Great Point, Great Expectations

 

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from a calmer beach walk where i was not attacked by bugs

 

Recently, I got it into my head that what I needed to do was hike out to Great Point from the Wauwinet gatehouse out here on Nantucket. Great Point is the northernmost tip of the island and I’ve never been there. The closest I’ve gotten to the lighthouse is seeing it from the boat on winter days when the seas are particularly choppy and the HyLine captain travels in close, sheltered by the curve of sand.

I spent the last week getting ready for my walk out to Great Point, thinking how lovely it would be to escape the summer crowds and find some peace and solitude. On Sunday, I set off early around 7:00 AM, after waiting a few hours for the fog to burn off. It didn’t.

Armed with water, sunscreen, a notebook, and good shoes, I was feeling great. Everyone else in the world was still sleeping, and I was going to hike the 8-mile round trip trek. No phone, no music, just me and the waves.

Well, that was the plan. But you know what they say about plans.

After about thirty minutes of walking, almost out to the last house, I could not ignore the fact that I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I turned my head to look back and see just how many were biting me. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. What had to be thirty mosquitoes were feasting on my legs, arms, back…they were probably in my hair, too. I ran down the path to the harborside, where there were very few bugs.

I had bug spray in the car. I could do this. All I needed to do was get back to the car, get the spray, and I could set out on my walk again. By the time I did all this, an hour had passed. The fog had not burned off yet. Did I mention it rained for the last three days?

Completely saturated in DEET, I figured I would be fine. But the mosquitoes did not subside. I got up as far as where the Jeep trail begins in the soft sand, and still the bugs came after me. I started running, and ran to the oceanside, thinking that there must not be any bugs near the ocean. If I could make it to the eastern coast, I could walk up along to Great Point.

But the bugs, dear reader, were worse on the ocean side. I felt like i was riding a motorcycle headlong into a cloud of mosquitoes. I swallowed at least two. I ran from the ocean side to the bay side, up the face of a dune, with a towel over my head in an attempt to keep the bugs away like some crazed Lawrence of Arabia.

I learned I cannot outrun a mosquito, let alone a whole swarm of them. Maybe I was asking too much of nature, to provide me with quiet and solace on such a busy August day, when I had nothing to give in return.

At least now I have given quite a bit of blood to the Wauwinet mosquitoes.

Welcome!

Hi !

I’m Mary Bergman, a writer and historian living on Nantucket.

I am fascinated by the people, places, and landscapes that make up Cape Cod and the Islands. I have dedicated my work to helping to document the unique people and places here at the edge of the world.

I regularly contribute to A Cape Cod Notebook, a weekly nature/natural world radio essay program on WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station. My work has also appeared in Historic NantucketN Magazine, The Common online, McSweeney’s Internet TendencyProvincetown Arts, and other places where great stories are told!

If you’re looking for a writer for a project or just want to say hi, please get in touch through the contact form on the “about” page.

Terminal Moraine

It occurs to me that all you really need to know about my writing is that it is driven by the acute realization that all of Cape Cod and the Islands will be gone much sooner than I would like.

I feel like I am trying to document the last days of a civilization that will be one day wiped completely off the map.

Writing Sprints

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Every Sunday since early January, I have met with a friend at my favorite coffee shop. (On Nantucket, we lack in many things, but coffee is not one of them. I try to split my time and my money between a few.)

We talk a bit about the week, and then write until we can’t anymore, or until the coffee shop girls start turning down the lights and start scrubbing the floor with disinfectant. The smell of bleach is not as inviting as the smell of coffee beans. We take the hint.

This has been a good practice, because as much as I try to write every day, there are always a couple of days where something comes up, or I have to put a paid writing job at the top of my priority list instead of working on my (second? third? fourth? how do you count? do you only count the good ones? if we are only counting the good ones, it’s the second) novel. Then there are the short stories, poems, essays…

…and this blog.

Writing with someone, even just sitting across the table, in silence, with only the sound of fingers flying across the keys, feels different than writing alone.

Sometimes, when I am particular stuck and trying to unravel a long thread, or find the right words, or just words in general, I think about running. In particular, how running was something I never thought I could do. It took time and practice, and is still difficult. But in the years since I started, I’ve run farther than I’ve ever dreamed I could.

Then, when I am running (usually about…uh…right away) I have to remind myself of all the words I have written. Remember when you couldn’t write a story longer than 6,000 words? You’ve written things 10 times that! Get it in gear!

I keep exercising–running, indoor cycling, whatever–because it helps my unravel my writing thoughts. It reminds me that  I can do more now than I could in the past.

The thing about writing and running is, it’s easier to keep going if there’s someone to help you set the pace.

 

Pretend You are Talking to a Friend

 

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I have written before that in Provincetown in February, the dead outnumber the living. On a frigid, so-clear-you-can-see-to-Plymouth day, it seems especially true.

Yesterday, I drove down from Hyannis to Provincetown for the funeral, or celebration of life, of a well-known town character. It was cold–just hovering around 20 degrees–and the town was empty. Most sane people were home, where it was warm.

