Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Time To Go

I should, I am sure, remember the clear sparkling days, bright and cool, that come toward the end of summer, the sort of day my neighbor Mr. Dameron can’t endure. He calls them “suicide days.” Since I too have sometimes been saddened by the last days of August, I have tried to find out what it is about them that clutches at Mr. Dameron’s vitals; but he can only say that he feels depressed, as though something were hanging over him. They provide perfect weather for hauling his traps, but that doesn’t seem in any way to compensate for the melancholy messages he receives, collect, from the white clouds in the perfect sky. In darkness and cold Mr. Dameron is always cheerful; in the difficult, tempestuous periods of the year he is at his best. I have often come upon him in the brutal rain of a bleak November, his big hands swollen from the spines of sea urchins, no jacket over his cotton shirt, erect and at peace with the elements and himself. Evidently it is not bleak times but the intimation of bleak times ahead that makes a man’s spirits sag. There is no word in the language for end-of-summer sadness, but the human spirit has a word for it and picks up the first sound of its approach.

E. B. White, One Man’s Meat (New York: Harper Colophon, 1982).

I have a saddest day of my life. It happens every year, almost like an inverted holiday, in the late twenties of August. It is the day I leave summer behind, the day that I take the last trip off of the island and get in the car not to make a run to the hardware store but to make the long run back to the city, to school, to pandemonium.

Usually when I talk about the island I soften the blow by adding that it was bought by immigrant grandparents in the 1940s when it was not all that difficult to buy land in northern New Hampshire. But politics are out of the way here. The engulfing sadness of this time of year would be no less significant if the island was granted to colonial statesmen and deeded down through generations of patrician families. The unforgiving reader will accuse me of the sort of crass sentimentality that is available only to the privileged. To this I have no good defense, and I confess that I am describing a feeling that strikes me hard enough that I do not bother to think much about its social consequence.

I do not think it has every been anything but sunny on these leaving days. If it has ever been, my mind has done a perfect job of bleaching the memories. These days are always torturously perfect, warm and clear, with the slightest cut of chill to remind of the season’s approaching execution. This year the sky was a desaturated blue, a blue lilted over with gray, lending the whole scene the perception of living inside a 1960s Kodachrome photo.

It isn’t that I hate the autumn; in fact, I usually call autumn my favorite season. It isn’t that I hate school, either—I was born and remain an academic asshat. There is nothing, really, about what September is that makes it so intolerable. Just what it is not. It is not-summer.

So on this inevitable late August morning, we get into the boat and load it with summer detritus, first in full bags, then in half-filled bags that slouch, then finally the remainder of things that were remembered at the last minute and have no bags to hold them. Back out of the boathouse, make the turn around the point, at which the camp drops out of view and we accelerate to Halfway Island. Since it is always morningtime on these crossings, the sun is behind right shoulders, and the water in front undisturbed.

It is usually at this point that I would inevitably tear up as a child, and here still I always feel the sharpest pains of sadness that I know. I sometimes wonder whether it is bad of me that these prominent feelings are reserved for a place-in-time rather than a person. Oh well: we take what comes our way.

Back on the mainland, the last books go back to the Moultonborough Library, where they will be scanned back into the system by the librarians who have been frozen in age ever since I remember them. They will wait through the bibliographically skinny months of the winter to be checked out next year. E. B. White’s The Points of My Compass, which was my last book of the season this year, still remembers its entire loan history on its front page. After a bonanza of popularity in the late 60s, including a checkout (and renewal!) by Patron Number 2 (who must have been a prominent citizen), it languished through the 70s, was taken out once each in each decade following that, and then arrived to me in 2008.

And so the years grind forward. I think this is what makes the whole spectacle particularly sad. While for most people the intolerable melancholy of the march of the years is distributed out across 365 days, for me it all happens in about twenty minutes. That last boat ride is a boat ride from an island to the mainland, but more accurately a boat ride through a year. One more year closer to new dreams, horizons, empires. And also one year stashed into mouldering shoeboxes, one year of childhood crossed off.

Garrett Dash Nelson

August 27th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

One response so far

  • [ # ] Plumage – ViewshedNov 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    […] Having finished my internment in the library early, and wanting to spend at least a sliver of the day in the sunlight, I beat home westward along Broadgate around four in the afternoon. The sun, also quitting its toil, was doing the same, though a few million miles farther out. The day had been icy clear, but now a small line of clouds, trailing off to the south, was stained copper by the resigning sun. The cold air and the steep angle leached saturation out of the light, giving the whole scene the beautiful colors found in a midcentury photograph that I admire so much. […]