The Village is holding the Summer’s Death bash tonight.
They do it every year — at least, when they remember to. It’s a big affair that involves the importation of boatloads of booze, trunkloads of pot, and baggieloads of other things. Mitch told me about it, although it took work to decipher his Venice Beach dialect into understandable English. (You start by subtracting the word “dude” from every third position in each sentence.)
I’d been looking forward to the Summer’s Death shindig for a couple of weeks. It’s the grand final farewell to Summer — the season, not the girl — and a drunken acknowledgement that the Earth is continuing on its whirl around the Sun and that our part of it will soon point toward darkness.
When winter comes, Mitch told me, about two-thirds of the Villagers migrate south. Geographically, they don’t all have the same destination, but in spirit they’re all going to the same place. Mitch heads for Southern California, along with an entourage of maybe a dozen other Village travelers. They hitchhike there, splitting up en route as people pick them up in small bunches but coalescing on one particular beach as soon as they can get there. The beach is small and tucked between two outcroppings, and not very many people go there. Once the Village refugees arrive, they gather driftwood, build shacks and a bonfire, and sing along with Mitch.
Summer, Wiry Guy, and another cohort head for Key West, where they can sell conch shells to brainless tourists and spear-fish each evening for dinner. They gather driftwood and build bonfires on the beach, blackening their fish and keeping an eye out for the cops.
But a few staunch souls remain in The Village. They converge into one or two shacks, leaving the others open to the snow and the cold. They bend scrap metal into something that functions like a wood stove, hang heavy fabric over the glassless windows, and shiver their way through until spring. Every now and then, they sneak up to The Town to buy food.
But before all that happens, they throw the Summer’s Death bash. As Mitch described it, it involves mind-altering substances, music, dancing, and general nudity.
It sounded like most nights in The Village, only on a larger scale.
The Summer’s Death bash this year happens to take place opposite the “Blessing of the Fleet” in The Town. Toward the end of the summer, as the fishing season begins to wind down but while it’s still not too damn cold outside, the Townies hold a Blessing of the Fleet ceremony to thank God for another fishing and lobstering season. They express gratitude for those who returned safely from the sea, beg mercy for those who did not, give thanks for a bountiful harvest of lobster and codfish, and ask for a mild winter. The festivities include a pitch-in chicken barbeque by the harbor, complete with corn and potatoes and salads and Jello and about one beer apiece. The people stand around and talk about the season, and the weather, and the fishermen and fisherwomen who were lost to the uncaring ocean during this past season or previous ones. Then they talk about the tasks that lie ahead as they prepare for winter: the securing of the boats away from the grip of sea ice, the repairing and stowing of fishing gear, the battening of house windows, the laying in of food and firewood and candles and good books.
So I have a decision to make. I can drink and dance and screw around with The Villagers, which might be fun — I might get into a farewell fling with Summer (the girl, not the season). Or I can eat chicken and speak soberly with the Townsfolk as they give thanks for another good haul from the sea and get ready for the bleakness of the winter months.
I’ve already made another decision. This is the last blog entry I’m supposed to write under the terms of The Sun internship. Working for The Sun has been great, and Kate has offered me a full-time reporting position there if I want it. I’d have my choice of three open beats: education, business, and police-and-fire. I thought about it for a while, envisioning myself sitting in School Board meetings discussing the rising cost of erasers, or interviewing the owner of the Eastport Buick dealership for a fluff piece on his entrepreneurial acumen.
I turned it down. The internship has been terrific, but I don’t think I’m cut out to cover routine news. I’m going to take the Hypo job and see if it will let me live with adventure and pit my spirit against the harsh bodyblows the world offers. Kate’s been great, but it’s time for me to graduate to the kind of life I dream of.
But it won’t be exactly like my original Shadowless dream. In the recurring fantasy I’ve enjoyed for years, I wander the world, homeless, rootless, footloose. I go where the winds take me, never staying long enough to feel tied down.
