Indian summer days stretched on this year as if they would have no end: late season swimming practically bumped into early season scalloping but finally the natural world has come to its senses. The last of the leaves blew down early this week with a ferocious wind driven down from Canada on bitterly cold air. There was skim ice on the pond at Sheriff’s Meadow and the swans with their gangly cygnets that were just fuzzy toddlers a few months ago but have grown to be adolescents, found floating refuge out on Eel Pond. The late afternoon light is golden and fencelines cast deep shadows across green and tawny fields. Black alder has emerged with its bright red berries set among gray branches. It was there all along, but it didn’t stand out until the trees were suddenly bare. And it cheers us.
An empty bench sits in front of a store in downtown Edgartown that’s shuttered for the winter. The bench faces west and is perfect for sitting with a companion over late afternoon coffee, our faces turned to the sun, the quiet of November all around.
Thanksgiving was yesterday.
Of course the Vineyard is anything but quiet this weekend with many summer people back to spend the holiday in their homes. Islanders too will have their college-age children home from school and guest bedrooms filled with relatives and friends and friends of relatives. There are meals to make and everyone pitches in, fortified by strong coffee and red wine and an extra slice of pie. It’s a festive time, absent the crush of tourists and heat of summer. Time for family meals around the kitchen table, long walks on empty windswept beaches, trips to Chilmark Chocolates, shopping at the annual Artisans Fair and in the downtown centers.
Time to remember those who are less fortunate. Volunteers who help provide for needy Island families have been hard at work for weeks, at the Family-to-Family program which packs Thanksgiving food baskets with all the trimmings for those who would otherwise go hungry, at the Island Food Pantry, which is open all winter serving Vineyarders with a variety of needs, and at the Red Stocking Fund, which ensures that there will be new toys, warm coats and mittens for hundreds of Island children who would otherwise have no Christmas.
Hal Borland, the celebrated outdoor writer for the New York Times, once wrote:
“The wind sweeps out of the west with the faint breath of blizzard far away; but the skies are clear, without even the shredded, high-flying clouds of storm. And so November leans toward December, and late autumn creeps past, silent as the stars. The hush of winter approaches, and short days lie upon the land.
“Now is the time when the countryman has the country to himself. The visitors are gone, vacations over. Even the migrant birds are gone. The squirrels go quietly about their business. And a man has time to survey his world and understand his own place in it, if he ever is to understand.”
And if you wake up this morning and feel as if you should not have had that extra helping, consider the following Thanksgiving menu published in the Vineyard Gazette in 1888:
“Thanksgiving breakfast: Coffee, devilled oysters on toast, watercress salad, fried chicken, cream sauce, baked sweet potato, tomato omelette, Malaga grapes.
“Thanksgiving dinner: Stewed oysters, broiled smelts, sauce maitre d’hotel, parisian potatoes, squirrel potpie hunter’s style, stewed cauliflower, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, celery mayonnaise, fruit cake, ladyfingers, pumpkin pie, mince pie, cheese, assorted nuts and fruits.”
Little wonder there was no mention of holiday supper in that Thanksgiving Day Gazette. There was, however, in the same edition, a fine illustrated advertisement for caskets, coffins and burial robes.
The Gazette sends out warm Thanksgiving greetings to all our readers near and far. Please remember not to drink and drive.