Season of Sticks
Nantucket Essays

Season of the Stick

~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~

The wind builds. I stand at the door, over a mug of Pumpkin Spice coffee and the birches are clattering together, the clouds tumble overhead, and an uncomfortable and expensive whistle rises from the sliding doors on the porch. My Boon Companion stands on alert at the glass, ears twitching and tail wagging. Somewhere out there, hidden from my view, a doe was looking in at the windows and, within his eyes, the dog was looking back in a timeless stare. His nose steamed the interfering glass. He whined and glanced at me, then back into the high grass. Ten thousand years of hunting held off by a quarter inch of glass. The deer, saved by the grace of the twenty-first century, bounded away to spread his ticks and genes through another decade or so.

The season of the stick has settled upon us. The lies and leaves have fallen and left us in black and gray sticks. Winter has no shade to cover us, no leaves to buffer the wind, no sun to warm us. Time has settled to a geologic pace; it clicks by in raw gusts and rolling waves. On-island, the snow
interrupts the clicking of time, if it comes at all. Instead, winter blows by in the great metronome of swaying sticks.

My Boon Companion pulls me out of the modern and into the past; we drive to Cisco and park by Reedy Pond and the Smooth Hummocks. The grass and bracken has burned to black. Free from his leash, he hears the call of the ages and bolts down the road and over the dune. I shamble along behind. Minutes later, I find him standing triumphant with a dead gull in his mouth. His eyes shine, his tail wags and he comes trotting to me with nothing but carnivorous pride.

Perhaps there may come a time when I will need my Boon Companion to find me something chewy for our survival, as we once relied on his ancient forebears. But for this moment while the twenty-first century prevents me from plucking the carcass, I still have salami. I pull out two slices and roll them in a tube. Confused, he looks to me and drops his prize. I toss the salami into the air and he bounds ten yards down the beach after it. Using trash from the dunes, I pick up the remains of Jonathan Livingston and toss it into a retreating wave for a quiet funeral. His ancient enemy has become distracted by a blowing water bottle and has taken chase.

The wind blows the waves in. It picks up an eddy of sand and flings it at my back and hair, second after second, minute after minute. Months ago, the shore was a beach, lined with towels, chairs, and surfboards. It may as well have had shipwrecks and the walking Shore Guard. But that time has passed and all that remains is sand, wind, and water.

And sky. Light spreads out over the ocean. Clouds form over the water and then blow over in the northerly wind. The light paints one side gold, the other purple, and it passes into shadow and out to the horizon. At four o’-clock in the afternoon, Nature’s last green is gold. The setting sun casts glowing shadows and purple glows as time continues to click by. At the last moment, the sky explodes in inhuman color and the wind picks up. A broken fingernail of a moon hangs over an eternal sea, glowing brighter and brighter as the sun sinks lower and lower. Then, the gold drains from the sky, the clouds dissipate over a cooling sea, and stars begin to fall like snow.

Out here, the stars coalesce into constellations. Orion throws one leg over the eastern horizon, then hitches himself higher in the sky. In the moonless dark of an early winter evening, even the bright stars of Orion fade into the crowd of other unnamed stars. The ocean still rolls, the wind blows, the stars move across the sky and we are still here, for a moment, to witness eternity.

We walk with the infinite. Nothing lasts out here, not laws, nor houses, nor names. For the rest of the civilized world, lit up by Instagram and Twitter, the world passes through mirror upon mirror, audience after audience, in a flurry of polite claps and some kind people standing for an ovation. At the edge of the continent, one step from the watery dark, the electric audience disappears into static. In the season of sticks, there is only a relentless beat, a tempo, a pulse of time clicking away.

The infinite gets tiresome. And cold. So I bring the Boon Companion back for a bowl of acceptable kibble, a squeaky hedgehog, and a comfortable chair in a warm and whistling house, then leave him there for a November football game. Without the rush of tourists, the island measures its days in visiting teams: either we are sending some team off or some other team is poking around the closed windows downtown waiting for the boat Or they are playing.

I have reached an age when going to the football game is less about the game and more about the stands. If you live in one place long enough, the generations build, swell, and subside. We sit in the stands like seaweed on the beach. The students are now the parents and their children are now the students. And they all wave.

“How are things?”

“You good?”

“Good to see you, man.”

Out on the field, they run a dive left. They run a option. They run a counter and get a first down. The team looms over their seasick opponents. They lead by four touchdowns. Now five.

The starters have taken their helmets off. They stand as their fathers stood, hands in their pants, backs to the wind, enjoying their time under the lights. Away from the dark, we measure our lives in children; in starting guns, opening acts, and encores. Time can click by behind us. We stand with our backs to the wind, watching the children play.

Articles by Date from 2012