The wind has shifted overnight, hurling itself across the bay from the Northwest. Gone are the gentle summer breezes, replaced by winds with winter’s bite lurking on the edges. The temperature hovers near forty and the air is crisp and invigorating as I begin my morning walk. The tide is high and waves are breaking over the rocks; one small dinghy rolls on the swells as they dash towards the shore. The waves are the only sound I hear this morning, and if birds are singing, they are drowned out by the relentless pounding of the surf. A seagull perches on a rock that is peeking from the water, and he shrieks his morning thoughts. I wonder if he is sad to see the summer end, taking the visitors who might leave behind an occasional stray quahog, or happy to have solitude return and the bay to himself. Again I listen for the morning calls of resident song birds, but all I hear is the wind and one solitary crow.
My life began on this small island in Narragansett Bay, called Prudence, where daily existence was guided by the changing seasons and the tides. Summer meant the opening of my dad’s general store which kept both my parents busy, as Prudence was predominantly a summer colony. My family lived here year round, but the winter population dwindled to about fifty, and the rhythm of life changed after Labor Day. The ferry now runs daily, and the schedule makes year round commuting a possibility, so the island seems less remote even in the winter.
I’m here on Prudence to help my friend Judy close her summer house for the season. We are always reluctant to say goodbye to the carefree island summer days, and sometimes the warm October sun tempts us to linger for one last swim and postpone this task a little longer. The wisdom of the decision to close is reinforced, when the frosty night reminds us that winter will soon embrace this little island and, without heat or insulation, the disaster of frozen pipes will be real if the winterizing is not complete.
When Judy and I board the ferry in the late afternoon, her house is all tucked in for the winter. I know it will be waiting when balmy spring days entice us to return to Prudence Island, and the bay beckons us for our first chilly swim of the year. Perhaps because of my island childhood, my senses are tuned to the change in seasons and as each begins, it becomes my favorite. Though I will delight in snowy winter days, I will anticipate the time when the song birds serenade my morning walks once more.
Debbie Kaiman Tillinghast is the author of The Ferry Home, a memoir about her childhood on Prudence Island, Rhode Island. Her book is available in local gift shops and bookstores and online at Indigo River Publishing and Amazon. Visit her on Facebook.