Fall in Nantucket
Copyright Vladimir Kagan November 25, 2013
It is only four days to Thanksgiving and here I am reminiscing about a weekend over a month ago. Why? Because it was lots of fun and full of interesting activity… and most of you weren’t there!
Remember Columbus Day? It’s always a great Holiday for store sales – or - A weekend in the country with the kids - or - Soccer and Lacrosse matches to keep parents from going for that weekend in the country. For me it was Nantucket.
My weekend started in New York on Thursday with an invitation to the final performance of the original Coc au Vin band, with Ingrid Feeney, the band’s indispensable vocalist, playing hooky from her Master’s studies in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Joanna Hay, my favorite violinist, took time-off from recording the oral history of Kentucky Bourbon. The four other members: Caleb Cressman, Andy Harris, Pete Arsenault and Lucy VanArsdale arrived complete with her bass fiddle in a three-car caravan from Nantucket. Ethan Philbrick, the concert cellist, now studying in New York at NYU, joined the band, as did Joanna’s nephew, Ben Thornewill, who is a promising rock star and leader of a band called “Jukebox The Ghost”. Thornewill improvised the gypsy tunes with a distinct Jazz flavor on the Grand piano… Fans came from everywhere … Asa Jean had just flown in from Italy in time for the concert… he got the place rocking by encouraging everyone to dance … It was a fun start of a lively weekend.
My adorable traveling companions on my flight to Nantucket
I lucked out hitching a ride to Nantucket in a friend’s plane… It was a perfect afternoon to escape New York, bypassing all the stifling weekend traffic. The plane is a sexy twin engine Cessna normally, quiet and dignified with passenger’s noses buried in their newspaper or briefcase files. Not this time! It was a kiddies outing with more children than adults. 40-minutes later we arrived on our far-away Island to a glorious sunset.
The glorious sunset as seen from the airplane just before we slipped under the clouds
Scalloping is Nantucket’s favorite fall sport. The season starts October 1st, but gets frenetic over the Columbus Day weekend. Saturday morning was blustery with winds gusting over 25 m.p.h. Only the foolhardiest of souls ventured out to muck about in frothy chilly waters, spending hours in their waterlogged waders as they became flooded by the onrushing waves. (Age had its advantage and I was spared going overboard)… my mission was to monitor the anchor and keep the boat from dragging over the seaweed bottom. For those that don’t rake for scallops it is mandatory to partake in opening them. The process is called shucking, a ritual, best done in the backyard as it is messy and slimy. It is also time consuming and best accompanied with a glass of beer, wine or better still, a slug of whiskey. (One of our fellow scallopers took a short cut and paid the local fishmonger to do the task for him. That is cheating!) If you scallop you must experience shucking. This year, I managed to escape the shucking, as I had to prepare dinner for 21 guests. My specialty is Ceviche and Cesar Salad. (Without boasting, I make the best of both… Another time I may share the recipes). It was a contest between my Ceviche and my daughter Vanessa’s outstanding pasta (made with the freshest scallops money can’t buy.)
heading out to the flats off Tuckernuck Island
The kids getting ready for a joy ride out to the scallpop fields
...and this is what the "hunt" is all about! Nantucket Bay Scallops
Finally the reward: tasting one of my ceviche delicacies
Scalloping is not Nantucket’s only Columbus Day “sport”. There were numerous other events to lure the tourists. High on the calendar was the Cranberry Festival, an afternoon concocted around the harvesting of these succulent berries. When the weather is nice, it is fun for all the family; games, hayrides, sheep sheering, hot dogs, and a tent filled with tables offering everything and anything made with cranberries. Cranberries are an integral part of Nantucket’s agriculture. Nantucket boasts the largest contiguous Bogs in the USA. Cranberry harvesting is a treat to watch and seldom seen by the public. The ritual starts with bees pollinating the flowers in the spring, (hence the honey on sale in the tent). After weeding the bogs all summer, when the berries are ripe the bogs are flooded with water to harvest them with a thrasher. Millions of berries float to the top and then corralled and sucked up with giant vacuums into waiting trucks to be transported to the Cape for processing. The flooded “ponds” turn crimson red and are a spectacular sight to see… it is an irresistible subject for artists and photographers. I love doing this event every year.
Sunday turned out to be another fine fall day. The not-to-miss event of the day was the Demolition Derby. You can’t believe how many real and would be rednecks we have on the island. (I was surprised to see so many of my friends.) A thousand spectators watched the screeching and banging from behind the safety of a chain fence as the cars kicked up dust and dirt with their spinning tires. Participants take great pride in decorating their wrecks with funny epitaphs or the names of local sponsors; all glass is removed from windows and replaces with chicken wire… only an infinitesimal amount of gasoline is in each gas tank and fires are not a usual risk. To heighten the excitement, huge billows of steam pour out of the radiators, as they are smashed in this adult form of carnival “Bumper Cars”. Each round takes less than five minutes but much longer to clean up. This year there were 50 cars entered with 7 heats for the day. I loved to watch the dexterity of the Bulldozer operators as they clear the wrecks between each heat. There were food and chowder stands to keep us warm in the chilly afternoon.
A successful driver leaving his wreck behind - followed by an ever vigilant fire fighter - just in case!
At the end of the day the "grave yard" after the demolition
If watching car wrecking wasn’t on your agenda, there was a little publicized show called Capoeira, a Brazilian dance and marshal arts performance at the local high school auditorium. The origin of Capoeira came from African slaves, who, chained and shackled, invented this aggressive tactic, disguised as a dance to trick their Portuguese overseers into believing it to be a benign event.
An air-borne dancer - the action is so swift that he is appearing only as a swish
Nantucket has a sizable transplanted Brazilian colony, mostly working in gardening, housekeeping and construction. Under normal circumstances, you might occasionally meet one in the local Stop & Shop; otherwise they tend to be invisible. This performance was a surprising eye-opener. It gave a new dimension to these talented people and their acrobatic dance. The stage was filled with dozens of white costumed performers; stave carrying singers, string instruments and bongo drummers. Capoeira is a performance sometimes in slow motion, instantly becoming lightning quick with dancers doing gymnastic leaps tumble, flip, kick and pirouette while ducking under their opponents. It is a dance with rhythmic flow of motion; there is hardly ever a bodily contact. Most enchanting was the participation of little children, aged four, five, and upward, from the local elementary school, interacting with these giant high performance “warriors” in this gentle dance. As in Judo, performers are rated with colored belts that denote their lever of expertise. (See link below to what a video of this great dance)
Finally, it was the closing ceremony for our yacht club, with the lowering of the burgee as flag officers stood in silent observance while a bugler played taps.
We could not have crammed more activities into this three-day Holiday, but it turns out that we missed the half-Marathon and numerous other sporting events…. By Tuesday morning, with the mass-exodus of visitors, Nantucket slipped back into its fall slumber….
Our beautiful Boat Basin after the crowds have left
Link to Capoeira Dance: