From the Editor

Despite the sublime craziness of August on the Vineyard – craziness that is best left uncataloged lest the list of diversions itself cause early-onset late-August ennui – it is the moments of stillness that endure.

Stillness is not the same as silence. Waves will lap or crash on sand or on rocks. Flags will flutter on poles or masts. Sails and beach umbrellas will luff, stripers will flop in phosphorescent water, children will laugh nearby, gulls will call in the distance, the noon cannon will fire, the ferries will bellow, the buoys will gong. The hazy southwest wind of afternoon will blow five to eight knots before dropping at dusk.

No, the summer stillness I’m thinking of is more like the pause at the top of the Ferris wheel, which leaves you slightly rocking but otherwise stationary while all around below you swirls the fair. For me, more often than at the fair, it might be on someone’s porch in West Tisbury as lichen creeps into the cracks of the floorboards and the sun dips behind the Elizabeth Islands. Or waist deep in the surf with a spinning rod and the inexhaustible high hope of finding myself attached by a thin monofilament to a wild animal from the ocean. Or astraddle a red and white longboard, bobbing up and down offshore waiting for the perfect not-too-big, not-too-small wave made for a dude-come-lately such as myself, who only learned to surf in midlife as a way to hang on to a few more moments with a growing son.
Or, more recently, I’m squinting in the beach chair, wondering which bobbing dot out there in the lineup is the grown kid who (with help from his mom) bought me a surfboard for my fortieth birthday that I don’t seem to use as much anymore despite annual resolutions to take it up again.

“These are summer memories, mostly August memories,” John Updike wrote. “And a danger exists of confusing the Vineyard with my children’s childhood, which time has swallowed, or with Paradise, from which we have been debarred by well-known angels.”

The inexpressible sweetness of August is inextricably linked with nostalgia. The season only officially begins, after all, when the days begin to shorten and the sun, which at the beginning of summer sets directly across from Menemsha Beach, begins its long march back toward Gay Head, behind which it sets in December.

Updike was right about time swallowing childhood the way a half Lab/half golden retriever might inhale a dropped soft-serve ice cream. But as for feeling debarred from paradise, it’s important to remember that the great Updike was no longer a regular visitor to the Island when he wrote those words. I don’t know where he went after forsaking the Vineyard, perhaps to Long Island, where he memorably said in the same essay that one couldn’t walk barefoot because “the cuffs of one’s leisure suit will drag on the ground.”

For those of us with the good fortune to still find ourselves on the Vineyard in August, and the good sense to pause long enough and often enough to let the sand grow thick on the car floor, time and tide stands still.

“For a long time no one spoke,” remembered Edith Wharton of an August day on another well-known island with her friend Henry James. “And then James turned to me and said solemnly: Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the most beautiful words in the English language.”