The Ghosts of Summers Past
This spring has been a time without transition. Normally on Nantucket, we are given a few holiday weekends (the Daffodil Festival in April, Memorial Day in May) to acclimatize ourselves to the influx of people who descend come summertime. That is often the hardest part of living in a place so seasonal, to remember the new rhythms that summer brings and adjust yourself accordingly. But there were no sneak previews of summer this year.
The indicators of the arrival of summer in years past have been mostly human driven: a line out the door at the mid-island post office or cars down Madaket Road at the dump, shop windows lit up at night, and the sounds of summer renters on the other side of Surfside Road.
Summer came on in a different way this year, more abruptly. Weren’t we wearing knit caps and fleece coats not all that long ago? Summer came to me on a Saturday afternoon in early June. I was on a long walk through Surfside and turned down a paper road. A rash of land speculation and subdividing out here in the 1880s led to a building boom, but when the railroad line was rerouted away from this end of the island, as the tracks kept washing out every winter, the price of land plummeted. Although things have changed considerably since then, there are a handful of narrow trails, some no wider than a deer run, streets that were never fully realized. It was on this scrub pine lined trail, golden pine needles underfoot, that I realized summer was scratching at the screen door, begging to be let in.
People are saying this summer will be different, but at least every summer smells the same, of rosa rugosa, honeysuckle, salt, and sunscreen. There is something about this time of year that brings all the other summers you have ever experienced closer to the surface. The long days, swollen with sunshine, provide countless hours to remember all the ghosts of summers past.
Maybe these ghosts are our memories, our past selves. Maybe they are old summer homes. Or maybe they are horseshoe crabs.
I know it’s irrational, but horseshoe crabs still frighten me, just the slightest bit. I am more fascinated with them than afraid, but I still remember what if felt like to fear these ancient creatures as a child and I suppose their otherworldly strangeness is hard to shake. I was out in Madaket the other day when I saw dozens and dozens of horseshoe crabs along the intertidal zone at high tide, in various stages of coupling. I watched them a while, swirling around one another, like army helmets that had learned to swim. They have been doing it this way for 450 million years, and I suppose they are extraordinary survivors. They have come to the shallows in early summer year after countless year. They have followed the changing shoreline and sea levels. And they are much, much older than our little pile of sand.
It is powerful to find yourself in an encounter with a creature that has remained so unchanged as everything else shifts rapidly around us.
So even if this summer is one unlike any other, there are still plenty of things that will remain the same.