September Silence
Nantucket Essays

The Silence of September

by Robert P. Barsanti

The radio rolled out with Presidential shenanigans, a new iPhone in California, and an update on the latest hurricane before it muttered out the September “Beach and Boating Forecast” and the tides for the day. Then I shut it off. Instead of the radio and the traffic, the open window offered a thick slice of silence.

Far off in the distance, the waves crashed on the south shore and a school bus drove up the Madaket Road. Otherwise, God had nothing to say. In the quiet of an empty morning, the cleaning began. The summer ends when you feel sand in the carpets. We vacuumed it up as best we could and then swept out the kitchen. The toothpicks, the bottle tops, the golf tees (from the birthday cake) emerged from under the cabinets. Beneath the sofas, Green Lantern and Superman returned from years of imprisonment only to find that their time had also gone. We lined them up on the counter like boys at a dance, but no one picked them up. The world had turned to phones and controllers and games that roared. Nonetheless, they couldn’t be thrown out. Nor could the sand dollars go. Instead, we lined them up on the top shelf and hoped that they would last through the winter.

Eventually, we filled the back of the car and drove down an empty Madaket road to the dump. The starlings had returned in battalions, only to settle onto the powerlines like guardian angels. The swans were also back, cruising through Great Pond.

Summer also ends at the dump. It ends with a loaded car full of trash and recyclables that have been building up in the basement and in the garage for the summer and now must be gone through. The beer bottles, the wine bottles, and the rum bottles (because we drank Dark & Stormys this year) go shattering into the bin. The complete summer set of Inquirer and Mirrors and Sunday New York Times, flutter down the paper slide. Three bags of plastic bottles, take out boxes, and plastic cups disappear, as do the pizza boxes and the UPS shipping containers.

Then it was gone. We stood at the back of an open car and talked about the Land Bank with the workers. They wanted to plant trees on Easy Street— just crazy. Then, the boys ran to “Take It or Leave It.”

My great challenge is not the second part, but the first. I can drop off the boys’ toys and some old shirts that have shrunken pretty easily, but I have a hard time getting past the books.

I am sure that I will live forever because I can’t possibly die while I still have another fifty books to read. These days, they sit in an old L.L. Bean bag in the bed of the truck, since I can’t bring them inside with all of the other unread books. Soon, I suspect, the springs will break and the back of the truck will be dragged down by waterlogged spy novels and naval histories. Today, however, I had to pick up a thin cookbook. Now, if there is anything I need less than a left handed wrench and the collected poetry of Tom Clancy, it would be a cookbook.

But the dump yielded a book given to me in my first month on island, by the writer herself: A Cook’s Tour of Nantucket. Fred and Sue Vallet were among the first people to accept my postdated rent checks. Her “Cook’s Tour” has a wide range of recipes that use Ritz Crackers, Cool Whip, and pickle juice, but they all work well. One of the best long forgotten recipes is a 22 ingredient seafood salad from Goldie Rogerson.

Some people go through photo albums and relive their golden childhoods. I have cookbooks. My mother left me her treasured Campbell Soup cookbook, my uncle bequeathed Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and ten years of Gourmet magazine. My mother-in-law handed off a set of recipes along with an offer to teach me how to cook her favorite dishes the RIGHT way. Everyone has a dish or a dessert that can be breathed back to life, cooled on a rack, and frosted.

Out in ‘Sconset, the market is closing for the year. Usually, I discover too late that the market is closed by a freshly painted “Gone Fishing” sign. This time, I made it in time for the “Filene’s Basement Half Off Everything” sale. Dazed Sconset men wandered the aisles shouting questions to their wives: “Honey do we need more fig infused olive oil?” or “The beach toys are for sale. Should we get the Christmas presents now?” The award winner came from a mother of the bride who had twenty Sconset t-shirts in her hands because they would make “great gifts for the wedding party.” Sadly, she could not put them on her house charge. I was able to escape with a Market bag, olive oil, some saffron, cashews, and a package of Oreos. A good haul. We drove the Polpis Road back to town. The Jeeps, the Suburbans, and the Hummers were away for the winter. As were the golfers. On a day given to Billionaires and Brides, Sankaty was still.

September stands silent. The crowds have gone from the Stop and Shop and the Juice Bar. The firemen can put away their traffic cones. The boats are going back to the Bahamas or to storage, whichever is cheaper. The cars on Main Street just got a lot older. Nonetheless, you can stand next to the Hydrangea truck and see nothing move but the clouds and shadows. The Grace of God has nothing to say.

The island has space again. The sidewalks and bike-paths are filled with nothing but leaves. The rotary sits empty for minutes at a time. Sanford Farm, Tuppancy, and Sankaty have slipped back into a world without men. You walk them in silence as in a cathedral. Find Nantucket Hotels at

Articles by Date from 2012