Prayer Vigil

MV NAACP prayer vigil, Inkwell beach, July 11, 2016

MV NAACP prayer vigil, Inkwell beach, July 11, 2016

Sometimes I get sucked into the not-uncommon belief that whatever unfolds on Martha’s Vineyard is not real life. I don’t lock my home either when I’m in it or when I’m out. My car keys are always in the ignition except sometimes in summer I get cautious and drop them in the door pocket so they can’t be seen from the street. When I walk in the woods at all hours, my biggest worry is whether my canine companion will pounce on a skunk and get us both sprayed.

When it comes to policing, my biggest fear is getting caught in a speed trap. I’m not a frequent speeder but I have occasionally caught the speedometer rising toward 60 on Barnes Road, speed limit 45.

No, correct that: My biggest fear is getting caught in a speed trap by an officer I recognize and who recognizes me.

The current president of the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP is not only a white guy, he’s the chief of police in Oak Bluffs. If you want convincing that Martha’s Vineyard is not real life, that’s probably all I have to say. But since I’ve lived here a while, I know it’s more complicated than that.

So I grew up in a lily-white smallish town west of Boston that was well on its way to becoming a suburb. Police officers were quite literally our friends. I went to school with their kids. I didn’t for a moment connect them with the police officers I saw on TV, the ones who were enforcing the law of segregation, standing by while white people beat up black people and sometimes doing the beating themselves.

Then I moved to Washington, D.C. Not only did I move to Washington, D.C., which was about 80 percent black at the time, I moved to Washington, D.C., in the heyday of the antiwar movement, which I promptly got involved in. As a marshal (as peacekeepers were called in those days) at antiwar demos, I often found myself standing within a few feet of police officers. Some were stern, others friendly. At some demos, the big challenge was keeping the right-on revolutionary hotheads at a distance. These (almost invariably white) guys wanted to provoke the cops into beating up the marshals, on the theory that this would radicalize us by showing us the power of the state. Yeah, right.

Once I was up close and personal with a line of CDU (Civil Disturbance Unit) officers. Tear gas was in the air. They were in full riot gear: masked, each indistinguishable from the next. They looked like the pigs they were sometimes accused of being.

Along with about 1,200 other people, I got busted on the Capitol steps during the Mayday demonstrations in 1971. Four members of Congress — Ron Dellums, Bella Abzug, Parren Mitchell, and Charles Rangel — had invited us up to the steps to hear them speak. The police cordoned off the steps and announced that anyone who remained on that side of the barrier was going to get arrested. They were very orderly, polite even. The young guy who arrested me asked if my parents knew I was going to be spending the night in jail.

Trouble was, sitting on the Capitol steps wasn’t illegal. After a 10-year legal battle led by the four representatives and the ACLU, the courts agreed.

Meanwhile, and in the many years since, I came to know and swap stories with more and more people who hadn’t grown up in the lily-white suburbs. People who as kids had been evicted from their homes by armed police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Gay men and lesbians who’d been busted by the vice squad. People who’d been beaten up, busted, and/or had their homes broken into because they were mistaken for someone else. (Oddly enough, this mistaken-identity thing rarely seemed to happen to white people.)

And so on and on and on.

So now I live on this island that in some ways looks like the town I grew up in. I notice when someone’s wearing a blue uniform, but my heart doesn’t start pounding. But in other ways it’s very different. I know and am in frequent touch with people all over the country, all over the world even. And on Martha’s Vineyard, unlike the town I grew up in, many families are multiracial. Those protected (somewhat) by white-skin privilege are the parents, siblings, children, and cousins of those who aren’t.

A few days ago a young woman of color posted her story to the Islanders Talk group on Facebook. Having grown up on the Vineyard, being treated as an individual, she was shocked at first when she went off-island and her color was the first and often the only thing people saw. She saw it happening to her friends, over and over. She heard stories.

It’s hard for many white people to grasp this. White is the default setting, the thing we don’t have to register about ourselves or the (white) people we meet. When someone does call attention to our whiteness, some of us get indignant: White is only a small part of what I am. All white people aren’t the same.

Well, yeah. Hold that thought.

