Lies, Damn Lies & Ice Disks

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics” is a cliché. For the record, Mark Twain attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli, but the attribution is unverified and other plausible sources exist.

Pity the poor statistics: they aren’t lies, and they don’t lie, but like other facts they’re easy to manipulate. Compared to human memory, however, they’re rock-solid reliable. When someone tells me some particular summer was the driest ever, or the driest she can remember, I remember the summer it didn’t rain from June 1 to September 1 and the grass crunched under our feet — and I go looking for rainfall statistics to back me up.

November 18, 2015: first ice disk of the season.

November 18, 2015: first ice disk of the season.

Some people I know keep meticulous records of things like rainfall and temperature, the date of the last frost of spring and the first frost of fall. I am not one of those people. However, when I woke up one morning last week to the first ice disk of the season, I couldn’t help checking my ice disk file for the winter of 2014–2015.

Last November, I unmolded the season’s first ice disk on the 16th. The year before that it was the 13th, but I can’t tell you about the year before that because I didn’t get into ice disks until the middle of January.

All the same, I think I’m seeing some consistency here. I’ll go out on a limb and hypothesize that the first ice disk of the season generally arrives at my address in West Tisbury in the middle of November.

Snowy ice disk, November 13, 2013.

Snowy ice disk, November 13, 2013.

My photo for November 13, 2013, tells me that along with the ice disk we had a little snow. I had forgotten that.

This morning I donned longjohns for the first time this year. Now that the second ice disk of the season has arrived — and is still hanging in there at one in the afternoon — it’s clearly time to put flannel sheets on the bed and replace the screen insert in the storm door with its heavy winter version.

In 2014, it wasn’t till the very end of December that the cold hung around long enough for two ice disks to coexist. (Sunlight is tough on ice disks.) In 2013, however, I had a pair on the 21st of November. Not this year. I’m not ready to make any hypotheses about the average date of paired ice disks at this address. This morning, November 24, brought the second ice disk of the season, and if it lasts till tomorrow morning, I’ll be surprised.

November 24, 2015: second disk of the season.

November 24, 2015: second disk of the season.

November 21, 2013. I was getting a little artsy with the maple leaf.

November 21, 2013. I was getting a little artsy with the maple leaf.

I won’t put my winter lights up till the solstice — unless I get into serious procrastination mode, in case that’s as good an excuse as any to do it a little earlier — so by way of a preview here are some highlights from the winter of 2014–2015. I can’t help noticing that I was rhapsodizing about statistics around this time last year, on November 18 to be precise, so maybe this will turn out to be an annual thing.

20150129 night trio

Night trio, January 29, 2015.

Posted in home, outdoors | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Recognition Rocks


Ordinarily I don’t do awards, but hey, recognition is good, especially when it comes from a peer one respects, so thank you for nominating me, Charles French, whose blog, Charles French: Words, Reading, and Writing, I’m a faithful follower of.

I have two blogs, this one and Write Through It: On Writing, Editing, and How to Keep Going. This one, started in July 2011, is the older of the two. I started it, well, because Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve lived here long enough to see the world through a Vineyard lens, and I lived elsewhere long enough to see the Vineyard through an elsewhere lens. This blog helped inspire me to start writing fiction again, which is why I post here so irregularly, but it’s all good. Really.

My advice to bloggers: Your blog is my window into your world. That’s enough. You don’t have to try to sell me something.

Here are my nominees, in no particular order. All these blogs expand my world, albeit in different ways. Some of these bloggers don’t do awards, but check out their blogs anyway. They’re special.

The TomPostPile • Tom lives up the road from me. I already knew he was a musician and a master sign painter, but until he started his blog I knew nothing about Wishetwurra Farm. Here’s your intro. He also takes wonderful photos of both here and “away” — sometimes as close as Woods Hole but other times considerably more distant.

Charlotte Hoather • Charlotte Hoather is a gifted young soprano pursuing her music studies in Scotland. She also writes wonderfully.

Cochin Blogger • I “met” Cochin Blogger on an international editors’ list we both subscribe to. His words and wonderful photos have introduced me to daily life in Kerala, which is where he lives.

