This is the time of year when friends and acquaintances boast about late-season swimming in the local ponds – or even occasionally the bay itself. Most of us go for a dip two or three times in September before calling it a season. Then there are the hardy folk who swim into October as far as Oyster Fest or even Halloween. A rare few, consumed with ambition, make it out into November, perhaps even Thanksgiving, and take pains to let you know it.
Well, I’m content to let them take their pride in such accomplishments. I’m more of the to-everything-there-is-a-season persuasion, at least as far as swimming is concerned. Nevertheless, I have my own seasonal competition, one in which I am, as far as I know, the only conscious participant. It takes place not on the ponds but on the outdoor multilevel decks of the Flying Fish Café in Wellfleet Center. Owned and operated by Sarah Robin for nearly two decades, the Fish has become one of the town’s signature gathering places, for both locals and visitors.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed observing the seasonal parade of grown-ups, children and dogs occupying this space: watching for the first tentative visitors in spring, followed by the rush and chatter of the summer crowds, then the diminished but still substantial groups out on the decks after Labor Day; then the gradual attrition through September, with weekend and holiday surges, and then, following Oysterfest, the relative emptiness of the decks and tables and Adirondack chairs. A sudden burst of Indian Summer in late October can bring put some hardy souls to sit outside and sip coffee, but Halloween usually marks the end of the outdoor season at the Flying Fish.
This year, of course, these seasonal crowds have been greatly reduced by the threat of the COVID-19-virus. Still, these rough cycles have held, even in the face of the pandemic.
Today, however, I am going for a personal best, if not a Flying Fish record. The day is calm and mild for late November. The temperature is in the mid-fifties, but it seems more like 70 – at least with a down jacket, scarf, and gloves on. I arrive at about 9:30, the only customer there. It takes me a minute or two to scare up a young woman, who serves me my “usual”: a home-made Cape Codder muffin (cranberry and blueberry) and a small cup of dark Sumatra java.
I walk out onto the decks, pick out a south-facing Adirondack chair and ease myself down into it. [The giant twin cherry trees out front, which in spring spread their white snowy blossoms onto the decks and even inside the open door, are winter bare. Their leaves, which in September hung in multicolored splendor, have let go and are now stuffed into the cracks of the decking. The planters have been taken in for the winter, leaving shallow holes in the decks.] The adults, the children, and the dogs are all but gone, now, but there are still a few of the flock of English sparrows that in season hop up onto your elbow or at your feet, snatching up pastry crumbs.
I’ve become convinced that places like this, full of intense, seasonal activity, leave a residue of their energy when the people depart. I can feel it now, sitting here, the ghosts of last summer’s crowds, the camaraderie and conversations that took place, albeit masked and socially distanced, only a couple of months ago. I’m tempted to scratch my modest achievement into the chair arm: “NOVEMBER 30 2020– FINCH WAS HERE”
But of course I don’t. Instead I sip my cooling coffee and once again feel grateful for the rhythms of life that still exists here. I suspect this will be my last visit to the Flying Fish this year, but who knows? Sarah tells me she plans to stay open un till December 6, so there’s still time to beat my record, folks! Go for it.