61 days: A season within a season

As the October/November issue approached, I thought about how exceptional these two months have been for me over the years. These 61 days constitute a distinct season unto itself – part of the autumn quarter, but of even greater significance.

When a youngster in Massachusetts, duck hunting with my father, the 10th and 11th months required different settings for such early species as mallards, widgeon, wood ducks, hooded merganser, and blue- and green-winged teal. When I was a little older, sea-duck hunting involved running offshore (Chatham, East Dennis, Annisquam were frequent launching spots) in a 14-foot skiff, setting out shadow decoys, and waiting for skeins of what we called “coot” (surf and white-winged scoter), bufflehead and oldsquaw (now called long-tailed duck) to fly over the raft of wooden waterfowl.

Some days, several miles offshore, it would be so warm we’d be down to our skivvies as the birds came in over our decoys. Not a pretty sight, perhaps, but kind of neat considering the season. For both inshore and offshore sport, December and January, when rivers and bays were edged with ice, would bring new species, fresh locales, and different tools and procedures.

The long Columbus Day weekend usually was spent at Cuttyhunk, base-camped at the long-defunct Bosworth House. By night, we’d troll eelskins on Sow and Pigs Reef from our friend’s 23-foot MacKenzie bass boat; by day, between Canapitsit Channel and Robinsons Hole, we’d toss poppers and Atom swimmers behind the surf line. Who needed sleep when the bulls were rolling like pigs in the white water, fattening up for their migration south?

Early one October, we took the bass boat over to Martha’s Vineyard, anchored in Menemsha Pond, slept on the port-and-starboard “shelves” under the cuddy, and surf-fished the north shore at night. This was during the Martha’s Vineyard Striper Derby, and we caught a sag-belly that made the podium in the Nonresident Surf Division – and won us a box of stale chocolates. And there was October surf fishing at Nauset Beach on the Outer Cape – alongside the beach gypsies with their sand vehicles – where we stood on the edge of the world as the sun rose in a blaze of glory.

Then there were the fall cruises, between the Chesapeake and Nova Scotia. In Maryland, anchoring in some wild creek off the Chester River, comes to mind; the temperature dropped and the geese followed suit in the lee of a marsh. To the north, on Cape Breton, an aurora borealis display that defied belief in the Bras d’Or still flashes across my memory bank.

Deliveries began in the 1970s and continued into the New Millennium. In October and November, boat owners were through with their vessels in New England, and as the winter gales shook off their summer hibernation, wanted them taken south – to the Chesapeake, Florida and the Caribbean – for the winter. No matter: The good days always outweighed the bad ones, and the imagery from such passages buttresses the spirit for the years ahead.

For those who haul their boats now, October and November comprise a time of kindly withdrawal from the addictive season past. We now start a new phase of boat ownership, preparing our dream machines for the winter. We’ll all be washing our sails, and hosing down sheets, halyards, dock lines and biminis. We’ll be refining boat covers, winterizing engines and heads, touching up dings, inventorying accessories lovingly chosen – always looking for projects to add to the 2018 to-do list, always learning more about our boats and appreciating them to a greater degree.

The glass-half-empty folks say that this period is a melancholy time; the joys of summer are over and a cold, gray abyss lies ahead. I disagree. The vicissitudes of the seasons – especially those of our “season within a season” – make life work for most of us New Englanders.

Melancholy? No. Nostalgic? Perhaps. For me, October/November will always be a season unto itself, with infinite possibilities for the fresh-air freak. And, as such, rich and enduring memories are made, and, if a little sentimentality leaks into our consciousness, this is not a bad thing.

I know I will savor these next two months. I will fulfill some of the tasks above, and hike, mountain-bike, grab late sails, and row my peapod. I will read and daydream about the season past and the one ahead, and embrace the changing scene as winter nears.

During the next two months, the sky will be so blue, the clouds so crisp and white, you’ll see hawks playing the thermals a thousand feet in the sky. The air will be so pristine, you’ll spot the wind-change gossamers 100 yards away. Or, as a great outdoors mentor of mine used to say from his camp on Buzzards Bay, “You can see the shades go down on Cuttyhunk.”

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