The off-season is for trespassing.

Something like 60 percent of the island’s houses are vacant for 8 or 10 months of the year. There’s no one around to yell at you if you cut through their backyard on the way to wherever you’re going.

For several of my early Vineyard years, in the late 1980s and very early ’90s, I lived where it’s West Tisbury on one side of the road and Chilmark on the other. (The West Tisbury side is State Road. The Chilmark side is South Road. Go figure.) I often rambled back in the woods, where the King’s Highway, an ancient way, follows the ridge line.

One particular house backed almost right up to the path. It was a saltbox, a common construction on Martha’s Vineyard as elsewhere in New England in which the long side of the roof slopes to within a few feet of the ground.

In this case, within maybe eight feet of the ground. And there was a good-sized boulder not far from the edge.

I have never in my life, not then, not now, been what anyone would call athletic, but I knew I could do this. I stood on the boulder. I jumped. I scrambled on to the roof.

And I climbed, using hands as well as feet, like a monkey, to the roofline.

Over the trees I could see the Atlantic Ocean. In assessors’ parlance I don’t believe that a view of the Atlantic from the top of the roof qualifies as a “waterview,” but don’t quote me on that.

Carefully I maneuvered my way down the short side of the roof to the skylights. I could see down into the summer people’s living space. It was an open floor plan with, as I remember, cozy furniture and at least one oriental rug.

Power is about access. People with more power have access to those with less, but those with less do not have access to them.

All the same, I was gazing into the living room of these summer people who didn’t know I was there, would never know I’d been there — unless I landed wrong jumping off the roof and broke my leg, which I didn’t.

When Trav and I went out this morning, it was snowing mightily. Hardly anything was moving on the roads. No people anywhere. I cut across the field and then the lawn of a house I usually take the long way around.

True, if you trespass when there’s 8 or 10 inches of snow on the ground, you leave tracks — the tracks of someone wearing size 10 boots with Yaktrax on. I’m betting that either the tracks will be snowed under or, more likely, melted away before anyone sees them. Here’s what I saw:

20160208 deck furniture

A breakfast or lunch or cocktail party called on account of snow. Waiting for spring.

Posted in Martha's Vineyard | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

January License Plate Report

201601 jan license map

Usually I get at least 20 states in January, almost half the total. This year? Hah. The tally when the month ran out was a whopping 13, a scant quarter of the 51 I’m looking for. (Because I lived in D.C. for 11 years, and because when I first registered to vote it was as a member of the D.C. Statehood Party, you know I count D.C. as well as the 50 that are fully represented in Congress.)

The usual number are most likely out there roaming around. I’m the one who’s not.

In order of their spotting, I saw Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, New Hampshire, California, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, and Maine. Tennessee is a good catch for January, so there’s that.

February is generally a slow month. I’ve figured it’s because I spot nearly everything that’s here for the winter in January. If this February checks in with a strong showing that makes up for lackluster January, I’ll count that as support for my theory.

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Yes, It Snowed

. . . but today most of it melted. My ice disk quartet was completely snowed under for two days. This is what it looked like this morning:

20160126 quartet 1

And this is what was left a little after noon:

20160126 quartet 3

When Travvy and I went out walking on Saturday morning, a light dusting of snow created subtle patterns on the ground.

20160123 dusting20160123 dusting 2

Then it snowed and snowed all day long till there was about a foot of snow on my deck. Four inches makes it almost impossible to open my front door, so from time to time I interrupted my work to get out there with a shovel.

It was still snowing and pretty damn dark when Trav and I went out exploring. Since my nearest neighbors were away and I (of course) don’t have a cell phone, at 4:45 I posted on Facebook that we were going for a walk and if I didn’t check in within an hour or so to notify one of the more distant neighbors to send out a search party.

Well! It was tough going out there. My car was totally buried. The snow was heavy, heavy and wet. Many trees and limbs were bent way over with snow, like this:

20160123 bending tree

Off in the woods I heard trees cracking. The path I usually take along the Dr. Fisher Rd., to avoid the worst puddles (aka lakes), was blocked by one tree after another. I kept detouring around the trees and pretty soon I was on a side road I didn’t recognize. Hmm. It is really easy to get turned around in the snow and dark. Intellectually I knew that no matter what direction I walked in, I’d hit a road eventually, but the idea of slogging an extra two or three miles on a night like this was not attractive.

