The sea is the same. The sky is the same. The marsh grasses, sea oats and aromatic shrubs along the trail to the beach are unchanged. But no one is here to see it all. Labor Day has come and gone and so have the summer renters. The island roads are empty. The rental properties are vacant. The village is a ghost town.
All along the coast, only natives remain. All summer they were barely a blip on the radar (or under it) amid the crowds of trippers with garish costumes and out-of-state license plates. Now they are the only game in town with a few exceptions.
Restaurants that had a long wait for a table a month ago are now a third full at best. And the wait staff is on a first name basis with their customers. Some of the year-rounders own the rental properties or other businesses dependent on them. But now real estate sales, for example, have slowed to a crawl. Many more locals provide the services for the tourist industry. Cleaning. Heating and air conditioning repairs. Building trades.
Down the otherwise empty island lanes come the pick-up trucks of roofers, carpenters, plumbers, painters, handymen doing the off season maintenance, the deferred repairs, the long awaited updates to kitchens and baths, the installs of new appliances, the touch-ups to exteriors weathered by wind, sand, salt air and renters.
A few beach folks still schlep coolers, umbrellas and other impedimenta down the long, raised board walkways that lead over the dunes to the beach where they set up camp on the all but abandoned sands. It is still warn enough to venture into the water, but few do. Still sunny enough to oil up and sun. But glance down the strand and the bright umbrellas that dot it at intervals are rare oases in a land given over to seabirds and the unseen life that teems in the water and in the marshes between island and mainland.
Inland, cut rate accommodations seek to lure business meetings. Only the golfers endure almost year round, save only for the very coldest months. Still, the island seems more than a little forlorn, abandoned by its summer crowds. It is like a shuttered amusement park in winter. The place arouses a peculiar mood — a kind of lonely romantic exhilaration to be alone on the long, flat, empty, low tide beach, the sound of the surf unaccompanied by the cries of children. Only the waves braking and he wind blowing. The first man on earth, perhaps. Or the last.
The flip-side of that thrill is a kind of melancholy common to autumns everywhere. The summer is ended. The feeling that we, like the year, have passed our apogee and are waning rapidly. The days get shorter. They dwindle down to a precious few — September, November. The weather, though still warm, has that first tang of fall in it. Not yet the chill, but you an feel it coming. The slant of light is not the high noon of summer pouring brightness down, but something with shadows in it. More Hopper than Matisse.
Ashore, the leaves will soon be turning, a last glorious pyrotechnic display by nature before the trees become the bare, ruined choirs of winter. Not too far north it’s only a matter of time before all the gaudy array of summer colors, the beach technicolors of fresh fruit give way to monochromatic rain, sleet and snow.
Next year the summer will come round again.The waves will run up the beach at high tide and shrink away to their ebb. Caravans of vacationers will return. We can only hope to be among them, but right now on the empty hard strand where swirling winds blow dancing sands into fantastic patterns, next summer seems very far away.