Crazy bird

Oh, of all the madness in the world — and there does seem to be a plethora of it — I find myself compelled to share a bit more. But there’s a difference. I care not to waste more emotional energy on the chaotic state of our democracy nor on our loose-cannon president; I wish not to dwell another second on the butchery in the world masquerading as religious integrity. For a change, I wish to tell the story of another form of nuttiness, much maligned and so rarely given any press time, and that is the kind of craziness that first astonishes, then exasperates and finally, inevitably, amuses. This is the tale of a crazy bird.

The first thing we noticed was the odd, oily smudge on the living room window. As if a painter had dabbed his brush in bacon grease and then swirled it on the glass in vaguely concentric circles. A little Windex, and it was cleaned off. Done. We thought. We were wrong. For virtually the next moment, there was kamikaze robin diving repeatedly into the window. Amazing to watch. He flew into the window from a nearby yew time and after time.

One sage naturalist opined that the bird was defending its nest — it is, after all springtime and it was completely within the realm of possibility that he had a nest in aforementioned yew. Seeing his own reflection in our window, he was fighting off a rival. OK. That was one idea. But, let’s face it, a mullioned old Nantucket window does not lend itself to reflection.

First, we cut back the yew branches that were brushing against the house. The idea was to make it harder for him to see his reflection, if he actually did. No joy. He just flew a little farther to bang in to the window. Not once but over and over. Like a robin on a suicide mission. Then, we wondered if what he saw and worried was a potential nest disturber was the carved wooden shorebird on the windowsill of said window. We removed the carving. That did it! Well, that did it for a day or so. And then the bang, bang, banging began again.

The robin and his busy disturbance began at first light, so the thumping is what woke us up. But we were wrong again to surmise that his knocking at our window was confined to the dawn hours. Later on, perhaps as he became more emboldened or perhaps more desperate or perhaps when his brain was even further scrambled by repeated self-concussing, he could show up and begin flying into the window at any old time. What we did not take into consideration was that our crazy robin might be taking pleasure in disturbing our peace.

That idea crossed my mind when he stopped flying into the living room window and shifted his deranged attention to our first-floor bedroom window — of course, beginning his assaults as morning light broke — on the opposite side of the house. Tap, tap, pause, taptaptap. More effective than any alarm clock.

This morning, we had the bright idea to cut a piece of aluminum foil into vertical strips and hang one from each of the two windows downstairs. Peace achieved! We thought we’d outfoxed the foxy bird. Until the taptaptapping started up again — this time, at the upstairs bedroom window.

We know our robin. He hops around the front and backyard, fat and happy and seemingly sane, if sanity is something that can every actually be applied to a bird. He does not look mad. He looks like a robin going about his robin-like activities. But we clever humans with big brains are held curiously hostage by this nutty bird.

Must go. He’s at it again. Ramming his handsome head into the window. If only one of these times he’d knock some sense into himself!

— Belle Songer

Big fish

You can call me Marlin. Yes, I just saw Finding Dory. I unabashedly admit I am a fan of Pixar and all things undersea. But I’m not referring to the clownfish in that flick. In this musing, I’m conjuring the billfish.

I’ve been trying to figure out why Nantucket is such a powerful force in my life. Like so many, I came here as a child, got the bug, came back and stayed. That might account for some of its pull, the nostalgia — memories of my pet seagull Chris, scalloping with the Orange Street octogenarians, opening a catch with my parents and their Sewickley cronies, raising not one, not two but three dogs here, morphing from a green kid into a working professional on this tiny patch of sand.

Of course, there’s the island’s singular beauty. Even in winter when the world here is simply grey. Sky, shingles, pavement, the cold metallic sea. Even in March when the damp and constant wind are bone-eating, and everything is grey, including the mood of most. But the soul cannot feast on scenery alone. So, what is it about Nantucket?

It’s been a niggling question over the last few days — why my heart is so firmly planted here. Then it dawned on me. Nantucket opened up a stream of opportunities for me, each  worthy of a lifetime’s occupation for those lucky enough to pursue just one and collectively, a tapas bar of experiences that this particular individual lucked into sampling. Just by being young and ambitious and a castaway.