20150305 bird houseThen I spotted the distinctive house marker (see photo at left) at the end of one neighbor’s driveway, so I knew where I was. After that it was slog slog slog along the path that winds behind the West Tisbury School. I hollered at whoever was blowing snow at another neighbor’s house, but the snow blower was too loud and nobody heard me.

Trav likes to do his business way off in the woods, but I told him no way were we going so far that I couldn’t see some house lights. He humored me. We made the first tracks on Halcyon Way. No surprise there: what other idiots would be out in this?

When I checked back in on Facebook, it was about an hour since I’d left. Two friends in Australia were seriously thinking of contacting my neighbors.

Sunday was dig-out day. I secretly like shoveling, so I shoveled my neighbors out as well as myself and Malvina Forester. My neighbor has shoveled me out more than once. I think he secretly likes shoveling too.

20160124 buried

Halcyon Way didn’t look like anything would ever drive down it again . . .

20160124 halcyon way

but DECA showed up around noon and cleared both the road and the driveway. I could go anywhere, but where was there to go? Writers’ group was cancelled because there was nowhere to park at Cynthia’s. Last year the big snow of late January hung around and around and around. The writers’ group met at the library once or twice. Cynthia’s annual Groundhog Day party had to be cancelled for the first time in 25 years because there was nowhere to park in the driveway, the back field, or alongside the road.

Looks like it’ll be a go for this year. Whether the groundhog will see his or her shadow, who knows?

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A Respite

My buddy Alex Palmer blogs about sports, which isn’t high on my priority list but his writing is so good I read it all anyway. This particular post is such a slice (uh, sorry about that) of island life that I’m reblogging it here. Check it out.

Alex Palmer

I offer the following as both an antidote to 2016’s first dose of winter (at least here in southern Massachusetts) and an insight into how one person copes with island isolation. During the warm weeks of early January, I collected approximately 1700 golf balls from the woods, ponds, thickets and other hazards of a local golf course. I’ve been doing this kind of thing since moving here in 1998. Not only is it a fun form of outdoor exercise, it also provides me with a little extra income. Who knew that previously owned Titleist Pro V’s were such a hot item?  I’ve had a few of these “Dispatches” sitting in a drawer, and this seems like a good time to break one out while I await Sunday’s kick-off in Denver.

Dispatches from the Rough

(In which The Golf Ball Guy plays God.)

From my position in dense pricker bushes bordering a…

View original post 662 more words

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Trip to the Cliffs

I knew that two characters in Wolfie, my novel in progress, were going to have a heavy conversation while walking on a beach. I thought the beach was going to be Great Rock Bight. Imagine my surprise when they wound up at the Gay Head Cliffs. I don’t get up that way very often (“it’s too far,” she whined), so yesterday Travvy and I headed all the way up-island to see what my characters saw and maybe hear some of what they were saying.

The Gay Head light

The Gay Head Light

The first thing I saw was the Gay Head Light, which wasn’t where I’d last seen it. Last spring, after more than two years of planning and fundraising, it was moved 129 feet back from the edge of the cliff that was eroding out from under it.

The lighthouse is still encircled with chain-link fencing because the work isn’t entirely done yet, so this is as close as we got.

It being January, the shops and the restaurant were closed up and deserted. Travvy and I had the observation area to ourselves. Trav sniffed at the clumps of grass while I leaned on the post-and-rail fence and looked first down at the cliffs, then out at the water. My characters were standing there too, ignoring me as if I weren’t there. I, however, listened closely to them. Shannon, who’s lived on the Vineyard for decades, pointed out over the water and said, “That’s Devil’s Bridge.” Her sister, who’d never visited the island before, said, “I can’t see anything,” to which Shannon said, “Neither can the ships.”

