11 August 2006

Summer Becomes More Precious As It Fades

There's been a chilly - well, coolish, anyway - wind blowing through the streets these past few nights, whisking away the bouillabaisse of sweat, pollution and lethargy in which we've been marinating these past couple months. It speaks - well, whispers, anyway - of autumn, which many people agree is the best time of all to be in New York, but which also heralds an end to the languorous days and sultry nights of summer and a descent into fierce and implacable winter.

I mentioned that to the effervescent and upbeat Chadd Derkins today when I ran into him in Tompkins Square Park. "That's no way to think," he protested, and no doubt he's right; it is pretty silly to be brooding about the onset of winter when we're still not halfway through August. But silly or not, I find it hard not to think about it, partly because it's been so many years since I've endured a full-fledged East Coast winter, partly, perhaps even more so because I'm reminded that my own personal autumn and winter are no longer that far off.

In one of those lightning-quick, almost intuitive calculations that I curiously seem to excel at (curiously because I was generally lousy at math), I worked out that if I were to live to be 95 years old - not that unlikely given my family history - my current age would be almost the exact equivalent of mid-August. Not quite autumn yet, but with it certainly poking its nose around the bend. And as anyone past the age of 30 or 40 will tell you, time accelerates ever more rapidly once you pass the halfway mark of anything, whether it's your summer holidays or the totality of your life.

I don't mean that to sound morbid, but there is such a thing as facing facts. Some of the most exquisitely beautiful sights and sensations I've known were beautiful precisely because of their fleetingness, their ephemerality, their evanescence: sunsets, for example, or last, aching goodbyes to lovers who were or would be no more. I think of that year - 1981, I think it was - when summer lingered on into late October, and day after day we went to the beach because, well, it might be our final chance before the cold winter rains blew in. It was almost Halloween, and there we were, still baking in the sun and dashing into the ocean for yet another last swim. Finally one day it almost seemed like too much trouble to go to the beach yet again; perhaps this year would be the historic exception to the rule, the year that winter never came. But we dragged ourselves - halfheartedly, it's true - to the beach one more time.

It was lovely, as it had been all summer, but something had changed: far off on the horizon a sullen cloud bank hung about. Throughout the afternoon it grew more muscular, and about an hour before dark it made its move toward shore. By the time we got home a cold wind had sprung up, and without anything in the way of jackets or sweaters - it had been so many months since we'd even had to think about such things - we wrapped up in towels to keep warm. By morning the rain was thudding on our roof and stripping the leaves from the trees, and just like that we went straight from summer into winter. Later that year we moved up north into the mountains and never went back to that beach again.

1 comment:

Wesley said...

Bouillabaisse, used in anger? 10 points. No. 20.