The Immortal Jukebox  • Thom Hickey’s “blog about music and popular culture.” Every post is a musical adventure, complete with embedded videos.

Evelyne Holingue • Evelyne is a novelist who grew up in France and now lives in the U.S. She’s witty, observant, and perceptive, and she blogs in both English and French. Earlier this year she worked her way through the alphabet, looking for the English equivalents of common French idioms. Her readers joined in. It was wonderful.

The Glass Bangle • Thoughtful, perceptive, funny — this is my window into the world of a writer, poet, and avid reader in India who’s raising two daughters.

MV Obsession • Joan has known the Vineyard for longer than I have, but she sees it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t live here year-round. When I start getting snarky about “summer people,” I think about Joan and all the others who have their feet in the mud of this place too.

What Matters • Janee Woods doesn’t post all that often, but everything she does post is essential reading for anyone trying to understand how privilege works and why dealing with it is important.

Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors • Absolutely crucial for writers thinking of self-publishing, and for those who want to put their own experiences to good use.

Off the Beaten Path: Hikes, Backpacks, and Travels • Just what it sounds like. I’m a lifelong East Coast girl, and Cindy’s wonderful photos of wildlife, mountains, and places you can’t reach by car transport me to parts of the U.S. that I may never see in person.

Alex Palmer: Your Man in the Field • Sports is terra incognita to me, mostly by choice, but Alex writes so well that I might turn into a sports fan in spite of myself. He just launched this blog a few months ago, so check it out. P.S. Not only does Alex live on the Vineyard, he grew up in the same off-island town I did.

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November 11

Veterans Day 2015. Blustery and wet on Martha’s Vineyard: the parade was cancelled, and the annual ceremony was moved inside to the VFW hall in Oak Bluffs.

November 11 was my uncle Neville’s birthday. He was a gentle, soft-spoken guy, generous to a fault; an electronics wizard, he made things that would help people out, like the “baby crier,” a device that translated sound into light so deaf parents could “hear” their baby crying.

Nev never married. He lived with his mother, my grandmother, until she died. The family story was that his great love had died, or left him, or something like that. In his generation, there were a lot of such stories circulating about uncles and aunts, great-uncles and great-aunts, whose lifelong marital status was single.

Another family story had it that he was shell-shocked in World War II. Both he and his older brother, my father, went off to war. My father came back, not unscathed, but at least physically and mentally whole. Like so many of his peers, he almost never talked about the war. After I read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 for the first time, I think when I was still in high school, he told me that of all the books he’d read about the war, that one best described his own experiences.

Catch-22, I just learned, was published on November 11, 1961.

At some point, probably when I was a college student organizing against the Vietnam War, it dawned on me that November 11 was both Neville’s birthday and Veterans Day. The two have been melded together ever since. Every year I remember Nev, who died some 25 years ago, but I don’t “celebrate” Veterans Day.

It’s not that I don’t respect those who’ve served in the military. No one had more credibility for me and my antiwar comrades than veterans who had returned from Vietnam, some of whom were still on active duty when they spoke at antiwar meetings and rallies. They had survived what most of us could barely imagine. They made it real for us in ways that the evening news alone could not.

And they were trashed for it, as were just about all of us who fought to end that war, and to end or avoid subsequent wars. Those years introduced me to the mindless, or maybe not so mindless, viciousness of “support our troops” sloganeering. Then, as in every war the U.S. has been involved in since, “support our troops” comes with a powerful subtext: “Criticizing the war doesn’t support the troops, so don’t even think about it.” When I see one of those bumper stickers that says “If you love your freedom, thank a vet,” I always wonder what they mean by “freedom”: the freedom to STFU and “support our troops”?

My father’s war, the war my uncle came home shell-shocked from, was the “good war,” the one where we really were fighting for freedom. Subsequent wars have been ethically and politically dubious, but how could fighting Hitler have been anything but good?

Wars don’t come out of nowhere. Generals and politicians don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, nice day for a war! Let’s do it!” Hitler didn’t come out of nowhere either. Was Hitler inevitable? Trace the threads back in time and soon enough you’ll come to the punitive reparations forced on Germany by the treaties that ended (hah!) the First World War. Economic havoc resulted, the Weimar government took the fall, and the Nazi movement took root and grew. Would Hitler have come to power if he hadn’t had that havoc to capitalize on? We’ll never know, but I attach a mental asterisk to “the good war” whenever I hear the phrase.

