Fall was late getting a foothold this year. Most years, on or about September 1, August humidity falls away and driving down Old County Road I spot at least a hint of fall color in the trees. This year September 1 felt like September 1 — but then the tropical air slithered back in and it felt like August again. A thunderstorm would then clear the air, but never once and for all. Over the course of the month we must have gone through the cycle three or four times.
The days were getting shorter as the equinox approached, but it wasn’t always noticeable because of overcast skies.
Also it rained a lot. My favorite stretch of the Dr. Fisher Road is a pretty good indicator of how much rain we’ve had. This is what it looked like at the beginning of September. At the end of October’s first week, the puddles aren’t nearly as impressive but they haven’t disappeared either.
A few days ago I pulled jeans on for the first time in months. That might be the surest sign that fall has arrived — but on the other hand, the next day I was back in shorts.
At the moment I’m typing this in shorts and a long-sleeved T. I haven’t even thought about doing the Great Seasonal Clothing Switch. Well, OK, I did just think about it, but what I thought was that no way is it actually time to do it.
As always, my laundry line is a good clue to the changing of the seasons. As it happens, I have photos from September 7 and October 7: exactly one month apart. The differences between the two are subtle — nothing so obvious as a pair of jeans or a sweater — but they are there.
T-shirts. Lots of T-shirts. So many that they almost didn’t fit on the line. Because in August it sometimes takes two T-shirts, or even three, to get through the day. Take one off at the end of a brisk morning walk, shower — and no way are you putting that shirt on again. Also notice the number of sleeveless T’s and tank tops. My sleeveless T’s are all from the 1980s. They were called “muscle shirts” at the time, I guess because they showed off and/or didn’t interfere with your muscles. Why can’t they be found anymore? Unlike the vast majority of my regular T’s, they get worn and washed a lot, so they’re all showing signs of wear.
A month later, there’s only one sleeveless T on the line, and one tank top. There’s also one long-sleeved T, and (though it’s nearly impossible to discern from this angle) at the very end of the line is a sweatshirt. Still no jeans or other long pants, but the fact that there’s more space on the line is significant: In September, one T-shirt would get me through the day, and sometimes the same one would get me through two days. (Keep in mind that I work from home, and who the hell knows or cares what you’re wearing to a Zoom meeting?)
Speaking of T-shirts — The T-Shirt Chronicles has been on hiatus for the last two months because I’ve been hellaciously busy workwise, but I’ll be getting back to it shortly.
Nothing to report except there’s nothing to report. No last-minute sightings, no nothing. It’s disappointing for sure, but hey, we’re talking about September, Covid limitations are still in effect (I don’t see any license plates on my way to a Zoom meeting), and I’ve been intensely busy workwise since the middle of August. (I’ll say more about that in my Write Through It blog.)
So we’re holding at 45. The states yet to be seen: Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Nebraska, and both Dakotas.
Yesterday morning, walking down Pine Hill with Tam, I spotted something bright red way up ahead. Huh? It was too bright and too red to be natural — unless it was a mushroom? Not likely: It was too big, and besides, it hadn’t been there the day before.
It turned out to be a balloon. The balloon had a message written on it: I miss you more every day. Love you. It’s signed with a semi-legible first name but I’m leaving that out in case the sender lives on the Vineyard. Word gets around, and that message was not meant for me.
Tam and I were heading out so I left the balloon where it was. This morning we were doing the same route in the opposite direction, so I brought it home.
It wasn’t trash exactly, but it didn’t belong where it was.
I’ve found balloons with messages on or attached to them before, but the last time must have been almost 30 years ago. They were mostly school projects: the sender’s name and address would be included, so you could respond with where and when the balloon was found. These were occasionally reported in the Vineyard papers.
Since then the release of balloons into the wild has been discouraged for environmental reasons. I assumed this was why I’d seen so few of them — until I got home, balloon in hand, and showed it to my next-door neighbor. She’d seen it on her walk yesterday and left it where it was for the same reason I had: she was heading in the wrong direction. I said it was the first message balloon I’d seen in many, many years. She said she saw them all the time on the beach.
My neighbor is a regular beachgoer. I’m not. Here I was thinking that we had all become more environmentally conscious, but it turns out I’m just walking in the wrong places.
The balloon is now tied by its ribbon to my deck railing. It’ll wind up in the trash eventually, but not just yet.
August was looking like a complete bust — which isn’t all that unusual for August — when I pulled into the beer store on the last Sunday of the month and there it was: West Virginia. The parking lot that the beer store shares with a deli and a fish store is not large, but gems do show up in out-of-the-way places. It was almost like spotting Hawaii at the Vineyard Haven dog park last year.
