The roses have spilled out over the west wall of the house. On a day one week ago, we walked out the front door and suddenly saw them in one long cascade of blooms down to the ground. The sun had finally emerged from the low ceiling of fog and muck to sip away the remaining water and to pull the roses out of their buds The Hydrangea was drawn out as well, and now spouted a fountain of blue on the western side of the house.
On the eastern side of the house, however, the roses remain wrapped in their buds and the hydrangea, hidden in their stems. The rumors of sunlight were only rumor. Until the star itself peered through the leaves and bushes, nothing was going to bloom. Otherwise, they weren’t going to put their trust in anything. Sun or nothing.
July has been just that; all or nothing. On one hand, you walk down Surfside Beach and several lecture halls full of drunken philosophy and chemistry students discuss the modern situation with sunscreen, beer funnels, and the police. Then, you drive downtown into a waiting parking space on Main Street. The sidewalks are bare, the shop keepers are bored, and the shadow of recession stretches down the cobblestones.
When you live for awhile on island, you become a student of the sky. We look out to the eastern horizon and consider our alternatives. Clear and white puffy clouds meant swim suits, but the white and blue clouds on the horizon brought out the sweatshirts and the bluejeans. Either we are meant to go to the beach or not; our only oracle are the skies.
On the worst days, the fog hangs fifteen yards deep and you can hear the soft love of the mildew and the slow drip of your sanity. On the best days, dawn slowly glows forth over the Haulover and the Wauwinet. The colors puddle up on the horizon, washing the clouds in glow and red, before flooding the island in light. You can lie on a beach and watch the steady creep of a shadow as it move west to east. It passes over Miacomet, then Point of Breakers, Surfside, Fisherman’s, Nobadeer, and then over you at Madaquecham. In the evening, the sun drifts through cloud to cloud, yellow to red, until in one crimson pool, it slipped beneath the western waters. Nantucket is fundamentally different. We don’t have more clouds, we have more sky.
Stand on Altar Rock and look around. On a clear day, without a single cloud, Altar Rock terrifies. Nothing steps between you and the horizon; no buildings, no trees, no hills, no distant mountain range. You don’t have any safe little frames to protect you from this great emptiness. At work, this sublime sky would get broken up into a nice little moving picture on the wall next to the Human Resources Bulletin Board. You could ignore the weather while you wrote the new top priority staffing memo.
But, out at Altar Rock, amidst all of that emptiness, the perspective in your life switches fast. The Mastercard bills and the unreturned phone calls mean a whole lot less, as do the music on the radio, the woman in the passenger seat, and the next twenty years of your life. You are no longer are the master of the house, but the faded flower on the western wall. Two more days and you blow away. A million years from now, the sky will be as blue as it is today and we will all be reduced to a a pile of plastic forks,a hundred lost golf balls, and a half a gallon of gasoline.
And on one of those worthless, cloudless days, two friends of mine were married on a beach in Madaket She wore white, he wore gray, and they served blueberry vodka and lemonade. They wrote their own vows, danced their own dance, and served us all cake. Two hundred of us sat under the eternal sky and witnessed.
The couple had met two years before and, as the Maid of Honor told the story, the bride wasn’t all that sure of her heart. She met her friends at the beach, consulted the oracles, the boutiques, and the vodka bottles, then drove back to her home. And, on her radio, she got the sign: “Jenny, Don’t be Hasty.”
So she married him. She bloomed for him, he bloomed for her, and they stood amidst two hundred other flowers for one lucky minute under a cloudless sky. They were lucky it wasn’t cold They were lucky it wasn’t cloudy. They were lucky that they sheltered each other from the sky.
And as the lobster puffs and stuffed cherry tomatoes subsided into chicken and beef kabobs and then to cake and coffee, the sun set into Atlantic and the candles came out. The timeless eons slipped away with the sun and left us with only tonight. And tonight was fine. Tonight was champagne and the Jackson Five and the gentle weight of a resting head.
We moved away from the dance floor and the candles into the dark Nantucket night. The ocean rolled as it always would, the wind blew from the southwest, and a cloudless, moonless night glowed with ancient light. The stars were richer than the constellations. Taurus, Gemini, and the Dipper were peppered with stars too dim for names but too bright to be ignored. None of the old names mattered, or even fit anymore. We linked them up in our own ways that night, named them after the people we knew, and almost immediately forgot who they were. Together in the lucky night, we made a constellation of roses.