So when Veterans Day rolls around, I remember my uncle Neville, the terrible cost of war, and the ease with which we use platitudes like “support our troops” and “if you love your freedom, thank a vet” to silence others and avoid thinking too hard about any of it. “If you love your freedom, use it,” say I. “If you don’t, you’ll lose it, not because someone snatches it away from you but because freedom takes practice, ongoing, never-ending practice.”

I blogged about Veterans Day four years ago. Uncle Nev’s in that one too.

Two powerful songs for Veterans Day:



Posted in music, musing, public life | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Real Life Isn’t 20/20

Hot — OK, lukewarm — news item in the Vineyard Gazette: “Midnight Farm Manager Charged with Theft.”

My $35 (?) handbag in its customary place, leaning against the end table I got at a yard sale about 25 years ago.

My $35 (?) handbag in its customary place, leaning against the end table I got at a yard sale about 25 years ago.

No, this is not about the security guard at an all-night agricultural establishment, and the individual was not charged with rustling sheep. Midnight Farm is an upscale boutiquey sort of shop. IIRC Carly Simon once had something to do with it. Maybe she still does. I wandered in a couple of times when it was still located where the hardware store used to be. It contained a variety of items I wasn’t interested in, at prices I could barely imagine, never mind afford. Among the items the former manager is said to have returned after she was apprehended were an $834 handbag and a $500 scarf. You get the idea.

Midnight Farm has since moved to the higher-profile place on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, formerly occupied by Bunch of Grapes, a fair-to-middling bookstore that probably wouldn’t have survived had one of the big chain bookstores ever set up on this side of Vineyard Sound. It moved across the street to the rustic-looking building that was once home to Bowl & Board, which sold useful housewares at reasonable prices. This is probably why it went out of business.

One could chart the decline or gentification (depending on your perspective) of Martha’s Vineyard by tracking the evolving occupancy of a few commercial properties. Midnight Farm’s former home, the one that was once a hardware store, now houses the health-food annex of Stop & Shop (which used to be the A&P, which is why some of us call it the Stop & P). Fortunately the hardware store survives and (apparently) thrives almost a mile from the town center, where there’s plenty of parking but getting out of the parking lot can be a challenge in summer, when State Road is gridlocked almost to the Tashmoo overlook.

But I digress.

It is said that everyone on Martha’s Vineyard knows or at least knows of everyone else. This is not true. I did recognize the name of Midnight Farm’s owner; I may have been in the same room with her once or twice, but we do not move in the same circles. I did not recognize the name of the woman charged with, according to the Gazette, “larceny more than $250 by single scheme, shoplifting more than $100 by asportation, and larceny more than $250; false creation or use of a sales receipt; and possessing a class E drug (Xanax).”

I didn’t recognize the word “asportation” either, so I looked it up: “a carrying away; specifically :  felonious removal of goods,” says the online Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged. It’s not in the (abridged) Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate or the American Heritage Dictionary, so you know it’s not an everyday word. I can’t wait to work it into a sentence.

But I digress again.

What I set out to write about wasn’t crime, the community, or island economics. What I wanted to mention was how when this news item was shared on Facebook — of course that was where I first heard of it — a couple of commenters expressed surprise that the thefts weren’t discovered sooner, because they may have taken place over a two-year period and because Midnight Farm is not a corporate giant whose right hand doesn’t want to know what its left hand is doing.

The comment thread was long and getting longer (it’s probably still growing). No surprise there: incidents like this touch us in different ways, and wrestling with them in a more or less public space helps us make sense of them. I read and reflected and finally posted: “Hindsight is 20/20.”

What’s driving my novel in progress, one of the questions I’m struggling to answer, is “What do you do when it’s too soon for hindsight? How do you know when to act, and if you think you should act, what do you do?”

