Nantucket Essays

Ebb Tide of Summer

by Robert P. Barsanti

They walk by each night at six thirty. He wears a UConn sweatshirt, a Bill Fischer Tackle hat, and lists to starboard at each step. She sports movie star sunglasses and pink sneakers. They trudge by, smile, wave, and keep going. My Boon Companion has stopped giving them warning barks and now wags.

As the season ebbs, they pass by in a golden hour. Since March, they walk by the house every day in the evening. Over the season, their clothes have changed slightly, and they have gotten somewhat more mobile, but they remain constant. Not fast, not graceful, but one foot in front of the other. Every day.

I suspect their habit grew out of some physical therapy treatment. Perhaps it was a knee or an ankle or a hip that sent them spinning out of the everyday world and into the world of habits, routines, and workouts. None of their steps look easy or painless.

They are my neighbors, surely. Not visitors, not residents, but neighbors. I look forward to seeing them mark the day with their slow steps.

Through most of the summer, my street hosts a series of visitors. They appreciate the island with fresh eyes, breathe in the Atlantic air, and listen for the breaking waves. Their week on-island has been circled in pink on the calendar. Now here, they grab each moment, press it into the dictionary, and keep it for the winter. We are anecdotes for the Thanksgiving table, laughs for the family, and lock screens for their phones.

Other houses hold residents. They come to the island, pay their taxes and membership dues, then sit by the pool and watch the clouds blow by overhead. Their cars unload late at night and, a week later, leave early in the morning. The houses, hidden by hedges and blocked by Range Rovers, light up in the August evening, then fade to black.

But the walking couple were neighbors, though I did not know where they lived or what their names were. But I cared about them and would care for them, should they need it. They waved each day and smiled at my wagging Boon Companion and kept on their way. Our interactions weren’t great. I didn’t buy girl scout cookies from them, nor did I put a new roof on their house; and they didn’t offer me a firm handshake and pat on the shoulder (which, in a plague year, they couldn’t). But we shared an unspoken fellow feeling.

At our best, on this island, we are neighbors. The whaling houses in town are flush to the street so they could be a part of the street. Those who walked, rode, or drove by participated in their lives, whether it be from bickering or backfiring. At night, as you pass the windows, They would be at dinner, or reading, or watching the Red Sox blunder another loss on their 60 inch plasma screen. At our worst, we are judgmental, gossipy voyeurs who can’t keep their eyes or opinions out of other people’s business. But, I suppose, gossip is its own form of love. It places you in the constellation of our stars, spinning through our lives. Hate thrives in the ignorant darkness, unnoticed behind a hedge.

My parents visited their neighbors almost every night; someone would make coffee, a cranberry tea loaf would appear and they would spend hours across the street. Or the neighbors spent hours at our house and ate Oreos. We spent afternoons, summers, and snowstorms at each others houses. Somehow, that slipped away.

In this plague year, neighborliness operates like gravity; at a distance. No more high fives, no more down lows, no more too slows. We wear our masks, keep six feet apart, and wave. Strange, yet each one of those shows care, while an embrace con brio has become a threat and an assault. We care enough to keep away.

It is Fire Chief Bruce Watt’s world, we are only passing through. The former Fire Chief is known for waving at absolutely every familiar face that passed before him on the roads. He would lift two fingers off the steering wheel in acknowledgment, and then, perhaps, he would nod his head. I suspect that, if pressed, he couldn’t name half of the people he waved at, but he recognized them, saluted them, and passed on. “You’re one of us” and, in receiving the wave and nod, you belonged; you were among neighbors.

So I hope it is with our evening pedestrians. They pass by in the cool of the evening, step by step, accepting of a wave and a wag. They don’t stop, they don’t turn back, they keep moving through the September light.

The summer ebbs. The blue sky has burned through the low lying fog and humidity and revealed the island as we remember it. The surf has built up, the hydrangea swing in a breeze and the mildew hasn’t regrown in the closet (yet). Off shore, the tuna and the whales remain.

March returns. It comes to my house, every night at around 3 in the morning. Orion and the winter constellations spin back into the sky, along with all of the old friends: their bills, the President, and the virus. The Days of March scroll by, one after the other, into an unremitting gray ceiling.

I knew March would return, but I did not believe. When you know something, you are intellectually sure of its truth, but when you believe, the truth seeps out of your bones. The movie didn’t end, the good guys didn’t win, and the dawn didn’t come. The gray twilight struggle continues. And at three am, in the glowing screen of our lives, the howls of March descend.


The couple will walk by again this evening. And we will wave, smile, and wag as they shuffle. Painful. Constant. Indomitable.

Articles by Date from 2012