As we head into fall, six states are still AWOL: that usual cluster in the Upper Midwest — Nebraska and the Dakotas — plus Wyoming, Alaska, and Hawaii.
The beer store, by the way, is properly M.V. Wine & Spirits. Technically it’s on the Edgartown side of the Airport Business Park, which is important because Edgartown is wet and West Tisbury — the other, smaller side of the business park — is mostly dry. It feels like having a liquor store in West Tisbury. For sure the two or three miles to the airport makes a quicker round-trip than the ten miles to Oak Bluffs or the nine miles to the outskirts of Edgartown center.
* * * * *
On a more somber note, Don Lyons passed on August 24, age 94. As the obituaries and appreciations make clear, Don was a multi-talented guy: former minister at Grace Episcopal, ad sales rep and sports reporter for the Martha’s Vineyard Times, leading man in countless island theater productions . . . What they don’t say is that he introduced me to the license plate game when we were colleagues at the Times, around 1988 (when the Times was still in the old Spaghetti Pot building, which no longer exists, behind Woodland Market). I’ve been at it ever since. Next time I spot North Dakota, Don, I’ll let you know.
As I write, we’re on the fringes of Tropical Storm Henri. The wind is blowing, there’s been some rain, but so far, so good. The electricity flickered a couple of times before 7 but I went ahead and made the quiche I’d been hankering for. It came out of the oven 15 minutes ago. I’m calling it quiche Henri.
Despite its advance billing, Henri has turned out to be less than a big deal for Martha’s Vineyard and environs, though of course the boats aren’t running and the last day of the Ag Fair was cancelled. It’s a bigger deal further west, like in Connecticut and New York.
Locally the advance billing has included frequent reminders of Hurricane Bob, which landed on these shores exactly 30 years ago, on August 19, 1991. I didn’t need the reminders. I, like just about everyone else who was here at the time, have plenty of stories to tell about Bob. My memories are so vivid I’m having a harder time reminding myself that three decades have passed since then.
Bob made a big impression.
I was Calendar & Community (i.e., features) editor at the Martha’s Vineyard Times, which was then still located in the old Spaghetti Pot building behind Woodland Market. (That building is no more. Gone forever is the orange carpeting that I’d swear was dyed with spaghetti sauce.) One of the many things Bob taught me was how the island’s electrical grid worked. The Times was on the same trunk line as the hospital, which is why our electricity was restored so fast.
Actually, it was jack-of-all-trades Times reporter Gerry Kelly who taught me that. He did the research and published it in the paper.
The Vineyard Gazette (which we habitually referred to as “an Edgartown weekly,” while they called us “the other paper”) was not so lucky. August 19, 1991, was a Monday. In those days the Gazette published on Tuesday as well as Friday — and the Gazette, unlike the Times, was printed in-house, on its own presses. Which required electricity. Google (which definitely wasn’t around at the time) just jogged my memory: that week the Gazette came out on Wednesday. The lead paragraph of the lead story is worth quoting:
The earliest hurricane in New England history roared up the East Coast Monday, plowing across Martha’s Vineyard with harbors full and seasonal population at its peak. Hurricane Bob lashed the Island with winds officially clocked at 98 miles per hour and reported in places as high as 110.
The story was accompanied by grim photos of smashed boats in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven harbors.
At the time I was living up-island on State Road, where it’s West Tisbury on one side and Chilmark on the other. We didn’t get power back for almost 10 days, so having access to running water and refrigeration at the Times office was a blessing. I washed my hair in the office sink at least once. Staffers brought the spoilables from our inoperative refrigerators in to share, and we feasted for a couple of days. Then as now the Times came out on Thursday, so Monday was our “on your mark,” Tuesday was “get set,” and Wednesday was “GO!” So feasting on Tuesday and Wednesday was a big plus.
We had electricity at the newspaper, but most of the island didn’t. Since most people’s answering machines weren’t working, it finally dawned on me just how indispensable they were. The 1991 Ag Fair had just ended: it was only three days at that point, and since the “new” Ag Hall hadn’t been built, it was still at the Grange. Several of us were on what was usually a routine assignment: rounding up results and collecting anecdotes about the fair. Being unable to leave a message when someone wasn’t home was a time-consuming PITA. Anecdotes don’t vary all that much from one year to the next, but we couldn’t exactly recycle the previous year’s without getting caught out by half the island.