Consider: on Nantucket, I have tried my hand at professional scalloping, both in the shanty and on the boat;  and cleaned the houses of the outrageously rich. I got my start in newspaper work stringing for the Cape Cod Times and then became news director of Channel 3, the local cable TV company, serving as the nightly news anchor. When I needed a job, I could create one — the Nantucket Writers’ Workshop, say, or the newspaper I founded and ran for nearly 20 years. Nantucket also was fodder for my freelancing career, giving me bylines in The New York Times, Boston Magazine and who knows how many other outlets. My hankering to get my feet wet in book writing was jump-started here too, when I stumbled into editing,then revising Building With Nantucket in Mind. Plays I wrote in my spare time found a home and production at the Theatre Workshop, for whom I later worked as artistic director. Once I was even hired to be a wedding photographer.

Each could have been a career in and of itself; each sustaining for an adult lifetime. Take the cable TV job for instance. In the real world, the entertainment industry is a union-driven field. In my two or three years at Channel 3, I leapt to the top of the profession as anchor, delivering the news every night (even if one viewer wrote in and complained that I had marbles in my mouth). Not only did I not have to slog up the ladder, corporate or union, I could cross lines unimaginable elsewhere. I learned how to handle myself in front of and behind the camera; I learned the sound board and all the technical facets of television broadcasting. Even the administrative tasks were not out of bounds. At a small station 30 miles out to sea, we all did everything. All four of us.Where else could I have done all this?

To recognize that on this little island I have worked in television, publishing, journalism, theater, education, photography, commercial fishing and done my share of menial labor is to contemplate a life so rich in diversity and so impossible almost anyplace else, especially for a woman of my era, I have to smile. I needed to recognize this gift Nantucket has given me or die an ingrate. That’s what happened this week: the ding-dong moment.

It goes without saying that I never earned any money. Money simply was never the point. Experience was. And I got it. Lots and lots of it. So now I get it.  Nantucket is a little pond and I got to swim around in it like a marlin. I could be embarrassed to confess as much. But I’m not. There’s a lot to be said for owning what you are.

— Belle Songer


Dueling angels

Seven hundred fried twenty-somethings staggered off the Nantucket ferry onto the dock in Hyannis yesterday. Fried in every imaginable way. I wanted to hand out sunscreen, an urge that reminded me I’ve grown into my mother.  But it was too late anyway. They were crisped. Red racing stripes running down downy white legs, across the back of necks and making provocative arrows pointing alluring toward cleavage.

They were also fried in another colloquial sense. It was the end of Figawi Weekend, known alternately as Memorial Day Weekend, an event that once-upon-a-time was supposed to be about a sailboat race from Hyannis to Nantucket, a fact lost long ago. The atmospheric ‘fog’ in Figawi (as in ‘where the f__k ah we?’) morphed into a well marinated kind of fog before the first sailor found (bumped into?) Straight Wharf. It’s a party. It’s a brawl. The only thing these legions of foot soldiers on the battlefield of youth were memorializing was the grey cells they’d sacrificed on their parade route from bar to bar.

This year Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, two chiseled specimens of the male species who are icons of the Patriots football team were so out of control at Cisco Brewery, they drew a crowd. The proprietors, being no fools, began to sell tickets to this celeb mayhem. The boys became the entertainment. The word from my spy is that they ran up a $3600 bar bill which said proprietor, being no fool as I’ve mentioned, forgave. After all, you cannot buy that kind of publicity if you own a brew pub. Mentioned on the evening news, as they were. To the boys’ credit, they left the barman a $1000 tip. But was this appreciation for taking over his job and opening the taps? Or do they even remember doing it? It’s a toss up. Or maybe, since today is opening day of football practice, I should say it’s a coin toss. Or maybe, when Coach Belichick is through with them, their little gluts shining as red and sore as those sunburns, we could call it a spanking.

Which brings me back to the beginning and all those baked babes coming off the boat. The matronly angel that hovers permanently by my right ear, feeling smug and judgmental, despairs for their skin and their grey matter and the unruly behavior they visited on Nantucketers well into the wee hours this past weekend. But, TinkerBelle, that mischief maker, who is always buzzing my left ear, sees things differently. She is the patron saint of youth and lost boys. And she is always reining that matronly old buzzard back into line.

“I’ll take a Gronk six pack any day,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “Better youth and beauty, bad judgment and bad hangovers ,than the slippery slope of the moral high ground.”

Yeah, baby. That’s my Tink.

— Belle Songer