Best kept secret

Some secrets you know are safe because virtually no one will believe it enough to act on it. So here it is—Nantucket’s Best Kept Secret: January.

Sitting by my south-facing window, the sun is pouring in warming my lap and my spirits. The wind is whistling, true, but it’s also 55° out. Yesterday, the day before and the day before that, Cajun and I took long walks on the beach. She put herself in the shallows to hunt for sea monsters, coming up with some fine, if ancient and empty conch shells. You could tell by the pinwheeling tail that she was very proud of herself.

Five days ago we had a full-out blizzard. The wind howled, the snow blew horizontal and dropped about a foot of the white stuff on the four-or-so inches already on the ground. We hunkered down around the wood stove in our little antique cottage and felt very cozy. And lucky. There is nothing like a good snow storm on Nantucket. The Little Grey Lady is suddenly outlined in white. The moors look like fields of cotton. Snow rises up tree trunks indicating the direction the wind blew during the worst of the storm. Branches hold out their arms to catch the snow like supplicants in the church of Mother Nature.

Downtown is serene. A perfect stillness settles over Main Street. What house lights there are this time of year brighten windows and speak to others sitting out the storm by their own hearths. Watching the first flakes stick to roads gives way to astonishment at the snow that keeps on coming. Hedges and woodpiles and parked cars disappear under white blankets. We follow the weather reports of accumulation amounts with a mix of awe and glee. And as soon as we can, we bundle ourselves in all our winter gear and go out for a walk.

Since childhood it has been both a particular pleasure and a ritual to make the first tracks in new fallen snow. On Nantucket, it is possible to walk throughout the old historic district, right up or down the middle of Main Street, with nothing but silence, the crunching of boots and that clean snow smell to fill the air. After a blizzard, of course, this can feel like a trudge but it is a glorious trudge down memory lane. Of being folded into snowsuits and galoshes, mitten pulled over tiny fingers, hat tugged down over head and ears by a vigilant mother. To venture out into the snow. To leave the first footprints. To make a perfect snow angel. To be gifted a day or days out of school by Old Man Winter.

That’s not to say that there can’t be rude awakenings. Especially for the adults. Power outages come to mind. Ours, this last blow, lasted about 30 seconds, if that. But just long enough to knock out all the clocks. Other places on the island suffered longer ones which can lead to very cold nights. (We felt very smug with our woodturning stove and propane range). And there’s the trouble the plows inevitably make. Snow is rare enough on the island that it’s not just the DPW out clearing the roads. There are plenty of boys with their toys, and if you happen to be off-island or at work, say, you can return home to find yourself plowed out of your driveway. One year, it would have taken dynamite to break through the mound pushed right into our drive.

But all in all, the pluses of January far outweigh the negatives. Take this balmy weather we’re enjoying today. That’s the thing about January in Nantucket. It can be frigid but it’s a clear, dry cold, and when there’s a blue sky, as there often is, the light raking across the moors or the beach is exquisite. Sunsets are unparalleled. Old squaw draw graphite lines  across the southern sky at dusk as they fly back to take refuge nearer the island. Then just as suddenly—you know the saying: wait 20 minutes and the weather here will change—it warms enough to throw off coats and stroll the beaches for miles.

And if there’s snow, even lots and lots of snow, it rarely lasts more than a couple of days. Our blizzard was Saturday. By Wednesday all that remained was the greying piles of plowed road snow. We got to enjoy the drama, the beauty, the exciting sense of being in the midst of Mother Nature’s fury — and about the time one os on the verge of being fed up with it all, poof!, it’s gone!

From my window, I watch Cajun rolling in the green green grass, luxuriating in the hint of spring in January.

— Belle Songer


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