Nantucket Essays


by Robert P. Barsanti

The storm dropped a period on the summer.

It stopped the Opera House Cup. It grounded the Rainbow Fleet. It closed the harbor. All across the world, as Jim Cantore got excited and the cone tightened, people watched the storm take aim at Nantucket.

Out here, the boats got dragged out of the water and sat on trailers in yards. Some would slip back in the water, ready to decorate another paragraph or two until October. But most would be shrouded in plastic, stored, and regretted when the wind turns and the sun emerges in September. Sooner or later, the summer will end in a period.

Plans and calls were made. Nobody was leaving early, but nobody was staying late. The coach’s whistles were blowing somewhere, far and wee, and Saorise and Stanley came running from the tee shirt stores and life guard stands, back to the fields of Middlesex and UNH. They leapt to their next paragraph as if this writing could be edited and rewritten sometime later.

Nothing costs more than time: it is the luxury of August. And we spend it on interest rate changes, subscription fees and tolls when what we would really like to spend it on is another sentence or two on-island. The bill comes due around Brant Point, when you have paid for the last of your time and you have to figure out what’s next. As my old departed department head often said to me, “The boat comes around Brant Point, and it goes around Brant Point.” So it does.

In the day before the storm, the boys and I waited for it on the South Shore. The water was warm, tossed, and dotted with jellyfish. We swam in the churn, survived the stings, and went back to reading on the beach. As is our habit, we stayed late on the sand as one group of beachgoers went home for showers and burgers and another group came out for barbecues and a sunset.

After a moment, the Ladies sat next to us. They were women of a certain age, with big straw hats and comfortable shoes. They circled around a cooler, pulled out a brick of cheddar cheese, a box of Triscuits, and a large bottle of Chardonnay.

In the approach to the storm, puffs of fog stumbled overhead underneath the long streaks of cloud far above. Towards the west, a frame of purple rose from the horizon, while to the east, a frame of white held the end-of-day sun. By this point, the surf had defeated all of the surfers, children, and fathers who needed one last dip. Instead, it rolled in four lines up to a much diminished beach and ticked the seconds away. One wave came within five feet of our position. The next crept closer. So we left.

The Ladies stayed. They backed their chairs up, pulled their sweatshirts close, and refilled their glasses. If you have paid for the luxury of August, there is no reward for leaving before the wine runs out. One of my young men volunteered to take their picture for them, and the moment was saved. We slipped behind them, begged their pardon, and emerged on top of a bluff.

On one boat or another, they would slip out before the storm and head back to careers, family, and e-mail that had been patiently waiting in an uncomfortable chair. Another paragraph would roll by, and then another. The punctuation will pile up. But sitting in their memories, shared with their friends, and saved on a lock screen, that picture stretched out into their future.

Which is what a souvenir is, after all. As the story grows grim and gray, so you slip back home when you were all together, on the beach, with wine and crackers. Everyone needs something to take from Nantucket because Winter, grim and gray, is coming.

I suppose you take what you value. I would love for people to have holy moments on their phone that will light and warm them through the winter. However, someone will want a t-shirt that will be the envy of his Hot Yoga studio, someone else want a quahog shell for an ashtray, and some idiot will take the “Stone Alley” sign.

My mother loved to take sand. Whenever she would come to the island, she would take a moment on one of the beaches and walk a few hundred yards out into the sand. Then, she would bend over, scoop up a handful of sand, deposit it into a zip lock bag as if she was dropping in candies. After she died, we found fifteen bags, labeled with the date and the beach, in her classroom. I don’t think they were for student labs.

We all take something with us. The waiters and sandwich makers, in an evening away from the playing fields, will tell and re-tell about their summers on Nobadeer. The ladies will think about the approaching hurricane and re-drink that wine. In their words and in their cups, they will come home.

For another, the souvenir came on a last backward glance at a building brown ocean, framed by waves of beach grass, and the rolling puffs of fog tumbling overhead in the last golden glow of a setting sun.

Once you have slept on an island, you will never be quite the same. In the cold silence, you will hear the roll of the surf. In the dust, you will smell the salt spray. In the January gust, you will feel the August wind off the waves.

In the dark and lonely quiet of wherever you are, you will remember where you are not. Home is not where your bills are addressed and it’s not where you are from. Home is the first place you check the weather. Home is the place you want to be. And your souvenir will take you there.

Articles by Date from 2012