I have this vague recollection of trying to verify a report that some couple had gotten married on the Ferris wheel. Whether it turned out to be true or not I don’t remember — and if it was, it might have been at some other fair.
Bob transformed the landscape as well as doing serious damage in the harbors. Brandy Brow is a hillock where State Road in West Tisbury intersects the Edgartown Road. If West Tisbury center had a gateway, Brandy Brow was it. I passed it on my way home almost every day: it was so densely wooded that you barely saw the land itself. After Bob passed through, that was almost all you saw. At least three-quarters of the trees were gone.
After Bob, walking the King’s Highway, an ancient way in Chilmark, required plenty of scrambling over fallen trees. For horses or mountain bikes — forget it. The state forest was decimated, or so it seemed. (Keep in mind that “decimated” doesn’t mean “leveled”; as the word itself suggests, it means to take one-tenth of the whole. It wasn’t literally that bad, but the damage was major, and it was many years before it was cleaned up.)
Several big trees blocked the dirt road I was living on, but here I lucked out: a nurse at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital lived on this little network of roads, so volunteer EMTs, firefighters, et al. showed up with chainsaws to clear the way so she could get to work. Everyone in the neighborhood benefited.
The West Tisbury fire station on the Edgartown Road left its outside hose open so those of us without running water could refill our buckets. I did this quite a few times. It helped that at the time I was driving a pickup, the late Tesah Toyota, so I didn’t have to worry about water sloshing in the cargo bay.
Bob was a windy storm (understatement of the century), but it wasn’t a wet one. As a result the summer and fall of 1991 were very strange. November arrived almost overnight, turning the salt-scorched oak and maple leaves prematurely brown. But lilacs and other spring blossoms arrived in September — it became clear to those who hadn’t already figured it out that nature doesn’t pay all that much attention to the calendar.
And then there were the bees. Bees were everywhere, taking advantage of fallen trees and spring-in-fall blooming. One morning, at the outdoor patio at the Patisserie on Main Street, Vineyard Haven (long gone, fondly remembered), I admired the homemade bee-catchers (one-liter soda bottles cut in two, baited with something sweet, and hung from the ceiling) designed to distract the bees from my breakfast.
Also omnipresent was the sound of chainsaws. They could be hard to tell from mopeds. Was that a moped coming up Main Street, or was it a chainsaw?
Hurricane Bob also prompted me to look for a year-round rental. For several years I’d had a place to go in the summer while I had winter rentals the rest of the year. My summer housemate, whom I’d known for years, was a kitchen slob. I’m not exactly a fastidious housekeeper, but if I slice a tomato and use half of it in a salad, I don’t leave the other half on the counter. Imagine, if you will, 9 or 10 days of this in August heat without running water or refrigeration.
Fortunately reasonably affordable year-round rentals weren’t all that hard to find in the early 1990s, and I found a good one: I actually lived year-round in the same place for almost 10 years. And that alone should remind me how long ago this was, in case I forget.
The late Rhodry and Travvy both spent time around horse barns so they learned about electric fences early on. Rhodry in particular didn’t even trust rope lying on the ground: if he couldn’t detour around it, he’d clear it by at least two feet.
When the barn where I worked at the time was being re-roofed and we had to do some squeezing between gates and construction equipment, I managed to come in simultaneous contact with a live wire, a metal ladder, and a puddle. Don’t try this at home.
Tam Lin, however, is not a barn dog. He doesn’t run around loose either, but I still wanted him to get the basics about electric fences. The obvious place was the outer perimeter of the pastures at Misty Meadows horse farm, which we walk along several mornings a week. The fence comprises three bands of electrified tape, with the lowest a few inches above the ground, the highest at my chest level, and the middle about the height of a big dog’s nose. At one corner there’s an “electric fence” warning.
Trouble is, not once in the last almost two years has the electricity been on. I regularly run my finger along it: nothing. Tam brushes against it when sniffing the grass: nothing.
A few days ago another opportunity presented itself. Sheep, goats, and cattle have at various times been brought in to graze in the meadow adjacent to the horse farm. Electrified mobile fencing keeps the livestock in and curious dogs out. Last week three cows and seven calves showed up. (I’m curious about this. Cows occasionally have twins and, rarely, triplets, but single births are by far the most common. Did these three cows produce all seven calves?) The cattle were mostly snoozing, Tam was curious but not over-excited, so we walked along the outside of the fence.
Before long Tam yelped. Mission accomplished. He doesn’t seem to have been traumatized by the encounter. Since then he’s been fine walking past the fence; he just doesn’t get too close.
