Rain on Nantucket
Nantucket Essays

Dance in the Rain

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

It comes sweeping up the coast on the margin of a stalled front, drapes the island in shadow, and then releases onto the sand and seagrass. Should the rain last long enough and come down hard enough, streams will form on both sides of Main Street that will eventually wash into the harbor. All that water follows the gentle bend of all of those streets, then rises up to shin height, before it washes your coffee cup away.

People, also, find themselves flowing into town. They have been shifted from the golf course, from the tennis courts, and from the beaches, nudged into their cars and meandered downtown. Every single driver behind the wheel knew it was a bad idea to go into town. They all sighed, looked at their watches, and looked up at the clouds. But every single one was in search of a better idea and, if they didn’t want their children to sit online poking each other on Facebook or snap chatting their toes, they had to take them into town.

I saw how it was; I have been there. He stood in line at the Juice Bar in shorts and sneakers, with a drenched newspaper over his head for cover. His wife wore a lavender raincoat, which she had remembered to pack. And his two daughters were protected by darling yellow slickers, along with matching umbrellas. Someone, however, who packed on his own and had assured his wife that “Of course” he had packed his rain gear, stood protected only by the humiliating and fading words of the Inquirer & Mirror.

Empathy is hard. We wander through town as Boston Whalers navigate through the mooring fields; we look at all of the expensive yachts, but not too long and not too deeply. The yachts, for their sake, also examine four people in dirty clothes on their way out to dig clams. We glance each others way, either on the street or in the harbor, but not long enough.

Not everyone who arrives in August is a yacht. The family hunched in the wet in the door to the Sunken Ship could be down for the week. They got stuck in traffic on 495, up near Raynham, where the highway combines three lanes into two without warning. Then they got stuck again at the Bourne Bridge, then they crept along Route 6 until they came to Hyannis and hit every single red light before they got to the dock. Now, here they are. In the corner of Mom’s and Dad’s eyes, the meter runs: rent for the house, gas for the car, and shopping money which may or may not include fifteen dollar hamburgers, seven dollar ice cream cones, and a trip into Lily Pulitzer. Those of us who have only to catch the Wave in order to walk through the front door and slip into warm clothes then a new novel, should feel a thought for the cold and wet.

A day of rain can be a break. A day of rain, away from town, allows for jigsaw puzzles, reading, and Super Mario. It’s not a bad thing to wander through the Atheneum and find something new to read, or to drift through the Whaling Museum in search of some truly odd items from the past (harpoon in a corkscrew or twine from the cannibals?). Two days, or more, of rain resets the priorities.

Because it’s only rain. The sun sets and the sun rises and the rain will fall here again. And you won’t melt. Sooner or later, you have to realize that the memories you are making weren’t the memories you were planning on. When the lease was signed, when you handed over the checks, when you put the car in line at the dock, you didn’t think these days would be water-logged, damp, and mildewed.

A rainy day interrupts the plans and declares a time-out. Tennis games are washed out and tee times are scratched. Then, the rain gives you the vacation from the vacation. Now you have nothing to do and no place to do it. If all that you do in the midst of this break is to sit and wait, then perhaps the pleasures of time are wasted on you. But if you can put those hours to some use, even if that use involves losing Monopoly games to the nieces and nephews, then you have made good use of the gift of time.

The best way to enjoy the island is to go where the people aren’t, rain or shine. In the rain, the people have left the beaches and the moors, leaving them free to you. The waves will still roll in, the grass will still blow, and the clouds will continue to race overhead. A strong walk on the sand will cast a different memory, not the sunscreen and beach towel one you envisioned, but one in polar fleece and cast iron.

At her essence, Nantucket is an island pushed away from the comfortable shore of the continent. The weather has always been at the extreme, be it January or August; to enjoy the island means embracing those extremes. So, hurricanes will arrive, the fog will roll in, and the rain will fall. In order to live out here, and to love living out here, you must stand in the rain.

Some year, some August, the skies will open up on the Boston Pops. The rain will fall on all of us, from the Platinum Club, through Gold, Silver, Bronze, Contributor and finally out to the commoners pushed out against the water. Puddles will form, dresses will get wet, and flowers will droop. The musicians, however, will be beneath a covered stage, and they will play. For the rest of us, do we stand in the rain or do we hide in the car.

The rain, as Shakespeare wrote, raineth every day.

Articles by Date from 2012