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In This Place

Finding Beauty in a Bike Path View

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Mary Bergman
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Last Saturday was Town Meeting on Nantucket, held outdoors under the big top. It was a return to flight for many of us, after more than a year of online meetings, municipal and otherwise. Suddenly, there were nearly a thousand of us gathered--at least for the first few contentious articles. Friends embraced, cautiously.

It was hard not to think of that Norman Rockwell painting in the Four Freedoms series, Freedom of Speech, at Town Meeting. You’ve seen the painting--a plainly dressed man in a flannel shirt and work jacket stands to voice his opinion. The folks sitting next to him, also men, dressed in in coat and ties gaze reverently at him, you can almost hear this painting. “That man from the oil company’s got a point!” the man in the suit would say. The idea, of course, is that all of us have the right to voice our opinion.

During the a hotly debated article about short-term rentals, a man rose to say that on Nantucket, most of us--and by us, he meant the voters, the year rounders--live in mid island. “No one has ever called the real estate office and said get me mid-island!” he said “They say, get me Cliff Road.”

Ah, mid-island.

Just where, exactly, mid-island begins and ends depends on which real estate company’s map you look at. Even if you’ve never been to Nantucket, you can understand that mid-island is defined in opposition to the tony Cliff Road or Brant Point or Sconset.

But this is an ode to mid-island, and to the beauty of living in a part of the island where the lights are on in other houses in winter. You can’t see the water from here, but I am proud to live on bike path-front property.

Over the years, I’ve come to find the bike path that runs along Surfside Road almost as interesting as the beach. It is like the shore in that it is another edge, an intersection where different life forms converge. Only instead of shorebirds and seals, on the path there are people. Bikers, of course, and joggers, children walking to school, people on their way to work, groups of women walking fast and talking fast, and the man who reads the Financial Times broadsheet without missing a step.

Entire dramas play out on the bike path, same as along the seaside.

There are people who sing, the notes of their songs getting lost in the sound of cars speeding by. There are secret smokers, who walk alone at night, the red pinprick of a cigarette’s ember the only indication they are there. In the deepest part of the night, sometimes the bike path is where people go to confide or confess something. I hear snippets of these fights outside my window, shadows cast on shingles by the streetlamps. And then it is quiet for hours until the birds begin their early morning chorus.

It may not be Cliff Road. There are few palatial estates along the bike path. But as I walked back from town the other day, the wind caught a particularly fragrant honeysuckle vine intwined with a grove of hot pink rosa rugosa. A soft fog settled, and I couldn’t think of a better path to lead me home.