September is here. Fall’s melancholy looms. The timeless, sun-dappled days of summer are behind us. And once again, I have failed to achieve the exalted state of zero-gravity relaxation that summer vacations are supposed to deliver.
I try to be a glass-half-full guy. But my mind wanders. All too often, I end up wondering why so few of my glasses match—and whether it’s true that you can get that cloudy film from the dishwasher off with potato peel.
I try to enjoy my summer vacations. I really do. But bucolic splendour can be annoying in its own way. It stresses me out to wonder how other people can find transcendence in the act of looking out to sea. In July, while lying on a beach in Cape Cod, I was suddenly seized with a question: “Who do you suppose ratted out Anne Frank?”
It doesn’t help that vacations are an allegory for all of life’s disappointments. You arrive with ambitious plans, brimming with anticipation. You bring more books than you can read, recipes you’re thinking of trying for the first time, and a shopping list of special outings with particular friends. Then comes the relentless march of days, and the end of it all looms large. You start crossing a few agenda items off the list, and feel a knot in your stomach about the inevitable fin. The trudge home is a small death. At the airport, you cross paths with new arrivals flush with the fervour of their own new beginning. Fools.
I’m no better at cottages. The more isolated the cabin the more I wonder what happens if we run out of Worcestershire sauce, scotch, or conversation topics. No matter how spectacular the sunset, I have a limited capacity for appreciating different hues of orange. Are we not just one more day closer to death?
Taking the same vacation year after year amplifies the misery of it all. Put the boat in the water. Clean up the mess the mice left. Victoria Day, Canada Day, cicadas, Labour Day, take the boat out of the water. With each ritual comes the reminder that you did the same thing five, ten and twenty years ago, when you and everyone else were young. That’s why On Golden Pond and The Whales of August are such awful movies; old people confined to New England cabins yelling at each other about where the time went.
We’ve been doing the same vacation for twenty years now. My heart still trills at first sight of the Pilgrim’s Monument in Provincetown from our small plane (now piloted by children). You arrive and go about the general busyness of kitting out the kitchen and stocking the liquor cabinet. You pour that first glass of wine and start making plans. Someone tells you to calm down and try relaxing. It stresses you out to be thought of as tense.
My days are filled with frantic activity in the pursuit of “the moment”: Bike rides through the dunes, kayaking on the bay, and afternoons on the beach. “That sounds perfect,” you say. But the kayak is a rental and they charge extra when it’s late. Every kilometre biked out of town is a kilometre you’ll have to bike back. And on the beach you wonder if you used a high enough SPF and if that latest insect bite is the one that will give you Lyme disease.
I watch kids dig canals in the sand, and wonder how we first arrive at that moment when you dwell more on the approaching tide than the creations it will swallow up.
So I lie on the beach under a red bed sheet we’ve been taking to Provincetown for twenty years and wonder how long it will take me to like my job again. And about the Franks. I think it may have been the factory cleaner. Couldn’t have been Miep.
We’ve already booked next year’s trip. Same house.