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An island walk in the quiet of winter

The bulbs I planted back in October have started peeking out, slender sprigs of green pushing through the so-called soil in my yard. It’s mostly sand, perhaps the reason why the tree on the corner planted seven years ago is more the suggestion of a tree, a pencil sketch of a tree that was never filled in. I stare at it, like doing so could will it to grow. Exactly which bulbs I planted, and where I put them, and how to pronounce their Latin names remains a mystery to me at this moment.

Everyone keeps asking how it got to be mid-March already. Daffodils in the library garden are blooming, and robins attack plate glass windows in cottages overlooking the sea. I swear I heard a lone peeper frog, coming home after dark the other evening.

We are nearly out of the quietest months of the year. Life keeps moving forward, but it’s hard to shake this feeling like we have been in suspended animation for the last two years. I keep thinking, when this is over, when this is over. This might just be the way it is, until it changes yet again.

I walk to town from Surfside most days, passing the dog walkers, the school kids, and the construction sites. I kept walking through the coldest days of winter. There was a storm in January that brought with it a tidal surge so great, strands of black eelgrass are still wrapped in the spokes of bicycles left to overwinter in a rack at the Francis Street beach. Clumps of dried seaweed blow across the truck route on Washington Street most windy days. Tumbleweeds, Nantucket style.

I say that I like walking because it trains my eye to look for small details, little things that change from day to day. The way the light falls on the white clapboard of house or the air as it slowly leaks out of the tires of an ancient Jeep. Giant trees that have stood for more than a hundred years, earmarked to be cut down. A man on a roof, eyes searching the horizon. And more and more posters on the Hub bulletin board of people searching, endlessly, for housing.

I’m equally fascinated by what you don’t see walking around the island — window treatments. Some on Nantucket seem to have an objection to curtains, at least in the quiet of winter. Hand-blown glass windows frame scenes of domestic life in the few occupied houses downtown. Whole lives reveal themselves — piles of books unread in a corner, or an open bottle of wine and two abandoned glasses on a kitchen table. But walk quickly — if you can see them, it stands to reason, they can see you.

Walking everywhere forces me into motion. (Gas savings is an added benefit as we have topped $5 a gallon here.) You can’t exactly out-walk anxious thoughts, but you can get a few paces ahead of them. They say more than 8,000 Steamship car reservations were made on the day they opened the books. By June, it will be faster to walk than sit in the traffic along Surfside Road.

You get used to the distance. That is the great and terrible thing about being a human — you can get used to almost anything.