View from the observation area

View from the observation area

Devil’s Bridge is a rocky underwater shoal that many a ship has foundered on. Perhaps the most famous wreck was that of the City of Columbus, which hit the rocks in the early morning hours of January 18, 1884.

The City of Columbus was much on my mind because three days earlier I’d read on Facebook this post by June Manning, native islander, member of the Wampanoag tribe, and teller of stories we’d do well to remember:

“It was 132 years ago today the Steamship City of Columbus went down off of Gay Head. Out of 132 passengers and crew, only 29 were saved. None of the women nor children were saved. Men were frozen while clinging to the masts. Heroic men of the United States Lifesaving Service rowed out to rescue the survivors. The USLSS was established in 1878 with boathouses at Dogfish Bar and Squibnocket. The crew had watches and would walk the beaches looking for those in danger. Our great-grandfather Francis Manning served, as did many of his fellow Wampanoag men and those from Chilmark and other Vineyarders.

“In 1895 the station was built atop the cliffs. The United States Coast Guard was formed in 1915 and it became Station Gay Head. Captain Bob Kinnecom is probably one of the few surviving crew as he was stationed there from 1951 to 1952. His father, Harold Kinnecom, had served as the captain. We were proud of their heroic service and can be just as proud of the crew serving at Station Menemsha at the present time as they went out early Friday morning to rescue men aboard a fishing boat heroically saving lives. THANK YOU!”

Yesterday afternoon was sparkling clear, the sky almost unbearably blue, but the bracing wind made it seem colder than it was, and that was cold enough. It wasn’t hard to imagine the City of Columbus going down in dark, frigid waters, pounded by rough seas, or the heroic efforts of the rescuers. For more about the wreck, the rescue, and the salvage operation that took place in 2000, see “Disaster on Devils Bridge.”

The path to the beach is much longer than I remembered, the beach itself much rockier. While I picked my way over the rocks, not wanting to turn my ankle this far from the car, another of my characters dropped in. This guy, Giles, is an artist, and he’s been working on a series of paintings in which Vineyard beaches come alive in ways that are sometimes sensuous, sometimes creepy, and not infrequently both. He hasn’t painted at Gay Head yet. I think that’s going to change.

Travvy on the path to the beach

Travvy on the path to the beach

Moshup's Beach

Moshup’s Beach, named for the giant of Wampanoag legend who lived in the cliffs, is rockier than I remembered.

The reds get redder in the late afternoon sun.

The reds get redder in the late afternoon sun . . .

. . . and the whites get whiter.

. . . and the whites get whiter.

Because there's no such thing as too many Travvy pictures

Because there’s no such thing as too many Travvy pictures

The road down-island. Aquinnah is as far up-island as you can get.

The road down-island. Aquinnah is as far up-island as you can get.


Posted in Martha's Vineyard, outdoors, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dear Microsoft:

Not to worry, Microsoft: Bash the Behemoth is a popular sport, but I haven’t come here to bash you. I’ve come to relate some of my adventures since adopting my second laptop this past November.

First off, a little background: I bought my first PC in late 1985, and all the computers I’ve bought since — five desktops, two laptops, and a brand-new little tablet — use Microsoft operating systems, MS-DOS in the early years and Windows ever since.

The pilot's seat

The pilot’s seat, with Hekate on the lapdesk.

Hekate, my first laptop, turned five last July. This is late middle age for a computer, but she was in pretty good shape. I have been very happy with both Windows 7 and MS Office 2010, specifically Word, which, being an editor and writer, I use a lot.

However, the stickiness of several of her keys was becoming more and more of a nuisance. I decided to retire Hekate to backup status while she was still in good working order.

I chose a laptop that came with Window 10, though I’d heard mixed things about the new OS. People grumbled about Windows 7 too, after all, and I wound up loving it. I ordered the newest version of Quicken (I’ve been using Quicken 2006 since it was new) and MS Office 2016. I decided against Office 365, which uses the subscription model that you guys and others are pushing so hard. I won’t go into all the reasons why I’m deeply suspicious of this subscription model. Suffice it to say that for me it wasn’t cost-effective. Pay $130 or so for a program that will last me five or six years, or pay about $70 a year for more or less the same thing? This was a no-brainer.

