next 10 months we get to be a place where children go to school, where parents work, where snow could fall, and where a few lucky people will finally have time to take a good look at someone they know, and fall in love.
Last Wednesday was also the day I smelled a fragrant white flower blooming all over the Island, a vine with small white star-shaped flowers. It’s an autumn clematis that grows wild as well as in gardens. If it was blooming before Labor Day, I was too distracted to notice. Last week, it was everywhere, in yards and vacant lots, mounds of white blossoms and perfume.
Thank goodness I slowed down enough to see it.