Spring Planting

From late January till early March the snow was so deep at Misty Meadows that on our morning walks Trav and I avoided the big meadow that is usually on our route. Since then we’ve been walking around it again, watching winter recede and spring coming in. Snow drifted high along the windbreak near the horse pastures. Even after snow stopped falling and the sun grew warmer, those drifts took a long time to disappear completely. They’ve been gone a few weeks now.

This meadow belongs to a conservation organization. For years the weeds grew wild. Occasionally they were trimmed. Once or twice in the eight years I’ve lived nearby, a controlled burn was done in part of the field. Mostly the field lay fallow and weedy. When we walk along its edge, Trav keeps an eye out for voles and pounces when he spots one. So far he’s never pounced fast enough.

Trav watches the goats.

Trav watches the goats.

Lately, though, it’s been put to work. Late last fall, a flock of goats took up residence at the end of the field nearest Old County Road. Travvy, of course, found them fascinating. So did I.

“Goatscaping” has become quite the thing on Martha’s Vineyard. Goats will eat almost anything. I’m told there are no fewer than three businesses that will lease their goats to help householders clear brambles, scrub, and poison ivy from areas where humans tread warily.

Last fall, this particular flock hung out for a while in the little meadow across from the West Tisbury School. Then they moved up the road apiece. From here they went up to the big pasture on the neighboring horse farm. Before the snow started falling in January they disappeared. One of these days I’ll learn where goats go in the winter.

20150420 tractor tireSince spring got under way, there’s been action further up the field too, closer to the bike path, where migrating geese congregate in the fall. Harrows appeared, and a humongous tractor. This tractor’s rear wheels are as tall as I am — about 5′ 4 1/2.”

Like much of the farm machinery in use on the Vineyard, these implements were not new. As a high schooler in the 1960s, my summer job involved making hay for a small local farm in my hometown west of Boston. These implements were probably old then.

Once a large section of the field was plowed and harrowed, alfalfa was planted. No, I don’t recognize alfalfa seeds. I can barely even see them. But I can read the writing on the seed bags.

North Tabor Farm and Mermaid Farm, both in Chilmark, have leased this meadow from the conservation organization. Mermaid Farm has livestock (it’s a dairy as well as a farm), but I don’t think North Tabor does. Who gets the alfalfa? In my horsekeeping days I learned a fair amount about hay. Plenty of hay is grown on the Vineyard, but not enough to feed all the horses, cows, and other livestock. So it comes in great truckloads, mostly from upstate New York and Canada, and it ain’t cheap. So if what this field produces is destined for the local market, it’ll almost certainly find appreciative buyers.

Meanwhile, Travvy and I plan to watch it grow.

The whole tractor

The whole tractor

Disk harrow (I think)

Disk harrow (I think)

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All Hail Kale

I know some people out there still believe there’s some kind of barrier between social media and the F2F world — you know, the physical world where people meet face to face, like at town meeting — but on Martha’s Vineyard this is not true. For many of us, social media and the F2F world mesh together in interesting, sometimes unexpected ways.

throwdown posterTake the Kale Soup Throwdown that happened this past Sunday at the P.A., aka the Portuguese American Club, aka one of the very most important F2F locales on the Vineyard.

The throwdown was conceived, coordinated, and publicized mostly on Facebook, but with plenty of legwork done in the F2F world by flesh-and-blood people.

Back up a couple of steps. Islanders Talk is a very large (five minutes ago it had 4,101 members) Facebook group that describes itself as “a great place for Islanders to hang out and vent, share whatever you want without tourists interrupting!” The MV Stuff 4 Sale group is bigger — currently closing in on 6,ooo members — but it’s focused on buying and selling, not on hanging out and talking and sharing information.

Way before anyone even dreamed of a digital age, island people had a long tradition of helping each other out, in good times and especially in emergencies. We’re still at it.  Emergencies can strike at any time. They can involve anything from health to housing. Thus the idea of the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund was born, to help friends, neighbors, and kin over the rough spots.