The scenario in my novel involves a sixth-grade girl. Her stepfather may or may not have sexually abused her in the past. He may be abusing her now. A handful of people outside the family begin to suspect that something is wrong, but they don’t know what. They can’t know, either because the girl doesn’t have full access to her own memories or because the “don’t tell” imperative is strong or, quite possibly, both. Their suspicions grow, but the price of being wrong is very high — the stepfather is a powerful figure, and a lawyer to boot — and if they’re right, then what?

The dog in the novel is based on Travvy, but with a whole different backstory.

The dog in the novel is based on Travvy, but with a whole different backstory.

The novel also involves the rescue of a dog. The dog wasn’t being abused, but he was being seriously mismanaged and was on the verge of getting shot when my protagonist and the sixth-grade girl intervened. The fate of the dog becomes a matter of some public concern, including a selectmen’s meeting.

Not so the fate of the girl. The fate of the girl is in the hands of two people who aren’t sure they trust their own perceptions, have no way to confirm them, and know the price of being wrong is unthinkably high.

Hindsight, I’m discovering, may be 20/20 but until you get to where hindsight is possible, it’s more like picking your way through a swamp at twilight, where you glimpse ripples and flashes of light but don’t know what’s making them.

Posted in writing, Martha's Vineyard, musing | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

October License Plate Report

Well, I saw Alaska but it was on Route 28 in Falmouth so it doesn’t count. Boo-hoo. No change since the end of August, in other words. Well, since I caught Nebraska at the very tail end of 2014, I have not given up hope of snagging one of the Missing Ones — Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Nevada, Alaska, and North Dakota — before 2015 closes its doors, but here we are for the record:

2015 aug license plate map

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Fall Comes to the Closet

A few short (and ever-shortening) days after fall comes to the clothesline, it’s time for the semiannual Great Seasonal Clothes Swap. I live in a studio apartment. Both closet space and drawer space are limited. Off-season clothes live in the closet in two big plastic containers.

Right: Winter clothes coming out of hiding. Left: Summer clothes going in. The storage boxes are underneath. My clothes piles are not that big.

Right: Winter clothes coming out of hiding. Left: Summer clothes going in. The storage boxes are underneath. My clothes piles are not that big.

The swap is enough of a hassle that a week or two or three generally pass between “it’s probably time” and “it really is time.” My bed is the main transfer station for clothes moving out of and into the boxes. If the swap isn’t accomplished in one day, I can’t go to bed.

Travvy can’t nap on the bed either. Travvy is the reason why no matter which direction the clothes are moving in, most of them have dog fur on them.

In case anyone's wondering why all my clothes are garnished with fur . . .

In case anyone’s wondering why all my clothes are garnished with fur . . .

On Sunday I realized that I was wearing my last pair of jeans. I hadn’t worn shorts for almost two weeks. Short sleeves had given way to long. I was wearing turtlenecks again. The time had most definitely come.

I wear out my turtlenecks. I wear out my jeans. I don’t wear out my long-sleeved shirts because I don’t wear them that often. Shirt cuffs have to be unbuttoned and rolled up before I can do the dishes, wash the car, dig in the garden, or do anything else that might get my hands (and probably my wrists and forearms) dirty and/or wet. With turtlenecks, sweatshifts, and sweaters, I can push the cuffs back to my elbows and get on with it.

I acquired a bunch of long-sleeved shirts back when I worked for the Martha’s Vineyard Times and had this idea that I shouldn’t wear the same clothes, especially the same shirt, five days in a row. I left the Times 16 years ago, and some of my shirts are a good deal older than that — and still in good condition because (you guessed it) I don’t wear them much.

During the Great Seasonal Clothes Swap I confront myself: OK, Susanna, you really like this shirt, but you never wore it last winter or probably the winter before that, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll wear it this one either. If you were a shirt, how would you feel about spending all your time either in the closet or in a box?

clothes dumptique

Shirts in waiting to go off to the Dumptique

So on Tuesday, a dump day in my town, I took four shirts on their wire hangers to the Dumptique, which is a 5- or 10-minute walk from where I live. Fare well, shirts. Here’s hoping you’ll find someone who’ll let you out of the closet once in a while. Maybe I’ll see you around town.

The other question that comes up during the Clothes Swap: How tatty does a turtleneck have to be before I throw it out?