Gizmo with a can of my favorite beer (Stowaway IPA from Baxter Brewing in Maine).

Gizmo with a can of my favorite beer (Stowaway IPA from Baxter Brewing in Maine).

I also sprang for a little tablet because Dell was offering a good deal on its Venue 8 and because I’ve never owned a tablet. This was the first thing to arrive. I named her Gizmo.

My real adventures started when the laptop arrived just before Thanksgiving. I named her Kore. Our introductions went OK. I disabled Cortana, Win10’s much-ballyhooed “personal assistant.” Cortana is way worse than the dancing paperclip that insisted on assisting Word users till we turned it off.

Then neither Quicken 2015 nor Office 2016 would download properly. I’m not a technical whiz, but I have been my own IT person for 30 years. I know how to download and install software. I can follow instructions. I followed the instructions twice more to make sure I hadn’t goofed. Still no Quicken. Still no Office. Thus began a six-week saga that I think, I hope, is finally over. This is what I want to tell you about.

In my world, “tech support” and “customer service” are oxymorons. Yes, there are exceptions, but who among us isn’t filled with dread every time we have to contact a utility or computer company or government agency? We know we’re going to spend hours on hold listening to terrible muzak and chirpy recorded messages. It often takes several attempts before we get through to someone who can (a) understand our question, and (b) answer it. This is a sad state of affairs. Sadder still is that so many of us take it for granted.

At any rate, I generally have better luck with online chat, so that’s where I started. The Quicken problem, it turned out, was easy to solve. “What browser are you using?” asked the chat tech. “Chrome,” said I. “You have to use Internet Explorer,” he advised.

I did, and PDQ I had Quicken 2015 installed, upgraded to Quicken 2016, and loaded with the 15 years’ worth of checkbook and credit card data I’d accumulated with Quicken 2006. Here, Dear Microsoft, is one of my questions: Why did I have to use Internet Explorer? Are you, or perhaps your friends at Dell, trying to coerce us into using your browser instead of, say, Chrome or Firefox?

More to the point, why didn’t the download instructions say I had to use IE? You could have saved me some time and aggravation if you’d only made this requirement clear.

Quicken was easy. Office 2016 wasn’t. It took almost four weeks to get my duly purchased copy of Office 2016 up and running. The product key I received didn’t work. OK, goofs happen; I understand that. What I don’t understand is why I had to spend so many hours over so many weeks waiting on hold, waiting for phone calls, chatting with tech support, or exchanging emails with customer service reps. For some reason, Dear Microsoft, you weren’t believing Dell’s assurances that I really had purchased the program.

At one point I contacted you, Dear Microsoft, directly. Your tech remotely installed on my new laptop a copy of Office 365, which I hadn’t bought and didn’t want. When I discovered the mistake and pointed it out, he said he couldn’t help me any further.

Finally I told my latest Dell email correspondent that I wanted a refund so I could buy Office 2016 somewhere else. I was given the number for Dell’s “customer care” department (another oxymoron). While I waited in the virtual queue, a chirpy voice told me over and over that I might be able to could find an answer to my question at Dell-dot-com. Pretty soon I was screaming back, “I’ve been there! I’ve been there a dozen times! The answer isn’t there! That’s why I’m here!”

I gave up on the refund idea. Perhaps this is corporate strategy? Make it next to impossible to reach the refund department and we will stop asking for refunds? Fortunately Hekate and her copy of Word 2010 still worked fine. But I couldn’t shift completely from old laptop to new, not unless I wanted to use one laptop for writing and editing and the other for everything else.

20160109 kore

Kore’s desktop

At long last, just before Christmas, a new product key arrived. This involved yet another chat with tech support, because your Office pages didn’t make it obvious where I was supposed to input the product key, but I was OK with that. I was practically euphoric. The time had come to transfer my Carbonite subscription and all my backed-up files from Hekate to Kore.