How to fund the fund? Well, chili is the centerpiece of a long-running and very successful fundraiser, the Big Chili Contest sponsored by MVY radio and held every year in deep winter to benefit the Red Stocking Fund. Kale soup is a staple of Portuguese-American cookery, which is to say it’s a staple of Martha’s Vineyard cookery, and has been since long before the health-food people went nuts for kale.

20150419 front desk

For a $10 admission, you got a generous sample of all the soups and a ticket you could use to vote for your favorite.

The call went out for the island’s kale soup masters. Meanwhile organizers divvied up the island’s towns to solicit donations for the silent auction. (A copy of my Mud of the Place joined Shirley Mayhew’s Looking Back: My Long Life on Martha’s Vineyard and photographer Lynn Christoffers’s Cats of Martha’s Vineyard as an auction item featuring West Tisbury writers.)

On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon, attendees were greeted by no fewer than six different kale soups, table after table of silent auction prizes, a raffle for a little tree lavishly decorated with scratch tickets, and a long counter groaning with cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and other sweets.

And by a lively and growing crowd that included both longtime friends and Facebook friends who’d never met face to face before. Oh yeah — and Sabrina and the Groovers provided the soundtrack for browsing, yakking, and eating.

It was, in a word, cool, and it netted $3,627 for the Islanders Talk Benevolent Fund. Even better, Islanders are already Talking about doing something similar in the fall, maybe with barbecue?

20150419 kale heads

Kale Head 1 and Kale Head 2 — they weren’t kidding about this — dish the soup.

20150419 kale 1

Dave Oliveira presiding at the soup pot — the Oliveiras’ kale soup won the people’s choice award.

 

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Town Meeting 2015

It’s town meeting season on Martha’s Vineyard. Four towns held theirs this past Tuesday, including my town of West Tisbury.

Aside: In Vineyard newspapers, ATM is shorthand for “annual town meeting.” We know it doesn’t always mean “automatic teller machine,” just the way we know that hereabouts SSA usually means “Steamship Authority,” not “Social Security Administration.”

Since I moved back to West Tisbury in 2007, I’ve been a pretty regular attendee, both of the ATM and of the “specials” (yeah, the papers often call them STMs) that are called when an issue can’t wait till the next annual. My presence makes no difference to the outcome, but it’s educational: I get a glimpse of the nuts and bolts and turning gears that keep the town running.

In this age of social media and virtual communication, it’s also mildly thrilling to see so many of my fellow citizens gathered in the same physical space.

According to the 2014 Annual Report, West Tisbury had 3,168 residents as of October 2014, of whom 2,510 were registered to vote as of last December. For the ATM, 300 is considered good. We were, I think, a little under that Tuesday night, but we constituted a quorum. A quorum is 5% of the registered voters; at present, I’m told, that’s 123.5. Without a quorum no official business can be transacted.

Aside: As sometimes happens, the citizens didn’t get through the long warrant on Tuesday night, so the ATM was continued to the next night. On Wednesday, there wasn’t a quorum — possibly because so many townsfolk, including me, were at the high school’s Performing Arts Center, listening to the amazing Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn and their whole flock of banjos. The new date is Tuesday, April 28. If you’re a registered West Tisbury voter, please show up so we can finish this off.

2014 town reportThis year’s annual town meeting had a special significance that had nothing to do with any of the warrant articles. Barely a month after last year’s ATM, Pat Gregory, our longtime town moderator, was murdered while hiking in California. The whole town, the whole island, was stunned. Life has slowly returned to normal, at least we pretend it has, but as town meeting approached many of us braced for the inevitable reminder of our loss. A town meeting without Pat at the podium?

Instead, Pat was on the cover of the 2014 Annual Report, looking so much like Moderator Pat that for a moment I couldn’t believe he wasn’t there.

Lucky for us, the eminently qualified Dan Waters ran for and was elected to the post in a special election last fall. For more about him, why he ran, and what the loss of Pat Gregory meant to the town, see Pat Waring’s fine story in the April 8 Martha’s Vineyard Times. (Dan, a renowned poet and print-maker as well as dedicated community activist, has even contributed to this blog. See “Are You a Meeting-holic?” The guy knows his meetings.)

Dan did an excellent job in his debut, and it sure wasn’t his fault that I left early, at around 9:30. My brain was shutting down and I could barely keep my eyes open. This was probably the most boring ATM I’ve ever been to. I made a choice: Editing, reading, and catching up on email were a better use of my time than sitting through the last hour and a half of town meeting.

As I walked home — I live about an eight-minute walk from the school, where our town meetings are held — I wondered why this particular meeting was so deadly dull. It wasn’t that there was nothing at stake: the proposed budget was around $17 million, and articles on the warrant dealt with, among many other things, the regional school district. But, as is often the case, there was little wiggle room in the articles. A tremendous amount of work goes into preparing budgets — that’s why we have town boards, school committees, and, especially, the finance committee, which reviews and makes a recommendation about virtually every department’s budget and every large proposed expenditure. On town meeting floor it just is not possible to rework budgets that have been months in the crafting.

At one of my first West Tisbury town meetings, ca. 1988, some townsfolk were not happy about the snowmobiles in their part of town. Discussion went on for, as I recall it, about 45 minutes. (This was before Pat Gregory became town moderator. I’m pretty sure he would have gently brought it to a close once no new thoughts or information was being added, which was after about 15 minutes.) By contrast, the school budget — which was much smaller then than it is now but was still a hefty chunk of the total — was passed with minimal discussion in about 10 minutes.

Hence I came up with “Snowmobiles in Christiantown Syndrome”: At town meeting, the amount of discussion devoted to an issue is inversely proportional to (1) its importance, and (2) how much preparation is required to make a meaningful contribution.

Almost immediately I realized that this was not just about town meeting. In fact, it applied to just about every group I’d ever belonged to. It absolutely applies to political discourse in the U.S. and probably many other places as well. A corollary might be applied to the news media: The coverage of an issue is inversely proportional both to its importance and to the details and understanding required to explain it.

This is really why I’ve become a regular town meeting goer: It reminds me at least once and often two or three times a year how challenging self-governance is, even in a town of 3,168 people, many of whom have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other. The U.S. population is something like 318.9 million. That is more than 100,000 times the population of West Tisbury, and the overwhelming majority of us have almost no clue about what the lives of our fellow citizens are like.

So it’s not all that hard to figure out why so much discussion is devoted to, say, same-sex marriage, gun control, and immigration reform while big banks crash the economy and big corporations buy up Congress.

And one more thing: In a Facebook discussion the morning after town meeting, one attendee wondered what happened to the fiscal prudence for which New Englanders have long been famous. Our town tends to spend money like there’s no tomorrow, or at least as though the money isn’t coming from somewhere, i.e., our taxes. Snowmobiles in Christiantown Syndrome applies here too: It’s easier to cut the small expenses that have little impact on the total than to take a hard look at, say, the school budget, which is huge and complex.

Fiscal prudence means making hard choices. This will get funded, but that won’t. This will, but that won’t — over and over again.

The budgets that get cut, the items that don’t get funded: these aren’t just about numbers or inanimate objects. They come with people attached — the people who developed the budget, the people who might benefit from the expenditure. And we usually have at least a nodding acquaintance with those people. Maybe we know them pretty well. Maybe they’re us.

“Fiscal prudence” sounds great in theory. Most of us are all for it — until it comes to saying no to a cause we support, or someone we’re going to see at the post office tomorrow.

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April 15 + 1

This year I not only blew right by April 15, I barely noticed it approaching.

What a wonder. Since I started freelancing full-time, in 1999, I have dreaded the approach of Tax Day. For an account of my annual angst, see “April Is a Taxing Month.” That post is from 2012, but if you’ve seen one of my Aprils, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Until this year. Why is this year different from all previous years?

Because I hired someone to prepare my taxes for me.

And it took me so long — why?

Raw materials spread out on my bread-kneading table. Not pictured: Previous year's returns are spread out on the floor.

Getting down to tax prep, April 2012. Not pictured: Previous year’s returns are spread out on the floor.

Let’s see. (1) Because every year I’d procrastinate so long that there’d be no time for anyone else to do them. (2) Because when I’d ask my friends who prepared their taxes, they’d usually concede that they didn’t really like whoever prepared their taxes, but it was better than doing it themselves. (3) Because I’m a control freak. (4) Because I was afraid a tax preparer would tell me I’d been doing it all wrong for 30 years, laugh at me, and tell me I owed the IRS a million dollars in back taxes and penalties. (5) Because I’m cheap.

Late last April, when the agony was fresh in my mind, I asked another friend who did her taxes. She raved about her wonderful tax person and gave me this paragon’s business card. I stuck it on my fridge with all my other important stuff.

This year it wasn’t doing my taxes that I started avoiding at the end of January, when all my 1099s had arrived. What I was avoiding this year was calling the tax preparer. Paragon she might be but (4) and (5) above loomed very large in my mind.

Thanks to all the snow this past winter, it was also easy to convince myself that spring, and hence April 15, was never going to show up. Long about mid-March this conviction was beginning to falter. Finally I called the tax prep person and made an appointment.

Short version: My taxes were done and filed by the end of March, I didn’t owe the IRS a million dollars, the tax prep lady didn’t laugh at me, and it cost less than I thought it would.

I’m hooked.

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March License Plate Report

2015 march license map

Added in March: Kentucky, Ohio, and New Mexico. (Jeez, I just had a moment of panic: Did I color in Arizona instead of New Mexico? Whew, no: I got it right. Can you tell I’m a New England girl?)

New Mexico was a late arrival last year. A couple of weeks ago I went to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival at the Chilmark Community Center and there it was in the parking lot. Not bad.

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Sunderings

In recent months I’ve edited or read several books that deal with peoples and nations dispersed, usually by war, sometimes by political upheaval, often by a combination of both. The matter of community has fascinated me for a long time — see “On Community” for a previous blog post on the subject — so you know I’m paying close attention to the stories in these books, even while I’m rearranging words, fixing punctuation, checking the spelling of names, and asking the author if my somewhat out-on-a-limb changes are OK.

Armenian diaspora

Available in September 2015 from Indiana University Press

One book was about music in the Armenian diaspora. Armenians were periodically persecuted in the Ottoman Empire. In the early years of World War I, persecution became full-bore genocide. The Armenians were driven south into the Middle East, which was in turmoil due to the war, the disintegration of the empire, and the political machinations of the Europeans, notably the British and the French. Many of the survivors settled in Lebanon, where they formed a cohesive, visible community among other cohesive, visible communities. Others came to the United States. Armenian communities took root and grew in several U.S. locales, including New York and California.

Lebanon itself disintegrated with the onset of civil war (1975–1990). The children and grandchildren of the Armenians who had found refuge in Lebanon now fled and found refuge in the U.S. (The book I worked on explores the often-tense relationship between the new arrivals and those whose families had been in the States for several generations. It won’t be out till late summer: Music and the Armenian Diaspora: Searching for Home in Exileby Sylvia Angelique Alajaji, from Indiana University Press. Very worth checking out.)

Travvy and I discuss A. E. Sawan's new novel, Terrorist University.

Travvy and I discuss A. E. Sawan’s new novel, Terrorist University.

My editing jobs deal with different subjects and arrive from various places, but often they coalesce into a startlingly cohesive whole. So it’s more serendipity than mere coincidence that I just finished editing Terrorist University, a novel based on the author’s experiences during the Lebanese civil war — and yes, one character is Armenian. The author grew up in Lebanon, in a small town where he was related to most of his neighbors. The war blew the town, the neighborhood, and the family apart. He and many family members and friends now live in Canada. (This novel is already available. It’s part thriller, part coming-of-age story, and it’s available in print and as an ebook. Highly recommended: Terrorist University, by A. E. Sawan.)

kite runner coverA current job deals with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the extreme economic and political dislocation that resulted. To add to the mix, I just read, belatedly, Khaled Hosseini’s justly celebrated first novel, The Kite Runner, which takes place in Afghanistan and among Afghani exiles in California. In Kite Runner, as in Terrorist University, a functioning society is destroyed by war, scattering many of the survivors to distant places and transforming the world left behind.

