The Working Waterfront

​A new approach to the ‘sweet decline’ time

September’s perennial sadness avoided by snapshots of joy

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2018-10-30
Last Modified 2018-10-30

By Barbara Fernald

This year, as I anticipated my annual sense of melancholy for first two weeks of September, I realized something was different. I could easily summon an aching loneliness, but it was not ever-present. I had spent the summer finding ways to cope with my grief over several deaths of family and friends from the island, unaware that new habits would help me through my usual end of summer desolation.

I found one answer to be simple, forgettable and retrievable—meaning I often forget about it when everything is hunky-dory but it is easy and helpful to recall when I need it. Like a muscle that stiffens from lack of use, it took some effort to relearn how to stay in the moment. When something really good or beautiful or interesting was happening around me, I tried to narrow my attention to that one thing to take it all in. Before I moved on to my next busy thing, I stayed still, for a minute longer, to make sure my brain was capturing the positive imagery. 
In this way, I made it through a sad summer with some fun and beautiful memories.

Just after Labor Day I was talking to Joy, our postmistress, about the change in season and how the adjustment was usually hard for me, but maybe this year not so much. She agreed and said that with all of the day visitors lately, her stamp sales were higher than ever. Joy orders extra international stamps for this time of year because so many of the visitors are from Europe. The image of people coming all that distance to visit a tiny island off the coast of Maine, and getting to meet our sociable postmistress, made me smile. I stopped to hold that smile for just a moment longer. 
Here are a few more images from the end of a beautiful island summer: 

  • Joy’s story of a station wagon full of Merrill grandchildren, leaving the island for home, heads out of the open windows, yelling “Bye, zip code!” to Joy’s post office cat as they pass by.
  • The pictures Margaret Houghton showed me during a mailboat discussion of putting the family summer house to bed for the winter. Drawn curtains filtering the sunlight across sheet-draped furniture. The subdued colors resembling a Wyeth painting. “I really like being the last one to visit so I can close up the house. I picture it like this during the storms in the winter.”
  • Watching the school students from Great Cranberry as they row their newly built St. Ayles skiff to and from the Ashley Bryan School on Islesford, on a perfect September day. The yellow boat is 22-feet long, built during the summer by students at Islesford Boatworks, and bearing the name, “Bridge – The School Boat.” (An image guaranteed to make a college admissions board smile, too.)

It’s easy to forget to “stay in the moment,” but after a summer of working to get that memory muscle in shape, it served me well when the heavy-hearted first weeks of September arrived. I just didn’t feel so forlorn. “The sweet decline to cozy time” is how my friend Mary Schuch recently described this time of year. When she said it, I made sure to take a few extra moments to fully absorb the positive image.

Barbara Fernald lives, writes, and makes jewelry on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).