Although the bugs were out, the show above was, as usual, thrilling.
Windless on the Oyster Pond, its surface like glass – no, molten glass or perhaps liquid chrome – our boat, Tilikum, made a track slowly past the channel buoy. Oddly, a cloud of wood smoke met us there, drifting up from the marshes to the southwest. Before I recognized the smell, I looked at the motor to be sure that the extra oil I put in the fuel wasn’t causing a problem. But it was more natural. No one expects to smell a campfire while out on the water.
The sun having already set some time before, it was only a matter of time before the stars filled the sky. August in Chatham is always a mixture of sweet weather and melancholy. As the days grow shorter, the air drier and the streets perhaps a tad less crowded, we live with the knowledge that there really are only a handful of summer weekend days left.
Friends who have been here all summer are getting ready to leave. It is this week? Already? I thought it was next weekend. Oh no. We have to get out to the beach one last time. And get to the drive-in. Hit that bookstore in Ptown. Plans are suddenly compressed. Weather gets in the way. No, it can’t rain today, of all days. We need more time. Not yet.
The shooting stars are both a delight and a harbinger of the end. Two natural phenomena will always be associated with this time of year and this mood. One is the bioluminescent plankton crashing in the waves onto the shore in front of the Chatham Lighthouse. The other is the Perseid Meteor Shower.
Taken together, they are a powerful combination, a quick class in the magic of the natural world. Look down and see the surf glow as it hits the beach. Stamp on the wet sand and see it sparkle and light up in the dark. Then look up and catch streaks of light, random and unpredictably arranged, easily occurring once a minute on a clear, moonless night.
It is enough to make one question the nature of their reality. These things don’t happen in the light of day. Not when we feel in control of our surroundings. At night, when all is uncertain, we think that out of doors at the time of year we can cast off a little bit of care like a light jacket. And then the world shows us breakers that light up the shore, and the sky where the dots of light seem to be rearranging themselves like ceiling decals.
That the former are tiny sea creatures that are there all the time, or that the latter are simply bits of dusty rocks in space that our planet flies into like clockwork, makes no difference. These are moving points of light, doing as they choose, without regard to us. Add in the middle distance the occasional twinkle of a firefly, and it is easy to understand how ancient peoples came up with the concept of fairies.
Now out on the OP, I cut the engine and drifted. The no-see-ums that found the un-DEETed skin on my feet or flew up my nose were less than magical. They turned out to be a finite number, however.
The shore of the pond was a ring of illuminated lights in rooms with far too many windows. Unlike Lighthouse Beach, there is no giant beacon to wreck my night vision every minute. Deep into the center of the pond, the light pollution fades. The shooting stars came quickly – and faster – seeming to favor an area near the faint, streaky clouds to the south.
If wishes made on a falling star are bound to come true, then the abundance of opportunities would have left a wisher begging for more ideas not too long after we got out there. There were just too many stars. Starting at hope for calm and understanding and justice, then financial security for ourselves and loved ones, our wishes worked their way down the list until they got into the particulars of what kind of ice cream brands and their consistency when served. And what kind of spoon.
These are the riches, the fading fortunes, of August. Much as we wish we would, we won’t easily return here to see all these things at once, to experience their collective wonder.
In the dark, a splash nearby indicates the feeding of stripers breaking the surface. Life goes on. It is hard to leave, and I almost hope the boat won’t start when I turn the ignition key. Sadly, it purrs to life.
School begins in a little more than two weeks for Sofie. There aren’t enough sighs in town to express the emotions therein for just this one girl. I’ve wished for one more week. To go hiking in New Hampshire. To find a sailboat in some far off port, buy it and bring it back together. To go to the beach more and find the perfect body-surfing wave. To repair the hammock and spend countless hours doing nothing in it.
Returning to the mooring, the swirl of the engine kicks up a few magical glowing clouds in the water. We are quite honestly floating on a glowing cloud of life, while above us the sky is falling beautifully and unpredictably.
These are the memories that will sustain us for the winter months and for years on. Of August nights on fireflies and fairy dust.