The bouquets are gone from the rickety shelves and wicker chairs at the end of long driveways. Farm stand signs have been taken down. Clusters of people with name tag necklaces are no longer browsing the shops. The Galley, The Chilmark Store, Back Door Donuts and The Flying Horses are battened down until next spring, while families of skunks claim ownership at The Cliffs. Autumn, after lingering a couple of weeks, has left in a gust of chilly wind, dropping a couple of no-jacket days in its wake to taunt us.
Shhhh. Two weeks ago it snowed.
More than the swell of summer people and the cars that bulge and bloat our finite spaces, more than fishing and hunting, lambing season or boat launches, more than backyard tomatoes or another coat of white paint on an already white picket fence, Islanders easily learn to become almost hyper-aware of the seasons.
Island seasons are sound and sight, energy and interaction. They are as internal as they are external — something felt, not just observed, something as personal as they are collective. Island seasons create a shift in sensibilities as well as in the details of our routines and the colors of our landscape.
For the price of having to shut off the outdoor shower, clean up and close the grill, bring in the garden hose and patio furniture, and miss out on fundraisers and gallery openings, we become visible again. We are no longer the shadowy intrusions in lines and at intersections, anxious to get to our jobs and observe practical routines among a population who are enjoying a week of Sundays. So we sit in our cars at Five Corners mouthing, “Go, go, go,” to drivers with out-of-state plates who stop to wait for someone to help cross them.
And now, intermission. An exquisite hush. Shall we try writing that book again? Shall we join a class, learn a new skill, or read all the books we’ve neglected for the past few months and find some people with whom we can share our reactions? Can we bring the potluck dinner to an even higher level of perfection? No matter.
Nature is once again our landlord and overseer. Winter approaches softly, muffled in sweaters and fleece. Fishermen have become artists again. Bus drivers and shop clerks have returned to their classrooms. Waitresses have time to chat. Our houseguests are most likely relatives now. Strangers greet each other as they pass. It’s all slow motion until April. We can dance down Main street to the tempo of Tai Chi — all grace and balance with a nod here, a wave there.
So what if the day ends at 4:30 p.m.? So what that Vineyard midnight goes back to being nine o’clock?
This is that time of year when it’s easy to recognize the sanctuary we call home and remember why it is we stay. It is only natural to feel reverent when yours are the first footprints on the beach and you can sing out loud while you walk the dog.