And of course I see news reports from the Middle East every day, grim reports from a long-unstable region that was further destabilized by the (many expletives omitted) U.S. invasion of Iraq.

What, you are wondering, does any of this have to do with Martha’s Vineyard?

I’m getting to that. The answer is “a lot.” Books like Terrorist University and The Kite Runner focus attention on the people on the ground, the people the bombs are falling on, the people who are being forced out of their homes, neighborhoods, and communities — which are not only their support systems, but a key aspect of their identity.

On Martha’s Vineyard a similar dislocation is well under way. It’s harder to see because no bombs are falling, no armies invading; no one is being forced from their home by law, at gunpoint, or for fear of being killed. On the Vineyard the dislocation is economic. Apart from the Civil War, much dislocation in the U.S. has historically been economic: people moving west and south in search of land and jobs.

Two major exceptions to this are the peoples who lived on the continent when the Europeans arrived and African Americans in the South in the century following the Civil War. The native tribes were violently forced off their lands and onto reservations. The political and economic oppression of black people in the South was enforced by blatant terror tactics, prompting the Great Migration northward in the first half of the twentieth century.

On Martha’s Vineyard there are no armies or lynch mobs, no guns or bombs. Dislocation is done quietly, nonviolently, with rising property values and the cost of housing. For some it happens twice a year, when they move out of their winter quarters and into temporary summer digs. For many it happens once, when they pull up stakes and move away. Their roots remain here, they come back to visit, but they are no longer year-round residents.

Newcomers and not-so-newcomers to the Vineyard rhapsodize about “the community” all the while I’m watching its ongoing disintegration. On one hand this is puzzling; on the other hand, it’s not. In my early years here a friend who’d been here a lot longer remarked on the growing “suburbanization” of the Vineyard. No, no, no, I said. I’d recently seen suburbs up close and personal, and the Vineyard didn’t look anything like that. But she was right. I was comparing the Vineyard to the places I’d recently left. She was comparing the Vineyard then — in the mid to late 1980s — to the Vineyard of previous decades.

Likewise, the newcomers and not-so-newcomers are comparing the Vineyard now to the off-island places they recently or not-so-recently left, not to the Vineyard of previous decades. It looks a lot better than most of those off-island places, doesn’t it. What they often don’t realize is that there’s more to community than recognizing people on the street and going to potlucks. Community is a web of relationships, based on family, proximity, and mutual dependence. And with every longtime Vineyarder who leaves, that web frays a little more.

More later . . .

 

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Mill Pond Joe

Mill Pond Joe

Mill Pond Joe is available at island bookstores and from the usual online outlets.

Nelson Bryant grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, and from 1967 till 1998 he was the outdoors columnist for the New York Times. His tales of hunting, fishing, and general outdoor adventuring on the Vineyard and in many other places make this book worth reading for anyone interested in those subjects. So, too, do his often harrowing stories about his World War II service, and his anecdotes about his time as managing editor of New Hampshire’s Claremont Daily Eagle will ring many bells with anyone who’s ever worked in (relatively) small-town journalism. (That would include me.)

But for those who expect from memoir some insight into the writer’s life Mill Pond Joe (YBK Publishers, 2014; $18.95) may prove disappointing. The startling story that opens the book — Bryant’s six-year-old sister drowned when he was eleven, with him nearby — is only referred to a couple of times in the subsequent pages. Can you imagine such an incident not suffusing your life for decades afterward? I can’t either.

And in the background of all the compelling hunting, fishing, war, and newspaper stories we catch glimpses of too much drinking, a marriage that isn’t going well, a sibling and adult children with serious problems.

No writer is obligated to go where he does not want to go, but this particular reader (who is also a writer) was looking for more. Sometimes, it seems, the stories that are easy to tell get in the way of the stories that aren’t.

Another caution: Like all too many self-published books, this one could have benefited from stronger substantive editing and copy editing (son Jeffrey’s name even has three f’s in the dedication). And the extra-large pages, unbroken by images or other graphics, do not make reading easy.

*  *  *  *  *

I posted the review above on Goodreads, writing for a general audience and trying to keep it short. Here are a few musings that I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to stuff into the review.