This was my first-ever Carbonite restore. I was nervous about it, nervous enough about the do-it-yourself instructions that I contacted Carbonite tech support. And you know what? Wonder of wonders, they were great. Easy to reach. Competent. Reassuring, even — did I say I was nervous about transferring all my files, many of which I couldn’t afford to lose? Why can’t all tech support be like this, I wondered, like it was in my early years as a PC user?

Kore and I were in business at last.

Except we weren’t. A few days into the new year, my attempts to use the Start menu started returning a “Critical Error” message. Sign out, the message said, and we’ll try to fix it. Needless to say, signing out and signing back in again accomplished nothing. A Google search on critical error start menu windows 10 revealed that many, many, many Win10 users (1) had had or were having this problem, and (2) didn’t get any answers from you, Dear Microsoft.

I tried a couple of fixes, neither of which restored my Start menu, then back I went to Dell’s tech support chat line. Short version: Over the next two days, I dealt with two tech support guys, both of whom were polite and professional, neither of whom could solve my problem. One morning the Start menu came back of its own accord. I was thrilled. By the end of the day it had vanished again. I was livid.

I returned to Google. This time I skimmed the comments threads on a couple of YouTube fix-it videos. Uninstalling and reinstalling Dropbox had solved the problem for some people. This seemed unlikely, but I’m an avid Dropbox user and what did I have to lose?

Wonder of wonders, it worked.

On one hand, this is a victory for crowd-sourced tech support. On the other, crowd-sourced tech support isn’t for the faint of heart, and it depends almost entirely on the kindness of strangers willing to solve and disseminate fixes for problems caused by your products, Dear Microsoft. You’ve been enthusiastically pushing Win10 upgrades on users of earlier Windows versions, without adequate knowledge of the havoc this can cause and without providing support for those who run into trouble. If users want real tech support, they have to pay extra.

Running through my head are two lines from Tom Lehrer’s song about rocket scientist Werner von Braun: “Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? / That’s not my department, says Werner von Braun.”

If Cortana, your “personal assistant,” ever proves able to provide reliable tech support, let me know. I’ll reinstall it at once.

Posted in technology, writing | Tagged , | 11 Comments


I did make a New Year’s resolution once. When I was working on my first novel, The Mud of the Place, and desperately afraid that I’d never finish it, I resolved that I would work on it every day until it was done.

Note that I did not vow to write a thousand words or two thousand words or any number of words. Nor did I vow to write for an hour or two hours or for any set time.

Just every day.

mud cover2This turned out to be a brilliant move. There were days when I was so panicky, so sure that everything I’d done so far was crap, that I didn’t work up the nerve to open my Word file till ten minutes before midnight. And this was enough. Just opening the file and reading what I’d already written was enough to reassure me that this thing was good, this thing was worthwhile, I really needed to keep going till I finished this thing.

And that was enough to encourage me to add a few words, and sometimes to keep going till two in the morning.

Had I vowed to write so many words or for so many hours, there would have been no point to opening the file at ten minutes to midnight.

I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution since.

However, the New Year’s resolution frenzy continues unabated, and sometimes I feel left out.

Even though I suspect that New Year’s resolutions are basically a spam that people inflict on themselves to help big companies sell stuff. Seriously. Have you ever noticed around the end of January how much fitness and weight-loss apparatus goes up for sale in the want ads, Craiglist, the M.V. Times Bargain Box, or MV Stuff 4 Sale?

I hear something similar happens at gyms and other fitness facilities. Around 1 January the resolutioneers pack the place. The regulars have to wait in line, and even give tips to the newbies. By the end of the month the crowds have disappeared. The regulars have the place to themselves again.

So many New Year’s resolutions pit the mind against the body. The mind, aka “good intentions,” is determined to beat the body into submission, by losing weight, exercising regularly, eating healthy, or some other goddamn thing.

Got news for y’all: The body is always going to win. If mind doesn’t learn how to work with body, mind is always going to lose. Been there, done that . . .

Nevertheless, I wish you luck with whatever resolutions you’ve made. May wisdom grow from your struggle.

