Blueberries
Nantucket Essays

Missing Blueberries

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

BlueberriesI missed the blueberries this season.  On a day in the middle of the week, I walked to a spot in the middle of the island and found the branches bare.  Rather, they only held small BB’s which could have been blueberries in a different, sunnier, wetter life.  Regrettably, in this life, even the birds would have none of them.  I stood there, bowl in hand, and left them. I have to pick my blueberries off the supermarket shelf should I want muffins or cake.

Perhaps they will be there next year.  I have been riding a strong twenty year streak with this particular brake of bushes.  Usually, I can spend an hour or two before I fill a good sized Tupperware bucket and head back out to the road.  I don’t think this bush is unique.  This year has been a bad year for berries in general.  They had a lot of sun before they had enough rain, or so I have heard from the berry experts.  Or, the other berry experts say, the sun has been far too hot and has not let them plump up.  The amateur weathermen blame global warming.  They will never come back, they say.  The climate has changed; the winters are too warm, the air is too dry, and Siberia is melting.  There are new birds here, hungry ones up from Florida, and they are eating all the berries.

I suspect someone else has been eating all the berries.  As an island, we are filled to overflow on the weekends.  Some nice family in their Sequoia may have come out to the blueberries in the middle of some afternoon when I was caught between appointments.  They may have systematically emptied the bushes for their pancakes.  Some other nice family, hungry and poor from low pay and Western Union envelopes, may have found the berries for a lunch or a dinner.  Free food has the same attraction to both rich and poor.

Either way, the berries are gone for this year.  Perhaps they won’t be back next year.  Someone has found my stash of blueberries, be it rich, poor, or crazy southern birds.  In the middle of next July, I will try to come out earlier and get the jump on everyone else.  Soon, it might be that my secret blueberry patch will become as crowded and confusing as the parking lot at the Downyflake.  It might even be covered in Kudzu.

Everything changes.  At our best, we manage the change so that our children can go to the same beaches, catch the same fish, and eat the same blueberries as we do right now.  But we are not always at our best and we make many short sighted and self-centered decisions wrapped in the cellophane of good intentions and excellent rationale.  Let’s build a huge police station.  Let’s build one more subdivision in the woods behind the Boy’s Scout Camp. Let’s put a parking lot downtown.

Nantucket gives off an aura of permanence.  Main Street emerges from the elms and fog and runs down into the twenty-first century.  The Historic District Commission works on keeping the houses looking as if the Civil War soldiers will be able to find the old homestead when they come back.  You can have the same donuts you had twenty years ago, followed by the same submarine sandwiches and washed down by the same Watermelon Creams.  The rest of America twists in a digital death spiral, while the fog wraps us in the eighteenth century and the fog horns whisper us to a damp sleep.  We like to think we are different.

For all of our precautions, the tide still pulls us along into the future.  Change has swept away the Atlantic and Expresso Cafes, as well as the Opera and Jared Coffin Houses.  From empty fields come houses and from old houses sprout subdivisions.  Change erodes the island away.

And it has been eroding for some time.  For everyone who moved here, the island was perfect on their first visit, be it a week, a decade, or a half century.  When you first come here, Nantucket is everything you ever wanted, with Mexican street corn.  Each return trip is an attempt to catch those days again.  You remember the tastes, the smells, and the warm water on a southern shore, and those perfect days come flooding back so strong that you could almost believe that the days have disappeared.

The island erodes in other ways, of course.  The ferries have been scraping bottom in and out of Hyannis harbor.  We lose any where from an inch to twelve feet each year.  Houses have fallen in in Madaket and Cisco for years, and now the ocean threatens to take the rest of Baxter Road away with it.  No revetment or hard armoring will stop a week’s worth of fifteen-foot waves; King Canute himself cannot turn the tide away.  The ocean gets what it wants. Always.

The only thing certain is change.  My blueberries may be there next year, or they may not return.  Baxter Road might be there for the hedge fund happy folk, or it might not.  Even the Juice Bar might not make it through the winter.  Yesterday is gone and tomorrow remains a hope.

Happily, we still have today.  And today, the ocean has built a sand bar 100 yards off of Nobadeer then sent eight foot high waves to pound and fling little boys towards the shore.  They stand under a curling and collapsing wall of water and leap through it to the next one.  In the evening light, a father looks to call them in, but he doesn’t.  He sits back down, opens his book, pretends to read and enjoys the electricity of today.  Tomorrow there will be jobs and classes.  Tomorrow, there will be seaweed, and crabs, and even lightning.  Tomorrow, it could all be gone like the blueberries.

So, today we stay longer.  Then get ice cream.