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Noise and Song: the Sounds of Spring on Nantucket

by Robert P. Barsanti

Spring is loud.

Winter has its silence. Snow, of course, when it falls, hushes the landscape in a cascade of white noise. The winds will howl, the wires will moan, and in the distance the waves will crash. But as the storm passes, the silence rises out of the ice and frost.

I have spent the last two years in an extended winter. Oh, we would go to the beach or work on a roof or buy some hamburger at the store, but every trip outside of the bubble required protection and a pass. We masked up, separated ourselves, and returned to the warm support of the sofa. Out here, in the winter, the isolation vacation slipped over us easily. Sliding a pane or two of glass between the world wasn’t difficult.

But Spring comes.

It arrives with noise and song. At night, as Orion slips over the Vineyard, Connecticut, and points west, the frogs bark out lusty peeps. The deer, hungry for the new shoots of hedge and garden, step out of the froggy dark. The bunnies follow with suicidal lunges into the headlights.

By dawn, the birds take up their own lusty ballads, while the peepers slip into silence in the rising brightness. The crows, the cardinals, the red wing blackbirds, the chickadees, and the swifts all set about their romantic calls, as if each one was singing his species’ version of the “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.”

On the new Nantucket, some restaurants have opened long before Daffy days. Our weekends are full of visitors: they wish to walk the beach, poke about in the moors, or beat remorseless into the wind on a bike. Others are coming for one of the few weekends when they can actually stay in their own house before the rental season, now poking into April and May, sends them off-island with checks and shopping lists.

The neighbors have come. I would say that they are early, but they don’t see the same schedule. The prep for the summer once began around Memorial Day. But, as the great engines of commerce have been engaged on God’s Favorite Sandbar, the old schedules have faded into the old newspapers. They are cleaning for the spring, eliminating the spiders, hiding the mouse turds, and blowing the leaves away with a hundred decibel hose and backpack. Guests and renters will follow shortly, followed by Instagram followers and TikTok dancers.

For an old man, April is the cruelest month. The dark of winter forces you back into the familiar warmth of your eternal and unchanging indoor life. But Spring calls you to a world that has evolved past you, waved, and turned into Cisco Brewers. The old vistas and views have been interrupted by plywood and cedar shingles.

In between storms, the workers come off the Cape and pick up the saws and nail guns. Houses are lifted, spun, then expanded, just as they have always been. For an old man, each new construction is a landmark obscured. The winter calls back to us, promising to unwind the changes of money and time.

Nonetheless, Spring announces itself, over and over again, note after note. Every sunset comes later and later, every dawn comes earlier and earlier. The daffodils and crocuses have pushed their way out of the familiar dark and have opened onto a gray world of mud, clouds, and delicious puddles.

The great engine of spring has lit the green fuse once again. The multiplication of the years and the buds bursts forth with twice as many daffodils this year, but only half as many as next year. They shove through the gray hedge, pop up in the dark puddles, and overwhelm the careful beds that they had been placed and arranged in. In our backyard, one tossed daffodil from ten years ago, has multiplied into a small yellow troop blooming underneath the blackberry hedge and scrub oaks. Beyond the careful landscaping and over the piles of waste grass and leaves, Spring pushes out yellow and green.

They have engulfed us and their weekend: we might as well have a Daffodil month now. They line the roads, flood the yards, and punctuate the spring in one long fertile ellipsis. The only salvation from the burgeoning yellow life come from the daffodils’ only natural predator on Nantucket, the road crew.

Life beguiles us and draws out of out pandemic sealed homes and personalities. In a warm southern wind, the rooster tails sail across the sky, and the daffodils nod. After long isolation and silence, the croaking and singing push of life nudges us on, without our masks, our social distance, and our doubts and suspicions. The world melts and we stand in the fecund mud, watching another yellow bud burst.

On the Sunday boat, I looked up from a book and beyond my earphones to a swelling bloom of young lacrosse players. They clumped together, stared at pictures, drank seltzer water, then burped and laughed and burped again. In sneakers and socks and tights and hats and yellow tank tops with a picture of the island and a lacrosse stick, they nudge, poke, and wiggle into tight corners. Eight of them circle the end of one table, then a three-inch high stack of UNO cards comes out and the game commences. They bark, they shout, they laugh, and the bubbling sap of noise spills along the floor of the boat until we are stuck in it. Amid the noisy slapping, we watch another clump of flowers bloom in the spring.

In the end, we make way. Spring will shove us aside, no matter what rules we make or what careful gardens we shape. It stands before us, with a laughing, triumphant, yawp of “Uno!”

Articles by Date from 2012