So when word went round that the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP was calling a prayer vigil for Monday morning, July 11, I knew I had to be there. To witness, and to be in the physical presence of others who want to be part of the solution. Thanks to the ever present sound of the sea and the number of people there — despite the short notice there must have been about 250 — it was hard to hear most of what the speakers said, but when we sang “Balm in Gilead” it was impossible not to hear, and to feel part of a long line of people who’ve lived with unimaginable adversity and managed to keep hope alive.

This Saturday, July 16, there’s going to be a march in support of BlackLivesMatter. We’ll gather at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven at 10 a.m., walk to Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs (about three miles), form a circle around the park’s perimeter, and remain until everyone has arrived. The #13 VTA bus runs between VH and OB so you can get back to wherever you left your car.

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Pacing Between Planets

Trav and I continue to stroll between the planets. Our most frequent route takes us from Neptune to Uranus and within hailing distance of Saturn before we make a left onto the path that leads toward home.

The sun

The sun

Other days we start with the sun and pass over the inner planets, boom boom boom. That end of the solar system is more densely populated.

On the last day of school we encountered the art teacher stencilling distances from the sun for the three planets closest to it. Mercury is 29 million miles from the sun, Venus 66 million, and Earth 91 million.

Too bad the sun couldn’t have taken up the whole parking area, I said. Then it would have been closer to scale. They’d thought of that, said the teacher, but it would have meant making the parking area off limits for a couple of days while the paint dried. Cyclists, runners, joggers, and walkers park there to access the bike path. Teachers and staff from the school across the street use it too. Besides, it would have taken a whole lot of red and yellow paint to turn the parking lot into a sun.

Once all the distances were in place, I started counting paces between planets. The outer planets took a while because I’d lose my place when I greeted someone passing in the opposite direction, or when Trav had to sniff at the bushes or snatch a tennis ball that some other dog had abandoned. When I counted 285 and 288 paces on two successive trips between Uranus and Neptune, I figured I had to be in the ball park.

A big surprise was that it was 272 paces from Saturn to Uranus — almost as far as from Uranus to Neptune. I could have figured this out from doing the math, but walking made it easier to grasp. Saturn, I realized, is roughly as far from the sun as it is from its neighbor Uranus.

Between the innermost planets it seemed my stride was longer: each one covered about 4 million miles. Once I got down to serious walking it averaged a little under 3.5 million. Yes, I know that if I were outbound from the sun the planets wouldn’t line up as neatly as they do on the bike path. Some of them would be way off in the woods somewhere. They don’t move in neat concentric circles either.

Still, the distances are impressive. And Earth doesn’t seem like the center of the universe either.

Trav checks out Mercury.

Trav checks out Mercury.

venus miles

earth miles

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June License Plate Report

201606 june license map

Not quite as good as the previous June, when I added five states to the map, or the June before that, when I added six, but four new states ain’t bad, and they’re all good ones: Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, and Alabama (which got in just under the wire, on the 30th). Oklahoma was a rental truck unloading in Edgartown the day the Spirituals Choir sang at The Anchors, the Edgartown senior center.

The year-to-date total stands at 34, a bit behind schedule. The nation’s midsection looks rather empty, notably that stack with Louisiana on the southern end and Minnesota on the north. It’s time to start hanging out in the hospital parking lot. All sorts of good plates show up there in the summer, including last year (I’m told by a very reliable source) North Dakota.

June was a long, full, and intense month. June 8 was my 65th birthday, so I became a card-carrying Medicare recipient on June 1. By the end of the month I’d sorted it all out — with help from several friends and, especially, from the county’s health care access office — and was also enrolled in a prescription plan and a supplemental (“Medigap”) plan. I’ll be paying roughly three times more for coverage than I was under the Affordable Care Act. That’s a bit of a shock.

Also a bit of a shock was my June 9 dental appointment to have two adjacent teeth filled: turned out I needed a root canal as well. Finished that yesterday. It took three appointments, so I’m really glad I didn’t have to go off-island. (The island’s gentrification carries some benefits for the non-gentry.) It was relatively painless, but I’m bracing for the credit card bill.

