by Robert P. Barsanti
I miss snow days on Nantucket.
If you let it, winter on-island can get bleak. I have let that happen. I have gone out in the dark and come back in the dark. I have driven the triangle of death (Home-Work-Store-Home) even when it included a stop at Orange Street Video. I have marched through winter and have glimpsed the spring in snow covered daffodils, and I regret it all.
Snow days interrupt the March. Snow days forced me to cease the trudge around the triangle and stop on the doorstep to see the snow (and find the shovel).
Snow is rare on-island, and it has become rarer. The daffodils of March have come for a reason, the same reason that has eliminated snow days. The ocean is warmer than it has been in the last century, and, with that warmer ocean, the great force field that protects Nantucket from Currier and Ives scenes has grown stronger. I don’t believe we have seen our last snow day, but I don’t believe we will see another winter when we miss almost every Monday in January and February due to snow.
Which is a shame. It costs 150% to live out here, meaning you have to work 150% harder than you would on the mainland in order to have food in the refrigerator, gas in the tank, and heat in the bedroom. Three jobs is just about enough; the old stories of waiters and carpenters going on unemployment for the winter have descended into the dust of history with whaleboats and sheep shearing. Anyone who only works a forty-hour week, in any month, has someone else writing them checks.
A good snow storm ends that ten-hour day. The boats won’t run, the schools are closed, and the roads won’t get plowed (if the D.P.W. even has a plow anymore). You’re stuck. Or, in another view, unstuck. Now, you have time to play with the kids, or watch “Wednesday,” or disappear in your workshop and rebuild that outboard engine you have been meaning to work on.
When the boys were young, we would take them sledding in different corners of Nantucket. There is a gentle slope tucked into the Land Bank land in Miacomet that gave a gentle ride to elementary school students. Older and more daring kids could slide down the hills (and graves) of the Quaker Cemetery, if you can beat the melt. One of my children went spinning down the slope on a tube, hit some ice, and went skidding out onto a snowy road. Like any good father, I took pictures, and recovered him later.
The Kitzbuhel of Nantucket is raced at Dead Horse Valley. Dead Horse has a legitimate narrow and steep chute that spills out in view of the Emergency Room. When snow was more plentiful and snow days more frequent, most of the high school would show up with tubes, toboggans, and large scabs of cardboard. Jumps would be created. Excitement blossomed and injuries sprouted. At one point, the sheriff considered snow guns for the run.
I thought the idea ridiculous at the time, but now I am not sure. Oh, I don’t think Nantucket gets cold enough, generally, to make snow, nor does it stay cold enough to keep it. However, the idea of getting a bunch of kids (and adults) together to slide and injure themselves is not bad.
The twenty-first century has made Nantucket (though not necessarily Nantucketers) rich. Summer visitors can reserve a room on an app, come over on a high-speed boat, and eat the same sushi they would have enjoyed in Manhattan or in Greenwich. We don’t have brown-outs and black-outs all spring, we can get milk all the time, and we get all of the channels that the TVs get on the mainland. But, we left cribbage behind. And the Odd Fellows. And the spelling bee.
In the winter, Nantucket once had a variety of quiet groups and habits that got people together: they played cards, enjoyed a cold beverage, and gossiped. The Pacific Club, although long since gone, had set a standard for idleness and hanging out. In more recent times, we got together for spelling bees and all night readings of Moby-Dick. Nothing soothes the soul quite like reading “Fast Fish, Loose Fish” at three in the morning to twenty knitters. We don’t hang out anymore.
Thirty years ago, to great effect, Robert Putnam wrote about the declining social capital of the United States in his book Bowling Alone. He cited the decline in membership in groups like Kiwanis, the League of Women Voters, the Masons, and Unions. In losing all of these clubs and organizations, he pointed out that we were losing community. He didn’t even know about Preston’s.
During the last thirty years, we replaced bowling alleys with Facebook. Our phones suck us into their limelight. Once there, the dopamine hits keep us running through Tower Defense and Tik-Tok until we look up at the clock, alone on the sofa, in the dark. On average, we spend three hours and fifteen minutes on our phones each day. We pick it up and check in with our best friend 58 times a day.
Phones are not the only curse in the twenty-first century. We have slipped in all sorts of solitary pleasures that rob us of time with the Odd Fellows. Without others, our lives devolve into that triangle of death. The only difference between my March around the triangle in 1993 and 2023 is Orange Street Video and Twitter. I would rather get yelled at for stupid movie choices than spend another half hour doom scrolling. Yet…
I need a snow day from my phone. I need to let the e-mails sit unanswered, allow the alerts to go dim, and ignore the vibrations. Instead, perhaps, I should pick up knitting and head to a former bakery and trade patterns. It would keep both of my hands busy, get me out of the rut, and keep me up-to-date on the “T.”