After the storm, I drove the Sconset Road in search of death and destruction. I was not looking for death--I don’t wish for anyone to die in the storm and, if they did, I certainly didn’t want to discover them. Instead, I was hoping for a few downed trees, another large bite to come from the side of the Sconset Bluff and a few millionaires' houses to get either blown down or washed out into the sea. If winter storms could erase most of the recent development on island and sweep the landscape back to 1987, I could be happy.
The most recent nor’easter did not sweep us back in time nor did it sweep the back issues of Architectural Digest into the sea, but it did knock down several scrub pines and eat into the Sconset bluff. Unfortunately, the collapsed barn at Skinner’s golf course was the most unsurprising surprise.
The barn had become the island’s motif number one. It had aged and grayed enough to make a suitable contrast to the pines behind it and the grass before it. The salt box echoed enough of the island architecture to belong on island, but contained enough rotting and rusting tools to remind us of an era when jets didn’t fill the airport’s parking spaces.
Before the weather and the wind had popped the siding off, I have bounced more than one shanked drive off it. Those balls made a loud and startling pings after they hit the tin roof, then rattled back down and fell at the foot of one of the locked doors. I gave the ball a member’s kick into the fairway before I lost them for good in the bushes and mud to the right of the hole.
I have not lost many golf balls at Skinner’s in the last four years. Time, tide, and boys kept stepping in the way of my Big Bertha. Moreover, a vacation from golf can quickly become a retirement when you think of all the things that the greens fees could buy other than a four hour vacation into failure. So the course and the barn had slipped back into the gardens of my youth.
Unfortunately, like everything else from my youth, the barn got heavy, warped, and broken. Each winter sprung a few more boards and each summer peeled off more paint. Recently, you had to squint myopically at it, while you drove past, to see again the old building that had been there. When the first nor’easter of the winter came flinging the wind down from the gulf of Maine, the wood finally gave way and the barn sank into the deep rough.
Our island is full of landmarks and markers and most of them are not on postcards. When we drive the island, or walk it, we see familiar hand holds and toe holds in the rock of our past. Even if the businesses have moved, we squint and see them still there. Henry’s remains downtown for me, as does the A.C. and the Downyflake. Moreover, I think of people in their positions at these landmarks: Mimi remains at Mitchell’s and Gilles still stands at Murray’s. I have chosen the island I want to live on and I won’t allow time to change it on me.
I enjoy this world very much. It has beaches and warm air and Wing Night for the winter. I know where the butterscotch squares and the Honey-dipped donuts are and where I can put the kayak in. I am still in my twenties, still in my jeep, still with adventures in front of me and thousands of golf balls left to lose. It’s a bit of a middle aged man’s foolishness, I grant you that, but show me the islander that doesn’t find his way with a twenty year old map in his head and I will give him my Thirty Acres Lifetime Pass.
The modern wealth of the island comes from our stickiness to the past. History clings to us as mussels do. The houses we build and rebuild are not financed by a dream of creating a new architectural vision, but by recreating an older one. The new Dreamland succeeds because it looks so much like the old one. Almost everyone who gets off the boat squints into the familiar past to see the ghosts. Those ghosts aren’t just Quakers and whalers; they are families and honeymooners and drunk college kids who came here in the last thirty years, spent a few weeks, and have seen those days hang before them like a green-lit dream.
The creative destruction of capitalism is as unyielding as time or tide, and it frequently does more damage. It will sweep up the bake shop, the A & P, and DeMarco’s with the same mathematical implacability that doomed Skinner’s barn. But the axioms and theorems of island capitalism differ from those of Liberty Tree Mall and the Galleria. No one comes to Nantucket looking to buy the new thing. If they did, Benneton would still be on Main Street.
It is 2012 and the barn has collapsed. None of my fond wishes for the Septembers of the past are going to repair the rot that fog, bad maintenance, and wind have done. I hope that the Land Bank replaces the old structure if only to keep one part of my map current. I hope that the Dreamland rehabilitation becomes a model for rehabbing all sorts of sand and broken buildings on island. And this one barn will be a heck of a lot cheaper.
I don’t need my sons to use the same island landmarks that I use to navigate the island. Frankly, if they remember the roads they ran on, they will be miles ahead of their sedentary and swollen father. The nature of Nantucket is not that things don’t change; they do. Instead, the sad gift we give our children is the tug of history on their hearts.