The Working Waterfront

That pause between summer and fall

Feelings of regret mingle with anticipation

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-10-18
Last Modified 2023-10-18

I’m at my laptop on a Tuesday, wracking my brain for a subject to write about. It is Bruce’s birthday. I promised to bake an orange cake with orange chocolate frosting and I’m starting to get anxious.

I’m fully confident in my bread-baking capabilities, but cakes are not my forte. I spent most of yesterday writing so that I only needed to bake today. With the column well under way I would have plenty of time to make a second cake if the first one fails.

My deadline is not until Friday, so why panic on a Tuesday? Because I have to go off island tomorrow for a dentist appointment and a memorial service, and on Thursday I’m headed to Belfast with a friend. This is my moment to be creative but I don’t like what I wrote yesterday, so I’m back at square one. I’m experiencing writer’s block and I don’t like it.

Not everyone feels this two-sided ache but those of us who do just nod to each other…

Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” At this time of year, as I pass through the gateway between an island summer and the magic of fall, what I know is that I feel untethered. I look forward to September as the calm, summer’s end I’ve craved, while at the same time I wish the month could just procrastinate its arrival.

Every year I think I’m going to find a way to avoid this uncomfortable transition but then I start “feeling the feels,” as they say. I get rear-view FOMO (fear of missing out). Did I make enough memories this summer to sustain me through the winter? Are there people I wish I had seen more often? Yes to both. I feel happy and sad at the same time. It’s the only seasonal transition that hits me this way.

Robert McClosky describes a similar feeling in his children’s book, Time of Wonder. As the family closes up their summer home getting ready to leave for the fall they are “a little bit sad about the place they are leaving and a little bit glad about the place they are going.”

Not everyone feels this two-sided ache but those of us who do just nod to each other, roll our eyes, and wait. The others have moved straight to celebrating the end of a busy work season. They welcome the quieter streets and less crowded ferries with no yearning for the season just past.

In short order I am more than a little bit glad that September is here. It is the prettiest and most varied month of the year. Weather-wise, we can encounter a heat wave, a cold snap, and even the remnants of a hurricane all in one week.

Usually the days are sparkling and dry with nights cool enough to encourage a good sleep. The ocean air protects us from early frosts giving our tomatoes just a bit more time to ripen. (They need it this year.)

The beach is empty in the afternoon and the sea water is about as warm as it’s going to be all year, around 60 degrees. There are enough people staying on for the month that we can still meet up with friends for a walk or a dip. There will still be dinners together and the restaurant stays open for most of the month.

At this time of year I can be in my studio with my window open and listen to gray seals “singing” from the back beach. It’s one of my favorite September sounds. If you sit on the rocks of Gilley Beach, when the tide is low enough to expose the ledges in the Gut, you can hear them.

I learned from the internet that gray seals only gather on land for mating, pupping, and molting. Apparently they also gather for songfests, though I had trouble finding much information about their vocalizations. Here’s the link to a short YouTube video of the sound I’m talking about: Or, just imagine a pack of beagles taking turns howling with an eerie edge.

Meanwhile, my cake turned out OK… I think. I hope you learned something about seals you didn’t know. And I hope the month of September is magical for all of us, giving us good stories to tell in October.

Barbara Fernald lives, writes, and bakes on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at