On an Island, Weather Is Big Talk

Feb 5, 2019

Credit Mary Bergman

My friends who still live in cities think I talk too much about the weather. In cities, weather talk is relegated to small talk--the cheapest of all talk. On an island, weather is big talk. On an island, tide charts are tacked to kitchen walls like religious icons, a different sort of devotional. On an island in winter, the talk is usually of wind. Of how much, and when, and for how long.

The first winter I returned to Nantucket, I lived in a house out in Tom Nevers, out by the old Navy Base. The house wasn’t particularly old, but was built for summer living, not winter occupancy. When the wind got above 15 miles per hour, all the windows rattled constantly. It was the kind of noise that is so incessant, you start only to notice it when it stops. It was that winter when I started to think that there was no lonelier sound in the world than the sound of the wind howling, racing across the open ocean with not much to slow it down. The wind was like a bad roommate--one who came home late, made noise, and always slammed the door.

Somehow I made it through that winter, sleeping in wool hats and hanging wool blankets in doorways. Summer came and with it a different sort of windy sound--the wind whistling through the same screen door it had spent all winter trying to obliterate. That sound, of a summer screen door, was one of refreshing ocean breezes, of kites flying, of body surfers tumbling end over end in the waves.

After a few winters, you get pretty used to having to plan your life around the wind. The papers don’t arrive, the boats don’t run. You learn what to do when you get stuck on the “other side.” You spend the day in the Hyannis movie theatre, or a hotel on Route 28 with an indoor pool. Or you just don’t leave at all.

Every year, I seem to forget the sound of the lonesome wind in winter until I hear it for the first time in late December. Until the first real windy night, when it sounds like the whole house will be picked up in one huge gust. If I remembered the howl of the winter wind, I might not stay here year after year.

But somehow, we make it through, and summer comes, like it always does, with its screen doors and sailboats darting across the bay.