I don’t know how long year ‘round island residents have referred to March as “Hate Month,” or the origins of the term. It would be a great question for the NHA research library. Maybe I will ask them later; right now, there is much to discuss.
For the uninitiated, or those who wrongly believe that February is “Hate Month” on Nantucket, it isn’t hard to understand how the third month earned its reputation. Winter is bleak here. Many people who love the island to bits avoid overwintering here at all costs. Others, who grew up here, fled to warmer climes permanently; that’s how emotionally terrifying the stark emptiness can be. I describe it to the uninitiated as “Wuthering Heights on steroids.” Some of us wander the isles of the Stop & Shop, avoiding eye contact, returning bleary and exhausted from the simplest human contact … the very same people that will chat your ear off on a sunny day downtown in May, once enough warmth and daylight have brought us back to the land of the living.
So March, the beginning of the transition, can be tough. As people emerge from hibernation, stir-crazy with cabin fever, vicious gossip tends to run rampant. I have heard the worst things in the month of March: whose relationships didn’t survive; affairs, transgressions, and outrageous retributions; untimely deaths; catastrophic illness; relapsed addictions; thefts; sexual assault. It can be like wandering the battlefield of winter, after the fact, viewing the destruction. We are sick of the lack of color in the landscape, the damp, endless cold, and each other. And spring, pretty much non-existent (or at most, extremely subtle), isn’t appearing on the horizon quite yet. While people on the mainland are tucking their woolens away, we still reach for that grey sweater, yet again, shuddering as we open the envelope containing the heating bill.
But there are as many signs of hope as hate in this month that comes in like a lion, and charges out like the same lion, windy and raw, conspicuously lacking in lamb. The birds have been singing for weeks, though the sound seems out of place amongst the icy puddles. Intrepid bulbs are pushing their pointy, green shoots through the debris of winter’s death, and there are even some early blooms to celebrate and enjoy. People with vacation tans, looking oddly orange, give us something to scowl at, an easy release of the bitter poison in our storm-addled brains. Surfers return to newly-shaped breaks on the south shore, when the north wind cleans up the swell. Tomato seeds sit nestled in soil trays on the windowsill. Landscapers are back on the job, honing their mulch muscles. It will get better, eventually. We know that.
And for those of us who don’t give a minute of attention to college basketball for eleven months of the year, there is the NCAA tournament, or March Madness, as it is fondly known. With great anticipation, many of us fill out our brackets (a ritual, in some island circles), and submit them to under-the-radar wagering pools. Hidden psychic talents have emerged as a result of these contests, and detente across Town Meeting issue isles is established, rallying behind the Orange of the ‘Cuse, or those intrepid Huskies. (I’ve already had my first consultation with my guru: Wichita State is looking good; if I learned anything from last year, I will lighten up on “sentimental favorites”). As March roars out the way it began, we roar at tall, sweaty, college students on the TV screen, like loony hares at a Wonderland tea party, and it seems to help, a lot.
It could be worse, after all. Enjoy the lingering strands of peace and quiet, and lack of traffic. Bundle up for walks on still-empty beaches. Feast one last time on fresh scallops. Shop for groceries during daylight hours, insured of a parking spot. Once Hate Month is over, it’s just a few short weeks until we are overrun with tourists in yellow pants and daffodil hats, decorated dogs, drunk people in ‘Sconset, and everything else that comes after that (including some sun-kissed skin of our own…).
Reema Sherry is an island resident and a member of the Nantucket Affordable Housing Trust who is currently working on a book of her former musings. This piece originally appeared in the Nantucket Chronicle.