Seeing beyond exclusive, catching the elusive
It was the “Autumn of our content” with foliage reminding me of the best of a preschooler’s sponge paintings; the coral, reds, and orange that blend together so magically. Nor did it appear an illusion, the season’s Hunter’s moon; the push and pull of superior tides finally exposing the hidden mystery behind those Hungry Point Harbor seals — lush eel grass meadows so near to shore and laden with fish. There was, indeed, such fullness this peculiar October.
And for me, the certainty of warmth captured within certain shifting shadows felt like an Indian summer for all times. For weeks I could not help but imagine the Pequot people here on Fishers Island those hundreds of autumns ago. I felt a sense of viewing island vistas as others might have centuries before. There were odd moments when I didn’t see a mansion in sight, when crickets out-chorused leaf blowers, calm lapping waves south-side drowned out even the thought of a cigarette boat and, of course, Mother Nature could not help but to chime in.
I shared that sense of time and space on a recent afternoon during a class with local third and fourth graders. As I encouraged their mastery of indigenous storytelling and stewardship of the earth, I drove home the message with added lore and lure of the seals.
“Island clans of Scotland tell of Selkie folk-seals in the sea, shifting shape to humans on land. The Aleuts in the Bering believe they too are people of the seal,” I told them. “Here on Fishers Island, a seal appeared before my very eyes in a place where I imagine it may have appeared to the summering Pequot tribe hundreds of years ago — the very same seal!”
There was a hush and then a circle of raised and waving hands.
“I counted 500 jellyfish on the ferry ride this morning,” said one student.
Another said, “It was getting dark and my Dad saw an old sweatshirt lying on the bike path — it turned out to be a growling fisher!”
And another: “I heard a whole bunch of baby coyotes. Oh, and we got a new kitten named Autumn.”
And there was time for one more: “I saw a unicorn in Silver Eel Cove,” a student reported.
The next morning while monitoring up east, it appeared the island was busy telling its own story. Houses being winterized with plumbing drained, drapes drawn, and gardens still in bloom, all so hesitant to be tucked in so soon.
And the Big Club beach was shifting scenery too. Umbrellas furled and stowed, patio planks disassembled and stacked, windows boarded up, with herds of golf carts rounded up and corralled for storage.
Wait a second, I thought. The ending to this Indian summer can’t be so predictable; it was too special, too different. Besides it’s been around for hundreds of years, and I’m not done enjoying it!
Just then Islander Trudi Edwards stopped me; not coincidentally we spoke of islands — this one and another in Bahamian waters.
Suddenly, another voice — a loud “cr-r-ruck” as two ravens swooped over our heads, so close I could hear feathers rustle. Their echoing gurgle and croak startled Trudi sitting in her car.
“What was that?! Were those just ravens?” she asked.
I nodded, equally amazed as I knelt down to pick up a tiny gifted cedar twig that one of the talking birds had dropped in front of me.
I stared in awe and watched the ravens veer south, leaving enough anthropological (even biblical!) symbolism for winter.
I realized this was the perfect ending to the “Autumn of our content” but not before I ran down the beach and snapped a photo for my third- and fourth-grade tribe.
Oh, and the unicorn?
How could I not believe it?