The cows and calves are still there. This morning one of the calves was outside the fence, so when I got home I called the farmer to report. No, I did not have my phone with me. 😉 Here are some cow pictures.
So Tuesday night Tam Lin and I are approaching the worst stretch of the Dr. Fisher Road. It’s not quite pitch-dark but close.
Up ahead are red brake lights. They aren’t moving. This is unusual.
When we come up next to the brake lights, I see that they belong to a West Tisbury police cruiser with no one in it. This is even more unusual.
Then I glimpse through the trees the front end of a white box truck, maybe a 12-footer. I begin to get the picture.
At the back end of the truck, through the gloom I recognize my buddy from the diversity task force, Officer Brad. I hail him through the thin line of scrubby trees — Tam and I are on the path close to and parallel with the so-called road — and ask if someone was navigating by GPS.
Affirmative. They’re waiting for the tow truck. Brad admires Tam, who of course has to go say hi. I say I hope the tow truck shows up soon, Brad does too, and Tam and I hang a left on Pine Hill and head for home.
I posted the above on Facebook. Among the commenters were a couple of FB friends who are real-time neighbors too. We brainstormed some appropriate signs to warn unwary motorists before they get stuck:
“I’d turn back if I were you”
“Abandon shocks, all ye who enter here”
“GPS is junk here”
“WARNING: GPS doesn’t know a road from a path through the woods”
I have photos of this particular stretch of the Dr. Fisher Road in all seasons. Here are a few.
Three western states showed up in July — a pretty good catch. New Mexico got in just under the wire: I spotted it at up-island Cronig’s yesterday. Earlier in the month, Nevada was just leaving downtown Vineyard Haven as I was driving in, and Montana was at the Merchants Mart next to the Black Dog Café. The Montana plate was one I’d never seen before, plain blue on white, but I’ve since learned that Montana has as many as 400 different plates so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
There’s generally very little action in the last five months of the year, but I’m not giving up.
I do love to walk. I walk a lot. I walk about four miles on an average day. (Read on and you’ll learn how I know this.)
Some people walk because they have a dog. Me, many years ago I got my first dog, the late great Rhodry Malamutt (1994–2008), because I liked to walk. Friends who worked conventional hours would ask me to take their dog with them when I went for a walk. Walks occasionally turned into overnights (“Hey, could you possibly look after . . . ?”), and eventually I realized that I was responsible enough to have a dog of my own. Rhodry, by the way, was the younger full sibling of two of my foster dogs.
So last fall a bunch of us activist Vineyard women took part in a Run/Walk for RBG challenge. (RBG, need I say, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had died a few months before and been replaced on the Supreme Court by — don’t get me started.) The idea was to run or walk 87 miles, 87 being RBG’s age when she died. You didn’t have to do it all at once: you could do it in increments. The organizers’ website provided a handy way to keep track of your miles.
This was a benefit for several worthy women’s organizations, and it came with some fun swag, like an RBG T-shirt and a medallion that says WE DISSENT on the ribbon.
It also meant that I had to log my miles, which meant taking my phone with me when I went for a walk. Danger danger danger . . .
For many years I was a cell-phone resister. Since I work from home, have a working landline, and spend at least half my day on my laptop, I didn’t need one. I’m also not, and never have been, a phone person. My medium (big surprise) is the written word. Email suits me just fine.
Also I was afraid a phone would take over my life. I would become one of those people who can’t shop for groceries without talking on the phone.
In January 2019, however, I got my first cell phone. A Samsung Galaxy J7, in case you’re wondering. It still works fine.
By the fall of 2020 I was pretty sure I’d be OK. If I was going to turn into a phone junkie, it would have happened by now, right? It had come in handy several times, like in May 2019, when I used GPS to successfully navigate my way through Boston for my 50th high school reunion. (It was less helpful on my way home from picking up puppy Tam Lin in Canandaigua, N.Y. If I hadn’t jettisoned GPS and started following the signs to I-95, I probably would have missed the last boat home.)
I did take to texting, and when I was editing on paper I used my phone for dictionary look-up and consulting the Chicago Manual of Style. (When I’m editing on screen, I invariably have Chicago and two or three dictionaries open in Firefox.)
Nevertheless, to take my phone when I went out walking meant venturing across another line. The signs didn’t say KEEP OUT but they did urge CAUTION.