The answer is “Pretty damn tatty.” Most of my turtlenecks have frayed cuffs and frayed necks. Some of them also sport little gaps in the seam or holes in the fabric. Still wearable, say I. I usually wear turtlenecks under something else, a shirt, a sweatshirt, or a sweater. I do like to have a couple of unfrayed T-necks in the closet at all times, in case I have to go somewhere people notice these things.

Add that to the “10 Reasons Why I Like Living on Martha’s Vineyard”: Here, if people notice that your cuffs are frayed or your sweater has holes in it, they generally won’t say anything. On the other hand, when I go out in a skirt or, gods forbid, a dress, someone will invariably stare as if they’ve just seen a two-headed cat. On the whole I think it’s good not to be too predictable.

The Great Seasonal Clothes Swap is complete.

The Great Seasonal Clothes Swap is complete . . .

. . . and Travvy approves.

. . . and Travvy approves.

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So You Want to Move to Martha’s Vineyard

A month or so I received an email from someone who was considering moving to the Vineyard year-round. She had liked my “10 Reasons Why I Like Living on Martha’s Vineyard” and wondered if we could meet for coffee when she was on the island the next week.

I emailed back:

Heh. I’ve been thinking about updating them. The creative
opportunities are fewer, the place is less friendly to dogs (or maybe
there are just more stupid dog people), but Facebook has added a
wonderful dimension (or maybe dementia) to island life. I call it the
grapevine on steroids.

Coffee is a definite possibility. As to moving here full-time — it’s
a HUGE leap. My advice is don’t even *think* about it unless you have
(1) either year-round housing or a solid place to live in the summer,
in which case winter rentals may work for you; (2) a job or jobs that
will cover housing and the very high cost of living, or another source
of income (e.g., family money or investments) that will do likewise;
and (3) family here, at least the beginnings of a support network. It
is possible to develop a network from scratch, but it helps if you’re
either working island jobs and/or have kids in the school system. Or
are very gregarious, which I’m not. :-)

Lucky for me my correspondent wasn’t scared off by my email. A few days later we had a delightful conversation over coffee at the Black Dog Café. She had decided against moving here full-time, at least for now. My warning had made her think, she said, and there was something else: At present Martha’s Vineyard was a place she could come to for occasional respite. If she moved here year-round, that would no longer be an option.

Very perceptive, I thought, and as I mulled it over later something else occurred to me. For years I’ve been muttering about the “year-round summer people.” My one-line description: “They live here year-round but they think real life is happening somewhere else.”

What dawned on me was that — in general, mind you; I’m talking stereotypes here — the year-round summer people are here for respite from the “real world,” not occasional respite but permanent respite. And that would apply to those who retire here after spending their working lives somewhere else, maybe summering on the Vineyard.

Demographics are on everyone’s mind these days. The Vineyard population is aging, and not just because those of us who’ve been here a while are getting older. Not just because summer people and others are retiring here either: a big factor is that younger people, those between, say, 25 and 35, are leaving because they can’t afford to raise their families here.

So the other day at a social event I fell into conversation with a fellow who’s involved in the effort to solve, or at least ameliorate, the affordable housing crisis. (For more about this see “Housing 101,” my summary of an excellent talk given last May by David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.) I hadn’t met this guy before. I don’t know how long he’s been around. “This is a resort community,” he said. “Not everyone can afford to live here.”

I’d heard this line before. Once again it struck me as a cavalier way of telling working people who can’t find housing “Tough luck, bye-bye, have a nice life somewhere else.” As if the place had been turned into a “resort community” by an act of God or natural disaster and made uninhabitable for everyone else. But this was a social event and I didn’t know the guy, so I noted that when teachers, shopkeepers, tradespeople, and others essential to the functioning of the community can’t afford to live here, we have a problem.

More people will have to commute from off-island, he said, or so I understood him to say. This struck me as not only cavalier but as totally clueless about what makes Martha’s Vineyard a place worth living and, yes, a place that provides respite for those who come here seeking it: this isn’t a bedroom community or a gated community; it’s a place where most people live within a few miles of where they work, and vice versa.

