Autumn watch

Out, as usual at this time of year, about an hour before sundown. I went out behind our building to look at our little raised bed of Swiss chard. The cold snap of the past few days has pretty much conquered the chard. One or two plants were still standing up, but the rest had fallen over, and the leaves had a dull look, no longer the bright shiny yellow-green of early this week. I planted the seeds too late, and even though it stayed unseasonably warm up until a few days ago, there weren’t enough hours of daylight to allow the plants to flourish. They never got much bigger than three inches tall. Late last week, Carol said we could eat them even though they were small. Lulled by the weeks of warm weather, I decided to wait. And now the plants are pretty close to dead.

I got to the Fairhaven side of the harbor, and walked into the parking lot of the motel right off Route 6. I was walking towards a black pickup truck when I saw a small head peering over the hood at me. It was a Mute Swan. It had extended its neck all the way up, until it was nearly five feet high. When I got around to the other side of the truck, there was its plump white body waddling around on big black webbed feet; its neck, incredibly long when sticking straight up, accounted for about two thirds of its height. I walked past it quickly — Mute Swans can be aggressive, and I didn’t relish the idea of having an absurd-looking bird pecking me in the chest. I walked down to the edge of the parking lot, and there, squinting into the setting sun, I saw a flock of Buffleheads — the cold weather had finally driven some of the wintering waterfowl to the ocean.

On the way back, I walked through the park on Pope’s Island, startling a couple dozen gulls into flight. They settled down and fluffed out their feathers. As I passed the little playground in the park, there was a used condom lying on the ground, torn and disintegrating. I thought, What a hell of a place to have sex, so cold and bleak. Then I thought, Well maybe that condom has been there since summer when it was warm. Then I thought, Even if it was warm, it’s still a hell of a place to have sex. Much better to have sex in a nice comfortable bed.

I paused briefly to watch a reefer ship being unloaded at the Maritime Terminal. A couple of people were standing around, maybe on break, dressed in coveralls and hardhats. I remember those first really cold days of late fall, when you’re working an outdoors job — it was always tough for me to get used to it. Then after a few days you get accustomed to it, and it feels good. I miss working outside in winter. True, when it gets really cold, well below freezing, it wears you down. Even then, it’s better than sitting indoors all winter long, except for the hour you can steal to get outside and take a walk.