Nantucket Essays

Autumn Entry

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

The light remains in September.  The air clears, the fog settles, and sky glows throughout the afternoon into an operatic sunset.  To own a summer home on Nantucket is to also own the bankrupting irony of island living; the best weather comes after you leave.  In the fall, Nobadeer has so few people that you feel as if you got the date wrong.  Nonetheless, the surf rolls in, the terns dart among the swells, and the sky gleams as if August decided to stay another month.

Downtown, the shop clerks and waiters wipe down the counters.   Their heads pop up when they see the door open, then drift back to their phones or their cleaning.  They rest, like fish in the water, and they wait for the money of August to come back towards them.  The season has ended.

As the fall reddens and ripens, the island pulls away from the mainland.  The summer visitors, their guests, and their lawyers drift back to the mainland.  Islanders come back to their houses, rented or not, settle back in and watch the light stretch across the yard.

One evening, I was late for the sky.  The harvest moon rose in the gloaming out of fog over the eastern shoals, and I stood on another man’s porch.  The evening was too fragile and sublime for a postcard; too immense to ignore.  Somewhere behind us, the sun set in autumnal pyrotechnics.  The burning light washed over the tops of the trees and the in the dormers of the hedge fund homes, while far out to sea, the moon glowed orange as it rose from Rose and Crown Shoal.  So, we stopped and enjoyed the unoffered and absent hospitality.

Should a policeman have come up the road at that moment and should he have felt the need to enforce the law of the land, I could have been arrested, or at least, shuffled along.  And, had there been an alarm system tuned to a footstep on a floorboard, I would have lit up some lights and perhaps sent a buzzer off.  Trespassing is trespassing in the eyes of the law, whether I am sitting on a porch or dancing on a table.

The eyes of the law, fortunately, cannot see the whole island, nor do they chose to focus on every transgression.  A good faith trespasser who spends five minutes or so in a rocking chair on the edge of still September ocean will slip under the view of the police and leave me unprosecuted and unmolested.

I will happily admit that the house belongs to the hedge fund billionaire.  He is welcome to the pleasures of his table, his toilet, and his bedroom.  On a summer morning, as the European exchanges open, he could rise in the August dawn and check his margin calls.  Were he here, he could claim his porch, sit on his furniture, and sip a cocktail in the milk-white light of a rising moon.

Regrettably, he is not on Nantucket right now.  He has returned home to Old Lyme, where he sees his house on the screen of his phone and in the back of his mind.  His life forces him to abandon the best before it came to his table.  Now, he sits in a town car, staring at a screen while I enjoy the horizon from his chairs.

I have not taken much.  The moon, the ocean, and the sunset exist far from Baxter Road.  His house will not last as long as the moon nor the horizon.  The ocean, the wind, and the tide will sweep this land away as it swept hundreds of other acres long before it.  He does not own the moon rise, merely the sash, the window, and the frame that surround it.  Should I want to enjoy those things, I need only turn the handle and walk into the living room.

The porch door was left unlocked.  I could, should I want to, walk into his house, put on his music, drink his Pappy Van Winkle, and don his clothes as a hermit crab might.  I could play house in the pages 38-73 of August 2010s Architectural Digest.  But I don’t want to hide my life under the borrowed clothes of another.  I enjoy almost everything that he does (save the bourbon) at a fraction of the cost, both financial and otherwise.  I have spent forty-five years getting my life to the point it is right now.  Why should I give it up for an evening playing make-believe?

I locked and closed his door.

While he has become an unwitting host, I have also become a volunteer caretaker.  The two of us, rich and poor, are brothers.  He owns the house but cannot see the Autumn evening.  I am awash in Autumn light, but cannot claim the house.  I would no longer want February to come blowing into his living room, than I would want November to slink into mine.  The winter comes in ice, wind, and pick-up trucks; we cannot stop winter completely.  Time and tide loot us all.  The waves will batter the base of the bluffs and the wind will thrash the trees and eaves.  But if one closed and locked door will hold off disaster, we might as well.  It’s a mutual joint-stock world in this meridian; we poor must help these rich.

It’s a difficult brotherhood, complicated by lawyers, realtors, and vice-chairmen of the fund-raising committee.  As brothers do, we complicate each others lives with the snarls and thickets of self-importance and vanity.  The money fools us; it’s neither a right nor a curse, neither fat nor muscle.  It leaves one of us in Connecticut and one of us in Sconset.

At the end of the day, both of us stand on the edge of the ocean and count the sunsets.  We were born lucky enough to stand on this shore.  We were born lucky to measure the infinite.  The moon rises, the light fades, and the constellations reel.

Articles by Date from 2012