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The Green of a New Year on Nantucket Island

by Robert P. Barsanti

The new year begins when the grass does.  Sometime, after enough rain and enough sun creep through the fog banks, the grass returns to life and goes green.  Crocuses and daffodils pop before the Easter eggs and the lawn, but they run a false flag operation.  It’s all hope and chocolate for the flowers.  When the grass pops, the calendar turns, the new phone books come out, and a fresh year arrives with a box of freshly baked donuts. 

Every new year comes with paint, a fresh sign, and a heavy layer of hope to spread in the flower beds.  In the timeless way of islanders, we don’t recognize or remember the names of the new stores and restaurants.  We pick our favorite year and then resolutely repeat that year over and over until our self-preservation outlives our self-deception.  Because the island doesn’t allow too much change to erode the downtown, and the moors and beach remain fairly static over the decades, you can walk around in 1987 for a long time.  Same surf, same beach, same dunes until you stumble over the Architectural Digest Mr. October 2014 and get a snoot full of particle board.

When I was a young man, I felt that the beach could be my calendar. Nothing really changed on the beach…and the changes that did happen were hard to mark and measure.  The tide came in, the tide went out, and the occasional storm came in and ripped everything up in a brown fury.  But sand meets ocean in a timeless mix of fluids. You only know the difference between a December surf and July surf when you actually get ankle deep in it.  Year to year, the beach looks pretty much the same.  In my early years on-island, there remained a street of houses along Cisco beach.  Over the course of the next ten years, the Atlantic claimed all of them and left the occasional PVC pipe and cinder block.  But my sons don’t remember the houses, nor does anyone under 40.  The beach looks the same as it has: it’s me who has changed.  I know how old I am, I know how many years I have been driving up, and the beach just reminds me that everything gets swept out to sea sooner or later. 

Main Street warms and energizes in the season.  After the D.P.W. removes the Christmas trees, winter begins and the only cars found on the cobblestones after eight o’clock generally head home when the Dreamland movie lets out.  Then, as the shadows shorten and the sun creeps up, the stores re-open and the landscapers park in the crosswalks.  In April, the clerks stand with the expectant pleasure of seagulls.  But the pleasure of a warming sun on the sidewalk bricks doesn’t really come from the weather: it comes from the people.  And we have had several bad years for the people on the benches downtown.  At best, they have shipped off for more affordable shores–at worst, they have met the Pilot face-to-face when they have crossed the bar.  Again, the curse of age isn’t that you see things that are there, but you still see the things that aren’t anymore, be it people, stores, or 25 cent wings. 

The new year changes most reluctantly for me on the golf course.  My favorite golf course on-island has a winter membership that allows duffers like me to patrol the fairways and rough (and high grass) that only the exceptionally well-heeled and well-dressed get to search and wander in the warmer months.  As the weather grows more bitter in the fall, the course opens up to the likes of me and the deer. 

Time passes slowly on the course.  The sand trap on the first hole hasn’t moved in twenty years, nor has the green or the tee.  When you stand on the first tee, with the Atlantic far out over Shimmo and a brisk northeast wind in your face, it could be 1982, 2002, or 1952.  Age doesn’t add much to a round of golf, instead it tends to subtract as you become more aware of the bumps and limitations of the course.  My youth was spent deep in the brush and high grass; middle age is much more pleasant in the rough or even on the fairway.  If the wind is right and my memory skips a beat, I hit golf shots that I never would have hit in my lustier days.  Near the end of the afternoon, as the sky edges purple, you can stand on the eighteenth tee and listen to the  surf.  Someone has built new houses and someone else has added onto the roofline across the way, but time has slowed to a vegetative creep in the wind. 

But it hasn’t stopped.  The calendar still turns.  Within a few weeks, I will be politely shunted off the course and sent back to other places.  Membership requires more time and money than one middle-aged man can reliably count on.  The great hope of youth fades into the world of never as I get older.  I will never be a member there.  Nor will I ever be a member at many of the other island clubs.  The calendar and the checkbook, with that same vegetative creep, has pushed me away. 

Nantucket is not what it was; the ocean always wins.  It will wash away all of us either to more earthly shores or otherwise.  I am not sure if it profits us much to wait for that to happen.  Instead, like the grass, we should just glow, grow, and grab hold at the day that we have.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow will be wet, one way or another.  But today, the wind has died, the sun has come out, and we can finally go green.

Articles by Date from 2012