Sunset | Nantucket, MA
Nantucket Essays

With Each Sunset

by Robert P. Barsanti

Not surprisingly, I was stuck in traffic on Quaker Road. A sprinkler had been left on out in Madaket, and I was making my way out there in the late evening. My boon companion and I had had a hot day, but we were without air-conditioning and had the windows open. He rested his paws on the edge of the door, then let his ears hang in the humid afternoon. In front of me, a Defender 90 had five lawn chairs hanging off the back in a complicated rig that the Land Rover was delighted to include with the package. I wonder if the dealership might even sell the chairs and umbrella. I would. He went straight for New Lane and the Westmoor Suburb. I turned left for Madaket, the dump, and a running hose.

We had some hours of sunlight left. A lump line of fog and clouds heaped up over the Vineyard and points west, but our sun remained bright and clear for some time yet. Even so, the light was starting to redden. As it did, the scrub pines and overgrown grasses were washed in that same pale light. The shadows cast across Sanford Farm, and the sun bleached grasses rippled and shook in the evening wind. Far off, in the glance of the road, the surf winked in the late light.

Beyond the dump, five cars were parked on either side of the road at Long Pond. Several young fishermen had hooks in the current, hoping for a fishy bite in the cool of the evening. Further out in Long Pond, four Canadian geese drifted. The swans of the past, a dozen or so, had not been back recently but there was hope for the future. Beyond the turn, other cars were pulled up near the Madaket Creek. Here, they used chicken bones to fish for turtles and crabs. You dangled the bait in the water, wait for the vital tug, and then lift the greedy animal out of the water and scare everyone near you. It had been many years since I teased the animals in the creek, but it struck me as one of those activities I should bring young children (grandchildren someday) to after several hours of getting battered by the ocean.

Madaket, on this evening, remained treeless and sun-bleached. Everyone had an hand over their eyes or squinted in their sunglasses as they looked west. The bicyclists had their chairs over their backs, towels rolled up on their racks, and hard pushes in their flip flops. My boon companion and I made the turn, crossed the Massassoit Bridge, and parked in the now empty driveway. The sprinkler idly swept back and forth in front of the soaked hydrangea. I turned it off, rolled up the hose, and placed the whole works out of sight while my boon companion tried to convince the rabbits to play with him. I stood with him in the middle of the lawn, scratched his ears, and watched the ocean slowly wash in and out. The sea was calm tonight, attractive and alone in the evening pause. All of the visitors were showering or getting the coals lit or waiting for Black Raspberry in a waffle cone.

There was still time. The evening still held hours and the tide had yet to turn. Had I a boat out here, I could be out on a rip as the Blues and Stripers ran in the sunset. Had the family the time, I could have piled them in the rig, deflated the tires and gone out to Smith’s Point for dinner. Or I could leave them where they were, and played nine holes of golf in Miacomet, or had another Madaket Mystery, or taken my shoes off, walked out into the surf with the boon companion and applauded the rescue of several very silly tennis balls. I could, and should, do any of those things in the remaining hours.

Because these days are gone.

We don’t know what will replace them. We don’t know what will come next. We do know that whatever is predicted will probably be wrong, one way or the other.

On this island, we spend time, words, money, and sweat preserving what we have, packaging it, and then handing it to our kids. At one end of the political spectrum, we try to preserve a house and some land for them. At the other end, we keep the trucks and the architects out of moors. If we do that and ignore the traffic on Old South Road, we can see where they can enjoy the same days that we do.

But these days are going fast. We can’t pretend that the seals on the shoreline aren’t leading to sharks in the surf. We can’t pretend that Easy Street only floods during really big storms when it flooded in June. We can’t see these beautiful Monet sunsets and not think of the forest fires in Canada that paint them.

Nantucketers take weathermen with a grain of salt. Hurricanes that are going to hit somehow miss. Snowstorms drop a quarter inch of rain. And Nor’easters tend to pop up when it was announced to be partly cloudy and windy. We tend to be skeptical of predictions up until a seal gets devoured within fifty yards of Surfside sand.

Everything that I saw between Quaker Street and Madaket Beach may not be here in twenty years, from the Land Rover to Massassoit Bridge. Our mundane lives are only mundane because they happen day after day after day. The mundane become heroic through the lens of time. Two hundred years ago, whaleships tied up in the harbor and candle factories in the back yard was the day-to-day mundane life. Then the mundane became history.

History is coming with each sunset.

Articles by Date from 2012