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Finding joy in the slowly lengthening days

Mary Bergman

In the winter, my island world, small to begin with, shrinks considerably. I’ve worn a path down Surfside Road, between town and home. The morning winter light illuminates bare trees, their twisted limbs cast shadows on shuttered homes. Under the ground, bulbs wait for spring. Walking through the Fish Lots in town, an area that was first laid out in 1717 for drying paper- white cod and pollack on wooden racks, there is little activity except for the lumbering oil trucks, out on their route before the rest of the world wakes up. As I walk, it is as though everything is suspended, except me.

Until recently. I set out on a New Year’s day jog that resulted in an ankle injury that has put me on the sidelines. So much for self improvement. I give little thought to my ankle on a daily basis, the importance of all the bones and ligaments, the balance of the strange machine that is the human body. Most of my life is thinking about little things — words and their order on a page, windows and shingles and the pitch of a roof, yellowed pages at the Registry of Deeds. Parts that make up the whole, pieces that, if you move one around, the rest shifts. I don’t know why I expected my body to be any different.

I have been hobbling, walking with a cane not unlike the ones my grandfather kept in a wicker basket in the corner of his living room. His were much finer, with carved embellishments and silver handles. The other night, walking through the Fish Lots, under the orange glow of the streetlight, the cane and I cast a short shadow that caused my brain to fast forward fifty years into the future. The rhythmic clicking sound of the cane on cobblestones reminded me, unflatteringly, of Captain Ahab as he made his way across the wooden deck of the Pequod. (I have since been upgraded to crutches.)

I like to think of these essays themselves as walks, sauntering from one detail to the next, taking you down whatever side street or stretch of beach I head to. Sometimes writing is like that — I set out without knowing my exact destination, and am delighted by what I find along the way. (Other times, I stumble.)

Walking is my preferred way of seeing the world, but I’ve found that I don’t mind being a passenger. There is a whole system of old Jeep roads through the island’s moorlands, and lots of oversand driving out on Coteau, the barrier beach that creates Nantucket’s harbor. I am grateful for friends with trucks, who know how to navigate the soft sand. It’s amazing that they don’t get lost when they look out on the expansive moors, the muted reds of Broom crowberry against the silver sky. The middle of the island is still a bit of a foreign country to me, these sandy roads the only reminder that people are out here.

As I was driven out to ’Sconset on the island’s far eastern end the other day, the sun began to break through a cloud that had hovered over the island for days. We rolled the windows down, the heat still on, our attempt at mimicking summer. Streaks of light filtered down through the gray, and I was overcome with a sharp sense of joy. Joy to be in motion, joy for these slowly lengthening days, as we headed towards the sun.