I have a fondness for shoulder season. That time of year in resort towns when the crowds are gone and the businesses are slowly shutting down for the long winter break. The sun is still shining, but the leaves are changing, fading like memories of the hot and busy summer.
Martha’s Vineyard is in shoulder season. The ferries are still running a rather full schedule, but the loads are lighter, the passengers older, and the pace a little slower. The day I cross the Sound, the ocean is calm, rocking us into a pleasant reverie as we make the 45-minute trip from Woods Hole to Oak Bluffs.
I’ve rented an electric bike for the afternoon and pick it up from a young man who grew up on the island. He asks me where I’m from, and I tell him I’m from San Francisco.
“All the way on the other side of the country,” I say.
“I visit your town when I go on vacation,” he says. “And you visit mine.” He hands me a map and advises me to ride south, along Beach Road. “There’s a dedicated bike path all the way down to Edgartown,” he says.
The sun is high and the water is calm, with just a hint of break, the ocean dozing in the early afternoon. I pass Farm Pond on my right, which is even more somnolent, and find my way to Nomans, a casual, airy restaurant set slightly up a hill.
Today is the final day of the season for Nomans, and most of the taps in the bar are dry, their logo handles gone, leaving only dull, industrial pulls as far as the eye can see. Fortunately, one of the remaining taps is a double IPA, Mayflower Brewing Company’s Fear & Patience, and I enjoy its hazy citrus hops with two street tacos.
Nomans has an expansive backyard, with seating on the patio and the lawn, as well as around the edges, under the trees. I find a spot away from the four other groups there this afternoon and text sunny photos to my friends.
Most of my friends are stuck at work, which is what happens during shoulder season, but one couple I know is out west, in Colorado, up above 9,600 feet in the resort town of Breckenridge. They reply with snowy photos of their own, so I send them a photo of my shorts and let them know it is perfect on the Vineyard, sunny and 72 degrees.
After lunch, I follow the bike route all the way to the Chappy Ferry, which takes you across to Chappaquiddick Island, then turn back to cross through town. Many of the restaurants are closed this afternoon, their white tablecloths patiently waiting for dinner, but the small shops are open and busy. I continue on to Katama Beach, just south of town, and am surprised to hear the surf crashing onto the shore. The north side of the island is protected from the Atlantic by Cape Poge and Nantucket, but the south side is fully exposed to the ocean. The beach there is crowded, not by San Francisco standards, of course, but it’s dotted with small groups of sun seekers, evenly spaced a good 30 to 40 yards apart.
Shoulder season is what summer should be, or what summer used to be, before everything got so overrun by tourists. The weather is perfect, the crowds are perfect — which means they are nonexistent — and the days are almost as long as they should be. The folks who come out during shoulder season have time to chat, to tell you about the rhythms of the year, and to look forward to the quiet of winter.
“It’s paradise here,” the young man who grew up on the island says when I return my bike at the end of the day. “It’s the best place I’ve ever been.” What’s it like during the winter? I ask.
“It’s pretty bleak and isolated,” he says. “But then it’s spring again, and it’s perfect.”
Shoulder season is a reminder that everything ends. But also a reminder that we will have a chance to start anew, come spring.
Tom Moriarty teaches writing and rhetoric at San Jose State University in California. He can be reached at email@example.com.