Nelson Bryant is of my parents’ generation. My father was also a World War II vet. My siblings and I fall into the same age range as Bryant’s children. More: my parents’ marriage was not happy, my father had affairs, and my mother was an alcoholic. Hence my strong suspicion that though Bryant is generous with his regrets about things done and undone, he hasn’t really grappled with what was going on and his own part in it. Again, no writer is obliged to go where he or she doesn’t want to go — but when writers hold back, readers often sense that they’re missing something.

From boyhood onward, where Bryant chose to go was into the “natural” world, of woods and streams, of shore and the ocean. This world was largely a man’s world, a “natural” extension of the male world of Dartmouth College and wartime military service. Except in the stories of his newspaper days, women remain in the background. His sons go hunting and fishing with him, but not, apparently, his daughters — or his wife. It’s encouraging that the more recent outdoor stories include his female partner, Ruth. They go into the woods together. He hunts and fishes; she draws and paints.

Things have changed indeed, in the storyteller and in the world at large, though deep in the woods, the great currents that rose in the mid–twentieth century — the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement, among others — are as peripheral as women to the story. The natural world, it seems, offered refuge from all those convulsive, upsetting changes in the unnatural world. Tellingly, though Bryant was for two decades a columnist for the New York Times, he chose to have as little as possible to do with New York itself (a choice with which I have nothing but sympathy). At the same time, his urban connection gave him access to outdoor adventures that he might not have found on his own.

Which brings me round to Martha’s Vineyard, the main reason I’m blogging about Mill Pond Joe. Because after the very vivid boyhood stories, the Vineyard recedes into the background. It’s changing too, but we see the changes through the eyes of an occasional visitor, albeit one whose knowledge of the place is more than casual. The book takes its title from the persona Nelson Bryant created in telling his boyhood stories to his own kids (the girls as well as the boys?). It works, for Mill Pond Joe is, among other things, the tale of a fellow who has managed to live a life that looks, at least on the surface, like a boyhood dream come true.

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Bad Roads

road signVineyard roads are pretty much like roads in any other small-town or semi-rural area, but there are some differences. One is that we have no traffic lights. Well, OK, there’s one of those red, yellow, and green thingies by the Beach Road drawbridge, but general consensus is that it doesn’t count. It’s always green except when the bridge goes up to let boat traffic pass from the Lagoon into Vineyard Haven harbor and back again, but then it’s not the red light that stops you, it’s the gap in the road.

The highest legal speed limit on Martha’s Vineyard is 45 miles per hour. Of course we frequently exceed that, especially on straightaways like the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, Old County Road, and the long stretch of Barnes that runs by the county airport and the state forest.

The narrower, winding roads impose their own limits, no matter what the speed signs say, at least on the driver who’s reasonably aware of the terrain and her own mortality. When my speedometer creeps past 40 on Lambert’s Cove Road, I know I’m going too fast.

A "good" stretch of the Dr. Fisher Road during mud season. Most Vineyard roads don't look like this.

A “good” stretch of the Dr. Fisher Road during mud season. Most Vineyard roads don’t look like this, but plenty of us live on roads that do.

The roads we most like to talk about, though, are not the roads that are like roads everywhere else. No surprise there, right? The eyes of off-islanders, especially city folk, widen a bit when you say you live on a dirt road. Many of us who live outside of town, any town, live on dirt roads. It is not a big deal. Mention it to some people, though, and they wonder if you have electricity and indoor plumbing.

A handful of Vineyard roads are so bad they elicit respect, or at least knowing nods, even from Vineyard residents. The hands-down winner in this category has to be Cook Street in Vineyard Haven. Cook Street is a series of axle-defying mounds and valleys that no sane person would drive down. It’s also the fastest way to get from State Road to the Edgartown Road when summer traffic snarls the T-intersection where those two main thoroughfares meet.

Most of the year, stop signs and courteous drivers do a pretty good job of keeping the traffic moving, but in summer traffic backs up as much as a mile in all directions from Vineyard Haven and you can spend 20 minutes crawling forward before you reach the intersection. Hence those in the know take Cook Street. Most of the year we’re relatively sane, but summer makes us all a little crazy.

