Night comes earlier here that it does in almost any other part of the country. Sometimes, well, most of the time, my only opportunity to be outside for any good length of time is after the sun has already set. I have given up trying to race against the fading light, and instead given in to walking in the dark.
At night, Nantucket is not quite pitch-black. Along the bike path, where I walk, it’s deep blue, punctuated by patches of orange cast down from streetlights. Passing dog walkers, like electrified cyclops, blind me with their headlamps. Their dogs walk unaided, but always seem to know where they are going.
Walking at night in the fall, your sense of smell takes over. The night smells of woodsmoke, of onions and garlic browning in a nearby kitchen, of someone smoking a cigarette on their back porch, the pinpoint glow of orange the only other indicator they are there. And the earthy smell of leaves, strewn about the island, permeates everything. In the summer, the sunlight demands my full attention. This low light of fall is happy to share space with the other senses.
As the bike path ends, the roar of the waves becomes the only thing I can hear. It’s a sound so loud you can almost feel it. Have I ever stood next to anything more powerful? I’ve heard of people who can tell the tides by the smell alone. I can smell the salt, feel the spray of the ocean. I can’t see it. But everything tells me it is there.
In summer, the beach at night is speckled with bonfires, stargazers, and swimmers. Now, the wind blows so steadily that my footprints are nearly erased as soon as I walk, if I could even see them to begin with.
There is one small reminder of summer here on the winter beach at night. At the mouth of the trail to the beach stands the ghost of the abandoned snack bar, still wearing its striped canopy. The canvas awning snaps in the breeze like a sail. Gone are the long lines of vacationers, the hamburgers, the ice cream cones, the lifeguards, and teenagers who rent beach chairs by the hour.
The surf pounds in my ears. I know this is just the beginning of a long winter. There are not many nights like this one left—nights where it is still eerily warm, where it seems like someone has just killed the lights on summer.
There is only one car in the parking lot, windows down, radio on. Headlights pointed at the sea, illuminating everything.