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Final Nantucket Notes

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Madaket Beach, Nantucket

[I had anticipated writing a post covering our final day and a half in Nantucket two weeks ago. I started it last week, but it has been going nowhere. Let me take what I wrote, add a little more, and bring it to a close.]

A week ago [now more like eleven days ago], I wrote at excessive length about our day in Nantucket the day before. Here’s a quick round-up of how we spent our final day and a half on Nantucket.

Friday, after breakfast at our inn (the Wauwinet), we spent a half hour in the late morning on the porch while the lawn was mowed, then almost three hours on the lawn, relaxing on chaises and reading. I had started Kate Walberg’s A Short History of Women the day before and became engrossed in it. We might happily have spent all day there, but we were waiting for the 2:00 PM delivery by Nantucket Windmill Auto Rental of our car. We had never rented a car on Nantucket before and were looking forward to getting to parts of the island we hadn’t previously seen. By waiting until 2:00, we would have the car for 24 hours, a single-day rental, and then be able to return it the next day as we arrived at the airport for our flight to JFK.

As it turned out, the car didn’t arrive until around 2:25. We signed the paperwork, grabbed a map, and by 2:30 we were off. It was an odd feeling, driving on Nantucket, since previously we had only seen it when being driven around, by taxi to or from the airport and by the inn’s shuttle, between Wauwinet and town. For the first time, we could go anywhere we wanted, turn up and down side roads to see where they led, explore whatever we wished. We knew our first wish: Madaket, the community on the western end of the island. Nantucket town is at the opening to the harbor, centrally located on the north side of the island. The second largest community is Siasconset (‘Sconset), on the ocean shore to the southeast. Wauwinet, where we stay, is on the ocean shore to the northeast, more or less due east across the harbor from town. We have spent most of our time between Wauwinet and town, with a bike ride last year down to ‘Sconset (and a bike ride from town to ‘Sconset on our honeymoon 25 years ago). But we’ve never been west of town.

We drove from the inn about 7 miles to town, worked out way through its edge, then picked up the road to Madaket, another 7 miles. Madaket sits on the western edge of the south shore. In addition to homes, there are two commercial establishments, Millie’s and, by its side, a tiny grocery store. Millie’s, it turns out, is brand new, having just opened in June. It is named in honor of Madaket Millie, a famed Nantucket figure whose home was just across the street and about whom a children’s book was written. As the Amazon blurb for the book explains,

Millie Jewett was raised in Madaket, the ocean edge of Nantucket Island, by her grandmother, who taught her a lesson that shaped her character: “Where life has set you, make a difference.” And what a difference she made. Knowing there were no women in the lifesaving service, strong-minded Millie demanded to know why not. Turned down by the Coast Guard when she tried to enlist during World War II, Millie proved her mettle in other ways: by training dogs to patrol the beaches, by unofficially staffing the Madaket Coast Guard station when it was closed down, and by watching out for anyone in trouble. “I’ll take care of you” became Millie’s motto. Strong in body as well as in mind, she always followed her words with deeds. Ultimately, the Coast Guard relented and adopted her–or was it the other way around? This beautifully written fictionalization of a true story is an inspiring tribute to a woman who became a legend on Nantucket . . .

The restaurant has waiter service upstairs, or you can order from the same menu at a counter on the main floor and choose a table indoors or out. Plus, there’s an ice cream takeout window. We opted for the upstairs sit-down restaurant, with wonderful views out to the nearby homes, dunes, and ocean. The menu consists primarily of tacos and quesadillas. Gail had the 40th Pole: Grilled chicken and jack & cheddar cheese. I had the Rhode Island Avenue: Grilled skirt steak, mushrooms, poblano peppers, grilled red onions, and jack & chedder. It’s a casual place, but the food is excellent.

From Millie’s, we headed to Madaket Beach. Once on the beach, we had the view you can see up top, looking eastwards along the shore to the house. A couple was heading back our way, so Gail stopped them and asked how far they had gotten. To the house, they said. It’s not occupied, but the furniture is still all there. And there’s a for sale sign, they joked. We didn’t get that far, but we did walk down the beach a bit. It was cool, and a little windy, but lovely.

