Columns

Charity’s column: The fall that just fell

The fall equinox happened right before my eyes at the Heights post office on Saturday, Oct. 19, when Jim Eklund, still dressed in his three-season uniform of shorts, nearly collided with a person wearing a bulky, hip-length Fair Isle sweater as she barreled through the front door. They do-si-doed, and she eyed his knees.

“How low did it get overnight?” she asked him.

“Shorts weather is almost over, but I’ll go kicking and screaming.”

It’s so last-century to believe that fall starts on Sept. 23 and ends on Dec. 20.

Astronomically-speaking, those dates are the brackets, but this year, the events occurring inside them (so far) have included nor’easters, hot flashes, emotional upheaval and snowfall.

The sunrise over Congdon Creek was warm and windless on the first Monday in November, a day that made some of us fear we’d lived long enough to see the end of commercial scalloping. The unusually placid weather made the disaster coming into focus even more heartbreaking.

When things go badly wrong, it is awful to be reminded that your affairs may be tangled, your life upended, your livelihood threatened, your existence in doubt, but the sun still rises and the earth turns.

Jim Pugh took advantage of the fine weather on opening day at the town dock to get his boat out of the water for the season. He maneuvered a rusty trailer into position (since few were scalloping, there was plenty of room) and proceeded to bail water from a swamped Whaler that was lolling in the water like a half-inflated swimming pool raft.

He rowed it around the dock, nosed up on the landing ramp, and hopped into the water to pull the ancient skiff up onto the trailer. He pressed a passerby (who was hanging around hoping to see some scallops) into service, positioning the boat on the trailer, while the rest of the water drained onto the pavement, down the hill and into the creek.

I was just glad to see that somebody got something good out of the water that day.

Not long after the scallop catastrophe was revealed to me, Russell Glover of Consider Bardwell Farm came by to tell me I’d better throw away that wheel of cheese I bought at the final Havens farmers market — a cheese that was going to get me through the fall.

The cheese-maker’s safety inspector found listeria — a milk-borne bacteria — from milk they had purchased from another farm. The voluntary recall meant they had to shut down production, destroy their inventory and let their staff go, a nightmare scenario for a small cheese maker like Consider Bardwell. Their reaction prevented anyone from getting sick, but how and when they can start making cheese again is in doubt. A GoFundMe effort is under way now that may help them hang on.

Feeling pretty low as I contemplated a winter without affordable scallops and my favorite cheese, I voted. It made me feel much better, even though I had to convince a pollworker that my signature was actually a match with the one they had on file. My penmanship is slipping.

In November and December, steep declines in the striped bass and bluefish population in our waters got headlines and prompted stricter recreational fishing regulations.

Fewer bluefish were landed along the mid-Atlantic coast in 2018 than in any year on record, an existential threat to Bob’s bluefish and blue cheese special, and the snapper derby, not to mention the recreational fishing industry.

It’s not just the people who enjoy fishing, make cheese and round up their winter income on scalloping that are in pain, and have had setbacks this fall. Maybe a new hip kept you inside, or you had to skip a gathering of friends while battling a head cold. You lost an election, or your old dog is spending less time on the porch lying in the sun now that the shadows are sharper, and the sun sets early.

We’re a community that cares for neighbors who are hurting, and likes to support people who need a hand. We are really good at making change locally, but more and more the roots of our problems are global.

The other day, I decided to walk my favorite trail at Mashomack backwards. My goal: to see an entirely new set of water views, hills and hollows. (The trail was backwards — I did not walk backwards, that would be stupid.) A rustle of leaves and a ringed tail sticking out from under a low boardwalk across marsh confirmed that I was not the only one surprised by my path through the woods.

It was good to look at this very familiar place with new eyes. I thought about the first time I laid eyes on Miss Annie’s Creek, 30 years ago, how important this place is to me, and how I must do what I can to take care of it.

When we voted, we made a lot of changes at the state and local level, and we’ve already seen many East End leaders take up arms against the effects of climate change.

Increasingly, it’s the job of our elected officials to figure out what to do. There has never been a more important battle to win.