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sea 10
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nantucket 5
world 4
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found 2
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watery 2
among 2
canada 2
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whales 1
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lighthouse 1
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shore 1
eddystone 1
lonely 1
elbow 1
hillock 1
mere 1

Chapter 14: Nantucket.


Nothing more happened on the passage worthy the mentioning; so, after a
fine run, we safely arrived in Nantucket.

Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of
the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely
than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it--a mere hillock, and elbow of
sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than
you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some
gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they
don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have
to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that
pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true
cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses,
to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an
oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand
shoes, something like Laplander snow-shoes; that they are so shut up,
belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island
of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will
sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these
extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois.

Look now at the wondrous traditional story of how this island was
settled by the red-men. Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle
swooped down upon the New England coast, and carried off an infant
Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their child borne
out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow in the same
direction. Setting out in their canoes, after a perilous passage they
discovered the island, and there they found an empty ivory casket,--the
poor little Indian's skeleton.

What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take
to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogs in
the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for mackerel; more
experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod; and at last,
launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this watery world;
put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in
at Behring's Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans declared
everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has survived the
flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That Himmalehan, salt-sea
Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of unconscious power, that
his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and
malicious assaults!

And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from
their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like
so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and
Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add
Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm
all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds
of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he
owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having but a right of
way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges; armed ones but
floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea
as highwaymen the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of
the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the
bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on
the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and
fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. THERE is his home; THERE
lies his business, which a Noah's flood would not interrupt, though it
overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie
cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as
chamois hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so
that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more
strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull,
that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows;
so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails,
and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of
walruses and whales.