Here we stand at the beginning of August, the maw of summer where the maelstrom of Vineyard life swallows us whole each year. Instead of the mythical long lazy days of summer we all secretly hunger for, we are faced with the prospect of plunging into the morass of fund-raisers, silent auctions, galas and champagne receptions. It is August, the season of flaring tempers, traffic jams and major event overload. August, the month that requires a wall-mounted dry erase board, a date planner, a Blackberry and at least one personal assistant to keep it all straight. Instead of days so long and slow that time seemed to stretch to the point of almost standing still, we find ourselves locked in a race against the clock wondering all the while where the summer went.
I remember when summer days stretched to a far horizon or at least until 8:30 p.m., when reruns of The Twilight Zone came on the television. Our days moved at a snail’s pace. It was always hot — a shimmering sort of heat that rippled off the pavement we dared each other to walk on barefoot. If you weren’t careful you could get stuck in the ooze of sticky summer boredom that could only be dispelled by a good book, swimming or playing stickball in the street. Fortunately all were free for the taking and in ample supply.
We mostly lived outdoors with the exception of the fifty-cent double feature matinee on Saturdays. This was before the time of cell phones, SUVs, climate control, DVDs and all the other weird aspects of modern life that most people have decided they can’t live without.
We savored those long days, the emptiness of time and the simple pleasures nearly forgotten during the previous three seasons, like biting into the first peach of summer or drinking cold water straight from a garden hose or simply doing nothing at all.
I remember sitting across from an old woman on a stiflingly hot train ride many decades ago.
“What I like most about summer,” she confided, “is being able to drink water with ice cubes in it.” She smiled with the elegiac air of an aging Zen master and then continued to look out the window at the passing landscape.
Whenever I feel myself being sucked into the spinning vortex of August I remember her face and redouble my efforts to find my own personal antidote to the frenzy going on around us.
I try to remember when I still had the power to make the ticking clock slow down and when the noisy thrum of insects pulsing in the darkness of the newly fallen night signaled that it was time to find a jelly jar so I could go out to catch fireflies.
Robert Skydell lives in Chilmark and owns Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury. He contributes occasional pieces to the Gazette.