It required but a breath of cool air and a whiff of wood smoke to unhinge me from the verdancy of Summer and to plunge me into the unbridled commotion of autumnal sensations. If nothing else it is a reminder of the renewed pleasure of the seasons.
The transition began in earnest earlier this afternoon upon leaving my elderly mother at her retirement residence along the Rideau Canal on Colonel By Drive in Ottawa. I was driving with the windows down but suddenly felt a chill. The temperature had dropped to 16°Ｃ which I don’t consider cold but perhaps the threatening grey skies contributed to the premonition of Fall. For the first time in my new car I cranked the cabin heat to “H” (which is the next step after 30°C), then activated the button to warm the steering wheel and turned on the seat warmer full blast. I was soon toasty-warm!
I began to hum Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod“. I yearned to visit there to re-enact a “lobster stew served by a window with an Ocean view“. As much as I rejoiced in my sojourns in Provincetown I recall with especial fondness my time on Martha’s Vineyard prompted by Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” (the first edition in 1851 hyphenated the whale’s name). The book referenced the names of the very streets upon which I walked. Robert McCrum provides the following insight into the novel which in the words of the Oxford Companion to English Literature is “the closest approach the United States has had to a national prose epic”:
On 5 August 1850 a party of writers and publishers climbed Monument Mountain in Massachusetts, during the American equivalent of a hike in the Lakes. Among the literati on this excursion were Nathaniel Hawthorne, 46, author of The Scarlet Letter (No 16 in this series), a recently published bestseller (although a term not yet in use), and the young novelist Herman Melville, who, after a very successful debut (Typee), was struggling to complete an unwieldy coming-of-age tale about a South Seas whaler.
Melville, who was just 31, had never met Hawthorne. But after a day in the open air, a quantity of champagne, and a sudden downpour, the younger man was enraptured with his new friend, who had “dropped germinous seeds into my soul”. Rarely in Anglo-American literature has there been such a momentous meeting.
It was the attraction of opposites. Hawthorne, from an old New England family, was careful, cultivated and inward, a “dark angel”, according to one. Melville was a ragged, voluble, romantic New Yorker from mercantile stock. Both writers had hovered on the edge of insolvency and each was a kind of outsider.
A fervent correspondence ensued. Melville, indeed, became so infatuated that he moved with his wife and family to become Hawthorne’s neighbour. Thus liberated, fulfilled, and inspired to say “NO! in thunder, to Christianity”, he completed Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, in the spring of 1851. After an early reading of the manuscript, Hawthorne acclaimed it in a letter that remains, tantalisingly, lost. All we have is Melville’s ecstatic response (“Your heart beat in my ribs and mine in yours, and both in God’s…”), and, subsequently, a dedicatory declaration of Melville’s admiration for Hawthorne’s “genius” at the front of Moby-Dick (the first edition hyphenated the whale’s name).
So how homoerotic was this friendship? No one will ever know; it remains one of the mysteries of American letters. All we can say for certain is that, after climbing Monument Mountain, Melville adopted Hawthorne’s idea of the “romance” as a mixed-genre, symbolic kind of fiction, and found his creative genius somehow released in the making of his new book.
The entire stay on Martha’s Vineyard was marked by splendid autumnal highlights, including frosty sunny mornings strolling on narrow cobblestone streets, the smells of fresh baked goods wafting from the quaint emporia, waves of sea grasses along the Ocean shore, cranberry bogs with dark green leaves, glorious surf on white sandy beaches, huge clear horizons below fluffy clouds suspended in endless blue sky, charming “cottages”, the finest yachts in harbour and the warmth of our traditional B&B. I learned that only the well-to-do could afford to paint and re-paint the cedar shakes of their houses (and even then, only the front of the house) because of the perpetually corrosive salt sea air; and, that historically the door knockers (in the fashion of whales or other nautical representations) were constructed of sterling silver (at least until iniquitous members of the invading throngs pilfered them).
This morning we tackled our usual 17 km bicycle ride through Town and along Concession XIA which is a rugged dead-end road bounded by large residential estates and the Burnt Lands alvar. Already the leaves of the trees are beginning to turn. We both wore a light sweater today. The colour of the air is changing as well, no longer the yellow haze but instead a duller pale enamel. The sky appears further away, receding from view. By contrast the trees and buildings (especially those of limestone façade) stand out as though in relief.
The dénouement of Summer and the advent of Autumn signals the countdown to our departure for the winter. We jokingly tease that we must begin to pack in preparation for our leave-taking (though our wardrobe and provisions are laughably simple). Soon, like squirrels preparing for the cold, we’ll commence our arrangements with telephone and cable service providers; finalize things with our housekeeper, accountant and Canada Post; institute the roaming add-ons for our respective iPhones; and complete the tune-ups with dentists and physicians (including a final-hour MRI for me).
Tomorrow (Sunday) we round out the Summer by lunching at the Ivy Lea Club for the last time this year. As of Labour Day the Ivy Lea Club has cut back its hours of operation for the season. We are assured of a delightful drive tomorrow morning from here through the rural Townships to the St. Lawrence Seaway. And upon our return Chef promises what is assured to be a delicious homemade beef and barley soup for dinner, the perfect complement to an October Sunday drive in the country!