Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ode to the M/V Eagle

The other morning, I woke up early after a sleepless night. Luckily, we have reached the moment in the year where the days stretch on, if not quite forever, then pretty close to it. Nights are shorter, even sleepless ones. I had been up the night before searching the North Shore with Emma for the aurora during the three-day solar storm. We were a little too far south to see anything, except the lights of Lewis Bay over in Hyannis, glowing like a mirage on the horizon.

I am usually an early riser, and love wandering Nantucket before the first boat leaves. There is no getting off Nantucket until 6:30 in the morning when the Eagle departs. All is quiet then, and the veil between this world and the next seems thin. The veil between the high season and the shoulder season is even thinner.

The first of our tourists have come and gone to celebrate the Daffodil Festival. If the year-rounders you encounter seem especially salty these days, remember that we are slowly adjusting to this new relationship where we are no longer in the majority. Stores are opening up, lawns are being mowed, and the sewer work that began last fall might finally end. Time to once again be nice. My mother claims that, forty years ago, the Chamber of Commerce gave lessons on how to be polite. The Old Salt is dead. Long live the Old Salt.

I have a complicated relationship to tourism, as I think most of us who live in a strange, sandy place do. I do love meeting new people, and there is nothing better than encountering the rare visitor who has never set foot on the island before. They don’t know what it used to look like — less crowded, less expensive, quainter. To them, this is the greatest place they’ve ever been. For many people, this is their happy place.

For the rest of us, this is our real life. Nearly every good and bad thing that’s happened to us has happened here. That can be hard to square with the throngs of people who arrive at our shores in search of an unreality. That tension makes life fascinating.

As I wandered the island in the early morning hours, I headed towards the boat. I find great comfort in watching the ferry boats come and go. My first winter on Nantucket, when I knew almost no one, I would get up and go down to the ferry terminal to wait for the 6:30 boat to leave. A few old men in their pick-ups gathered there most mornings. (Many of them are dead now. A new generation of old men will replace them. )

Then, at the height of the pandemic, when the outside world seemed so far away, I would lie in bed and listen for the whistle of the Eagle as it rounded Brant Point, announcing its return for the evening. My friends and I would text each other, grateful for the sound of the old Nobska whistle piercing the silence, reminding us that the world would keep on turning.

Island living is full of rhythms. The rise and fall of the tide, the seasons, the lengthening days. I know the Eagle like an old friend, and am always grateful to hear her 6:30 am whistle, announcing a new day, one that could be better than we hoped.