Winter's Cold on Nantucket
I was starting to feel trapped. It happens sometimes, when the sky is an endless gray and the horizon line is hard to find. Winter’s cold brings things into focus, and you can really feel the ragged edges of this island. I heard the whistle of the last ferry as it came in around 10:30 at night and knew there was no getting off this island until morning. And even if you left, where would you go?
I was starting to feel like nothing here could surprise me, lost in the long days between holidays. But we have passed the solstice and are moving towards summer, a fact I keep tucked into my pockets, something to pull out and remember.
Impossible as it is, it seemed like I was recognizing grains of sand, spotting the same sun-bleached seashells in the wrack line as the day before, and had the face of every person in this town committed to memory.
When I start to feel this way, the parts of the island all blurring into one another, the distance from the mainland to here twice as long, I like to go to the farthest points of the island, to look out into the distance like a figurehead. To lean into the wind. There’s an energy at these points, where the currents merge.
These are places where you can still be surprised. Coskata Woods is one such place.
Located on the island’s northeastern end, on the way to the tip of Great Point, Coskata Woods rises out of the beach. This time of year, the maritime forest looks like it is made entirely of driftwood. Whipped by the wind, leafless trees contort like twisted spines of some ancient animal. Branches worn smooth, some as gray as a petrified whale’s rib. The landscape is so wildly different from the rest of the island, where trees usually give way to open sky. In the woods, shadows and light fall through a canopy of barren branches.
The woods are a somewhat eerie spot. Accounts of a sailor from 1714 recall seeing “a creature of grizzilish or gray color, like that of a codfish skin” skitter into the woods. Local lure also tells of mermaids hiding in the trees. In the early 1900s, the keeper at Great Point Light claimed to have seen someone, or something, crawling out of the water and fleeing into the woods. A mermaid, a shipwrecked sailor, or just someone down on his luck? We may never know, but the woods continue to provide refuge all the same.
The other day, I heard a woman say she felt trapped in other places, places with tall trees that blocked the sun. She didn’t like not being able to see the horizon, only felt comforted when back on the ferry, chugging towards the open sky of home. Nantucket suited her, she said, simply due to the lack of trees.
I guess she has yet to visit the mysterious Coskata Woods and look for the sirens.