The Stoney Hill Road is another one. If someone says “I killed my shocks on the Stoney Hill Road,” you know exactly what they mean and where they did it. The Stoney Hill Road in West Tisbury itself is a fairly wide, well-maintained dirt road. Its other end, Head of the Pond Road in Oak Bluffs, is a good paved road that leads into a subdivision. The notorious stretch is what connects the two — or doesn’t: maybe two tenths of a mile of moguls. Not as bad as Cook Street, but still bad.

Those who live on this stretch of the Stoney Hill Road have resisted all attempts to grade it or (gods forbid) pave it. It’s not hard to figure out why. If this road were in good shape from one end to the other, it would immediately become a favored route for bypassing Vineyard Haven, especially in the summer. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which the current route — via the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road — is not.

In my horsekeeping days I spent a lot of time on the Stoney Hill Road. For the last eight years, the notorious road closest to home is the Dr. Fisher Road. It’s close, very close. Travvy and I walk on it almost every day, sometimes more than once. “Walking” is the operative word here. I don’t drive on it.

20150227 snowy moguls

In winter the bad stretch of the Dr. Fisher Road looks almost passable.

Most of it is actually OK for a single-lane dirt road. Part of it isn’t. It stays bad for the same reason that stretch of the Stoney Hill Road stays bad: to discourage people from driving through. The Dr. Fisher Road connects State Road in West Tisbury with Old County Road. The other connecting routes take you several miles out of your way. And the Dr. Fisher Road comes out of the woods right across from the West Tisbury dump — uh, make that “landfill,” or no, “transfer station” — which is a frequent destination of most people in town, not just to leave off trash and recyclables but to browse the Dumptique.

As a walker and occasional bicyclist on the road, I see a sort of tug-of-war being played out along the rough stretch. At some points the footpath that runs alongside it will widen just enough to let an ATV or even a pickup through. Then a heavy branch will appear, blocking passage for anything with wheels — including bicycles, so if it blocks my passage, I’ll drag it a bit until it doesn’t. Then the branch will vanish or, if it’s small enough and low to the ground, be broken in two by something driving over it.

My hunch is that eventually the Dr. Fisher Road will become a through way — not, mind you, a throughway. Until then only those with high suspensions or nerves of steel will risk it.

plowed snow

Even the Dr. Fisher Road gets plowed when it snows. This winter it’s been plowed a lot.

 

 

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February License Plate Report

OMG, February is over! It’s practically a cliché to say that February, the shortest month, is actually the longest, but this year February really did seem to go on forever. It also seemed to exist in a slightly different dimension, as if the year took a detour before getting back on course.

There were cars on the snowy roads, however, and I scored four new plates: Wisconsin, North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. This is an average take for February. There’s more color in the Upper Midwest than usual, and Alabama was a pleasant surprise, but the East Coast tally is pretty true to form: Delaware and South Carolina are nearly always the last to show up. I’m sure I’ve spotted Ohio, but I didn’t write it down so I’ll have to catch it later.

Onward, March!

2015 feb license plate

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Snowy, Snowy

Around the middle of January the landscape looked pretty bleak. No leaves, bare ground, relentlessly gray skies. Where’s winter? some of us wondered.

Complained, even. Some years we get through to the spring equinox still wondering when winter is going to show up. The veteran New Englanders among us are sure it is going to show up, maybe in the middle of April. We aren’t fully persuaded otherwise until Memorial Day arrives, the thermometer hits 80 degrees (F), and it still hasn’t snowed.

Well, if you’re on the Vineyard or anywhere in New England, you know we didn’t have to wait that long this year. Blizzard #1 moved in on January 26 and 27. I was scheduled to participate in a reading at Pathways on the 27th. The organizers saw what was coming and cancelled it on the 26th. Good thing, too: by late afternoon on the 27th, nothing was moving. Snow was drifting two feet and deeper on the minor roads.

The plow guy arrives, January 29.

The plow guy arrives, January 29.

We didn’t get plowed out till Thursday.