Next up, a drive back to the other end of the south shore, ‘Sconset. We headed back into town, then took the island’s main road, Milestone Road, the east-west stretch between town and ‘Sconset that also passes just a bit north of the airport. Along the way, we took a slight detour to the south to see another community that we had until then only noted on maps — Tom Nevers. We drove south until the road ended, at the beach, passing through some small streets with houses, then reversed our way back to Milestone. North of Milestone, across from Tom Nevers, are Nantucket’s cranberry bogs. From the website of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation:

Cranberries have been grown on Nantucket since 1857 and were an important part of the Island’s economy until just prior to World War II. Before 1959, all 234 acres of bog were under cultivation on the Milestone Road, making this bog the largest contiguous natural cranberry bog in the world. Since that time, intensive efforts to conserve water resources have resulted in the construction of a complex network of ditches and dikes that subdivide the bog into smaller and more water-efficient units. Unfortunately, these measures led to the Milestone Road bog losing its status as the world’s largest bog.

Soon we were passing the Siasconset Golf Course and pulling into ‘Sconset. The town center is small. There’s a post office, a grocery/general store, a sandwich place where we had lunch a year ago, a more upscale restaurant, a wine store, and not much more, just east of the town’s traffic circle. North of the circle is the Siasconset Casino, a tennis and social club founded in 1899 and serving both members and the community. Across from the Casino, to the north, is Chanticleer, a French restaurant that we somehow missed in our little walking and bike tour of ‘Sconset a year ago. I didn’t want to miss it this time, since Seth at the store Jewel of the Isle had mentioned it the day before as the place where his jazz trio, Opus 3, was playing all summer. (See my post on a day in Nantucket town.) Not that we were going to go in then. It was too early, and we weren’t properly dressed. To our surprise, the posted menu outside indicated that men should wear jackets. The fanciest places in town don’t make such a request, though many diners do. Nor does Topper’s, the restaurant at our inn, which might just be the fanciest restaurant on the island. Or so I thought.

After a half hour wandering around and shopping in the general store, we got back in the car and headed north toward Wauwinet on Sankaty Road, passing the Sankaty Head Lighthouse just outside town, then Sesachacha Pond, two of the island’s landmarks. But rather than continuing to the intersection with Wauwinet Road and taking Wauwinet to the inn, we turned east on Quidnet Road to see the Quidnet neighborhood. Just before going the final four hundred yards or so to the beach, we turned north on a gravel road, Squam, which is narrow and looked a bit iffy. I chickened out, made a u-turn in the driveway north, and returned to the intersection, where a woman who had been watching us asked if we needed help. I knew exactly where I was, so I assured her I didn’t. We were heading to Wauwinet and I didn’t want to take the bad road. She assured me the road isn’t so bad at all, so properly chastened, I turned around again and we drove the two miles on Squam Road until it ends at Wauwinet Road, just below the inn. And I’m glad we did, because we saw a lovely stretch of homes. We couldn’t see over the top of the dune to our right, but I assume the houses on that side look out over the ocean.

That was that, our drive around the island, and we pretty much did make a complete circuit around it. We stayed in for the evening, going down for a late dinner at Topper’s bar.

Saturday, we spent the morning at the inn, enjoying a little more time reading on the lawn, looking out on the harbor. At noon, we said farewell and drove into town, where we were fortunate to get a parking spot right on Main Street just as someone backed out. With Arno’s just on the other side of the street, we didn’t have to think too hard about where to eat lunch.
We hadn’t eaten there for a few years, having gotten in the habit instead, if we’re looking for lunch in town, of going to Fog Island Cafe. It was time for a change.

After lunch, we walked down Main Street to Straight Wharf, going into a few stores, then back up Main to our car, the one hour of allowed parking time having expired. On the way to the airport, we stopped at Surfside Beach, straight south of town on the south shore, which we had last been to on our honeymoon. A quick look, then on to the airport, where we dropped our car just two minutes before the 2:00 PM deadline. Our annual visit to Nantucket was over way too soon, as always.

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