Nantucket :: Heaven on Earth, Part II

There's this place on the east coast nestled off the coast of Massachusetts that's truly paradise.
It's rustic and wild and yet tame. 
It's a summer preppy paradise but it's so much more.
It's tranquil and serene.

It's calm and orderly.
It's rustic and rich with culture.

We traveled to Heaven in the off-season.
The tourists and summer folks have left.
The beaches were pristine and the sand was smooth and untouched for miles, as far as the eye could see.
The salty air was cool all around us.

The sand was cool under foot.

The ocean was about as blue as I have ever seen her. She was Caribbean in color but her temperament was fall in New England. Her waters looked cold and rough.
We walked the many beaches of the island... peaceful, calm, tranquil... exhilarating! 

Most of the houses have been closed up for the winter. But many stood occupied with their flags still waving proudly above. I wouldn't close up my house. For there is nothing more magical and awe inspiring than the beach in the wintertime with her dark, green and stormy waters crashing angrily along the shore. Have you ever seen the beach blanketed by snow? It's about the most beautiful sight there is. 

On Nantucket the houses all seem to look alike. Architecturally they are quite different in style and size, but there are stringent laws regarding the island's architecture. These laws stem back to the earliest days when the island, founded by Quakers, required the houses to be built in a simple and unadorned style. All building supplies had to be transported to the island by ship which was very costly. Glass was even more expensive than wood, and if you drive through the town and see some of the older houses, you will notice that the windows are terribly small. The general rule of architecture during the Quaker era was that form should follow function. The shingles which are now ubiquitous to the island's landscape, are not only aesthetically pleasing but they are strong and durable. 

The grey and weathered shingles are what you see predominantly on the island. In town, the building facades are allowed to be painted white or a pastel color. But only one side of the building is allowed to be painted. Away from town as you head out to Madaket or Sconset you'll see white or green trim, but that's as far as any exterior painting goes.

Nantucket became a popular whaling community and these fishermen became quite wealthy, thus the houses of that era became larger in stature and slightly more elaborate in architectural detail. It's been said, however, that once the whaling industry died and money ran out, people had to stop buying raw material from the mainland and thus started the reusing of materials that would end up preserving the historic architecture we know and enjoy today.

Protective dunes along the island beaches help to keep the beaches from eroding.

The small island boasts over 80 miles of beaches. American beach grass provides much of the stability for sand dunes and serves as a habitat for a variety of migratory and year-round birds.  Piping Plovers, Oystercatchers,  Least Terns and (of course) Sea Gulls. Where more soil is present, Rusa Rugosa and Beach Peas take root and even thicker coastal shrub communities include bayberry, Scrub Oak, Eastern Red Cedar, Low-bush Blueberry, Eastern Prickly Pear and Beach Plum can be found.  These also provide homes for upland birds such as Ring-neck pheasants, Crows, Savannah Sparrows and Robins.  It's not uncommon for Gray and Harbor seals to be found lounging on the beaches and we had the amazing experience to find about a dozen of them swimming playfully along the shore. They saw us approach and initially ducked underwater for cover, then seemingly knowing that we were not there to cause them any harm, they swam over closer to us. They seemed as enchanted by our presence as we were by theirs!

Pines are aplenty, and older American Elms line the streets in town, but most trees were cut by early settlers to build houses and boats, so only a few stands of hardwoods and evergreens can be found on the island.  White and Black Oak share space in Coskata Woods with hazelnut, huckleberry, wintergreen, and Poison ivy abounds.  
Creeks flow into harbors and create salt marshes and tidal ponds.  Flooded daily by the tides, these areas are home to salt-resistant Cordgrass above water and Eelgrass below. A myriad of shellfish such as Bay scallops, Oysters, various Crabs, Quahogs, Soft-shell and Razor Clams find their homes here. Egrets, Herons, Kingfishers and (naturally) Oystercatchers can all be found happily feasting here.  

The island boasts much more for those who want more than island ;life. There's much shopping to be found with many talented artists and artisans on the island. Clothing, home decor and book stores line the cobble stoned streets. Museums and many fine restaurants feed the intellectual soul and the hungry palate. Evening entertainment is a plenty. And even though the island tends to attract a summer crowd many rentals, hotels and restaurants are open year round. As special as she is in her summertime glory, the island is magnificent when the crowds are long gone and her beauty is unblemished. 

We had an amazing weekend filled with laughter-induced tears and non-stop dining and drinking... We enjoyed the scenic outdoors and the restaurants, the shops, the bars, the island's only brewery and distillery, and of course each other's company... We met some wonderful along our journey people and have created memories that will last a lifetime!

And now back to reality... and re-entry has been rough!



For more on Nantucket, the island, restaurants, hotels and anything else you need to know, stop by and visit this all inclusive site. 

*Photos in this post property of Jessica Gordon Ryan and 
The Entertaining House