by Robert P. Barsanti
The weathermen declared Nantucket “the place to be” for the hurricane season, and the kite surfers nod vigorously out in the channel. Starring in their own YouTube videos, they rip across the water in the Tropical Storm force winds. A blue sail dips down and pulls one skipping and splashing across the channel and into Coatue, then the sail pops, rises, and then rips the other way, skittered over the white caps.
It would be easy to sneer at the thousands of dollars in harnesses, sails, and boards as they shook in and out of the frame on YouTube. Chad would be holding the camera on himself as the sail jerks him to the breakwater and towards “People are Awesome.” Fifteen seconds of immortality will light up some dorm room in Iowa. Perhaps, if the gods of Wind and Publicity combine in a particular vortex, the local news will see the clip and splash him and his board across the nursing homes and dinner tables in the Suburban Boston Area.
But it looks fun.
The truth of the matter, nestled deep in the chest hair of my soul, is that I would wear the Puka necklace and the Go Pro headband to go skimming in the storm winds and hang out at the edge of control in between heaven and water. Age has taught me the value of a slower life without the pain of hard landings and broken ropes, but youth remains hopeful for one more wipeout. I had Ant business to take care of, while the Grasshoppers surfed the wind. There was lawn furniture to store, boats to pull from the harbor, windows to close and seal, and phone calls to make. The phone filled with messages of well-meaning people who had sent me checks that hadn’t bounced, wondering if I could take a look.
The owners were sitting in living rooms and offices in Pennsylvania, watching the Weather Channel. Something was coming. Jim Cantore had that look and the live shots beside the debris at Lake Buena Vista didn’t bode well for the house on Skyline. They were looking out their picture window at the dappled sunlight of a golfing afternoon in King of Prussia and imagining what would happen when the hammer comes down on God’s Little Anvil in the Sea. So they called.
We know that there is little reason for worry. The only difference between a Tropical Storm and a nor’easter are ice, capital letters, and a Weather Channel Special Report. Moreover, we have seen the TV trucks and the headlines before as one or another storm raced by, spinning fish, and dropping off dazed birds. If you slow your voice down a bit, add a bit of condescension and a far off look, you can do the Old Salt Takes in the Horizon as well as anyone, even if you have never slept on an island. “Nothing is coming. Just looks good on the horizon. Couple of waves. Nothing like the Blizzard of ’78.”
Again, the truth pokes through the lazy carapace of cynicism. We do live on God’s Little Anvil in the Sea. I am an old surfer on a slow moving, sandy board. When the owners wake in the middle of the night in Shaker Heights or in Wellesley, they don’t have the pounding of a brown sea rise from the horizon. They don’t hear the whine of the wind through the power lines or see the curls of cloud tumble overhead. They don’t have a rind of salt in every breath. A storm, to them, occurs on a TV set with narration, graphics, and advertising. Like everything else on a screen, it has an introduction, building action, climax, and denouement. Unlike the kite surfers, they don’t want to make the news; they would rather watch this story than be a part of it.
We don’t watch or experience a storm out here; we witness it. Living on an island is to be surrounded by the eternal geometry of a straight line, and the incomprehensible darkness of the ocean. To live bounded by hills is to live in a library; with a good set of walking shoes and an ignorance of property laws, you can read everything you see. To live on an island is to live unbounded and illiterate. You can understand nothing, can travel nowhere, and can only witness the awful mundane thunder on the shore. It remains the place to be. Might as well surf it.
My boon companion went out to Madaket to welcome the oncoming storm with all its unintelligible thunder. The wind blew from the north, off the tops of the houses and the cliff before skimming over the tops of the incoming rollers. They had yet to grow to an unmanageable height, although they did come in with a speed and energy born from the Caribbean and an adolescence on the Jersey Shore. It looked as if a night of dark intent was coming.
My companion went nosing through the seaweed and high grass in search of something dead that he could roll in, then present to me with modest ceremony. Luckily, he had no success in his first search, but he did find a Poland Spring plastic bottle. He nudged it up into the wind and drove it down the sand. Now entertained, he skittered and skipped after it until it was firm in his jaws again. He turned, showed it to me, opened his jaws and watched the bottle fly off again. He went skimming across the wash-out for his now wet bottle. He rescued the bottle as it was slipping into the ocean and escaped with only a wet tail and paws. But a new game was born and the next twenty minutes was spent chasing the bottle into the edge of the surf and rescuing it. At the edge of control, between heaven and water, kite boarders and yellow labs dance away from the deep water and sudden landings.
I thought of making a video of this for the entertainment of the land-locked, but was laughing too hard.