I got the Map My Walk app, which did indeed map my route(s) and tell me how far I’d walked and how long it had taken me. It also gave me my average pace and my fastest pace. (I refused to let it tell me how many calories I had consumed. Enough is enough.) I learned that the shortest version of my usual morning walk was closer to 2 miles than the 3+ I’d been guesstimating. I learned that my fastest pace was about 4 miles an hour, which I expected from previous informal attempts to time myself, but my average pace when walking with Tam was less than 3 1/2. The discrepancy wasn’t hard to figure out: walking with a dog involves plenty of pauses to sniff or pee.
What prompted me to try jogging? (Keep in mind that I don’t jog and actively dislike jogging.) Those statistics, plus curiosity! Would jogging a few steps change my fastest pace?
It would, and it did: it raised my fastest pace to 5 mph. At first glance this doesn’t seem like much, but hey, it’s a 25% increase. Walking without Tam I could cover a mile in 15 minutes. If I jogged a mile, I could do it in 12.
No way could I jog a whole mile. This is what intrigued me: with good shoes I can walk for miles and miles, but jogging for a mere fraction of a mile was out of the question. Jogging was work. My legs, knees, feet, and lungs made that quite clear. What’s the difference?
A friend who both walks and runs thought it was the increased speed. When jogging I noticed that at one point in each stride both feet seemed to be off the ground, something that doesn’t seem to happen when walking. Could that be requiring more effort? It definitely added to the concussion of foot on ground, even when the ground was mostly dirt. This is one reason I don’t jog (much): when walking, I work out snags in whatever I’m writing or editing, or just mull things over. Jogging pushes all thoughts out of my head.
Aside: I just Googled “why is jogging different from walking” and OMG what a rabbit hole I almost fell down! This article is actually quite useful.
The short version is that from time to time when Tam and I are out walking, I jog a little bit, just for the hell of it. I count to 10 when I’m doing it, over and over again. Mostly I don’t pay attention to distance, but a few days ago on the bike path I wondered if I could jog from Neptune to Uranus. (See photo below if you’re wondering about this.)
Well, yes, I could, and I’ve done it several times since. I feel moderately accomplished about this. I’ve even wondered if I can make it as far as Saturn. But don’t worry: I’m not jogging.
The other day I came across a clever aphorism so of course I did it up pretty and posted it on my Facebook timeline as “Quote of the Day:
“Dance like nobody’s watching. Email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”
To me this is common sense, cleverly put and topical too, given the number of emails, text messages, and photos that are winding up in courts and congressional hearings these days. But one FB friend thought it was “sad,” and another regretted that “privacy was a thing of the past.”
This prompted my (loaded) question: “What is this privacy of which you speak?” Which I of course then answered, more or less as follows:
I, like most of us, started off as a kid. Most kids have zero privacy. What privacy they have is at the discretion of adults.
As an antiwar activist (and undergrad at Georgetown University, which at the time was big into in loco parentis, especially for women), I learned to assume that anything I did, wrote, or said on the phone might be seen or overheard by someone who did not wish me well.
As a feminist, ditto, plus as a lesbian I was careful about what I wrote in a postcard or on the outside of an envelope.
Since 1985 I’ve lived on Martha’s Vineyard, an island of small towns. Long before social media, we had the grapevine. Before long I knew — or at least had heard — plenty of stuff about people I didn’t know, and (as an out lesbian who’d come from “away”) I was pretty sure that many people had me pegged without the benefit of firsthand information.
At the same time the grapevine helped me find “my people”, mainly through theater and music (surprise surprise — in every time and place “misfits” tend to congregate in these areas).
So I’m curious. Are some people not aware of this, or are they just leading such unexceptional lives that they don’t realize they’re being noticed, such solitary lives that they aren’t being noticed, or such privileged lives that they don’t have to worry?
I could have gone on. Working at D.C.’s feminist bookstore was a bit like living in a fishbowl, but I never had to worry about losing my job because of what someone overheard me say or because they noticed I was reading, say, Lesbian Fiction or, heaven forbid, Lesbian Sex. People in other places or with other jobs had to be continually vigilant, even, in some cases, at home.
Such vigilance isn’t unique to lesbians and gay men either. Not by a long shot. The phrase “in the closet” didn’t take long to move from lesbian and gay subcultures into the straight world because so many of us have things about ourselves that we have to keep quiet about for fear of repercussions from the outside world.
So back to the original aphorism, and why I don’t find it sad at all. The idea is to dance like nobody’s watching even when someone is watching, and to be able to stand by the words and images you send out into the world, whether by email or social media or blog post. For most of us, it’s highly unlikely they’ll end up in a deposition, or going viral on Twitter, but what if they did? Could you stand by them, or would you say “Oops” and start back-pedaling?
Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.