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Signs of spring on Nantucket

Mary Bergman

Nantucket in winter is unrelenting in its sameness. Gray skies loom, unbroken for weeks. The sun is an unfamiliar object. You start to wonder just who thought it was a great idea to shingle every structure in cedar, once bright, now weathered to silver. (Couldn’t we have just one or two brightly colored houses, to bring a little cheer?) The Gray Lady starts to feel less like a nickname and more like a curse.

I had to go to Savannah, Georgia, for work in February. Never before did I understand why people left Nantucket to spend the winter someplace else. (I get it now.) At an oyster bar on a creek, I felt like I had time traveled ahead a good six months to a place where it was already summer. A man scampered into his Boston whaler and disappeared into the saltmarsh, startling a pelican. Spanish moss hung from towering oak trees that lined nearly every street. Copper statues in the Bonaventure Cemetery had oxidized to green. In the early morning after a rain, a river of pollen ran through the streets. Green, as far as the eye could see.

Back on Nantucket, the first real good snow storm of the year was cranking away. Boats were brought to their knees, and the island went still for a few days. I never think of living on Nantucket as any major inconvenience, though people who don’t live here tell me it is. Like anything, you get used to it. At least in the snow, we got a break from the endless gray.

Winter on Nantucket offers one major gift, the gift of sight. The trees, what few trees we had to begin with, thin out considerably; private compounds become visible from a public way. I followed a network of trails out from the highway to the south eastern shore, through thick bayberry scrub. Eventually, this trail spilled out onto Nantucket’s remote-controlled airfield. It was empty, except for a few signs of merriment, teenage or otherwise. I kept walking, feeling like I was following a dizzying maze, a deer run cut through the chest-high brush.

Suddenly, in the distance, a ribbon of blue ocean illuminated by a distant, fading sun. On long and winding walks, each time I see the ocean, it is almost as though I am seeing it for the first time. The piercing blue contrasts the sandy expanse. The beach grass, now so bleached it is nearly translucent, is still hanging on.

Ten years of living on Nantucket has taught me the signs of spring are not always visible. You have to use your other senses. Down at the end of Surfside Road, you can roll down your window and smell the salt as the sea temperature ever so slightly rises in anticipation of summer bathers. At dawn, robins bop around my yard, trilling out a bright, clear song.

But the surest sign of spring is, of course, the joyful chorus of peeper frogs. It’s not that I forget about the peepers—who could forget about the peepers—but they announce themselves so suddenly that they take me by surprise. I was leaving the gym the other night, and from some wetland nearby, I heard them. At first, I thought I was going insane, hallucinating, or maybe hearing a distant car alarm. It went quiet. Then, the peepers started up again, their song so loud it was nearly electric.

I texted a friend on Martha’s Vineyard—where they call them Pinkletinks. (Say “pinkletink” on Nantucket and see if anybody knows what you’re talking about.)

“I hear them too!” she wrote back, “I was leaving work and pulled over at the Mill Pond, and screamed in delight!”

And, although she was thirty miles away across the water, I was pretty sure I could hear her voice, joining the chorus of very small frogs.