Nantucket Essays

Hope Dies in March on Nantucket

•   by Robert P. Barsanti   •  

After the storm, we sat outside at the brewery.  Cribbage was being played, the dogs were scampering and the sky had more rain in it.  Heavy waves ground up the south shore and the overcast skittered.

“He doesn’t talk to me.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know.  He just doesn’t.”
The dog lay his muzzle on her knee.  She stroked his head with one hand and smoked  with the other.
“It’s March.”
We nodded.
The dog led her out the gate shortly afterwards.

After four days of storm, the fun fades, as do the diapers, the cat food, and the milk.  At first, the wind and the waves put on a show.  Nature has become entertaining as it whips the island into submission.  The clouds whip over head, the power lines moan, and the rain fires at the walls.  No snow days this time, but make sure you hold your third grader when she walks to the car.  But by the fourth day, when sand continues to rattle the windows and the refrigerator shows off its back wall, the party ends.

It’s not much more fun over in Hyannis.  Heidi at the Hy-Line knows your voice now.  She sounds sympathetic when she call to let you know, again, that the 3:15 has been cancelled and they don’t know when the next one will go.  The hotel is stale and expensive.  Your clothes smell like french fries and duck sauce.  You can’t walk the mall anymore and you have tried all four flavors of syrup at the IHOP.  There is cable and there is the pool and there is the outstanding Sturgis library and there is another night on the credit card.

It’s March.

Hope dies in March, as does Faith and Charity.  The greatest of these, Love, is keeping her head down and not speaking out much.  She understands what it means to have the kids indoors, the wind blowing, and daffodils getting the jump on May by two months.

I soothe the eternal November in my soul with food and drink.  But there are no curly fries, no doughnuts, no Elbow Benders, no Madaket Mysteries, no wing night and two-for-one dinners.   The modern and efficient corporate world has robbed us of these small pleasures.  Instead, I walk downtown for fast food and the pharmacy.  The menu has been committed to memory; now we track the delivery trucks.  We know when the new cookies are coming in.  Except, in this wind, there have been no trucks.

Out on the beach, the ocean has left body bags of twigs and coir.  They lie on the sand at Cisco and wait for the Gods of the Underworld to come back from vacation and take them downstairs.  The sun flashes in and out of the gray, the wind whips the sand, and August seems a lie.  Although, just to tease us, a long, gentle sand bar has built up in the 44 degree water.  The perfect left hand break for seals.

After the storm, the death and destruction tour begins.  We go to the familiar places and photograph the changes.  We trespass with impunity and steal the million dollar views.  In the silent windows, the ocean continues to send waves down from the North.  Our hearts should reach out to the homeowners perched on the bluff, but we are too bored, too annoyed, and too malevolent.  If we could get enough people together to push the houses over, we would.  That would finally be exciting.  Then we would take pictures and send them out to our friends.

The beaches have been scraped and rebuilt into odd shapes.  They slope down to the still thunderous sea or they drop down a three foot cliff.  The high tide line has reached incomprehensible heights in the dunes.  In the dunes of Quidnet, a thief’s collection of mermaid’s purses lay tangled in the eelgrass.  A sippy cup and a flip flop came back from the summer.  Otherwise, the high tide line displays several of mankind’s eternal gifts to the planet; water bottles, a beer can, and five range balls.

We walk for our entertainment.  Trash frost the edges of the roads; we scuff our feet in the road sand.  We would go whaling, if it would be warmer than this.  Scarves, coats, hoods, thermals, and thick woolen hats as we walk for miles.  Out here in the air, it’s too cold to talk.  If any words could come out, the wind would fling them away.  Instead, we nod at each other and let the dogs trot in front of us.  It is the least we can do.

In the late afternoon, in the twenty minutes before sunset, the brown grass and brown sand burst into gold.  The Old Squaw fly to the horizon and a moment appears when you can capture the sunset in its purple majesty.  Then, one photo later, a starless night descends.

The dogs save us from murder.  They poke their heads out of the windows in the lingering sunlight.  They run on the beach and they sniff at strangers; they are the better halves of our nature.  Warm noses and bright eyes beg forgiveness from strangers; “He’s not really like this.  It’s just March.”  They pull us off the couch and away from the “On Demand” button, then send us walking into the wind.  We take staggering steps after them at Tuppancy Links and the air soaks through the polar fleece and wool to find skin and pores.  Back in the living room, the dogs want to scratch us.  I look at his sad face and repeat, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

In March, the dogs take us everywhere.  They sit in the car while you pick up another pizza or while you bounce a check to Stop and Shop.  They sit with you at the job site and the trot along beside you when you pick up the bills and junk.  Out on the walk, they nose the remaining snow deep in the brush, then try and tug the world into summer.

And, on an afternoon when the wind shifts to the southwest, spring appears.  The sun breaks through the overcast and the song birds sing again.  The crocuses might survive this last storm, the peepers are whispering, and even the Sox seem to be playing well in the Grapefruit League.  You finally agree to play slobber ball with the dog at the beach if he will agree to sit for another porter at the brewery.

Time is short before the clouds return from November to smother May in her crib.


Articles by Date from 2012