If you guessed from the absence of an October report that there were no new sightings that month, you would be right. And as September and October went, so went November.
October’s most noteworthy event came near the end of the month, when I spotted Arkansas and Oklahoma parked within two cars of each other on Circuit Ave. I’d already spotted Arkansas (in March) and Oklahoma (in May), but in late October they were most definitely out of season. Not to mention — Arkansas and Oklahoma are neighboring states, but what are the odds against their plates being seen in such close proximity on Martha’s Vineyard? Could their drivers know each other?
I never consider such possibilities when I see, say, Connecticut and Rhode Island on the same street, or Ohio and Pennsylvania in the hospital parking lot. However, if South Dakota pulls in any of its missing neighbors — Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota — this month, I might think I’m on to something.
Winter has been icumen in for a while now, but in fits and starts. In the early days of the month I put flannel sheets on the bed, turned the heater on for the first time since late April, and before long I’d done the Great Clothes Switch — discovering, incidentally, two new pairs of pants that I have no recollection of buying. I hear that this is a common symptom of the Age of Covid, but it’s possible I’ve got an alter ego that wants to take charge of my wardrobe. Good luck with that . . .
A few days ago the temperature hit 60 F (15.5 C), but 60 in mid-November does not feel like 60 in May so I was not gallivanting around in shorts and a T-shirt. The water in my outside shower was already turned off, but I was not tempted to turn it on.
This morning? Well, this is not the first ice disk of the season, but it’s still standing despite the wind (“how the wind doth ramm” indeed!). Both of its predecessors — one from November 6, the other from the 7th — were puddles before noon.
Supporting evidence: Having padded outside barefoot in my long fleece robe to empty my indoor recyclables into the outdoor bin, I decided to (1) don long underwear and (2) exchange sweatshirt for sweater before setting out with Tam for our morning walk.
These are not things I do in fall. What’s done can in some sense be undone — which is to say that later this week I may shed the longjohns and go back to the sweatshirt — but there’s no undoing the act of taking longjohns out of the drawer or sweater out of the closet for the first time this season.
Tam is, of course, thrilled. He doesn’t have to change his clothes. At the moment he’s snoozing out on the deck, where the temperature is 37 F but, sez my phone, “feels like 28.” Got that right. Now that it’s cooler inside, he spends most of most nights on my bed. Like Trav and Rhodry before him, he’s a great bed warmer, and better-looking than a hot-water bottle.
Out in the woods, what leaves the oaks have left have long since turned brown, but the reds and yellows are holding their own. The Japanese maple outside my west-facing window didn’t turn its most spectacular red this year, but it’s striking nonetheless. It always holds off till November to start showing its colors, then it peaks around the middle of the month. This year the leaves remain both red and yellow, with many more one than the other, but the overall effect is not orange — or, if it is orange, it’s orange the way flames are orange, with reds and yellows remaining distinct, never fully blending.
In the high winds, it’s lost some of those leaves, but this morning it’s still a glorious sight out my window. Fall’s last hurrah before winter takes up residence.
A formidable northeaster blew through earlier this week. I’m pretty sure it’s passed because the leaves are barely rustling and there’s enough sunlight to cast shadows on the road. But it was a big one.
When I went to bed (very) early Wednesday morning, the white lights on my modem/router were glowing. When I woke up, the digital clock on the shelf above my bed stared blankly back at me. The wind was howling, rain was pelting the skylights, and the electricity was out.
I padded across the apartment to the battery-powered travel clock next to my workspace: 6:49, which is about when I’ve been waking up as the dark closes in on daylight. Standard time (“fall back”) returns on November 7, and though the early dark is disconcerting, I love the earlier light. I wake with the light coming through the windows, and if I’m not awake by six, I feel as though I’ve lost half the day.
Tam got his breakfast, but I couldn’t brush my teeth or make my morning tea. No biggie. I pulled on my foul-weather gear, including my rain boots. They aren’t that great for long walks, but when Tam and I went out the night before, most of the paths were already underwater. Tam does not like getting his paws wet so he does his best to stay on the high ground, even when there isn’t any.
