Nantucket Time

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In the late 80s or early 90s, Diane found a small ad in a local newspaper for a small house on Nantucket. We had visited Martha’s Vineyard several years before and thought Nantucket would be an interesting vacation spot. Rattlesnake Bank, located about 12 minutes outside of town, was wonderful. It was off Polpis Road, a long clam shell drive led to a 1950s, two bedroom cottage, that would become our favorite get away for over ten years. The owner, John, was from Newtown PA and had inherited the property from an  aunt. When she bought or built in the 1950s, Nantucket was still a bit of a backwater tourist destination.

The first year, we stayed a week and did the usual tourist things. We went to beaches on the sound and the ocean. Did some birding. In town we explored Nantucket’s whaling history and took a architectural-historic walking tour. We had bicycles, so there were bike rides into town and to Sconset, the small artist colony of quaint cottages. We saw the lighthouses and enjoyed some shopping in the cobble stone streets town center — Mitchell’s Book store, Nantucket Looms, Murray’s Toggery, where you buy Nantucket “red” shorts and shirts.  We fell in love with the island, Rattlesnake Bank and the Nantucket rhythms.

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As the years passed, I began to experience Nantucket Time.  You need to be in a familiar place, no need to rush, to do, to see new things.  Move slowly, relaxed, no deadlines, go with the flow, enjoy.  Nantucket Time is like a slow flowing stream; waves gently breaking on the shore.   The wind rustling in the trees, the early morning birds.  Nantucket Time  is the sound of wind chimes, the smell of flowers, or salt spray. Nantucket Time would begin on the 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from Hyannis to the Far Away Island. By the time we reached Rattlesnake Bank, I was wound down.

We usually arrived in early afternoon, drove down Orange Street and stopped at a favorite bakery.  At the rotary, we picked up some wine and beer, then unloaded the car, beach stuff, bicycles, kyack, cameras, binoculars.  Some years Jenny brought a friend, one year Smiths visited; another year my parents.  One of the great things about renting from John was we were not confined to a standard weekly rental.  We told him the day we wanted to arrive and how many days we wanted to stay.  There were several couples he rented to like this on a regular basis.  We began to feel like Rattlesnake Bank was our second home.

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As the years passed, Nantucket Time deepened.  We had many established routines — trips to Cisco brewery and Bartlett’s vegetable farm market, Sayle’s Seafood and the Wicked Island Bakery, previously mentioned.  Each year we ate out a few nights — we sampled American Seasons, 21 Federal Street, Arno’s,  Oran Mor, one of our favorites was  Black-Eyed Susan’s.   Every year, our final dinner was at Straight Wharf.  I believe the first high end restaurant in Nantucket.  The chef for 20 years was Marian Morash, a one time assistant to Julia Child.  Each year we had her signature Bluefish pate.

Despite the fact that a fire in 1864 wiped out most of downtown Nantucket and sounded the death of  the whaling industry, there is a strong sense of history in town.  We would visit several sites every year — the African American Meeting House, the Jethro Coffin House, Whaling Museum, First Congregational Church and the Old Mill.  We took various tours — the first year it was a jeep tour, sponsored by Trustees of Reservations, to the Great Point Lighthouse.  If I remember correctly, we got a private tour of the Coatue Wildlife Refuge where the lighthouse is located.  One year we rented a jeep and made the trip ourselves.  Several years we joined Audubon groups for early morning bird walks.  Another  year a Herman Melville scholar gave a tour of sites associated with the author of Moby Dick. And we still get mailings from a hospital fundraiser annual house tour. There were beach discovery tours where Jenny collected and identified sea creatures, using small scoop and seine nets.

Nantucket always offered a rich cultural life.  There were plays at the Congregational Church and other venues, lectures — we saw David Halberstam, Jack Welch (GE CEO), and several lectures by Nathaniel Philbrick — Nantucket historian and author.  Most years we attended a a concert or music venue — Judy Collins, Joan Baez, James Taylor, and the Boston Pops.  At the Chicken Box we saw Bob Marley’s The Wailers.

