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Rights of Way

The mask ordinance on Main Street has been lifted. Most shuttered storefronts have been uncovered, too. And the lingering daffodils along the outskirts of town sway their heavy heads in the wind. Every plant and every person on Nantucket, it seems, is turning their faces towards the sun.

The line to the ice cream store on a Saturday night snakes down South Water Street, the line to the Hospital Thrift Shop on it’s opening day reaches all the way down India Street. The line at the hardware store, the post office, the dump on a Sunday morning—-they’re all longer than they were last week.

May is when the days get longer, but a sure sign of the seasons changing is the length of the lines you find yourself waiting in. The lines seem even longer this year as we still try to put six feet between ourselves and the next person.

There’s a bumper sticker out here: What’s Your Hurry? You’re Already on Nantucket! which some oldtimers proudly sport. It’s a fair enough question. It is strange, sometimes, to live year round in a place others count the days until they arrive to. Nantucket is all about anticipation--getting over the bridge, getting on the ferry, getting to the house and opening the windows, letting the ghosts of last year (and the dust) slip out through the screen door.

The other Sunday, while walking out on Esther’s Island, I came across some Nantucketers who were neither in a hurry nor social distancing. A huge colony of seals was down on Smith’s Point, hauled up on sunny beach. We could smell them before we saw them, fifty or more. One lone seal had hunkered down right in the middle of the old jeep trail, forcing anyone who came this way to reroute. I don’t take my chances with seals, and went back the way I came.

It struck me that I came out this way to walk along the empty beach so that I wouldn’t disturb anybody, or be disturbed myself. I had not anticipated the seals, nor the gulls at the tip of the harbor who guard their rookery like a scene out of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

We’re lucky out here to have so many miles of public beach and public rights of way. My grandfather, many years ago, showed me where many public access points along the harbor are. Back then, before the Roads and Rights of Way committee marked the spots with handsome granite markers, more than a few abutters let their honeysuckle or hedgerows grow thick enough to obscure any indication that this was meant for public passage.

In much the same way seasonal folk dream of their return to Nantucket, I find myself daydreaming about taking three days and walking the perimeter of the island, and coming to know this place more deeply. Maybe if I say it out loud, and tell you now, I will be more determined to complete this walk. Strangely, I think about this walk while I am on other walks. Always dreaming of what is to come.

But whether you are walking along the ’Sconset bluff, on a strange and lovely right of way that crosses directly over the lawns of some of the most impressive houses you’ll see, or walking along an empty beach (or so you think, until you round the bend and see a city of seals), perhaps you are never really all that alone on Nantucket. No woman is an island, even if she lives on one.