by Robert P. Barsanti
My boon companion and I make a habit of walking Sanford Farm out to the barn, at which point, I sit down and he surveys the scents and smells. In the “R” months, he is able to travel around unabated; those who come walking by are familiar with an unleashed dog, or, at least, they are familiar with this unleashed dog. He tolerates a scratch on the head, or if he is in the mood for something more intimate, the travelers can scratch him on the hindquarters or on the belly. As they leave, his eyes follow them. Then, like a philandering husband, he returns to his longtime partner; he knows where the treats are. I was born lucky.
While he surveys and suffers, I sit before the scrub oak slowly filling in to Hummock Pond, Cisco, and the rolling South Shore. Today, in the clear northern air, the remnants of an ocean storm have sent battalions of waves to batter the sand. A mist rolls up off of the waves and creeps up the beach. Along Hummock Pond, three new roofs have appeared, with men suited up and firing nail guns. The distant thump of each fastener muttered in the air up to the barn.
There’s a lot of work around. Work, it seems, walks in singly or it marches in legions. We spend months stringing out one job to the other, listening to the phone ring and then, in the matter of months and two balance statements, you are sending promising offers to another builder you met over coffee. And there they are, all of those paychecks, on the roofs of houses, pounding the shingles. We are born lucky. Like everyone else, I have a preference for the old views. Sitting here, with a resting doggo, the southern expanse has not changed much, although a few houses on the way to Cisco have become subdivisions. Anderson, Menges, Congdon, and Silva gave us this; otherwise a bright double yellow line would wind down this path leading to gated communities. But we don’t live in a fixed point in time, though many may wish it. The only thing constant in the world is change, and it arrives on every boat.
Still, my old eyes see Old South Road and a Real Estate Rapture on its way. Of all of the money that is landing on the island, most of it comes from the world of equity and Real Estate Investment Trusts, not from long time vacationers who decided to buy that darling little cottage in Wauwinet. The investment folks see a place for a beachhead, then an invasion, and then rent piling up in a column. In that time, the just and familiar will be removed to Rockland, Maine with a check and photo album, while the island waits for the blood-dimmed tide and the hoofbeats of the horsemen.
Too long waiting on the road has made me cranky. Those new eyes see the same thing our old eyes see, they just see it for the first time. During this time of year, most of what I see of the island is over a steering wheel, through a pile of receipts, invoices, and napkins on the dashboard, the back doors of Mac Davis Flooring. But for those new eyes, the island appears natural, controlled, and peaceful.
And, sitting here, watching the red wing blackbirds dip and dive among the brush, the new eyes run past us and disappear without so much as a scratch for the Very Good Doggo. My only wish is probably the same thing that Messrs. Anderson, Silva, etc wished: if you like what you see, let’s keep it that way. We are all lucky.
On Memorial Day, I have to be aware of older eyes than mine. What would a man think, when after seeing war in France, in Belgium, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, he sat here among the swallows and the grackles and watched the surf break miles away. Five centuries have passed since young men died in battle on this sand and the war cries have faded. Still, I think of Buddy Blair, who landed in France on the Longest Day, and wonder what must have gone through his mind as he saw the surf break on a long stretch of beach. Unbidden, the moments must have slipped over each other. The ocean remains the ocean, the beach remains the beach—always changing and always the same. To him, the guns must have still echoed, even here. One moment the waves roll with the dead, in the next, they carry the boogie boards.
We are born lucky. We don’t deserve this beach, nor do we merit this view, nor did we warrant the murmuration of the sparrows. They were given to us, unasked and unrequited, by those who came before us. Other people died, other country’s sacrificed, other lands were marred. We just got lucky.
We are alive in a time when my boys are not being sent off to hold the end of the spear. We are alive in a time when only our familiar flag flies over the cobblestones. We are alive at a time when Granddad’s fishing shack will pay the grandchildren millions, will pay the carpenters thousands, and will pay the new owners in crusty towels, salt hair, and sand in the bathtub.
The trick, I told my boon companion, as he stared at a slice of American cheese, is to be grateful for an unjust, undeserved, and, irreplaceable gift of today. And then, to pass that fragile gift of today through to tomorrow.