I lost a close friend the other day.
Not to death or irreconcilable differences. The lure of the mainland took her. Actually, the siren call of Colorado beckoned and she answered. Crusty Butt, Colo. (Crested Butte to you cleaner folk out there) becomes a much better place to live for all on March 3.
I know the reasons why, among them advancement in her already extraordinary career, the ability to afford her own house and to reside closer to her family. So, I let her go from my physical life, having learned of her impending departure a year ago and therefore able to process heady emotions and wrench my heart back into a working organ that no longer wrings tears and breeds depression in time for saying goodbye.
I know I’ll see her over in America sooner than later because her leaving has prompted me to plan a road trip that’ll include visiting her, a friend in Boulder, another in Durango and my sister in Minneapolis for the Minnesota State Fair. And although, we didn’t sever Facebook, email and phone ties, I no longer live three miles from her.
Fortunate was I, and the rest of Nantucket, to get to know her when she replaced the former director and co-founder of the UMass Boston Nantucket Field Station, Wes Tiffney, in the fall of 2003. Even further blessed I was to become her friend and benefit from her vast natural world knowledge and connections.
She welcomed the public out to the field station for innumerable natural world events including Christmas bird count meet-ups, Nantucket Biodiversity events, off-island students’ weeks, research, research and more research along with summer BBQs, Fat Tuesday crawfish feeds, New Year’s Day brunches, countless potluck parties, Junior Rangering with her husband, Len, and poetry slams. She gave of her precious time as if endless and in my mind, became a multi-tasker with no rival. She did it all with a smile on her face and a gleam in her eyes that told me how much she loved her job, her life on Nantucket and the lives living here.
In several key ways, She empowered me. She saw fit that I became the editor and lead writer of the Nantucket Blue Pages, a water quality awareness publication that should soon move from digital to hard copy this spring. She coaxed me into adjunct professorship to teach UMass Boston students the natural history of Nantucket during the Nantucket Semester last year and the year before, using my book, “Nantucket: A Natural History” as the textbook, an experience I reveled in, I hope to repeat and shall cherish forever. And she supported my new business, Nantucket Walkabout, in its early months, with groups of high school and UMass Boston students, helping get my legs under me.
Most of all, though, Sarah Oktay, became a genuine close friend of mine who is only leaving my town, not my heart. One who I could rely on to unabashedly speak her mind, be there for me when I needed someone who really gets me and someone who brought all of us environmental nerds together. Trite as the term is these days, Sarah really was a kind of glue or, a force, which attracted to her and then bound together all on island and off who care deeply for the wild creatures and plants on Nantucket.
There was a moment a couple of years ago at a New Year’s Day brunch at the field station that Sarah put on when, after scanning the room full of people stuffing their faces once last time before committing after-holidays diets, that I realized these wonderful revelers were my peeps. And Sarah did that. She got us all together.
With Sarah on her way out to a new life in the mountains, we’re a cohesive group that just days after her departure, I already see growing tighter and working closer together.
Sarah did that. `