“The Closing Down of Summer” is a first-person reminiscence of a veteran miner and crew foreman who contemplates the profound changes that have occurred in his profession and his life, relating the changes to larger cultural developments in the world.
The story opens in late August of an unusually warm summer in Cape Breton, home to the narrator and his crew mates, where they have been enjoying a brief holiday respite between assignments. Telegrams from the mining company head office in Toronto have been urgently summoning them to return and prepare for their next job, which will be in South Africa.
The men are staying together at a remote beach in Cape Breton, between their recent visits with their families and their return to the mines. Stretched out on the beach, the narrator looks at the others and notes the evidence on their bodies of the dangers of their work. Deep scars, missing fingers, and deformities of limbs testify to its hazards for these big, sturdy men.
The narrator knows that soon they will have to get in their big cars and drive to Toronto, but for a brief period, he determines to allow them all to enjoy the healing power of the sun. Thinking about the coming road trip, he affirms an ancient ritual: When they arrive in Toronto they will find small sprigs of spruce stuck in the grillwork of their cars, and they will take those sprigs with them to South Africa much as their Highland ancestors took similar talismans to the battlefields of the world where they fought for foreign kings.
Another ancient ritual to be reenacted is their visit, before they leave,...
(The entire section is 663 words.)