And that’s what sent me back to “Ten Reasons Why I Like Living on Martha’s Vineyard.” It’s a good list but although other year-rounders relate to it it’s still my list. As a general list, it’s missing something big: family. My family isn’t here, and in any case I come from the kind of family that one’s better off keeping one’s distance from. I knew before I got here that other kinds of family existed, but I didn’t understand how crucial they were to the survival of individuals and the life of a community.

“Without family you’re nothing.” I was startled the first time I heard that. I’ve heard it, in different words, many times since, and more important, I’ve seen it in action. And I think of it every time I hear the statistics about young people who grew up here (and, often, whose parents and grandparents grew up here) but can’t afford to raise families here, every time I hear of a friend’s kids or grandkids leaving the island for good.

Because nearly all of my “10 Reasons” have been made possible by the tightly woven fabric of island life: from the grapevine (whose vines and tendrils now extend through the online world), to the informality, to our willingness to entertain ourselves, to the attentiveness needed to negotiate single-lane roads, to the ability to sleep soundly at night with all doors and windows open (or, in cold weather, at least unlocked).

That fabric is fraying, and along with it most of the things that have made this a good place to live — and more, I think: a place that has more to offer the rest of the country than pretty beaches and summer R&R.

But this country doesn’t know how to reckon value that can’t be measured in money. So if you can afford to live here, you’re in, and if you can’t it’s “Tough luck, bye-bye, good luck somewhere else.”

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

10 Reasons Why I Like Living on Martha’s Vineyard

I wrote this about 10 years ago, when setting up, my first home on the web. On a recent rereading I was surprised to realize that most of it is still mostly true. I now have several virtual homes: this blog; my other blog, Write Through It: On Writing, Editing, and How to Keep Going; and Facebook, as well as And well, I’m still here.

The commercial version rhapsodizes about idyllic beaches, scenic harbors, charming B&Bs, historic sites, gracious dining — you get the idea. The somewhat jaded version emphasizes ticks, tularemia, moped accidents, pretentious restaurants, snarled traffic, hard-to-get ferry reservations, the price of gas, and a couple of the worst-managed towns in the state. Here I consider the real reasons why I haven’t (yet) moved to northern New England or upstate New York.

Look, Ma: No Keys!

security signIn my D.C. days, I packed ten keys on my keychain. After a few months on the Vineyard, I’d stopped locking my bike; the car keys stayed in the ignition, and the only lock on my apartment was a skinny sliding bolt whose main purpose was to keep the door closed when the wind came up. Like many Vineyarders, I still don’t lock, and the truck keys rarely leave the truck, but the times are surely changing. Expensive security systems and car alarms are more common than they were ten years ago. Used to be that when someone left their headlights on, you’d automatically open the door and turn them off. Then more people started locking their cars, and once I triggered someone’s car alarm. Now I restrain myself unless I recognize the car or the window’s open.

Self-Service News

Most Vineyarders read one or both of the two weeklies, the Martha’s Vineyard Times and the Vineyard Gazette. But your best sources for local news are (1) your friends and neighbors, and (2) your own eyes and ears. We’re all reporters and editors: we gather news, decide how credible our sources are, digest it, combine it with what we already know, and pass it on. A few well-placed individuals know everything worth knowing before anyone else does and can tell a good story besides; their acquaintance is worth cultivating. One newspaper editor has been heard to complain that we never vote the way his editorials tell us to. Here we don’t need an editor to tell which way the words blow.

Creative Opportunities

Me during a rehearsal for The Secret Garden (1999)

Me during a rehearsal for The Secret Garden (1999)

Martha’s Vineyard provides all the ingredients for a writer to create her own continuing education workshop. Over the years, I’ve stage-managed and acted in local theater productions; edited, copyedited, written, and reviewed for a local newspaper; and volunteered, produced events, performed, and written press releases for a local coffeehouse (the late, still greatly missed Wintertide). I’ve had a front-row seat for an unending parade of shenanigans (and played minor roles in a few). There are frequent pop quizzes, all consisting of the same question: “Why the hell do you live there?” No credits, no degree, but the proof is in the writing, right?


Rhodry (1994-2008) went almost everywhere with me. This was at a horsesitting gig.

