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Volume 37 Issue One • April 5 - 18, 2007 now in our 37th season

Waiting for the Peppers

by Robert P. Barsanti

I am waiting for the peepers.

In our backyard, a small wetlands fills with the loud little amphibians once spring has started.  As soon as they get the first few warm nights, the frogs will start peeping to one another.  One little peeper makes the toot of a child's whistle.  A thousand of them drown out the Cape Air planes.

For all of their noise, I don't know anyone who loathes them.  I don't think Marine Home Center carries "peeper poison" or anti-peeper signs.  No one I know, other than one biology teacher, rounds them up for experiments.  If they disturb sleep, no one complains of it. 

It may be that, for all of their noise, we like the peepers.  After the Melvillian silence of the winter, the adolescent roars of frogs in love gets our hope out of the closet.  Like a Red Sox cap, hope looks good in spring.

On the way out, winter drags its feet.  It dawdles over coffee, cracks its knuckles, and checks the addition.   The ice still hides in the shadows of the walls and in the high grass.  The wind is cold enough to keep most of the kids off the playgrounds.  The D.P.W.'s sand fills the streets and parking lots. 

Back in September, I couldn't wait for winter to visit. Winter held so much promise to me when I was stuck in traffic.  Stuck on Sparks Avenue behind the Escalades and the Hummers, I wanted the cold winds to blow them all back to Connecticut and Hobe Sound.  As Caliban was charged, I wanted it to clear the island of its invaders and restore it to its "rightful" owners.  In my ideal winter, I could walk Main Street and see only familiar faces, read the books that had been accreting on my bedroom table, and watch those storms blow in.

When winter did come, it snuck on-island sometime after Halloween and spent the next four months lurking.  During some years, we get a winter from Canada.  The storms come spiraling up from Hatteras, the cold air locks in over us and the snow swirls and drifts over harbor ice.  This year, the only snow came on the calendar. 

Snow is winter’s champagne; we all splurge and get a little silly in it.  Buildings, trash, hedges and all are drunkenly transformed by the snow so the island becomes a party.  Cemeteries become playgrounds, streets become ski hills, and the storm becomes a story.  This winter, there was no party.  Our bad acts hung in front of us like blown trash in the blackberry bushes.    

Winter on Nantucket rests in browns and grays.  The elms, the scrub oaks, the blackberries are skeletal gray.  They clatter together in the wind.  Beneath them, the grass blows tan and hushed.  The harbor freezes at night, then melts in the day.  Out at the beaches, the clouds turn purple in mid-afternoon and the great clouds of ocean ducks line the horizon.  We measure the hours in darkness and scars.  The weeks leave in moving vans.

So much of an island winter disappoints.  Winters fireworks have been few and far between.  Teeth chattering, shingle tearing, legendary nor’easters threaten every fortnight or so, then either whirl majestically far out to sea and give the fish snow days or dive inland and drench childrens’ dreams in forty-five degree rain and wind. The ice hasn’t been firm enough to allow for pond hockey or even a few wobbly steps.  It has been a winter of mud, drizzle, and silence.

Business has disappointed as well.  As realty has slowed, so has the client dinner and the “Get to Know You” lunch.  I sat downtown at a bar for a burger the other day, and talked politics with three realtors for an hour or so.  The chef, with his New Orleans specials simmering on the stove, appeared every few minutes to appraise the empty room and to upbraid the bartender for not pushing the Jambalaya.  This restaurant had hoped for a decent winter.  Several others had given up the ghost, closed the doors, and hunkered down until their workers and their customers returned in the spring.

Hopefully.

Doubt grows faster than the bills in January and February. The long-running billion dollar banquet of island real estate may be down to a few soft pieces of celery, a cold meatball, and some lonely slices of goose liver pate.  For weeks, the Land Bank has racked up little money in transfer fees, because nothing was transferring.  The realtors play Minesweeper and the lawyers make vacation plans. The air of Cliff Road and Tom Nevers has been notably silent.  You can hear the belts tightening. 

Hope can be a curse.  One bad summer became two, which begat three, four, and five.  Pretty soon, even the dimmest can pick up a pattern.   The new commercial lease arrives in February, then hope and doubt both sit at the table, looking through the fine print.  Hope carries the advantage of habit and history: doubt holds the numbers.  You wish in one hand, you spit in the other.  Meanwhile, the roof leaks in heavy rain, the kids aren’t doing so well in school, and your neighbor just moved to Lenox. When do you stop hoping?

Now, I hope for a good spring. The crocuses have started to poke up in the Denby Real Estate garden.  Six meadowlarks have been spotted looking for a summer rental close to town.  The osprey have returned to the water views, the oyster catchers scout for restaurants and the cormorants hunt for a mooring.  Daisuke and his amazing gyroball will be appearing regularly at Fenway.  The Flying Hammer Squads are back on the roofs and walls of the town.  The potholes and ponds of Nantucket roads grow larger and larger.

But, still no peepers.

I have confidence that they will be here with the daffodils and the antique cars.  Like Ariel, they will call the sailors to the shore.  Already, the first seasonal residents have slipped back onto the island and are making plans to re-open the restaurants, inns, and shops of the summer.  The help-wanted ads have doubled and tripled in the last few weeks as landscapers and innkeepers get ready for the summer onslaught. The Stop and Shop has more and more unfamiliar faces, from Connecticut, Guatemala, and Jamaica.  Their buzz is mostly unintelligible to this Anglo, but welcome nonetheless.

In spring, I look forward to seeing and hearing from all of seasonal residents again, whether they be migrant lawnmowers, plutocrat golfers, or peepers.  They see the island as a fresh and brave new world of waves and seagrass and ocean breezes.  In their eyes, the dull landscape I have been imprisoned in, brightens. The island, to them, is a place of relaxation, redefinition, and riches.  After a winter of mini-malls and inter-office memos, they come out here to the dream of Nantucket.  And greet it with a lusty peep
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