The real miracle, given the high winds and heavy snow, is that the power never went out. (Nantucket wasn’t so lucky. A reported 80 percent of that island’s customers lost power, and for quite a while too. No joke when the temperatures are way below freezing.) I was seriously grateful for this because I was editing a 400-page dissertation for a PhD candidate who had his own deadline to meet. I let him know that incoming weather might disrupt our email communication. He’d already heard about our weather on the news — even though he lives in Norway.

Travvy and I went out walking that Wednesday morning. The snow was up to my knees in most places. For Trav it was like running hurdles with a hurdle every stride. By the time we got to the path that runs behind the school playing fields, we were both worn out. It took us almost 20 minutes to cover a distance that usually takes 5 or 6. We turned around and came home.

dig 1dig 2dig 3

Once Halcyon Way, Pine Hill, and the Dr. Fisher Road were plowed, the walking became easier. The trails were still buried, but Trav and I could still get a good morning and late-afternoon walk in if we stayed on the dirt roads and Old County Road, where the snow was banked high on either side but the road surface was pretty clear. The stretch of bike path behind the Nat’s Farm subdivision, we discovered, had been in a low-drift area. We added it back into our regular route.

The big challenge wasn’t snow. It was ice. While the rest of New England got socked with a couple more snowstorms, we got flurries, drizzle, and temps that rose a few degrees above freezing then fell just below. The dirt roads got slushy, then the slush froze. My car tires would slip into frozen ruts and stay there. The #1 rule of winter driving is “no sudden moves,” meaning easy on the brakes and the steering wheel. The ruts were always headed in the right direction, so I let them take me where I wanted to go.

yaktrax

Yaktrax

Walking? Thank heavens for Yaktrax. I discovered Yaktrax a few years ago and have sworn by them ever since.

Back then hardly anyone I knew had heard of them. They weren’t available on the island so I got them mail-order. One of my two pairs was wearing out — some of the metal coils had broken — and I wanted a new backup pair. Could I get them on the island?

I’d just started to look around when Trav and I ran into a neighbor on the Nat’s Farm subdivision road. He got out of his car to say hi to Trav. We talked about the weather (of course) and about ice. I showed him my Yaktrax. Aha, he said, he’d just heard about them from Kenny at the gas station. He thought Brickman’s was carrying them.

I stopped by Brickman’s when I was in town a couple of mornings later. Yes, indeed, they were carrying them, but not only were they sold out, the entire order coming in that afternoon was spoken for. Did I want to get on the wait list for the order due in the next day? I did. I, two staffers, and a bystanding customer raved about Yaktrax for a few minutes, then I went on my way.

Valentine's Day, just before the snow started in earnest, it was pretty chilly.

Valentine’s Day, just before the snow started in earnest, it was pretty chilly.

Valentine’s Day weekend we finally got another big one. The snow was fluffier this time around and not quite as deep, but it was still pretty impressive.

Winter can be challenging, that’s for sure, but I have to confess: I love it. I probably wouldn’t love it, at least not so much, if I didn’t have warm clothes and a roof over my head, if I weren’t reasonably agile and if I didn’t work from home.

I love the stripped-down trees and the patterns they make against the sky. Winter sunsets can be spectacular or subtle. After the sun goes down on the grayest of days, the snow on the ground seems to extend the day — and the days are getting very noticeably longer. When Travvy and I get back from our late afternoon walk, it’s often quarter to six and I don’t need a flashlight.

20150216 tread

The track of the plow guy.

Snow disappears the roads, then the plow guy brings them back.

It disappears the trails too. The trails don’t come back so quickly, but the snow reveals so much more to the untutored eye than leaves and dirt: tracks of rabbit, squirrel, and deer; the parallel lines of a cross-country skier.

Whether by sound or smell, Travvy knows where the snow is hiding something interesting. He digs ferociously and usually comes up with something crunchy or otherwise edible. He woos at familiar shapes that the snow makes strange. I sometimes mistake the tall stump up ahead for a troll. Maybe he does too.

Trav wonders where Halcyon Way went.

Trav wonders where Halcyon Way went. February 15.

Then the plow brings the road back. February 16, 2015.

Then the plow brings the road back. February 16.

The trees out my window.

The trees out my window.

 

 

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