Fortunately, June was a very, very busy month workwise. I was so overbooked that I wondered how I’d get through it, but I’ve pretty much managed. July looks busy too — last summer I was scrounging for work, so this is a relief — as were April and May. So I may get those dental bills paid off sooner rather than later.


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MVFF Deal Closes, More Dealing Ensues

As June 22 approached, the date set for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) to close on the Walsh property off Old County Road, the rumors flew. Opposition to MVFF’s plan to build a “campus” or “home” on the 12.5-acre tract had started strong and gotten stronger. On June 8, encouraged by neighbors, town residents, and others, West Tisbury’s board of selectmen voted to send MVFF a letter urging them to reconsider their plans.

The Walsh house is only visible from the road if you're considerably under the neighborhood's 25 mph speed limit.

The Walsh house is only visible from the road if you’re considerably under the neighborhood’s 25 mph speed limit.

If MVFF decided to proceed regardless, whatever formal plans it came up with would be subject to strenuous review by town boards and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). Some people were muttering about litigation. Even in a best-case scenario, this promised to eat up plenty of time, money, and energy that could be better invested in other things, like showing films.

I was about 99% sure that the projected 6,000-square-foot barn was never going to be built at that location, but a purchase-and-sale agreement had been signed, the closing date was set — how was MVFF going to get out of it?

Hence my interest in the rumors that came my way. (I’m on the periphery of the grapevine at the best of times, and I’ve had a very busy spring. It’s hard to keep your ear to the ground when your eyes are on the laptop screen and your fingers constantly on the keyboard.) The common gist of the rumors was that someone or someones had made a better offer for the property and the sale to MVFF wasn’t going through.

On the appointed day, June 22, the actual outcome was summarized in the Vineyard Gazette‘s headline: “Film Festival Buys West Tisbury Property, But Will Resell.” The story suggests a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity that clearly gave rise to the rumors: It reported that “a neighborhood group had formed an LLC and made a full-price offer to MVFF to take over the sale contract.” Negotiations foundered when “a trustee for the Walsh family declined to agree to [the switch], acting on advice of counsel.” So the sale did go through, but MVFF no longer plans to build there.

According to the Martha’s Vineyard Times story: “The LLC plan was then to sell off the front five-acre parcel to a waiting Island family, who asked not to be identified, and work on a separate deal, possibly with conservation groups or another Island family, on the back 7.5-acre lot, which includes farmland. MVFF plans to continue to work with the neighbors and try to enact that plan.”

So that’s where things stand at the moment.


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Strolling Between Planets

The stretch of bike path Trav and I walk every day changes with the season, the weather, and the time of day, but the other day we encountered something new behind the Nat’s Farm subdivision.

uranus 1 trav

A big, blue, very round disk with diameter the width of the bike path. It was marked off with orange cones and the yellow “do not cross” tape you see at crime scenes and construction sites.


Further up the bike path, not far from the big field at Misty Meadows, “NEP” was painted on the asphalt in big white block letters.


On our next morning’s walk, Trav’s and my route took us through the state forest parking area across from the West Tisbury School.



earth solo

mars wordless

Finally I got it: planets!

That mysterious “NEP” at the other end had to stand for Neptune. And sure enough, the very next morning, several kids and their teacher were at work painting another big blue disk. I admired their work. They admired Travvy. I kept Trav from making pawprints on the still-wet paint.

A couple of days later the teacher (well, the supervising adult — I don’t know for sure that she’s a teacher) was out there alone with white paint and big handmade stencils. The plan was clear and becoming clearer. I admired the stencils and added that I’d stencilled a few sidewalks in my day but never anything this big. Doing it all by hand was harder than doing it digitally, we agreed. (In retrospect I’m thinking: Doing it by hand involves using one’s fingers, so isn’t that “doing it digitally” too?) It was a nice day to be outside, she said.

The stencilling isn’t quite done, but from Mars through Neptune each planet’s distance from the sun is in place.




uranus 2 miles

Trav checks out Neptune.

Trav checks out Neptune.

“You know, it’s more than a billion miles from Uranus to Neptune?” I tell Trav as we walk the distance in a minute or so.

