Have you noticed seals lying around on the beach? Do you know what to do if you see one? Are they ok? Should I pour water on him? Shoo him back into the ocean? Get up close and see if he’s breathing? Take a selfie with him because I can? None of the above! The answer is stay back 150 feet and call the Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket Hotline (833-667-6626). Their trained volunteers will advise you, ask for observations and then send a teammate out to check.
We love to boast about the open space on our island. We are so fortunate for the early insight of those who began preserving land so long ago with the idea of conserving the island’s natural landscapes for the benefit of the whole community. With more than 50% of Nantucket’s land mass under some kind of conservation, there is so much natural beauty to explore. From rolling terrain of the Middle Moors, to the wetlands of Squam, the grasslands of the south shore, access to our beautiful coastline, and the natural wonder of our barrier beach system of Coatue; we have much to be thankful for.
In the early 2000s, I was sampling vegetation in the Middle Moors for a joint project between the Nantucket Conservation Association and Massachusetts Audubon. It was a hot summer with long days sampling transects through the dense brush. Ticks, poison ivy, thorns, and dehydration were my worst enemies. One day I thought I was hallucinating from lack of water when I saw a relatively small fluffy bunny nibbling vegetation in front of me. It wasn’t scared of me and just went about eating as if it was pleased to see me. This wasn’t the common Eastern Cottontail ubiquitous on Nantucket. This bunny was chocolate-colored with long fur and floppy ears.
Director of June 21 marked the 2023 summer solstice, and it has me thinking about what the solstice means. Technically, it is when the sun is at its azimuth, the longest day of the year for us. The particular dates are targeted as the boundary between our seasons because of a series of factors based upon the relationship between the earth and the sun. I am an ecologist, not an astrophysicist (though one of my best friends is!), but I do know the seasons change based on more than just the calendar and light levels. However, there is a lot to think about when we consider solstice.
On Nantucket we like to boast about our open space and the amount of conservation land available to the public. In theory, these spaces are open to all. There aren’t any physical gatekeepers (unless you’re trying to drive to Great Point). But for many in our community and more broadly across the US, nature and open spaces aren’t as welcoming as some would like to think.
With FIGAWI in the rearview mirror, it really feels like summer is upon us on the island. As we all start to spend more time outdoors on our conservation trails, we come into contact more frequently with one of the few hazards we have on Nantucket. We don’t have skunks, bear, coyotes, or venomous snakes. We do, however, have ticks. Late spring/early summer is a boon time for ticks, but with a mild winter and temperatures rarely going below freezing, ticks on island have been active all year round.
Driving around the south of the island, you may be headed to the beach or just going on a traditional Nantucket “rantum scoot.” Most dirt roads headed to the shore take you past open landscapes of waving grasses, low shrubs, and wildflowers when the season is right. Head of the Plains, Smooth Hummocks, Cisco— these are sandplain grasslands and coastal heathlands. On Nantucket, we’re pretty lucky: the sandplain grasslands here are some of the largest remaining intact grasslands of their kind in the world.
We know our little island is special. There are so many unique and wonderful things about Nantucket: the history, the community, our flora and fauna, and our open space protection.
Now we can add one more thing to the list; our bees.
If you ask anyone around the town of Nantucket how the deer came to the island, you may have some variety of answers, but generally “they swam” and “they were brought here” will be the primary responses. There is a local legend or old wives’ tale that states that our current population of more than 2,000 animals are descended from just three deer.