Nantucket Spring
Nantucket Essays

Winter Melts into Spring

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

We don’t accept the reality of spring too easily on this island. The calendar, the stars, and even the Red Sox suggest that winter has slipped away. However, the wind shifts to the east, the clouds wash back in, and February rolls over in the bed and blinks its eyes in the sunlight. It shuffles down the stairs, sips a cup of coffee, and wonders when he can put his boots away for the season.

Underneath the back hedges, on the north side of the house, one last cocktail sized glacier remains. Dirt has speckled it, warm air and rain have glazed it in ice, and the lengthening day has slowly peeled away its layers, yet it remains. One night of wind and snow, along with the excitement of the Weather Channel and island photographers everywhere, has been commemorated in that one last frozen cork. The rest of the yard, and marsh, waits for it to go. The grass stays brown, the bushes unbloomed, and the gray branches litter the yard.

The beauty of winter blooms on a couch under a blanket. In the damp and wind-whipped cold, you “can’t” go outside. Outdoors is like outer space; you suit up and exit for the car, then you return. Perhaps, in moments of peril and pain, you shovel out the walk and the snow bank, but mostly you go back inside, and watch the wind blow the branches off the trees. As long as the falling branches don’t knock the power out, it’s good day.

And then, today, it changed. I stood outside on a polar fleece morning and watched the steam rise from the last scab of winter. Just over the dirty snow, heat waves shimmered in the morning air. The rest of the brown yard softened, and gave way, gently underfoot. By tomorrow, the sunny southern yard would green slightly and the great grinding gears of the season would change. Soon, the plastic would come down from the windows, the snow shovels would hang in the shed, and the daffodils would crack the skin of the world. At the moment, the season hangs in the balance.

I would like to push back on the reality of spring. The season of hope and rebirth needs a snooze button and an extra cup of coffee before it can be engaged fully. Time seizes in the snow and cold and leaves us in the familiar moment. Our world is still in its place. New buildings remain unbuilt, trees remain uncut, and the new stores have not filled in the slots where our old friends failed. Then the great grinding gears of spring force us forward into the next year and the next, until all of our friends and fundamentals are stuck in the calendar behind us. We putter about the yard picking up sticks on an island that is at once familiar and also strange and alien. Every daffodil rises from the unwanted future.

But the season will not be held off. It leaks in through the door and the gaps in the window frames until the snow is gone, the flowers are in bloom, and the sky has turned blue again.

Downtown, stores and restaurants have begun to put out their new wares and have printed the new menus for the new season. To them, winter ends with the ring of a cash register and the swipe of a credit card. Behind the bar, a couple have been drawing and illustrating spring and summer weekends for months now. The tables will go here, the seats will be red, and I really hope he can be a decent cook. Every morning they have come downtown to spend money they don’t have. Of course it will be a success, they think with crossed fingers and held breath.

They can’t think of those that went before them. They can’t look at their spanking new sign and compare it to all of the other signs hanging in the Rose and Crown. The trees come down, the roads get dug up, and the past erases itself behind them. They can’t afford to be historians, they have to be restauranteurs.

The ads go into the papers, the foods come into the walk-in, and the staff shows for the pre-season meeting. To stand behind that bar is to feel the power of the daffodil. In a month, they will know whether this will be a summer of hope and heartbreak, or a summer of success. By the time that the leaves fill the elms and the cars line the streets, their future will be known to them. The bet they made with the bank’s money will come through and each evening will be filled with glasses of top shelf bourbons and French wine, or they will be watching ice melt.

But now, in the suspended silence of spring, they can only wait for the opening to happen. And, perhaps, they still feel the chill in the air, the clouds rolling in from the east, and they wish for just a little more time before the judgement passes and the bank comes calling.

As the afternoon fades, the sun remains high in the western sky. The shadows lengthen and remain hours after they should have faded into the dark. Into that evening, the dog and I went for a short walk along West Chester. He had made the winter his own. He porpoised through the drifts, shook snow from his coat, and stood, proudly, up to his belly in the white stuff. Now, in the warming spring, he putters and fusses amid the still brown and gray weeds and grasses. The wind frees a water bottle from a brown bush, and he goes scampering after it.

Then, in the still evening light, the peepers begin. First one, then a few, then a traffic jam of frogs peeping into the gathering evening. The dog darts to the edge of the road and peers into the dark water. Then, as only a dog could, be barks his own reply to the lusty chorus of spring.

Articles by Date from 2012