The service was in the Unitarian Universalist church, an old 1840s era building with two chapels and trompe l’oeil  frescoes adorning the walls. The same artist painted the UU church on Nantucket.

In the 1840s, the two towns must have shared more similarities than they do now. Nantucket in the 1840s was a world center. Somewhere along the way (I’d say 1916), Provincetown became the more cosmopolitan of the two. It’s hard to know if those kind of distinctions hold any meaning in the hyper-connected world we are in today. Sure, “the world comes to Nantucket,” but I don’t need to wait for the world to come to me anymore. (However, still I wait.)

The celebration was particularly moving because it was for someone had lived their life exactly the way they had wanted to. This meant no “traditional” family structure. There was no wife, no husband, no children. No brothers or sisters–a cousin and a college roommate were the ones who’d known him the longest.

But there were friends. Drinking buddies, coworkers, hangers-on. Pals, sympaticos, confidantes. There were friends whose relationships blurred over the years–from more than friends to friends and back again.

There was a woman in a fabulous fur coat in the spartan chapel. (The former Hicksite Quakers who became some of the first Universalists were rolling in their unmarked graves.)

He was not alone at the end, the confidante tells us. I think the entire church sighed in relief.

(Pretend you are talking to a friend.)

 

Hell or High Water; or, Winter on Nantucket

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Steps Beach in winter, Jan 4, 2018

 

I fought it for as long as I could, but sometime around the middle of December I caved in and realized it was indeed winter. I still travel with my bathing suit stashed in the car, but now the ice scraper and snow shovel are taking up residence, too.

The last couple days have been pretty brutal–extremely frigid temperatures, high winds, rain, and relative warmth, then back to freezing. This all took a toll on our aging sewer system, and for the last 48 hours it’s been discharging into the harbor. Over a million gallons.

Nantucket prides itself on our historic downtown, but we do not want to relive the smells of the past.

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Frozen harbor west of the jetty, Jan 1, 2018

Today, it took a steamship upwards of three hours from Hyannis to travel behind the Coast Guard ice cutter. It brought over food, islanders stuck on the other side, and huge lengths of pipe. I know the town is working is hard as it can to clean up the streets and the harbor, but the weather is working against them. Monday promises a relative reprieve, a balmy 40 degrees.

By summer, this will all be a memory. Just another tale from the front lines of life in winter, traded for supper at fancy cocktail parties.

But the old timers are quick to remind me that there are still places on Nantucket that reek of whale oil, when the temperature is high and the wind is still.

 

 

The Fowler Shack, pt 1

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It is strange, or perhaps not, that for all I have written about the dunes, about Provincetown, in the last five years, but the last two years especially, how nearly paralyzed I am by the thought of writing about my experience there in October.

I’ve written two short essays that are out in the world, awaiting their fate in the digital slush pile. Those came to me quickly, and I started writing both while I was out there. But to make sense of the whole week will take more time.

I will say that it was harder than I thought, mentally and emotionally. In my real life, I wake up and go to the gym or run, I write for two hours, I go to work where I see only one or two other people, when the weather is good I go to the beach, when it isn’t I come home and write more.

It’s an island–there aren’t that many people to talk to.

But, if you read my recent piece on The Common, you’ll see that I live pretty close to other people. I might not always talk to them or hang out with them, but they are there. I see their lights come on in the morning, I hear their cars crunch over the shell driveway at night. In the summer, their kids ride their bikes and play hide-and-seek in the decorative tall grass that runs between my yard and the street.

It’s nice to know they are there.

When the fellow from the Compact dropped me off out at the Fowler Shack (during the most brilliantly warm stretch of October weather–the hottest October on record, Christ), there were people in the two other shacks nearby, cleaning and readying their homes for fall.

Good, I thought. It won’t just be me and the coyotes.

Hours later, I heard the sound of an engine turning over, and in a blink the car and the people were gone. The sun was, too. There I was, alone in the dark, not yet having figured out that I should light the hurricane lamps an hour before the sun starts to sink, not yet knowing how to start a fire.

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That first night, the darkness and the solitude hit me hard. The closest person in any direction was over a mile away, over the sand. I am used to being by myself, but I quickly learned that is very different from being completely alone.

I started thinking of Pat and Mary Anne and Sydney and Susan and the woman without a name, the Lady of the Dunes.

Me and the coyotes and the ghosts.

In the morning, the sun rose and the light seemed to stretch on forever.

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You been reading joke books again?

I like cracking jokes, making people laugh. I have this old coworker who used to say to me “What, did somebody tell you you were funny today?” if I started to get a little too heavy into the puns.

But to that, I say, YES.

Here’s a piece I wrote on McSweeney’s: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/nantucket-summer-house-names-that-double-as-epitaphs. 

Yeah, THAT McSweeney’s!

I’ve been doing a lot of nature and place based writing lately, and now branching out into place-based humor, I guess!

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