Here’s the sun from which all those planets are distant:


And here’s my walking buddy sitting on top of the world.

earth trav

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June 1 Selectmen’s Meeting

For those following the saga outlined in “Now Filming in West Tisbury“, the video of the June 1 meeting of the West Tisbury board of selectmen is now available on the MVTV (Martha’s Vineyard Community Television) website.

At present a thumbnail from the video is visible in the Recent section. If you don’t see it there, input the date in the search box — 06.01.16 — in the search box and it should come up. The segment about the MVFF (Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival) proposal takes up most of the video. It begins at about 0:16:00. I’m on toward the end, at 0:55:00. If you can’t listen to the whole thing, do skip ahead to selectman Richard Knabel’s comments at the very end. They begin at about 1:06:30. He was speaking as a citizen, not as a town official, and he pretty much nailed all the major objections to the project.

In the interest of transparency, most town and county government meetings are taped and made available by MVTV. Like almost everyone else, I love the idea but rarely watch any of them — except, of course, when something like this is going on. Hmmm.

Special thanks to videographer Lynn Christoffers, who as usual at West Tisbury meetings was behind the camera. A photographer by trade, she’s also the author of the very popular and very good Cats of Martha’s Vineyard.

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Now Filming in West Tisbury

Seen from a distance, Martha’s Vineyard looks bucolic, homogeneous, and maybe even a little boring. Up close it’s much more interesting. The best way to understand what the place is about, how it works and how it doesn’t, is to grab hold of a controversial event and tease out all the strands that make it up.

Lucky you and lucky me, we’ve got a doozy unfolding right this minute. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) last week made public its plan “to build a vibrant year-round gathering place for our community, a place where education, art, and inspiration intersect.” The idea, according to a story posted to the Vineyard Gazette website last Saturday, May 28, involves building “a 6,000-square-foot barn for film events, as well as plans to grow food on the property and sell it.”

694 Old County Road, where MVFF plans to build its "arts center." The house is bigger than it looks from this picture, and most of the arable 12.5 acres are out back.

694 Old County Road, where MVFF plans to build its “arts center.” The house is bigger than it looks from this picture, and most of the arable 12.5 acres are out back.

The location chosen for this project is a 12.5-acre parcel in a quiet (one might even say “bucolic”) neighborhood near the heart of West Tisbury, a town that prides itself both on its rural character and its commitment to all things high-minded, like “education, art, and inspiration.”

MVFF offers programming year-round, but its flagship event is a summer film series that currently draws huge crowds to the Chilmark Community Center, creating major congestion and parking problems in the ordinarily bucolic heart of Chilmark, the town up the road that is even smaller and more rural than West Tisbury.

You begin to see the potential conflict, right? It gets better. Keep in mind that arts organizations generally aren’t rolling in money. Nevertheless, a closing date on the property, which has a price tag of $1.4 million, has already been set for June 22. Without doing any fundraising, MVFF managed to come up with a credible offer that was accepted by the sellers.

Without telling much of anybody, in fact, including the abutters to the proposed location. They did meet informally with the West Tisbury planning board at the end of March. The planning board suggested they come up with a more concrete plan. A project of this scale will require review and/or approval by several town boards and most likely the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as well, the body that oversees developments of regional impact.

Nevertheless, MVFF is willing and able to commit to the purchase of a $1.4 million property for a project whose permitting process will be undoubtedly long, possibly expensive, and not necessarily successful.

Well, the compost started to hit the fan when news about MVFF’s recent letter to members was posted to the Islanders Talk group on Facebook, which I’ve often described as the island grapevine on steroids. With the Vineyard Gazette story, the fan started to spin faster and the compost kept coming.

The abutters were, not surprisingly, outraged by the size of the project, its implications for summer traffic, and especially the fact that they were not consulted in advance. Cries of “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard) were heard from further off, but they were relatively mild not least because so many of those dismayed by the proposal, abutters and otherwise, think well of MVFF and have attended its events.