One of the appeals of Rattlesnake Bank was it’s location.  Someone told us it was one of the most secluded rentals on the island.  At the same time it was a fifteen minute walk past the Life Saving Station Museum, down a dirt road to Nantucket Sound.  This was a good place for birding — we eventually bought a scope.  And then there was the year of the John Kerry presidential election.  His wife Theresa Heinz had a Nantucket house.  We started to see a car, license plate “Heintz” at the end of the dirt road.  Construction was happening and they were destroying “our” wild berry bushes.   Were John and Theresa creating a secluded Nantucket house?    I wrote Therese Heinz who eventually wrote back informing me a staff person was borrowing her car.  John lost the election; I still wonder.

On Nantucket time, I read a lot of books.  Nantucket history, tales of the sea, Cape Cod and New England.  We also spent lazy days at the beaches  — our favorite was the uncrowded Sesachacha Pond beach,  with access to the ocean.   It was a 20 minute bike ride from Rattlesnake.  We would occasionally go to Miacomet or Nobadeer on the Ocean side. This is were the kids and surfers hung out, so Jenny liked it.  On the sound side,  Jetties, near town, was crowded with families and Dionis was usually filled with seaweed. We didn’t go to either very much.

Rattlesnake Bank was ideally located.  At the end of our drive, we could get on the bike path and head for town (about 20 minutes) or Sconset (about 40 minutes).  If we climbed the hill behind the house, we were in the Nantucket Moors, acres of preserved landscape, trails and a lookout called Altar Rock.  Down in the Sound, there were several places where we could launch our and later a second kayak that John bought.  And there were hiking trails — short and long.  Although in the first few years we felt we had discovered most of Nantucket, I was always pleased when a typographical map led us to a new water access area or wooded trail.  We became heavy on the familiar with a twist of the new.

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But Rattlesnake Bank wasn’t our home.   In the early 2000s, John called, he was selling for about 2 million, not the house, which would be moved, but the property.  Nantucket had become a upper class resort. Our Arcadia was ending.  We searched unsuccessfully for a replacement rental on Nantucket but ended up on Pilgrim Lake in Orleans, Cape Cod.  Pilgrim lake is great.  There is a lot of activity, canoeing and fishing, the National Seashore, Proviencetown, beaches, a bike trail, lots of seafood.  We’ve only been here 3 years, and we share with Jen, Rob, Viv and Eli.  Grandkids add a special flavor to summer vacations.  We are beginning to remember places —  Nauset Market, the Cottage Street Bakery, Cooke’s Seafood, Rock Harbor, Nauset Beach on the ocean and Skaket on the bay.  Eli has really gotten into fishing on the lake; and he participates in a baseball clinic every morning for one week.  College players come to the Cape to compete iand meet recruiters.  In the morning they coach young kids.  There are walks and programs at the National Seashore;, birding, and boat trips. A few historic sites — we haven’t been to the Transatlantic Cable Station Museum yet.

And of course, hopefully there can be Nantucket Time on Cape Cod.  Maybe because I am older, or we have only been here three years, maybe I have too many issues on my mind.  It’s been slow coming.   Every morning for  the past few days, I get up and say, take it slow, listen to the birds, watch the light change on the lake, don’t worry about what happens, enjoy the moment.  I think I am slowing setting the clock to Nantucket Time.

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2 thoughts on “Nantucket Time

  1. Jerry says:

    Wow, I’d forgotten about Nantucket. We vacationed there several times in the early 80s and loved it. Now I want to return. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane Vince.
    Jerry

  2. Maryanne roche says:

    Thanks, Vince, Twas really wonderful to follow your journal of Nantucket. Forty nine years ago John and I spent two weeks of our honeymoon on the best island in the world at the Jared Coffin house and bicycles all over the place, carrying our snacks on backpacks before backpacks became ubiquitous. We walked every morning through the docks, came home with a harpoon that still hangar on our wall, and still reminesce about those most happy days. Maybe for orfiftieth we will get back. Many thanks, again. MAR..

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