Spring can be a funny business in New England. You’re loading up the wood stove one day, and the next, you’re desperately searching for a pair of shorts so you can get out in the garden. It’s winter and then it’s not. No place perhaps knows how to embrace the “not” part better than Nantucket. For the last 39 years the small Massachusetts island has dedicated the last weekend of April to the arrival of spring with the Nantucket Daffodil Festival.
Make no mistake, Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival is as much a celebration about what’s just ended as it is about what’s to come. “The whole island just wakes up,” a native Nantucket resident told me.”People see the boats coming with the tourists, and everybody just goes, ‘They’re here.'”
Which is to say that after four months of dormancy, the Nantucket that summer residents have come to expect, suddenly comes into bloom. Hotels reopen, shops, too, restaurant menus expand, and the tourist buzz that defines Nantucket’s cobble stone Maine Street, returns in full force.
Two weeks ago I brought my wife and young son to Nantucket to see the festival first-hand. Yellow and daffodill were everywhere. On lamp posts, in store windows, along tourist clogged streets and even backroads. Men wore flower decorated pants, while women donned daffy designed dresses and intricate flower hats. While walking back to my hotel on Saturday afternoon I spotted Eric McKechnie, a local, sitting on a bench wearing a huge yellow flower around his head. “I just bought it at a party 15 years ago, and I’ve been wearing it on Daffodil weekend ever since,” he said. While I chatted with him, one curious couple stopped to take his picture. As the husband brought the camera into focus, his wife asked him if the flower was comfortable. “No,” he said, matter of factly. “It’s not.”
Our lodging for the weekend was at the White Elephant, one of the island’s premier hotels. Our place was grander than some apartments I’ve called home. It featured two large bedrooms, two full baths, and a sun drenched living room that made you never want to leave.
But venture out we did. At Children’s Beach, across the street, my two-year-old boy got up on stage and danced with other kids, ran himself ragged at the playground and then got the chance ride around in a 1943 fire engine. He talked about the “big truck” for days.
In the middle of town, we got an up lose look the annual parade of antique vehicles, including a new family favorite: a 1957 BMW that seemingly weighed about as much as a Vespa and featured a front-hood that was also the car’s only door. A five-star crash tested vehicle it is not. The dog parade followed, and then it was off to ‘Sconset, where all of downtown was given over to an island-wide picnic. Tables were set up with vast amounts of food, of which anyone could come and sample, there was live music, and of course, all those antique cars.
The next day we journeyed to Bartlett Farm, Nantucket’s oldest and largest family owned farm and home to the weekend’s prestigious daffodil competition. We saw cows, one giant windmill, ate some local treats, and were steeped (a little bit) in the rules of the flower show and the many thousands of daffodil varieties that exist.
Of course, this weekend is not just about the flowers. It was about seeing one of New England’s most prized summer destinations before the official onslaught of summer. In fact, spring may just be one of the finest times of year to visit Nantucket. By Sunday afternoon, much of the island had returned to its pre-festival quiet. The stores and restaurants remained open, but we had many of them to ourselves. We ate stuffed lobster rolls at the Brandt Point Grill for lunch and then found something equally delicious with the salmon tacos at 12 Degrees East for dinner. At Steps Beach, just outside of town, we practically had the entire run of sand and water to ourselves. After such a long, hard winter, spring had officially sprung and we were more than happy to enjoy it.
Scenes from Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival.
The party in ‘Sconset.
Bartlett Farm and the daffodil show.