But I think this summer has taught me how lonely that life can be. How empty. Sure, I might party every night, a different girl in every port. But eventually — pretty soon, I think — I’d grow tired of it. I’d miss the kind of connections, the intimacy, that longer and deeper relationships can bring. I’d start longing for a chance to get to know someone — really know them, beyond a quick tumble and a jaunty goodbye — but I’d find that I had no home to go home to. Hell, I’m already feeling that way.
So I’ve changed course, just a bit. I’ll still travel the world and write the Hemingway/Krakauer/Steinbeck stories that I dream of writing. But when I travel, I’ll take someone special with me. Someone to share the experiences with. I’ll have a home base, and I’ll come back to it often to recharge and regroup and reconnect.
When Floyd was hauled away in handcuffs, Suzette — pale, crushed, and lost — watched the cop car dwindle toward the waiting ferry. She was a mess, crying and streaky and distraught. She staggered back to her place to pack her belongings and leave the island for good.
But before she left, she sold me the Pop’n’Squeak for a tiny bit of money. It’ll take some serious work — cleaning, fumigating, sterilizing, scraping mildew and setting mouse traps —but I think I can turn Floyd’s little apartment in back into a decent place to live. And I’ll overhaul the store and do it right, selling to the people of Grand Seal Island some non-toxic portions of ice cream and pizza but also interesting books about philosophy and religion and society and culture. Meg will help me choose the titles.
So now, I’m sitting in the Island Car, next to The Stump, with the windows rolled down. The air is cold, but I don’t mind. To my left, I can hear the distant early chords of Summer’s Death, with the whoops and shrieks and laughter of a great and wild party. To my right, I can hear the low tones of the boats’ horns, blowing tribute to the townspeople lost at sea.
The Village is a great place. The people there firmly resist the linear pull of time, choosing instead to lock themselves in a Ferris-wheel of cycles. The daily cycles are dizzying: get out of bed, pee at the shoreline, scrounge some food, hang out at the beach, drink something, smoke something, drink more, party like mad, puke, pass out, get out of bed, pee at the shoreline.
The larger cycles take a grander sweep: The Talent Night. The LobsterFest. The Summer’s Death Bash. Heading south. Heading north. The Talent Night.
People come and go in The Village. Newcomers arrive. Seasoned Villagers disappear from time to time, escaping to the mainland to try something new. Sometimes, people die. But nothing stops the turning of the wheels. It’s like the rotation of the Earth — it’s impossible to know what life would be like if it didn’t turn.
The Town, though, marches in rigidly linear time. Sure, there’s the marking of seasons, the Blessing of the Fleet and all that. But mainly, in The Town, there are strands of linear lives being played out every day. Babies are born, and they grow up to be Meg or Floyd, Jennie McCafferie or Cory Coffin. Girls get blushingly pregnant too early or joyously pregnant on society’s schedule. People grow old and sit on porches, looking at the sea for clues to life’s meaning. When they die, they get buried in the cemetery, with a lot of wailing and memories and a granite marker. In town, cycles serve only to mark the turning of a wheel that is rolling inexorably forward. The destination? Nobody knows, but they’re all sure God will be waiting there.
I smile. This is one hell of an island.
I start the Island Car, working through its usual coughing and belching. Then I put it into gear, pull out into the dirt road that bisects the island, and turn to the north. Meg is up there, with her fascinating conversation and her gorgeous eyes and her really great potato salad. The Pop’n’Squeak is up there, with its challenge and its promise. Henry is there, stern and scandalous, and Cory, too, with her life-threatening baby-blue Bronco. And Archie is still talking people’s ears off about his daddy.
It’s time for me to make a home, and the Town of Grand Seal Island seems like a good place to do it.
And Meg seems like a great person to do it with.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Kate Fisher, editor: I wish I could have talked you into staying at The Sun, Van. Good luck with the Pop.
Comment — George Reynolds: You’ll like living in Town. I’ll see you there sometime. Thanks for taking care of the shack for me.
Comment — Gemstone: Welcome home, Van. Love, Meg.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.