Nantucket Essays

Everyone Knows

by Robert P. Barsanti

Around ten this evening, my boon companion rests his heavy head on my knee. He knows nothing of the Bruins or the British Baking Show; he only knows the call of the wild. If I don’t move for him and his needs, he puts one paw up on that leg. If I somehow have failed to hear his silent cry, both legs come up along with eighty pounds of golden retriever to fill my lap.

So, we go outside.

I do not leash him, nor do I put on his collar. Instead, I utter a silent wish for him to slip into the marsh (wetlands!!), leave some biohazard, and return to the warmth and the snack. I could promise him a special showing of Lady and the Tramp if he returns to the bright and the warm quickly.

Alas, with the door open, the call of the wild thuds in his ears, reawakening the wolf that had been bred into submission. He lets loose a gigantic bark, jumps off of all four legs, and then, in a staccato spray of more barks, he pursues the bouncing bucks into the godless dark.

Outside, in the dark, the ocean chewed. Miles from the beach, the crunching and biting sand hung in the immediate present, distinct and clear. Like my stupidity.

I stood at the edge of the lawn, up against a split rail fence and called out his name. Blind from the Bruins and the chandelier, I can’t pick up his yellow fur. Even in daylight, I would not have found him amid the bushes and grasses of the marsh. Knowing him, I held up some cold cuts, called his name, and hoped the reward of something vaguely tasty would lead him back home.

In the winter, the island sinks into the oceanic dark. The fair weather clouds dissipated in the sunset, leaving only the ancient stellar light. Orion, grown to monstrous size, looms over the eastern horizon, but only a threat to those who can label him. Otherwise, the forgotten stars click the sidereal hours passed. In that light, amid the distant roar of the waves, and before the dark of the swamp, you feel how small you are, even if you are holding cured Italian meats.

Were I in the suburban yellow night, I could track my boon companion from motion sensor to motion sensor. I could hold up some salami to call him back to the civilization of dog beds, water bowls, and squeeky toys. In the island night, all I could do is hold my salami up and hope it would bring him back to the warm and the bright.

On island, winter doesn’t so much as arrive, as is revealed. Summer grows and spreads like new skin. The grass glows, the buds pop, and the warm air breathes over us from Surfside and Cisco. In a moment, the boats arrive, the blankets spread, and the corn grows high. In the warm, glowing nights of summer, you can sink down into the season and let it buoy you up. Tomorrow will have waves, gentle breezes, and heavy tomatoes. And it will..until it won’t, and summer gets blown off the trees and drowned in the puddles.

In the wind chill, the white lies and gentle misdirections fall away. In stick season, the leaves in the bower have blown into the marsh. The hedge no longer provides privacy. The beach grass has grown tan, the clouds sail overhead in a purple flotilla, and the wind cuts through the wool and polar fleece to your cold and puckered skin. The sun dies a well-photographed death in Madaket and everyone can see your housekeeping through the glowing windows. Out here, waiting for civilization to tickle my dog’s nose, I can watch The Golden Bachelor on my neighbor’s six foot screen.

For his part, my neighbor can see me standing at a split rail fence, waving some salami around. I am more ridiculous than he is right now. Perhaps tomorrow he will eclipse me. But, for right now, I am hoping that I can lead my favorite animal back to the glass thick walls of civilization when Nature, red in tooth and paw, is so much more attractive and delicious.

We are all naked and ridiculous in the island dark. Secrets disappear like underwear. Everyone knows. Everyone knows who is cheating on whom. Everyone knows who is drinking too much, smoking too much, disappearing into the friendly confines of morphine. We see it all: the stretch marks, the folds, the pin pricks. The only secrets you can keep are the ones you tell yourself. Everything else is common knowledge.

To live on an island, not to merely make it through the winter, but to make a home out here, you have to make peace with your nakedness. You can’t stand on the floor of town meeting moaning out a song of woe while stuffing money in your pockets. Your stories will be told, retold, and remembered. We know when you crashed your car and we know why. You can either smile into the gossip or leave.

My neighbor is a good man. I didn’t fear that I was being recorded or filmed for some video. The best of us understand, in the darkness of bone, that it could have been us. We live in a kind Mexican standoff, where I will not mock whatever happens in his house while he will let whatever happens in my house stand, especially if it involved hoping for the return of my boon companion. Winter does this. We are all living here. We are all stuck bouncing around the Stop and Shop, collecting hamburger, broccoli, and Ben & Jerry’s. Whatever foolishness has been stuckt to your shoe could be stuck to mine just as easily. If we are all naked and ridiculous, let us huddle together.

At some point, I stopped calling. My boon companion’s name was back inside, attached to a leash. Now, he was beyond language into a world of scents and shadows, feeling the ancient instincts. In the dark, we can only wait and hope.

And then we welcome him back with a treat and a towel.

Articles by Date from 2012