A Nudge And A Fall

Written By: Raymond Conklin

Autumn turns the leaves to gold, slowly dies the heart… ( Landesman F. 1959)

Each summer sends us signals that the season is almost over. Just when you thought you couldn’t eat another morsel, drink another drop or utter another argot, they arrive. The morning sun shines on lawns that, in Spring, were lush green carpets but now resemble motley straw mats, every blade’s nodes diseased and swollen. On daytime walks, roads appear purple in spots, stained by the fallen fruit of wild cherry trees. Fragrant green hickory nuts can be found on the ground, waiting to age, shrivel up and be left along the roadside. An afternoon dive into the local bay reveals an ominous colder layer of water about six feet under the surface and spreading. In the evening, small black birds dart across the sky alone, and in groups, moving in various directions including south. At night, insects in the woods make sounds that were welcome in Spring, but now buzz, pulse and throb louder and louder in an increasingly disturbing cacophony. The biggest blow, an early hurricane, or threat thereof, clears the coast and rushes the summer season toward its inevitable end. Adding insult to injury, back to school ads appear anachronistically in newspapers while decorative pumpkins begin to show up on farm stands well before Fall.

Aside from the signs nature sends, there are the events and rituals that mark this cusp of seasons. On the North Fork there’s the Cutchogue Fire Department’s Chicken BBQ. To the south there’s a big softball game, a pow wow and an amazing horse show. On a larger stage, there’s the Little League World Series, Labor Day followed by Tumbleweed Tuesday, U.S. Open Tennis at Forest Hills and opening games of the N.F.L. season, played in temperatures that provide a hint of what it might be like to be a Miami fan. Each of these undeniably signaling that summer is going, going, gone.

If we look at the obvious analogy of seasons to a lifetime, as in a May-December wedding, more serious considerations arise with regard to this idea of a prelude to an end. In the late Augusts and early Septembers of our lives, those minor aches, pains and vague complaints of fatigue that were once easily dismissed as hypochondria, now are a bit more alarming. In that one year of seasons that we get, what will the signals be that let us know it’s all about to end? What happens when a routine doctor’s visit or medical test delivers news that we have been secretly dreading, but half expecting for years? What if those words like “fatal” “terminal” “incurable,” that were always about someone else, now apply to us? How will we face the end of not a season but a lifetime? What can we expect when it’s over?

I happen to have the answer to that last question. After I’m gone, on summer weekends, the L.I.E. will live up to its name as “The World’s Longest Parking Lot”. Our beaches will strut their stuff- with abundant sunshine, salt air, clean water and sugar white sands. Places like Ponquogue in Hampton Bays will continue to define the meaning of a family beach as grandparents oversee grandchildren digging in the sand and playing in the surf. Teenagers will make summer memories to last a lifetime. Young adults will wait in long lines outside nightclubs trying to keep up while Houses of Worship will continue to welcome all-comers as their congregations dwindle, their doors close and their steeples and stained glass are repurposed as cell phone towers and conversation pieces. The Stars at sea level will attract more onlookers than stars in the sky as increased light pollution and disinterest obscure these celestial wonders. Businessmen and businesswomen, tanned and looking sharp in pastel colors, will shake hands and talk smoothly in numbers while those having less facility with our language will work harder than one would think humanly possible as landscapers, masons, roofers and tree trimmers only to be treated brusquely by the occasional customer who has managed to accumulate wealth and not much else. There’ll be a new hot look, hot book, hot nook with a hot cook and a complete schnook like me who’s clueless about it all. There will be tragedy. Young lives will be taken far too soon by illness and accidents in cars, on motorcycles, in boats and on jet skis. Relationships will die after a last skirmish, as one of the combatants raises the white flag and mercifully brings the long hard battle to an end.

Somewhere in New York City, someone will get in a car and drive eastward until the land ends, then after taking time to look around and drink it all in, decide that there could be no better place to spend a season.