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Same landscape, new people

Mary Bergman

We drive down Hummock Pond Road, where a concrete Jersey barrier marks the end of the asphalt and the beginning of the sea. It’s a shorter drive from town than all the way out to Madaket, and besides, there isn’t really a parking lot at Madaket Beach anymore, the erosion has taken big bites out of the pavement.

It’s a little after five o’clock, and soon other cars and trucks, mostly rusted-out silver Toyota Tacomas and a rainbow of newer looking Jeeps, pull up. This is what passes for entertainment in the off-season, hoping a glimpse of the sunset will break up the endless expanse of gray days.

A few people tumble out of a rental jeep, dressed in matching black peacoats. They are here on a weekend vacation, a last minute family reunion or a very low-key bachelorette party, it’s hard to say which. The tourism board says there is still plenty to do on the island come winter. This has been a year of very little snow, just rain and wind from November til now, making the season seem twice as long.

Wind shakes the car, a spray of sand leaves little pockmarks in the windshield. We won’t notice for months, until one morning, driving headlong into the sun, there will be more craters on the glass than the surface of the moon. We’ll have to squint to see.

A few people (surfers, probably, waiting for summer), anywhere from twenty five to forty five sit in the cabs of their pick-ups, looking out towards the break. They must be locals, but nobody here looks all that familiar. Their trucks do, their dented tailgates or their bumper stickers. Everybody here drove past the brewery and decided the beach at dusk was a happier hour. After more than eight years, how can there be anybody on the island I don’t already know?

A few weeks later, when the Boston news flashes scenes of waves surging against the pilings of houses in Scituate, another do-nothing nor-easter blows over Nantucket. A gale rattles the windows, and none of the boats run. Stranger still, the sun comes out in the middle of it all, taunting us. I walk down by the boat basin to watch the surging tide and I see more of them — these people I don’t know, who are drawn to the same dramatic scenes as I am, ones where the sea battles the infrastructure we hope will hold.

Then, standing at the tidal gate at Children’s Beach, watching the harborfront where many kids will learn to swim this summer, their doggy paddling carefully practiced in the lifeguard protected zone, it occurs to me that these storm chasers could be time travelers. Why not? The wind sends rare birds our way, thrown off their migratory patterns. A waterspout could toss up a time traveler.

Maybe that’s the exciting thing about Nantucket, and other transient places. The landscape stays the same, but there are always new people arriving. In just a few weeks, someone will round Brant Point on the steamship, as the downtown skyline sharpens into focus. They’ll feel, as I have these last eight years, that they’ve found some place like home.