Orion Departing | Nantucket Essay
Nantucket Essays

Orion Departing

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

I have walked passed the snow shovels for weeks. One of them dates back into the eighties, when you could sell shovels that had a teflon coating and would hold pounds of snow; a shovel for the young man who scorned the Nautilus machines from the sweaty, mirrored corner of the gym. The other had arrived in the last few years, a shovel of plastic and middle-age, with an oddly placed handle for throwing the snow without twisting a back. Our one storm this winter threatened feet but left only wet inches. The new shovel brushed aside the wet snow that the plow had piled while his older, sturdier, and grumpier brother leaned against the side of the house and spit. Both of them spent most of their winter days standing and waiting, like DPW workers around a pothole.

Another year has crept upon us. The last of the New England storms have gone spinning out to sea far to our east leaving the island swept in cold, clear, Canadian air. I spent one afternoon glancing out at the bright sun on the gray branches as they twitched in the throes of the season. Winter still kept me inside, like an overprotective parent. It was still too cold. It would rain in the afternoon. You hadn’t finished that book yet. You had other work to do. And so the last year remained trapped inside.

Or preserved inside, as if in amber. A very long time ago, in the midst of another winter, one of my colleagues referred to his daytime routine as the Bermuda Triangle. He left the house to go to work in the dark, then left work, again in the dark, headed to the grocery store (or Orange Street Video), and returned to the house and the sofa. Familiarity breeds comfort. Everything stays the same if you keep to the same streets under the same stars. The dead still walk among us, patting our hands and smiling.

The stars have moved, however. While my snow shovels maintain their vigil and the hedges and brush sway in the cold air, Orion has shifted far to the west. When I leave the house, and the past, with my trash, I see the old hunter bidding me farewell over the horizon as he heads into someone else’s winter.

The deer have crept up as well. The season has warmed them and brought them out to chew on the green and the juicy in the backyard. They stare at me in blank and uncomprehending glares, as if I were a pick-up truck bearing down on them on the road. I make a lunge at them, but they stay right where they are. The only animals who have filled out the island more than the contractors and realtors are deer, ticks, and seals. We work hard making this island a better place for the deer to graze and breed. Long after the last mahogany banister has warped and rotted and the Belgian block driveway has worn down to thousand dollar sand, there will be deer stepping through the hedges to chew on the leftover bark of imported magnolias and wild arugula.

The season changes with a slow and vegetative power, pushing through the pleasant torpor of a long gray winter with the fierce insistence of yellow. The daffodils follow the crocuses, opening the door for the forsythia, the tulips, and the summer. They have shoved through the brown grass and the gray fallen branches with staccato bursts. And it’s spring. Ready or not.

We emerge into a Nantucket Spring, which is unlike the season that most of the world knows. A Nantucket Spring wears polar fleece and runs the windshield wipers through the fog. It shakes the mud off of its work boots and looks out at the looming blue wall on the horizon. The season sings on cellphones, with calls coming in from 860, 212, and 617 area codes and going direct to voice mail. We paint the days in a light brown; the fresh look of newly installed cedar shingles, the newly dug sand of a fresh foundation, and the tint of four by fours holding up another viewing stand for the realtors; “your master bedroom will look out here and capture the sound like this…”

Dreams bloom as lushly as the daffodils. The island, it appears, needs more carpenters and more landscapers; more bakers and more bartenders. You can’t throw a brick without hitting a ten dollar sandwich or a fifteen dollar cocktail. Bright new pickups trucks line up for coffee and a shiny minivan taxis, without dents, scratches, or odors, stand ready at the ferry docks. Every boat brings new dreams, and they all have haircuts, handshakes, and hammers.

On Saturday, the wind died, the fog stayed away, and summer peered in and touched seventy. The hedges burned green, as did all of the skeletal backyard branches in the slow vernal fire. Last year slowly was consumed, one shoot at a time, one sign at a time, one life at a time. We hold it in our hearts and in our minds, then watch it pace away, over the western horizon.

The new year is quick within and without. The island hums and wiggles with a new start. The time for wide shovels is over. Now, we need rakes and mowers, wheelbarrows and spades. It bursts out in sap and song, in fire and flower, and the same hills and paths fill with a renewed life. Soon, we will be in t-shirts and shorts, cursing Buchholz and hoping for Papi under the new sun. The routes change and the triangle fades into ice cream, beaches, and job sites.

On that same warm Saturday, I stopped by Cisco Beach for the first time in the new year. Out on the water, a kite surfer skipped over the waves. He caught the bare edge of control, just at the top of an incoming breaker, and then rode high into the wind, only to settle far out to sea on another wave. He kept skipping back and forth, between the crush of the surf and the freedom of the gust. As the sun set and a faint full moon rose in the east, he kept racing at the edge of time.

Articles by Date from 2012