It happened during a quick after-work drive through my hometown. It was the last hour of golden evening daylight. Townsend, where I grew up, is a very small and very average town. (Seriously, click the link.) It sits along the north-central edge of Massachusetts, and it’s one of the greatest places on Earth. I ended my high school years in passionate hatred of the place and everyone in it, desperate to leave – playing to type, no doubt about it – but reversed my position and came to deeply appreciate it very early in my adulthood.
Though I’ve been living in New Hampshire for 12 years now, it wasn’t until I found myself truly at home in Peterborough – the last couple of years – that I stopped claiming Townsend as my home and not just my hometown. Up to that point, whatever New Hampshire town I lived in, I ignored the local news of that place while religiously reading the weekly Townsend paper. (Sadly enough, it’s not even truly a Townsend paper but a highly generified regional one.) I still harbored dreams of moving back one day, permanently. I vowed to never purchase property anywhere else. (Of course, I still haven’t bought property anywhere, but I’ve rescinded the vow.) It’s a magical little place and I was lucky as all hell to have grown up there.
I was cruising through to return some books and kids’ DVDs to the Townsend Library before going on vacation in order to avoid massive fines for myself and my mother and I was reminded that here we are, right on the cusp of my favorite time of year in this particular spot of the planet. I first articulated this only a few years ago, in a conversation with my best friend. “There’s something positively magical about Townsend in the last week and a half of August,” I had said. “It’s something you find mostly in the light, the way it hangs in certain aged yellow and gold slants, but there’s a certain larger spirit that the light points to – the summer has been fulfilled but the looming school year is unformed and mysterious. That’s a little scary in certain ways, but there’s so much potential, so much newness, just hanging in the air, all around us, and standing in that light we can’t help but breathe it in. Everybody who’s been gone starts to come home, people we might see less in the summer want to hang out, we start getting new clothes and supplies and backpacks for the year. Back in the day, we’d be having captain’s practices for cross country, shit like that.”
I’m sure I didn’t say it so clearly when I actually said it, but he knew damn well what I was talking about. He countered that all of August is pretty magical in Townsend. He agreed that there was something distinct and probably stronger about late August, but suggested the month might be split into three-ish phases – early, middle, and late.
I agree, and it was so obvious, practically like a blow to the face, that I was driving that evening (Thursday the 10th) smack along the line between the early August and mid August Magical Time in Townsend. It’s never a let-down, and this was right after I had written about the difficulty I have each year with the coming of Lammas at the beginning of the month. This was (and is) a clear signal.
All right, maybe let’s back up for a second. First of all, the whole thing relies on the idea of a “back-to-school season,” even though I graduated high school in spring of 2002 and quit college two years later. I haven’t seen the inside of a proper classroom since (unless you count drunk driving class in the late oughts, which you don’t). I haven’t actually experienced any sort of back to school in almost a decade and a half.
So…why do I still feel this, after all this time? Why have I held onto this, why do I still hang onto it? I wonder if maybe the familiar sensation here is archetypal rather than literal – and I wonder if it always was. After all, I hated going back to school 100% of the years I actually did so. I dreaded it, found it a source of great apprehension and consternation and, conversely, relished my summer vacations. Even still, just as I do today, I recognized the thick, fat, palpable, breathable latent potential-turned-magic that always hangs in the air.
Regardless of whether or not any of us are actually enrolled in a Fall Semester or Fall Quarter, I would argue that this sense of newness is intrinsic to the time. We’ve long since left spring behind and indeed are hurtling at breakneck speed toward our darkest day and the winter and new cycle to follow it, but late August presents us with something of a reprise, perhaps something more than just an echo, a final moment in 2018 and every other year for us to seize or savor, one last beginning.
Can you feel the crispness? The world is telling us things.
All right, that being said, why would any part of August be different in Townsend as opposed to, like, everywhere? The truth is, it wouldn’t. What I’m saying applies everywhere, I just personally can’t miss it when I see that mature, pregnant golden light and deep blue sky in the great place where I grew up. Maybe it’s not as easy to catch as the beginnings of spring, perhaps many of us require certain triggers in order to pick up on it and appreciate it. So keep your eye out! Harvest is coming, but what’s happening right now is not to be missed.
It’s pretty great.
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