Rhodry (1994-2008) went almost everywhere with me. This was at a horsesitting gig.

Dogs go to work, dogs go to town, dogs go fishing — dogs go everywhere the board of health doesn’t say they can’t go. Rhodry has been helping me do my banking since he was old enough to be trusted on carpets. He makes biscuit withdrawals at each teller station; when we use the drive-up window, the canister brings a cookie for him, cash or a deposit slip for me. Delivery-truck drivers usually pack some dog treats along with the parcels. Rhodry knows this. Once I got a call from a neophyte driver. He was parked outside my front door; he said he had a parcel for me, but a big dog wouldn’t let him out of the van. I accepted the parcel and apologized for the dog.



Now I live a five-minute walk from the Dumptique at the West Tisbury dump, a very popular source of clothing, housewares, and other good stuff. Photo from March 2013.

When “casual Fridays” became popular in the urban workworld, I had a hard time grasping the concept. “Dress to impress” is still rare on Martha’s Vineyard, though it’s more common than it used to be. (Not to mention that since 1981 my workweek has been so irregular that Fridays and Mondays have no special significance.) Where hardly anyone wears tailored suits or designer dresses, people figure out other ways to decide what kind of person you are. I, like most people I know, get a good chunk of my wardrobe at the thrift shop.


The island has no stoplights. Two major intersections are four-way stops, and Five Corners, strategically located in the heart of Vineyard Haven, is a traffic planner’s nightmare. To make it more fun, many of the island’s secondary roads are rutted dirt and one-lane only. Driving on Martha’s Vineyard demands continual nonverbal negotiation, involving eye contact, hand waving, turn signals, and flashing headlights: Go ahead. Am I next? After you. I’ll back up. There’s someone behind me. I love it. Massachusetts drivers have a terrible reputation, but Martha’s Vineyard drivers are all right.


There are no parking meters on Martha’s Vineyard, and the only pay-to-park lot is at the Gay Head Cliffs. Most parking lots are cramped and irregularly shaped, and feature access from so many directions that you don’t know where to look first. The Stop & Shop lot, near the ferry dock, is like an ongoing game of musical chairs, without the music. So is the one across the street at the Vineyard Haven post office. One of the benefits of my current year-round rental is that I can walk to town in fifteen minutes.

The License Plate Game

Don Lyons got me playing the license plate game back when we both worked for the Martha’s Vineyard Times. The idea is to spot, on the island, license plates from all fifty states (I add D.C. because I used to live there) between January 1 and December 31. Each of us keeps a map, on which we record sightings by coloring in the states. Usually at least half the states are colored in by the end of January, but it’s a rare year that we spot all fifty. The perennial spoiler is North Dakota. One year Don’s wife Joni spotted a tour bus with North Dakota plates on a ferry bound for Vineyard Haven. She told Don. Don called the Steamship Authority and ascertained that there were tour buses leaving the island on the 3:45 from Oak Bluffs and the 4:00 from Vineyard Haven. Then he called me. Shortly before 3:45 our pickups passed each other near the Oak Bluffs terminal; I’d already been down to look, and I shook my head: nada. We hightailed it up the road to Vineyard Haven. There it was. Turns out the bus and all its passengers were from New Jersey, but the plate was North Dakota and that’s all that counts in this game.

The Land Bank

These days a unspectacular postage-stamp building lot can easily cost a couple hundred thou, but even a landless Vineyarder of modest means has free access to thousands of acres of conservation land and miles upon miles of trails and bike paths. The Land Bank isn’t responsible for all of these acres — the state-owned Manuel Correllus State Forest alone accounts for more than 5,100 of them — but it does manage many of the best, and with the fewest restrictions. The Land Bank is financed by a two percent tax on most real estate transactions. Just about the only good thing I can say about the island’s deranged real estate market is that the Land Bank gets two percent of those inflated prices.

It’s Home

Some newcomers swear before they’ve unpacked that they’re going to live here the rest of their lives. They usually don’t last long. Others come for a year, then they swear they’re just staying another winter, but they find a place for the summer and postpone their departure till fall, and so on and on. I’m one of the latter. For a while I called myself a lifer, but I reneged: when Y2K rolled around, I was again talking about leaving — when the novel’s done, when I’ve sold the novel, when the novel’s published . . . Now my deal is that I’ll stay as long as I can find housing. I lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. If the ship is sinking, likely I’m going down with it.