My deck chair and a folded-up chaise had blown across the door, but they weren’t hard to push out of the way. (In winter it doesn’t take much snow to block the door, whereupon I have to go out through the downstairs door, come around, and shovel myself out.) It was windy all right. The tall oaks were waving their arms dramatically, their leafy limbs like skirts swirling overhead. A few twigs and very small branches had fallen to the deck.
Out in the woods the damage was noticeable. Lots of small stuff down, a few big branches, and next to Old County Road in front of the school a humongous oak limb had come most of the way down, fortunately not in the road. Along the bike path and around Misty Meadows, the changes weren’t obvious — the state forest comes up to the edge of the bike path, but our route took us around the edge of the big field, where the long grass and wildflowers were holding up fine. The birches and other trees that had turned color already had lost most of their leaves, but the oaks, still green, were holding on to theirs.
The sky didn’t look like eight in the morning or whatever it was, that’s for sure, and the wind was wild. There was no one else on the bike path. That’s unusual these days. I did toss or drag a few branches off the path, so cyclists wouldn’t have to detour around them.
Once we re-crossed Old County onto Pine Hill Road, which is basically a wide path through the woods, the storm was in our faces again, windy and wet. The driveable part of the road, which serves two houses, one seasonal and one year-round, was in pretty good shape, though again I tossed or dragged off some debris that might have slowed people down.
Some people with four-wheel drive and strong suspensions brave the non-driveable part of Pine Hill, but many a non-Vineyarder and delivery driver navigating by GPS turns back, shocked to find that what Google Maps thinks is a through road really isn’t. The damage here was more obvious: one tree down whose branches Tam and I had to climb through; a huge limb broken off another, caught and half-suspended by a lower branch; and a few yards off the track trees no longer upright propped up by those still standing.
Back at home, the power was still out. The travel clock said 8:40. I had a strong hunch that my 9:00 Zoom meeting wasn’t going to happen, but there was no way to find out for sure. I couldn’t make tea or my morning oatmeal; I made do with a banana.
Gazing at all my inert devices, appliances, and lights, I thought I was looking at the relics of a lost civilization: How did these things work? What did people do with them? Or, more to the point, How did people do without them?
I could work on my laptop for a couple of hours before the battery ran out, but instead I fired up a fountain pen and started drafting a new post for The T-Shirt Chronicles.
The power came back on around 9:45. I was lucky: four of the five of us made it to our 1:30 Zoom meeting, but the fifth still didn’t have internet, and some people I know didn’t get power back till the next day, or they got power but no internet. Having lost power for almost 10 days during Hurricane Bob 30 years ago, I think Eversource and Comcast did a pretty good job this time around.
Speaking of 30 years ago — this storm arrived 30 years almost to the day after the No-Name Nor’easter of 1991. Some people refer to it as the Perfect Storm, after Sebastian Junger’s book of that title which was about that storm but came out six years later, by which time it was indelibly the No-Name Nor’easter in my memory and so it remains. As was noted at the time, for plenty of non-rhotic New Englanders it was the No-Name No’theaster, so that too.
The No-Name Nor’easter didn’t take out nearly as many trees as this week’s storm, but that was because Hurricane Bob had done such an astonishing job remaking the landscape only two and a half months earlier. The island hadn’t had a blow like that in decades. It took out everything that was ready to fall, and plenty that wasn’t; almost everything that survived Bob made it through the No-Name Nor’easter.
Which isn’t to say that No-Name didn’t leave a deep imprint in my memory, because it did. Earlier this week the Martha’s Vineyard Times asked for reminiscences about that storm, and I wrote this:
Do I remember the No-Name Nor’easter of 1991? You bet I do. The M.V. Times — whose Calendar editor I was at the time — was all set to move from our digs in the old Spaghetti Pot building behind Woodland Market to our newly refurbished quarters at Five Corners. But the waters rose, and rose, and rose, and pretty soon the newsroom-to-be was underwater. Turned out it had been a good idea to put the electrical outlets a foot above the floor, but the floor itself was ruined and had to be redone. Around the corner, Wintertide Coffeehouse, where I was a regular volunteer, had become a wading pool. Manager Tony Lombardi fished a Wintertide T-shirt out of the water, wrung it out, and gave it to me. The Spaghetti Pot building and Wintertide Coffeehouse are long gone, Tony passed in 2017, but I’ve still got the T-shirt — and the Times is still at Five Corners.
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.
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.