The other Friday night, we were driving around. With the heat on, windows down, and (new this year) masks on. I leaned my head out the window a bit, the sky turning from pink to yellow to blue. We headed towards the western end of the island, where the sun lingers the longest. Everyone speeds up as they approach the slight hill on the way to the dump.
Summer folks said they would stay through the winter this year, but everyone else is taking bets on how long. A friend on the Cape says until an osprey nest causes a power outage. Another says until the boats are interrupted for three days straight. They say there are more people here now--more students enrolled at the schools, more people changing their forwarding address to the island. Maybe that’s true, after all, it is still difficult to find a parking spot at the Stop and Shop.
But we saw no one at Smiths Point on Friday night as the sun was setting, the light bending. Unraveling whisps of clouds hung low over empty beach cottages like chimney smoke.
I don’t usually think of this place as being all that rural. But when the off season comes and watching the sunset once again becomes a major activity, it’s hard not to think of other places in the country where a big sky dominates.
And although we were watching the sky the whole time, the darkness came on suddenly, a switch flipping. A pair of empty waders leaned against a wooden sign post, waiting for its owner and the next low tide.
We talked of island mysteries: whatever happened to that woman who disappeared into the moors in the 1980s? Do you remember that winter when the scallops seemed like a cobblestone road, blown in by a storm or the wake of the high speed ferry? How many years does the house at the end of the road have? And what will people say about this year, in the years to come?
We looked at the stars. Across the water, there was one light on in a house in Tuckernuck. Behind us, Hither Creek looked ablaze, reflections of floor-to-ceiling windows and glass sliders illuminated by those who have hung on through the fall.
Signs along the waterfront announce it’s time for dinghies and kayaks to be removed. It is time to bundle up. It’s also time for scallops and for keeping an eye on the tides. You can swim at low tide here with relative ease, and a summer day is not dictated so much by the water level. But when the calendar turns to October, tide charts are tucked into sunvisors. It is still difficult to disentangle each weird, day-out-of-time from the next, but the tides help.
The engine turned over, the headlights illuminating the quiet marsh. We did not see another car until we got back towards town. Above the steady whine of the wind, the whistle of the last boat of the day leaves the harbor. This is how it feels to have nowhere to be.