Still, I was feeling a little left out, so — since other people are so into resolutions — I decided I’d make some resolutions for other people to keep.

One look at my Facebook news feed and this quickly got out of control. “I will shuddup about the 2016 presidential election until October 1” came up a lot. “I will think about what the Second Amendment actually says before spouting off about it” ran a close second.

Finally I settled on this one:

If my dog poops on a path that other people walk on, I will either pick it up in the baggie that I (of course) carry in my pocket at all times, or I will kick it into the underbrush with the toe of my boot.

trav and red

Trav has been known to raise havoc, and he would raise much more if he could, but he never, ever poops on the path.

Posted in musing, writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

December (and Year-End) License Plate Report

The fall was a wash. Sigh. Nothing new since the end of August. Double sigh.

Still, 2015 wasn’t a bad year. I didn’t spot Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Alaska, Nebraska, and North Dakota, but I did spot my first Montana since 2011. Wonder of wonders, I spotted a second Montana in the last week of the year, and right outside Up-Island Cronig’s. That has to be a harbinger of something interesting.

Last year my first Nebraska likewise appeared when I’d given up hope. Maybe fate tried to pull off the same feat this year, but forgot I already had Montana. ‘s OK, Fate. Good try. I appreciate it.

My buddy Don Lyons, he who got me started on this game around 1988, said he found North Dakota in the hospital parking lot this past summer, and South Dakota on the same day in the same place. I’m thinking of staking out the hospital parking lot next summer, or at least making regular passes through it. I spotted Montana and West Virginia there this year, good catches both.

So I’ve printed out a blank map for 2016. Massachusetts and New York are already on it, and without my getting in my car or doing more than crossing a paved road.

Here’s what the map looked like when 2015 rolled over into 2016. Here’s to a full map in the coming year.

2015 aug license plate map

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Political Packaging

“What is a fascist — other than someone you don’t like?”

That’s how the great Jack Reece (1941–1997), my Modern European History professor at the University of Pennsylvania, opened his lecture on Nazism and Fascism.

Nervous tittering rippled through the room. We were veterans of the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, and union organizing battles, not to mention the ideological feuds that then as now seemed endemic in the left-of-center. In those days we were gleefully watching the loathed Nixon administration disintegrate under pressure from the Watergate revelations. Who among us hadn’t, probably more than once, dismissed someone whose politics we didn’t like as a fascist?

With help from the class, Professor Reece then wrote on the blackboard some of the characteristics of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany: totalitarian, anti-democratic, nationalistic, authoritarian . . .

Professor Reece’s question remains deeply rooted in my head. In the years since, I’ve occasionally heard the word “fascist” come out of my mouth to describe people I don’t know whose politics I don’t like, but usually I manage to stop myself. “Fascist” binds complex ideas and circumstances up in a deceptively neat package.

Religions and ideologies — the packages — are fascinating, but I’ve long been at least as interested in what goes into the package as in the package inself. From the outside, the packages look monolithic. They have flat sides and clear borders.  The people inside the package may cop to the same label, but once you get to know a few of them, they turn out to be a wildly diverse lot.

When we share experiences — tell each other our stories — we nearly always find that we have a lot in common. If we’re put off by the packaging, we rarely get that far.

donkeySo in the U.S. we’re well into the 2016 presidential campaign even though the election won’t take place till next November. Words like “fascist” and “socialist,” “liberal” and “conservative,” are being lobbed back and forth like snowballs. Wouldn’t I sometimes love to jump into the fray and, like Professor Reece, ask “What is a fascist / socialist / liberal / conservative  — other than someone you don’t like?”

On Facebook the other day I saw a meme — one of those ubiquitous little graphics with pithy or funny quotes on them — that defined “conservative” as fearful, resistant to change, and a few other negative things that I would characterize as more reactionary than conservative. It’s a good bet that this particular meme is being circulated by self-styled liberals and progressives, and it’s an equally good bet that they haven’t thought too hard about what “conservative” actually means, literally or historically.

Many liberals and progressives are also fond of circulating memes paraphrasing the Iroquois counsel to consider the next seven generations when making decisions. A version quoted on Wikipedia includes this sentence: “Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.”

