The day started off like most days. Waking, coffee, thinking. I was camping, sleeping in my clothes so the dressing part was taken care of.

Lately one of my many projects has been to try and train the ducks that reside nearby to not be afraid of me as I bicycle down the path on which they are often comfortably nestled. For a week or so I have been whistling a two-tone ditty as I approach so that they would hear it and become familiar with the idea of me.

At first they would scamper, quack and waddle away. But I was persistent and in a few days it seemed like they had arrived at the notion that this thing on a bike coming at them at a slow pace wasn’t a threat. As I glided down the path whistling, they held their positions. It sure is nice to begin the day with a success.

I then headed into town to visit with my favorite coffee klatch and joined the group where they sat. A lively conversation was taking place as I went from person to person, shaking hands and wishing good mornings.

Cherele was reminiscing.

“Well, it used to be we could walk right across the lawn of the old Hendricks place on the way to school. We’d stop at the village store and old man Walters would give us each a penny candy. You don’t see that kind of thing theses days, especially not candy for a penny!”

Tom chimed in.

“Yep and we used to hunt ducks in the back pond at the Hendricks place, usually could bag a couple.”

I entered the conversation.

“I had a duck experience just this morning,” I said.

“What was that?” Cherele asked.

“Well, up where I’m camping, you know the place (mum’s the word), they have a bunch of pet ducks and every morning I drive by them on my bike and they quack like crazy and get off the road, so I have been trying to train them to know when I’m coming by whistling a tune so they’ll just sit back and watch me go by.”

“Is it working? Cherele asked.

“Well, seems to be a bit. They didn’t quack as much today and they waddled a bit slower. That to me was a success.”

“What kind of ducks are they?” Cherele asked. “Are they Muscovy? Now those are good eating. We used to have Muscovy, very good eating.”

“Well, I’m not sure,” I told her. “Frankly, I could only tell you if they were mallards, which these aren’t.”

“Well, in the old days things were different,” Cherele said. “We used to have to raise our food of course and the boys would go out and hunt for rabbits, squirrels, deer, turkeys, you know, that sort of thing.”

“Talk about good eating, Guinea hens rank pretty high,” Tom chimed in.

“Yeah, I agree,” I told him. “One time Billy Miller, you know, he used to drive heavy equipment for D and A, you know, the artist?”

“I know who you mean,” Tom said.

“Well,” I continued, “one time I went over his place and as it turned out he got a Guinea hen road-kill and it was just finished baking when I showed up. It was great, like the cross between a duck and a chicken.”

I went to get some coffee and then came back to the group, listening some more as they continued to reminisce about days gone by.

“We used to burn tires to warm up, course we wouldn’t do that today,” Tom said. “But back then no one knew what we know now, about pollution and all that. But anyway, we used to jump the tires while they were on fire. My record was five high. Couldn’t do that today, but back then we had a lot of fun outdoors in the winter.”

“Donny, you remember Donny?” Tom asked.

We did remember Donny who was well known for a

number of things, not the least of which was his love for pyrotechnics, having at one point made a pumpkin cannon using a big PVC pipe and firing pumpkins using acetylene as a propellant.

“Well, we made this ice boat,” Tom continued, “and were out on the great pond but there was a problem. No wind. But fortunately, or maybe not, Wynn Murry was there and he had an old WWII Willy’s jeep and, well, he offered to pull us around on the ice tied to the jeep, and so he did. The only problem was he wouldn’t stop. Round and round we went with Wynnn just laughing away. Those were some fun times!”

Eventually it was time for the coffee break to wrap up and the group started to stir and get up. As I went on my way I mused on a subject that is quite prevalent on the Island. Preservation. There are historic homes preserved, plots of land, even trees. It occurred to me that there was another sort of preservation that occurs all over the Island in each of the many coffee klatches and where people stop to just pass the time. The stories that are passed around, sometimes corrected or augmented by participants, stories of back in the day, stories of those who have passed, stories of the way it was.

Those who have lived their whole lives on the Island offer an insight into how things were and in some cases how things are today by contrast. So when ambling about, when looking at the inanimate things that have been preserved for the ages, remember how easy it is to tap into life here and now and discover what that big house with the plaque in front of it was like when it housed a family, perhaps even one of those people sharing coffee breaks at the village store or gas station. That’s the key to discovering the past — make friends in the present!

Joe Keenan is a shingler, carpenter and baker living in West Tisbury.