Nantucket Essays

In the Season of Small Dogs

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

When the nail gun starts next door at seven in the morning, my boon companion starts barking. The workers bang six nails into the dawn, and he barks them out as best he can. Standing in my underwear at the kitchen sink, I scratch his head and calm him. Confused, he looks up at me. Can I not hear that noise? Don’t I know the danger? I know the danger, and I feed him a piece of salami, which settles him almost immediately. The rest of the house remains in their rooms. By the end of the week, or, at most, the beginning of next week, the nail guns will have moved on, but this investment property will be that much closer to vesting. Until then, the nail guns bark at him.

Summer challenges the puppy. He is aggressively friendly. Another dog, a kindly lady, or a bug will set him to running and barking the Song of His People. During the rest of the year, he bounds through friends and familiar faces. With so many dogs on island, most islanders have learned to look at the fast wagging tail and not the barking teeth. However, August is the season of small dogs and worried owners. The eighty-pound puppy comes bounding through the beach grass at her beloved little Princess and Somebody sees him hungry for a Chihuahua snack. Somebody drops her lightship basket and swoops the Princess up into her arms. My boon companion, seeing his new friend plucked into the air, runs up, puts his paws on Somebody, and sniffs the other dog. Then there is the screaming and the running and the accusations safely shouted through the closed window of a green Land Rover. My dangerous and sinister Yellow Labrador Retriever sits in the grass and pants.

So, he wears his collar and a leash for the month. When we walk up Main Street, he sniffs and investigates up until I yank him back into line. The Hub and other thoughtful businesses leave water bowls out for the dogs, but Princess comes to those bowls as well. And she remains as tiny, as fragile, and as delicious as ever. He can drink, but carefully. In the winter, my Boon Companion will sit on the bricks outside of Mitchell’s for a few minutes while I re-examine the best sellers. In August, we look through the windows.

He doesn’t like traveling on the boat in the summer. He gets a special harness and a very short leash. Seven or so potential friends ride the boat with him, but the outside deck is jammed with Lily Pulitzer skirts, Tevas, and rum drinks. A dog cannot stretch out, nor can he wander and sniff the delicious things that are hiding in the corners underneath the seats and behind the trash cans. Inside, he paces at my side, teased by the yappy lap dogs ten feet in front of him, perched on Somebody’s lap. So he barks hello, in that deep, stentorian bass that cuts through conversation and threatens, albeit only licking and sniffing. So we go back outside into the Dark and Stormy crowd.

He cannot go to the beach, just as he cannot go to a butcher shop or a bike race. In the off-season when we pull into the Cisco parking lot, he leaps from the car, sprints to the waves, and looks for his favorite prey, the water bottle. Once found, he holds it in his jaw (like a duck), drops it in a fit of Labrador ADD and has to chase it down the wind. This could go on until the water bottle becomes too crushed for the wind, it blows out to sea, or he runs out of sand. Unfortunately, in August the beach has been set with a buffet of everything a puppy loves: fellow dogs, snacks, and water bottles. Little, precious Princesses rest in the shadows behind Somebody and nose about in the sand. Other Labs, with better behavior and more skilled owners, leap into the surf after frisbees and tennis balls. To my boon companion, Cisco in August presents every pleasure, temptation, and bright flashy thing a dog could love in every corner of his heart, including, especially, the lip-smacking-yummy dead seagull in the dunes. Better that he spends the afternoon in the cool corner of the kitchen and listens to the barking of the nail guns than be tantalized by seaside heaven.

Nantucket in August remains Nantucket no matter how long the traffic backs up at the Rotary. To find it, you need to leave the pavement and the cobblestones and follow the wind. If you go beyond the Land Rovers and the pretty aqua bicycles, you can find an island with only deer, rabbits, and poison ivy. Off into the heart of conservation land, paths have been cut through moors. They slide past ponds and cranberry bogs, slip through forests of red maple and tupelo, and wallow in cozy mud puddles. Only here can my boon companion lose his leash and cavort through the undergrowth. Now free, he sprints after the rabbits and dives into the scrub pines, then returns with a four foot long stick in his mouth and a very proud tail.

August abides. The sun glows in a cloudless blue sky. The ocean builds, rolls, and breaks with waves born far out in the Atlantic. The southwesterly wind shakes the bushes and cools us in the afternoon. August arrives with sandy feet and salty hair, then she settles into the shade of the scrub pine. She strolls Cisco and on Main Street, to crowds, parking, and American Express Cards. She walks through the Westmoor Campus, past the valet parking and the tennis pros. She also graces the glade at the top of rise on the conservation farm property, far from the golf courses, tennis courts, and south shore beaches, where my boon companion emerges from the poison ivy with the bottom half of a finely aged rabbit.

Articles by Date from 2012