One Shade of Grey in the USA


O'ConnellIf the last step is catching the ferry on time, the first step is planning the trip with an eye toward building abundant time cushions into each leg. At approximately dawn, with a long drive looming and a rigid ferry schedule, the car is packed with people, pets, necessities, various sundries, and some doubt. Is this trip really worth the hassle? How many more accessible destinations were passed over?

She is a very proud island, confident in the appeal of her natural beauty and fully embracing her age. Widely known by the apt moniker “The Grey Lady”, Nantucket is famed for both the pesky low lying fog and its multitude of gray houses, their hue likely acquired thanks to the sea air perpetually tossing salt water mist. For either or both of these reasons, the ferry that shepherds throngs of day tourists, vacationers, and summer residents all season long shares the name.

There is a simplicity to Nantucket if you are fortunate enough not to be a part of her storied social scene. Supremely peaceful, where the humid evening air lies low and amplifies the horse hooves down the street, where the beach at dusk beckons not for its warmth, but for its grand scale and awesome power, where history is positively exploited. It is impossible to sit on a bench by Children’s Beach and not give due consideration to those who have travelled the same landscape.

The numerous widow’s walks throughout the old port tell of a time when people lived with perpetual uncertainty, living and dying by the harsh and punishing whims of the sea. Today this way of life is a relic of the past but the lovers of history and tradition have made sure it is not forgotten.

It is an island that takes itself very seriously, however resort oriented it may have become. It honors its storied history, of the whaling and maritime varieties. It demands architectural and aesthetic consistency of its homeowners, such that renovations are closely monitored by a commission tasked with lighting, fencing, and color compliance. Most homes are named, rarely straying from the painted wood and chiseled gold signs, proclaiming, “Our Peace of the Rock” or “Windswept”. For all the dictates surrounding walls, mailboxes, and the like, it is surprisingly not a place of complete uniformity.

Regardless of from where one comes and how far one has traveled, it is impossible not to be awed by the opulence and the competing duality: of perfectly manicured, exquisitely landscaped lawns framing grand home after grand home, and yet each one almost guaranteed to be unique, if for no other reason than to afford silent bragging rights to the titan who owns such a breathtaking summer residence.

It has the distinction of being one of only a few islands that is as beautiful in the rain and dense fog as it is in the great equalizing sunshine. To every visitor’s benefit, nature has seen fit to bestow a nearly flawless environment in which to enjoy free time. The dozen beaches around the island are all distinctly different, known either for their sunsets, sunrises, gentle waves, lack of accessibility, or unforgiving winds. Spend an afternoon at any of them, and the views are both classic – lighthouses still stoic and determined, catamarans gliding with ease, gulls plunging into waves – and singularly brilliant. No two days on the island ever feel the same.

Nantucket’s roses enthusiastically grow, with wild bushes flourishing in equal number to sculpted privacy hedges. This is a small triangle of land where excess is ordinary, and where one is acutely aware of what a privilege it is to be on this most divinely beautiful island. Despite the harbor full of private yachts, the near constant arrival and departure of ferries, and the busy small mid island airport famed for its private jets and chartered flights, there is a feeling of seclusion.

How else to explain the peaceful state that settles upon one’s soul as soon as the Grey Lady docks. There is the temporary chaos of arrival – families clamoring to see loved ones waiting on the wharf, the island’s traditional wood paneled Jeeps pursuing coveted parking, and suitcases, totes, and golden retrievers pushed, pulled, and tugged over the cobblestones. But there is a pervasive sense of tradition here, coupled with the knowledge that the enchantment of the island awaits with each return.

To leave Nantucket is to feel as though the world in which you have lived is both immeasurably large and at once comfortably small. It is the marvelous dichotomy that is Nantucket. No soul leaves thinking it is the last time they will experience her; each departure is coupled with thoughts, sometimes knowing, always wishful, of their next return.

About the Author: Elizabeth O’Connell lives in Connecticut with her husband, three young children, and loyal Shih Tzu. A graduate of Cornell University, she is a mother first and a writer when time allows.

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