True story. It’s early on a Saturday morning in late August on Main street in Vineyard Haven. The sun is shining down on at least a dozen adults and children taking coffee and munchies back to their boats. They are heading toward Owen Park. The first squawk sounds low and short. Then it starts up and raises its pitch. More like a keen than a commentary. Squawk. Squaaawk. Squaaawkkkk!
Where is it coming from? Up in the trees? On someone’s roof? Concern riffles through the group. An animal is in trouble! A turkey is stuck somewhere! Two little dogs with the group begin barking in sympathy and alarm. The group scatters in an attempt to find the source of the agony. On a morning walk myself I am sucked into the vortex of distraction — the mystery must be solved, the creature must be saved, summer must not be shattered.
A teenage boy — the advance, the scout — breaks into laughter. He has found the source of the squawk. “Geez, they’re raising the flag in the park. It’s not a turkey.” It’s just the sound of those old ropes and pulleys struggling and shuttling up the flagpole. It’s not squawking. It’s winching. Ah yes, the soundtrack of aging. I know it well. I hear it every time I get up from a chair.
They all break into laughter as they continue down the Owen Park hill, bringing breakfast to what looks like a convention of boats.
But now it’s September and one by one those boats will vanish from the picture. And summer will vanish too. And Tisbury employees can raise and lower the flag at Owen Park without fear of someone calling the ASPCA.
I hate to admit I can relate to those squawks. This summer has made me feel as old and creaky as those Owen Park flagpole ropes. Every August morning I greeted with a stretch, wondering what events we would miss today. Once again my wife and I both felt knocked off our pins by the cultural tsunami known as Vineyard summer. But we kept up the pace, telling ourselves that for the good of the Island and for our continued cultural health we had to make it to at least one event a day. The showboat is coming, you’ve got to get on board. This constant ferrying from one great program or dinner to another leads to, if nothing else, paddle fatigue.
But now it’s September. The events will thin out. The house guests are gone. I have allowed my exhaustion to have its way with me. I am taking afternoon naps and at night hitting my bed and falling asleep feeling twice as large, like an 18-wheeler at a rest area. In the mornings I wake up as if all my tires have been deflated. The rush is over. Nowhere to go — at least not this second. I can just turn over and roll into the shoulder season. Another summer is but a dream.
The presidential speed bump on South Road has already been flattened into memory. Soon, traffic will return to normality. If instead you want it to “return to normalcy,” you’ll have to go back to 1920 when the word and the phrase were invented to catapult Warren Harding into the White House.
Waiters, waitresses, sous chefs and bartenders have returned to colleges and other countries. This means it’s not going to be that easy to dine out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays anymore.
Residents and washashores who sought solace off-Island during the dog-eat-dog days of August have returned home. This means, proportionately, there will now be more people selling real estate and teaching yoga.
A large, collective exhale, please. The shoulder season gives us elbow room. I can now navigate uncrowded sidewalks in Vineyard Haven and take time to breathe in the blooms of seasonal change. I can stroll into a Main street crosswalk without fear of becoming roadkill.
In the big picture on this little Island, there’s a sense of safety here now — safe from the rest of the world. In fact, let’s face it, that’s one of its appeals no matter the season. USA Today recently reported that the Vineyard made it into the “10 great places that live up to their reputation,” according to vayable.com, a travel site. The Island was called “a place to get away from it all . . . . There’s peace in the air and tranquility.”
Here you can get away from a lot of annoyances and disturbances, including the civil war in Syria, the doubletalk on Wall Street and the political polarization and ineptitude in Washington. There is some cold comfort in the fact that history repeats itself — but only those with the ability to summon up their education know that. Witness the latest Michele Bachmann escapade. The retiring Minnesota representative took two other GOP House members on a mission to Cairo and held a news conference Sept. 8 broadcast on the Egyptian state satellite network. Channeling Emily Litella, she encouraged the Egyptian military to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood, alleging they were responsible for the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Speaking of loons, our local birds are now clearing their schedules with air traffic controllers and flying south. On chilly nights I can hear them flapping and squawking. Or is that just me rolling over in bed?
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.