When I wrote "10 Reasons" I lived off Skiff Ave. in Vineyard Haven. In early 2007 I moved to West Tisbury. Ever since I've lived in the studio apartment on the second floor of that building. Travvy moved in in April 2008. We're both still here.

When I wrote “10 Reasons” I lived off Skiff Ave. in Vineyard Haven. In early 2007 I moved to West Tisbury. Ever since I’ve lived in the studio apartment on the second floor of that building. Travvy moved in in April 2008. We’re both still here.



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Fall Comes to the Clothesline

If Blake could see “a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,” then why can’t I trace the turning of the seasons on my clothesline? Why not indeed. Here goes.

Laundromat sign with sidekick

Laundromat sign with sidekick

Thursday dawned bright and sunny and I was almost out of underwear, so by 8:30 Travvy and I were on the road to the Airport Laundromat. “Bright and sunny” is essential because I hang my wash out. This is less because I’m environmentally correct and more because I’m pig-headed and cheap: the dryers at the laundromat charge 25 cents for 4 minutes and it takes a lot of quarters to get clothes anywhere close to dry. Especially jeans.

Speaking of jeans — here’s Thursday’s laundry line. Pop quiz: How can you tell for sure that this is early fall and not, say, midsummer?

20151008 whole line

See the black jeans at the far right? This is the first appearance of jeans on the line since June. To their left are five pairs of shorts. I live in shorts all summer. A major perk of this freelance editor’s life is getting to wear whatever I want. In summer it’s mostly shorts and T-shirts.20151008 tshirts

My T-shirt collection has been out of control for a long time. Admitting I was powerless over T-shirts hasn’t helped: I keep acquiring more.

The T-shirts at right include one from the 1997 Ag Fair, one from a 1990 display of the AIDS Quilt in Boston, one from WisCon 22 (1998),  one bought at a Fred Eaglesmith concert at Katharine Cornell Theatre in the mid-2000s, and one from Moonstone Bookcellars, a science fiction bookshop that I think was defunct by the time I left D.C. in 1985.

The leftmost T-shirts, one red and one gray, both have long sleeves. This is another sure sign of fall, and the absence of turtlenecks says it’s still early fall. As fall wears on, shorts and T-shirts will disappear from the line and be replaced by jeans and turtlenecks. There will be turtlenecks in the next laundry, I promise. I do not have nearly as many turtlenecks as I do T-shirts, but I have enough. In cool weather you can wear the same shirt for days on end. In summer, when you take something off, it’s too clammy to put on again, so into the hamper (a repurposed wastebasket) it goes.

20150722 ladderSo how can you tell that the photo at left was from a summer laundry?

This is a little tricky. Usually I head for the laundromat when I’m almost out of underwear: about every three weeks. On July 22, three weeks’ worth of T-shirts didn’t fit on the line. I usually don’t have to press my step ladder into service.

Travvy accompanies me to the laundromat, of course, even in hot weather. We do our morning walk around the county airport — not for nothing is it called the Airport Laundromat — and the adjacent business park.

Trav likes wooing at the taxis in waiting in front of the terminal, and if there are people sitting on the benches outside, so much the better. For him the high point is probably the sights, sounds, and smells of the boarding kennel at Animal Health Care. Sometimes we even spot another dog out for a walk.

20150905 summer line

A late summer laundry line. Those two long things are very lightweight dresses, not pants. Note also the number of tank tops and sleeveless Ts.

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September License Plate Report

Nothing new to report, I’m afraid: at the end of September the map looked exactly as it did at the end of August. Sightings that would have been notable in the spring are ho-hum now because I’ve spotted them already: Tennessee, Arizona, New Mexico, and Alabama. I’d trade two Alabamas for a Mississippi any day.

In addition to Mississippi, I’m missing Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, Alaska, Nevada, and you-know-who. Not a bad showing for the year so far, but I’m not giving up yet.

2015 aug license plate map

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