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Winter is a Season Without


Winter is a season without.  You stand on a bluff at Cisco, face into the driving western wind and waves that no one will share, never mind ride or bounce in. They peak out on the horizon in massive fifty-foot collisions, then roil and somersault all the way into the shore.  Collisions repeat without pause or breath, over and over, witnessed and unwitnessed, under the purple clouds and golden light. The surfers that waited for these waves now sleep in dorm rooms and bedrooms, or, perhaps, on a beach in Costa Rica.  The Escalades and Suburbans have moved onto to parking lots at Price Chopper and Wegman’s leaving only the occasional strap or sandal behind on the bluff.  Their tire tracks have blown away in the wind and the waves will take the sand away.  The towels are gone, the kites are gone, even the trash has blown away.  It is a shore without, as it has always been in the winter: without pause, without shelter, without grace. 

Further inland, the wind has whisked the golfers off the course and the bicyclists off the road.  Clouds of sand scour the cement and the cedar, built up in eddies and shoals at the doorways and holly bushes.  When we drop the storm windows for the winter, we brush the sand out of the second floor casements, vacuum it out of our rugs, and brush it from our hair. Unstopped and unstoppable, the wind on a golden afternoon caterwauls the power lines. In the early evening dark, you stand in an evacuated street and hear the distant roar of breaking surf under the howls of wind in the wires.  At the right moment, a ferry horn sounds or the engines of Cessna howl overhead in the starry dark.  Otherwise, you stand in a night without.   

The night comes early and leaves late. A gray overcast descends on the island, spitting cold rain.  The snow melts two hundred feet overhead and then hits the glass in wet crystalline skeletons.  If it builds at all, it builds as a short-lived slush at the margins of roads and paths, somewhere deep inside the thicket.  Snow days are for other children, as are snowmen, sleds, and skis. Out here, the great blizzards race overhead for other hills and other yards.  Out here, they leave only puddles, waves, and the odd filigree of eelgrass caught far above the tide line.   

You have no guests in the winter.  They don’t call, sheepishly, at the end of June to see if maybe they could visit for a long weekend or two.  They don’t rent the front house for a week, leave bottles of wine, novels, and swimsuits.  They don’t park on Main Street, they don’t tip at lunch, and they don’t line up for ice cream.  The envy they felt as they tossed their penny has long since blown away.  At best, they call to find out how the house is doing in the weather.  Otherwise, they look for other hosts.  Winter is what it isn’t.  It isn’t warm, it isn’t gentle, it isn’t pleasant. 

You have to have a mind of winter, not to define yourself by who you aren’t.  We aren’t thin, we aren’t rich, we aren’t young, we aren’t who we told ourselves we would be when they high school yearbook wanted predictions.  Our sins are tattooed to our faces.  

You have to have a mind of winter to look in the mirror on a gray morning and not think of what you don’t have.  In the raw wind of February, the gray face that stares back is without heat, without riches, without youth, without love, without grace, and without hope.   

Our friends have moved away and have become rich in the Berkshires.    They wake up to inches of snow every morning.  They go skiing, and then they go to plays and concerts and movies.  They eat Spanish food for lunch and Vietnamese for dinner.  They stand at the top of Mount Snow, amid lovers and friends, and wave to us from their Christmas cards.   

It takes the mind of winter to look into the gales and gusts outside, and turn inside.  You have to see all that is without in order to appreciate all that is within.  You need to stand on the wet and raw cobblestones of an abandoned Main Street to rest within the warmth of the Brotherhood. 

We knit ourselves together in handshakes, waves, and gossip.  We make dinners and we make crafts and we meet each other in the baking goods section of the Stop and Shop.  We play bingo and bridge and beer pong in each other’s basements.  We settle into each other in the bleachers and banquets, then stretch into the web of the familiar and the fond.

We are who we are.  We are the ones that walk Sanford Farm amid a welter of dogs and nod to each other along the path.  We are the ones that stand waist deep in water off Monomoy and rake up the sweetest scallops from the eelgrass.  We walk into the spinning starry dark and count the constellations.  Braced against the wind, we stand on a roof and hammer home shingles.  We stand.  We stick. We last.  

Bob Barsanti's novel, Milestone Road, was published this summer.  His previously published book of essays about Nantucket, Sand in My Shoes, is available here.


A "Nantucket' tatoo belongs on the face of one who has passed a winter on Island--skating on Maxxy's pond, cross country skiing on Madakat beach, and enduring  long dark nights with many books under many blankets. This side of  the  Island  needs to be seen and felt to know her intimately. It is the seaason that separates the 'Have's" from the 'Have Nots" where the richness lies deep in the full knowledge of Nantuckets soul. Nicely written, Bob.  Ryder