Over the recent Labor Day weekend a friend of mine suggested the holiday should mark northern New England’s New Year. Given the changes in everything from our environs to our personal habits – especially in rural areas and smaller towns – this idea merits serious consideration.
Unlike mud season that separates winter and spring, and stick season that divides fall and winter, summer seems to lack bookends that match its metamorphoses.
As schools come into session, ubiquitous yellow buses, masses of walking students, and traffic around school zones all remind us of serious business. We suspend fun, friends and frivolity, all in favor of cerebral pursuits and appeals to reason.
This comes back to time.
With September here, early birds and night hawks alike notice the stranglehold on daylight. The sky lights up well after 4 a.m., and dusks prior to 8 p.m. We rush to walk the dogs and ride bikes before dark, lest we are stranded on hillsides or outskirts, veiled in darkness that didn’t exist just weeks before.
In this way the nascent autumn is an early solstice, when scattered half-days of beach weather hit us, and school kids still want to look vacation-bound over the weekends.
Nights then form goose bumps on the skin we haven’t felt since May. Each passing evening brings out a blanket, or the bedroom window down another inch – like a guillotine heading for the neck of summer in slow motion.
In September, other intruders also bully into our routines.
Vegetable gardens slow down and start looking shabby. Many folks still tend to them, but stop caring about aesthetics as they watch the plants wither. Likewise, mowing the lawn takes on a bit less zeal; the end of weekly croppings is now closer to us than the ritual’s birth in spring.
While we carry on, islands of orange and red beckon from the sea of leaves overhead. After a wet summer such as this year’s, these harbingers of change call out to urban day trippers who are trying to get one more weekend Down East. They line the streets and our pockets, and then abandon us in favor of high rises and cocktail hour.
Of course, we take our own landscape for granted.
That’s because as New Englanders, we stay busy, always looking ahead with more pessimism than hope. This Puritan work ethic keeps us honest, ready for anything, and eventually finds us pleased for warding off the unexpected.
Nothing I’ve seen recently best exemplifies that than the plow guy down the block throwing the tarp off his blade. He serviced it as if cradling his own baby, all while clad in nothing but shorts, soaking up the sun on a cool-ish day for a gasp of a tan that will be long exhaled when he’s clearing our driveways.
Those narrow strips, both paved and otherwise, now see their own traffic.
Cords of firewood begin to appear in afternoon following absent mornings. Sometimes the neighbors dispose of them immediately, stacking the blocks in garages or under cover soon after delivery. Other times they’ll sit for days, mountains that need no climbing, monuments to seasonal erosion.
As September continues, I’m left torn by the freedom of sunny days, and the hunkering down of crisper nights.
Some of my watermelons didn’t make it this year, and the few I salvaged from the garden now sit on the kitchen counter, waiting to be washed off and chilled for a perfect dessert.
But in the evening, can it really seem like summer when the pot comes out and my mother – still here before migrating south to my sister’s in Va. – slices up that same garden’s veggies into a soup whose steam has been absent for months, but now is welcome?
The answer may be that the birds are still chirping, and my feeders still busy.
But outside of our big cities, maybe this is the start of the Yankee New Year.
Already, some red maple leaves have floated onto the back lawn. In twilight, the cool breeze pushes them and they roll across green grass, all the way to the fence.