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Volume 39 Issue 6 • June 11-17, 2009
now in our 39th season

Summer Daisies

by Robert P. Barsanti

While I was walking into work today, I saw that the daisies had arrived on West Chester.  The untended, uncut, weedy expanses just out of town are liberally punctuated with the flowers.  They have grown so big and so tall, that they must have been doing their green work for quite some time.  I had missed them during their construction but then, at the outset of my walk, there they were in the thousands. 

We throw a whole weekend for the Daffodils.  Roses take over the month of July and Holly berries do quite well in the winter, but we rarely mention Daisies anymore.  Once upon a time, the girls graduating from Nantucket High would make Daisy chains and wear them on stage.  Now they pop up amid the fescue, ragweed, and goldenrod and we never notice them as we speed by on our way out to the dump.  Or at least, I didn’t.

So, with those thoughts rattling around my head, I came to the Atheneum garden to a disappointingly common sight.  A vacationing family had set up shop around the sun-dial.  All were dressed in labels that I should have recognized, and all were in some form of distress.  The three daughters were both colorful and glum, each to their own bench; two spoke on candy colored cell-phones.  The husband and wife were in an angry conference.  While I watched, the husband turned from his wife, strapped an earpiece on and spoke to someone who cared more.  She stared off into space, waiting, in a pose and a look that J. Crew and Tommy wouldn’t put in the catalog.  Then she asked me for help.

I said yes.  A few words, a quick map, and a nudge sent them to Cliff Road and to Something Natural.  Disaster was averted.

In a younger and more exuberant time, I would have sent them off to the Old Jail by way of the Windmill.  Or I would have kept walking and said “No.”  Refusing their help would be the easiest thing to do.    They are off-islanders and tourists after all.  They would never see me again, and I would never see them.

Saying “No” is easy, of course.  “No” preserves the status quo of our lives.  We never have to try anything, meet anyone, or consider anything new.  “No” locks us into our little mental stalls where the status quo lives out the last of its days. “No” is a failure of the imagination. 

“Yes” is dangerous and heroic.  It embraces change and rocks my stable little world where the islanders know everything worth knowing and those silly tourists putter about in a fog of cobblestones and sweatshirts.  “Yes” brings about change, and change brings chaos. 

So, “Saying Yes” is the first of my resolutions for the summer.  This summer, instead of withdrawing into the upper bedroom with my remote control and my earphones, I am going to say “Yes” to more things.

Yes, I will give directions.  Sometime in the far off future, I am going to travel off of the island to a city I have never been and will ask a native some horribly embarrassing and uncool question.  I hope he gives me the right answer and doesn’t send me to a windmill.

Yes, I will be a tourist once in a while.  People spend thousands of dollars and travel hundreds of miles to come here for a very good reason.  We are a beautiful island with great beaches, nice stores, delicious restaurants, a remarkable history, and miles of protected nature.  If the only reason I avoid riding a bike is because I don’t want to look like a tourist, then it’s time to air out the frontal lobe.

Yes, I will wave.  Chief Watts and Doug Bennett have built a political career out of waving to almost everyone.  If it worked for them, it can’t hurt me.

Yes, I will walk.  The island goes out of its way to preserve as much of the environment as possible.  It wouldn’t kill me to look at it slowly.

Yes, I will tip.  The counter help did not come to Nantucket to make a fortune.  Either they are sending the money back to a family who can really use it or they will spend it at the Chicken Box and have a great time.  The summer houses are full of waitresses who had a great time out here one August. 

Yes, I will drive nicely.  Around my house, we tell each other to “drive like Mike.”  A mutual friend of ours (Mike) is the most considerate driver on-island; he lets cars, trucks, bikes, and strollers go long before he touches the accelerator.  He drives like a man paid by the hour.  

Yes, I will bring useful stuff to “Take it or Leave it.”  That little shed at the dump shows us as we would like to be.  We should all be as generous as to leave still valuable things there; we should all be as frugal to go looking there before going to Marine Home. 

Yes, I will leave the island once.  Every islander who beefs about traffic and crowds should get on a boat and travel to Hyannis.  Once there, he can spend a pleasant afternoon on Route 28 driving up to the National Seashore.  Then he can take Route 6 back and stop in the mall for dinner.  If that doesn’t readjust his values and make him think again about the traffic on Sparks Ave, he should leave.

All of us—summer residents, day-trippers, islanders, and natives—could stand to say “Yes” a bit more often.  We didn’t come to the Nation of Nantucket for the wine lists and the real estate valuations.  We came for the Daisies or the Queen Anne’s Lace or the little old fuss-budgets who prattle on about the weather and the funerals.  We all signed a very expensive “Yes” for some real estate, whether it is a hotel room on Broad Street, a bed on Essex Road, or a mansion on Hulbert Avenue.  Sometime in the summer, we should make a point of saying “yes” to the island again. 

Out in Sconset, a woman has tacked up an open letter to the community at the door to the market.  On it, she details an experiment she carried out on her morning walk.  She resolved to say “Good Morning” to everyone she saw.  When she spoke to those folks who sign the checks, they turned their heads or were impassive.  When she spoke to the people who cashed the checks, they struck up a conversation. 

While I was proud of the idlers and slackers who could put the vital work of pruning the hydrangeas to the side in order to gab with the passers-by, I wondered at the silent plutocrats.  The whole point of buying the three million dollar cottage on Atlantic Avenue is to be able to pass the time chatting with pleasant old ladies on your way for the Times.  If the plutocrats wanted to buy a trophy house where they could be silent and snooty in peace, the Vineyard still has plenty of real estate to offer.

There still might be time to say “Yes” to that cottage behind the twelve-foot high hedge in Edgartown.  Then, once there, they could send the landscapers out to turn their yard into a putting green and never see a daisy again.

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