SEEING NANTUCKET THROUGH THE EYES OF A VISITOR NEW TO THE ISLAND
"The real voyage of discovery consists,
not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes."
My friend Katherine came from Texas to visit me in Nantucket. It was her first visit to the Island. She had written a book, and now she wanted me to help edit it. Raised in Colorado, and a long time resident of Texas, she had had only two significant East Coast experiences: she was one of the first five women to serve in the Secret Service, which placed her in Washington, D.C. for most of three years, and her son attended boarding school at The Hotchkiss School, which is located in the Berkshires. Needless to say, coming to Nantucket was a bit like venturing into another country for Katherine.
Katherine’s first Nantucket surprise came at the airport in Boston when the Cape Air representative asked her what she weighed. Not only did the representative ask, but the pilot also asked. Katherine was the only woman on the plane and was somewhat dismayed to have to answer this question twice. When I met her at the Nantucket airport, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the Crosswinds Restaurant. She expected typical diner food; instead she got wonderful homemade scrambled eggs on her made-from-scratch breakfast sandwich. She was shocked to learn that people actually go to the Crosswinds for lunch and dinner—even when they are not catching a plane.
The night she arrived, I had one of my monthly dinner parties with a literary focus. This one was centered around the poetry of poets born in the month of February. After dinner, we all went downstairs to sit around the fire and read and talk about poems. Katherine was shocked. She had never heard a grown man—a manly men—read a poem unless it was a dramatic rendering of “The Cremation of Sam Mcgee.” A good Texas girl, she was convinced that real men didn’t eat quiche or read poetry. In Nantucket, she discovered that they do both.
I learned through Katherine’s visit that if you want to know more about the place you live, just ask someone who has never been there to visit. Bright and curious, Katherine asked question after question, and I was surprised to learn that I couldn’t answer most of them. I spent hours during her visit on the Internet looking for answers. First of all, she wanted to know what the name NANTUCKET means. In case you don’t know either, Nantucket takes its name from a Wampanoag word that means "in the midst of waters," or "far away island." Next she wanted to know why we call the Island ACK. I could answer that one. Astonished by the uniformity of the houses, she was fascinated to learn that in 1956 the Historic District Commission was created to preserve the uniform and historic look of the Island. It was the second such historic preservation “watchdog” organization in the nation. The foresight of the Island in establishing The Nantucket Conservation Foundation and the Land Band to prevent rampant building was another revelation. Nearly 50% of the land on the Island has been permanently preserved for conservation. I learned how astute and proactive the Island has been in thinking ahead and making Nantucket the idyllic place that it is while insuring that it will stay that way in the future.
As you all know from all my effusive articles, I love Nantucket, and I am happier living here than I have ever been in my life. Still, seeing Nantucket through Katherine’s eyes has increased and deepened my appreciation of it. The questions and the on-line searches were too numerous to record here, but suffice to say, I learned much more about the Island I love and call home that I previously knew, and I was more than a little ashamed of my ignorance.
On our first Island tour, we stopped at the Take It or Leave It, often referred to as the Madaket Mall. For those of you less familiar with Nantucket, this is a portion of the dump where people take things they can no longer use and pick up things that they would like to have. On the day that we went, I found three wonderful books of poetry, a Silver Palate cookbook, and a small table that I want to paint designs on. Katherine picked up a doll for a friend’s child and a small framed quotation. There is nothing quite as wonderful as the Take It and Leave It on a good day!
Friends invited us for a Sunday Brunch and a tour of the Island. Lox, bagels, scrambled eggs, and mimosas with the New York Times and a spirited conversation about politics began the morning. Our tour, given by a long time Nantucketer who had grown up here, took us places that I had never been. We hiked in the salt marshes off the field station, we drove on the sand in Coatue, and we hiked the trails. We viewed the island from the top of Alter Rock, saw the Nantucket Serengeti, and walked the cliff walk in Sconset.
Katherine talks to everyone! She is the most outgoing person I know. At Sayles Seafood, she made fast friends with the people who worked there. As a result, Katherine got to pose for pictures with the biggest lobster that I have ever seen. At the seventy percent off sales in the shops, she made friends with all the clerks who scurried around to find exactly what she was looking for. In Lola’s she made fast friends with the sushi chef, who made her a special and spectacular sushi roll. In Nantucket Looms, she was invited to read the letters they had received from Jackie Kennedy, and in the Whaling Museum, she had a private tour. At Cisco Brewery, Katherine met Tyler Herrick. She had read about Tyler and Cisco’s Brewery’s $350.00 a bottle scotch entitled Notch in the Cape Air magazine. Tyler, who is passionate about the scotch, told us all about it, and while we did not get to sip it, we did get to smell its richness.
In her stay on Nantucket, Katherine learned the art of layering clothing, and now she knows how to both bundle up and shed those layers as the sun comes out. She walked on the beach and collected shells. And, as most of us do, she fell in love with the Island. The winds on Eel Point blow hard through the night. While that sound is disconcerting to many, Katherine felt as though the winds were sirens singing their seductive song to her, pulling her so deeply into Nantucket that she never wanted to leave, and she knows that she will come back. But just to make sure, she will drop a penny in the water as she rounds Brant Point lighthouse to insure her return.
This is Pat Jones' first year living full time on Nantucket. After decades of teaching English at the high school and college level, she is now embarking on a new and challenging odyssey. Both retirement and Island life are new and exciting and occasionally daunting. In this column she will share what it is like to live on Nantucket year round. As a poet, a writer, and a novice visual artist, her metaphor for the journey is “Throwing Paint.”