beach leaves | Nantucket, MA
Nantucket Essays

Waves of the Future

by Robert P. Barsanti

When you mow a lawn in September, you mow for yourself and the hawks. Perhaps not for the voles and the mice. The grass that once hid them has been mulched and they have to take their fuzzy chances in the open. Around us, the neighbors have emptied the refrigerators, moved the boogie boards to the basement, and dragged the grill indoors for the winter. Some have put covers on the cars, others have tucked them up against the house. Even the AirBnB people have called it a season. Perhaps Columbus Day. Perhaps Stroll. Perhaps not.

Nonetheless, I push the mower around the yard, circle the posts under the porch, and come right up to the scrub pine and rosa rugosa washing up against the yard. In the fading light of a September afternoon, the mower makes its last sputtering spins before it goes back up the two by fours and into the back of the pick-up.

Silence falls.

Without the planes, the cars, the bicycles, the grills, the dogs, and the families holding the world up, the silence dropped from a fading sky. You can have a moment of pride in that silence. Everyone has gone and you remain, still. After the summer, the island comes back to us in silence. It remains as it has always been, gold in a setting sun, and purple in a climbing night. On a clear night like this, were I to stay out here in Madaket, the stars would pepper the eastern sky until the Milky Way spread over my head and the constellations danced a slow reel. Islanders see the island as their own because, for nine months, it is. The moors circle and the bowl of the sky focuses down on dirty, grassy me. Atlas of the Island, Master of All I Survey, and King of the Moors.

Of course, there is no silence.

From everywhere on island, you can hear the roll of the surf. The land beguiles us with hope of permanence, the sea mutters the rumor we fear to be true. Today, when one of the great whirling ladies of the Caribbean made landfall thousands of miles away, giant waves came sweeping up the beach in an imprecise and incomprehensible cadence. Standing there in the silence of the lawns, underneath all of the other sounds, was the inhuman crash of wind and wave. I got in the car, turned on the radio, and headed to the water.

Millie’s was open for the weekend, but the parking lot was empty. The lights burned upstairs, but the waiters and waitresses stood at the window and watched the sun inch to the horizon. I am sure there were specials heating, scallops marinating, and chowder warming in the hope that the last of the summer people would come. But they hadn’t.

The lights were still on in the (current) last house on the left. Two gigantic dogs circled the house in a trot while one Dad finished the loading of a Honda Pilot in the drive way. He may have been a tenant, packing for the family who left before him, or he may have been an owner making one last packing-up. He had stacked beach chairs in the roof carrier, filled the back with bags and comforters, and had lined up fishing rods in the PVC holders on his bumper. He whistled and slid the door open for the dogs. They cautiously stepped in, then he slid it shut behind him. As I parked my dented and ratty truck, he flipped light after light off in the house, then he left it for the wind and the winter.

The stories the house could tell. It had made and lost fortunes, fostered and broke dreams. It had held dozens of rental families, dozens of birthday parties, honeymoons, and anniversaries. Built for a thousand, sold for ten thousand to a fishermen, sold again to a speculator, and to another for a million and a half, before a foreclosure, and another sale. Then the town’s plans to build a municipal bathroom washed out to sea, along with two bike racks, and a row of dunes. Now an owner and a realtor were hoping to find someone willing to spend 1.2 million before the storms come and it all washed away, like tears in the rain.

Storms take and storms give. Off of Madaket, in the sand swept away during last winter, lies one of the best breaks on island. A sand bar pushes almost a hundred yards out to sea and in the rolling remnants of a gigantic hurricane, the young zip along the curl of head-high surf. At that meteorological grace amid the heat of the sun, the pull of the moon, and the spin of the earth, they ride the moment to the bottom, and then pop off the top into the air.

In the salt chuckle of wave sucked out to sea, the future appears naked and omnipotent. All the way to the horizon, wave after chaotic wave push forward in a mathematical madness. “The awful spirits of the deep, hold their communion there.” Waves will always come. Under sun, under star, under fog, under dark, the waves will march from the future, crash into the present, and slip back into history. The land will slip away, tablespoon by tablespoon, until wave meets wave over the last hedge funder’s dream.

The young have no time for erosion. They have the moment of speed and grace, held up by the twitches of muscle and polyurethane. The centuries have bloomed into a long curling stage of that rushing moment. They bloom in the salty present; the past has slipped back into the sea and the future is coming in the next set.

I stayed and watched until the sun set and the seals took their place on the beach. It seemed a better use of my time than mowing.

Articles by Date from 2012