Got news for you, people: This is a conservative approach. It doesn’t fear or resist change, but it doesn’t rush headlong into it either. It’s mindful of potential consequences. It thinks ahead.

Fascist, socialist, liberal, conservative — these words all mean something considerably more important, and more interesting, than “someone you don’t like.” They’re useful shorthand for describing big-picture ideas or one’s own general political perspective, but when applied to other people, they obscure as much as they reveal. They lull us into thinking we know more about someone than we do. They make us complacent. They may even make us smug.

Maybe most important of all, they make it hard to recognize potential allies. In his discussion of Nazism and Fascism, Professor Reece drew a picture on the blackboard: the leader, the Führer, Il Duce, stands on a pedestal in front of row upon row upon row of people, all of whom are entirely focused on him, none of whom are paying any attention to the people on either side. The people are united by their focus on the leader but they have no connection with each other.

It’s a terrifying vision, and an all too plausible one.

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Shotgun Season

Deer Week has rolled around again. As noted last year in “Blaze Orange,” Deer Week is almost two weeks long — this year it runs from Monday, November 30, through Saturday, December 12 — and it’s not the only time deer can be hunted on Martha’s Vineyard. Archers could hunt deer from October 19 through November 28. Hunters who favor “black powder” firearms get their chance from December 14 through 31.

blaze orange vest

I open my blaze orange vest to reveal my malamute-puppy sweater. Note grown-up malamute’s nose at lower left.

Deer Week, or Deer Almost-Two-Weeks, is the only time deer can be hunted with shotguns. I stay out of the state forest during Deer Week, and avoid large tracts of land where hunting is allowed. Last year a friend gave me a blaze orange vest. I donned it a little sheepishly, having survived all these years without one, but I’m wearing it again this year.

It’s odd to be writing this in the wake of yet another mass shooting, in San Bernardino, California, but after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard 30 years ago, the thing that changed fastest was my attitude about guns.

In Washington, D.C., where I’d lived for the previous eight years, guns were carried by cops and criminals, both of which groups I was wary of. If anyone I knew kept or carried a gun for self-protection, I didn’t know about it. Plenty of women I knew did carry some form of tear gas. When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, I did some target practice with my father’s .22. I earned several NRA riflery patches at summer camp. As a grown woman, I saw guns primarily as weapons that had been used against people I knew and might be used against me.

On Martha’s Vineyard it wasn’t long before I started meeting people who hunted, and people whose family members and neighbors hunted (and who occasionally benefited from the bounty). Likely as not, they had first gone hunting with their fathers and uncles and older cousins. (Yes, nearly all of them were men.) In the process, they’d learned more than marksmanship: they learned to know and be at home in the woods. What they killed went into the freezer and eventually wound up on the supper table.

They were, in short, neither cops nor criminals. They were friends of friends and people I ran into regularly at the post office or the grocery store. They were neighbors. They weren’t scary.

In the years that followed, and especially as my online world expanded to include a variety of people living in all parts of the country, I noticed that when guns and gun control came up, the city people tended to have a different take on the subject than rural and small-town people. I came to believe that this had much to do with our personal relationship not necessarily with guns but with people who used guns. If you associated guns primarily with cops, criminals, and men violating restraining orders, you leaned heavily toward stricter gun controls and even a ban on personal firearms. If you’d grown up around hunters, knew hunters, and maybe were one yourself, you tended to lean in the other direction. City people are less likely to know hunters than small-town and rural people.

The rhetoric around guns has grown ever more extravagant, and what passes for debate ever more polarized, but underneath it all I do believe there are millions upon millions of people whose experiences and perspectives may be very different but who are still willing and able to take part in a civil discussion. On one hand, guns can do more damage in less time and from a greater distance than any other widely available tool. On the other, the malaise that afflicts this country isn’t going to be cured by a ban on firearms, even if such a ban were desirable or enforceable, which it isn’t.

That’s enough for now. I’m donning my blaze orange vest and going for a walk with the dog.


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