To Be a Nantucketer

by Robert P. Barsanti

The land forgets.

It will forget the children that ran on it. It will forget the builders who put up the summer house. It will forget the golfers driving over the rise and watching their balls roll down the fifth fairway. Eventually, even, it will forget the golf balls lost in the scrub pine and brush. The land forgot the Wisconsin Glacier, the Wampanoag hunters, the farmers, the fishermen, and the lifesavers. The ocean forgets the land.

In October, people are leaving. They leave for the winter, they leave for a job, they leave for school. But they leave, time twists around on itself, and they are flung into a more solid life of rock and oak. They won’t forget.

I sat on the gadgetless grass under a blue Sunday sky, at the edge of the bluffs. Sometime back in the 1880s, when ‘Sconset Bluff was the edge of a farm, 25 yards of it skidded into the Atlantic. Should that happen this winter, Baxter Road, a dozen houses, and four file cabinets of legal filings would be forgotten in a rolling brown surf. Amid Instagram videos, Jim Cantore live shots, and artisanal debris washed up on Low Beach, the island will remain.

These days, when I come out here, I look west, over the golf course, the moors, and to the spires of town. The land is written in pencil, not pen. It gets erased, reconsidered, and redrawn before it is erased again. Even in my small time, this view has grown houses, deep forests of scrub oak and pine, and sand roads. The edges are sketched rough and gray, the few lines bend and warp.

The golfers have dwindled as the days have shortened. A foursome in two carts have paused at the fifth tee, hit their shots, and are rolling under the sunshine. They zip across the grass like deer, dart in and out of the high grass, pause for a moment, and then move on. I have loved the purposelessness of golf. Golf adheres to the laws of physics, but also to the rules of old men. The white balls rise, fall, and roll, but everything else seems created in a treehouse. What if I hit 2 balls? What if I just kick the ball around? What if I don’t hit any?

The true rules of golf are the rules of consideration. At this time of year, we know each other and we are known. I do not want to leave this stretch of grass, this hole, in worse shape than when I found it from the gang in front of me. I will replace my divots, I won’t hit into people, and I will place the rake in such a way so that it might stop an errant shot from going into the sand. My amusement will not hinder your amusement. Cooperation is encouraged. I will look for your lost golf ball, I will tend the flag so you can putt, I will retrieve your sand wedge from the green side bunker on the second hole. If at the end of the day, I have won or lost a dollar, what does it matter? In this fleeting now on the forgetting land, the bright October day could be worse spent than together on a golf course.

The island reveals itself in October. The leaves fall, the moors redden, and the beaches empty. Without the shrouds of leaves and the late summer sun, our lit windows entertain the street. The crowds no longer hide us; we can no longer shop happily. It is Just Us. We look for our living in the common world, and we need stock-boys, dishwashers, and house cleaners.

Who we are cannot be separated from where we are from. We are the golfers on the land that will forget us, beside an incomprehensible ocean. We live in the flash, in the moment of grace given to dry sand. Unlike those from hills and mountains, we have seen the world dissolve into water or get bought and broken by dollars. To us, the permanence blows wet and cold.

To be a Nantucketer is to be connected, to be known, and to be remembered. Not always for the good and not always for the bad. We cling to each other in the weekday weather. To be a Nantucketer is to be known for mundane myth and rare history. This was the guy who swam across the harbor so the cops wouldn’t arrest him for drunk driving. This was the woman who left her family to come here. This was the girl who decided to stay and work when everyone else left. We are the people who are left. In the end, it is Just Us.

And when we leave, we take this. The land will forget us, but we will not forget the land. It will be at the base of our lives, beyond words, and under the heart. When others ask us, we can smile, shake our heads, and tell a story that they might believe. But they don’t know the gust of the northeast wind, the sound of the Nobska, or the smile of Rocky at the Chicken Box. Wherever we stand, we look to the tide.

Off-island, we search for our golf course. We look for the consideration, for the cooperation, for the distant intimacy of grass. Out in a world where a thousand faces pass you in a day, the crowd is running through, passing in a digital bubble, and gone into the bright throng. Nobody knows you; anonymity blesses before it condemns you into a mob of marathoners.

But, unlike the rest of the world, an islander has a room of their own, where the waves break, the wind whips, and the scrub pines shake. Out here, we know your name. Out here, we know what you have done. Out here, we remain glad to see you.