Nantucket Essays

Our Roots

by Robert P. Barsanti

Nantucket beaches peak around two o’clock in the afternoon. The long time readers and surfers have been on the beach since eleven, their tent-cities are well established, and at last one three-foot deep sand pit has been dug. Perhaps, if there are young children involved, a sand flea circus is practicing inside a yogurt cup. The dipping visitors show up right around then, slide off into the waves for some relaxation, nap briefly on the sand, and then drift home for supper or cocktails; whichever gets more table space. Finally, the dining crowd begins to settle in. The grills come out, the coolers are placed and the beer coozie perimeter is established.

By three, the long time readers have folded up the pavilions and headed for home. By four, the clambakes are just starting to get going and attendance is taken. By seven, in the burning glow of a July sunset, the beach is empty.

All of us live in luxury. For the rest of New England and, probably, America, no swimmer can treat a day at the beach with the same sort of casual pleasure. I spend a lazy morning with the coffee and the paper, then head to town for one reason or another, pick up a son or two around noon, and wander onto a beach for a few hours. Twenty minutes after leaving the water, I sit in the chair, watch the waves gang tackle the heirs and wonder why we didn’t come out to the beach around ten in the morning. Then, an hour and a half later, we leave for ice cream. We spend our days wrapped in sandy luxury, so common and so rich, that we don’t even notice it anymore. Summer like summer, coming back every year.

So far this summer, the greatest threats to our well-being have been seals, sunfish, and sunburns. The traffic hasn’t clogged the entire downtown, the crowds are avoidable, and the corn is sweet. It has been a great summer for everything that doesn’t have roots.

If you have roots, it’s been a tough couple of months. This sunburn summer has roasted and broiled the trees and bushes of the island. The hydrangea start the morning popping up with hope, but have droopeddown by coffee break. The blueberries have the taste and juiciness of BB’s. Even the garden tomatoes only grow to the size of tennis balls.

Tomato plants and corn stalks aren’t the only ones with roots. We stand still and are anchored by our roots which reach deep into a familiar soil. These roots are our familiar beliefs. They are the
patterns that connect us to the island. We swim at two, we have ice cream in the early evening,
and we sleep under the waltzing stars. We cling to the soil and to the world that we know right

Because we are rooted, because we stand in one place, we can’t evaluate anything else. Spend a summer on Nantucket, and you forget about all of those people get up at six in the morning and head east on 128 to get to Good Harbor Beach before the parking lots fill up. You never learn about the residency requirements in order to swim at Lucy Vincent Beach nor do you have to walk two miles to get to Singing Sands. Our roots blind us; we mistake our luxuries for everyone’s.

Our good fortune may come at a price. If the climate has changed, it seems to be treating the gardens and golf courses of the plutocrats pretty well. This year may be the best summer Nantucket has ever had. Nonetheless we are getting more crazy weather than we did in the last hundred years. Water spouts land off Chatham and tornadoes threaten Boston. A Halloween snow storm drops three feet of snow on Connecticut right after a September hurricane drops three feet of rain on Vermont. As a kid, I followed on TV the one lonely seal that swam down from Maine to the Aquarium. Now, we have dozens at Great Point, as well as the sharks that feed on them. The ocean water is bath warm, the fog has been a shadow, and the sunsets are spectacular.

This drought will eventually break with two days of jigsaw puzzle solving rain. The novels will come out of the beach bag and land on the sofa, the video games will poke out, and everyone will try to take their kids to the movie at three. Then, the hydrangea will perk up, the tomatoes will swell, and the grass will finally green.

We live at the end of the line. Our roots are sunk into sand twenty five miles out to sea. Our days are bright gifts, not ordinary contributions. Very few people get to sit at Jetties Beach and watch the sunset or ride the wave from the sandbar at Nobadeer. We can’t think that our lives are ordinary when we can drop into a deserted beach at two in the afternoon in a heat wave.

At the same time, we also can’t believe that this great repeating summer will keep rolling. A summer that sends tornados to Cape Cod does not mean well. Seals, sharks, and sunfish haven’t swum in the water off Surfside for a long time, yet here they are. Another year will come when all of this goes away in one great fire or one great flood. Or one great yawn in an empty store.

Today, feel your roots. Dig them into the sand and sink them up to your ankles. Watch the warm water roll in. Look to the fair weather clouds rolling overhead. Then, afterwards, go have ice cream.

Just because it won’t last forever doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy it now.

Articles by Date from 2012