The Mill Pond, April 2014

The Mill Pond, April 2014

Around here NIMBY often comes cloaked in concern for the environment, and for sure environmental concerns were raised from the get-go: How would the septic system impact the beloved and ecologically fragile Mill Pond, which is not far away? Many a project gets nickel-and-dimed over possible threats to endangered flora and fauna and of course the Vineyard’s sole-source aquifer (where all our drinkable water comes from). Often it’s easier to shoot something down over environmental concerns than to actually grapple with the pros, cons, and implications of the project.

There’s also the agricultural angle. West Tisbury prides itself on its rural character, and it is absolutely true that farming does go on here and elsewhere on the island, but if one contemplates the price of land, the cost of living, and the challenges of farming, one can’t help wondering just how agricultural the place really is. Nevertheless, a significant portion of West Tisbury’s population likes to think that it lives in a rural, agriculture-friendly town. The extensive acreage behind the house is described as arable, and I’m told the area is zoned residential and agricultural. Hence MVFF’s plan “to grow food on the property and sell it” and perhaps lease out some of the land for agricultural use.

It’s emphatically not zoned commercial, which is to say that a movie theater — which is how quite a few people were thinking of the MVFF proposal — would not be permitted. Movie theaters belong down-island, said several, pointing out that there’s a ramshackle movie theater in Oak Bluffs just begging for restoration.

Ah, but MVFF’s chi-chi summer patrons, so it’s said, do not want to go to Oak Bluffs. As one commenter noted on the Gazette site, “it is unappealing to go down island and step over nip bottles and be inundated with roustabouts.” I suspect this was meant tongue-in-cheekily, but others didn’t take it so. What ensued was down-island bashing up-island and up-island bashing back. Some down-islanders were fairly salivating at the thought of bucolic West Tisbury turning into another Circuit Avenue. I must confess, I sort of was too.

Up-Island vs. Down-Island, West Tisbury vs. Oak Bluffs: This is a perennial undercurrent in island discourse. Sometimes it gushes into the open. Sometimes it’s good-natured, other times it’s not. It’s one of the ways we talk about, or don’t talk about, class on Martha’s Vineyard. But I digress.

MVFF is not presenting itself as a mere movie theater. It is presenting itself as a future “vibrant year-round gathering place for our community, a place where education, art, and inspiration intersect.” The zoning bylaws have a loophole for educational use, and MVFF was playing the education card.

This is where my interest was piqued. Why, I wondered, does MVFF need a home of its own? For 16 years it’s done quite nicely renting space in Chilmark. As I noted in a Facebook comment, “Physical plant can be a huge time and money sink, not to mention a distraction from the group’s main purpose.” I pointed out that the town already had a “vibrant year-round gathering place for our community, a place where education, art, and inspiration intersect”: the library.

Somewhat later I posted to the Gazette‘s website: “It should be obvious from the huge effort that went into the library expansion and renovation that West Tisbury does support the arts, education, and creativity in general. The library people did everything right: they solicited input from the community at every turn and kept the community informed. MVFF, for reasons known only to itself, has done none of that. The results are becoming more apparent every day.”

This bugged me. Could Thomas Bena, founder, board member, and executive director, really be unaware of the West Tisbury library, the libraries in the other towns, the Ag Hall, the Grange Hall, the Vineyard Playhouse, and especially Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs?

Then, thanks to the island grapevine, it all fell into place: How had MVFF come up with the money to sign a purchase & sale agreement on a $1.4 million property, without doing any public fundraising, pretty much without telling anybody? Why was it willing to close on the property before the permitting process even started? Why did Bena consider it unnecessary to consult with the abutters, the neighbors, or, apparently, other island arts organizations?

Money. Bena married into serious money. His mother-in-law, Cindy Doyle, is a trustee of the Tower Foundation, which has donated considerable sums to some large Vineyard nonprofits. Doyle’s father was Peter Tower, a successful broker who died in 2014. For a review of the family holdings, check out his obituary.

Community, or mutual interdependence, often thrives in spite of ourselves. We get along with people we disagree with or even find disagreeable because we need to. Once we have the resources to take care of ourselves, the incentive starts dropping. Community dwindles, even as its praises increase.

Income and wealth inequality aren’t problematic simply because Big Money does Bad Things. Big Money does Good Things too, lots of them. The problem is that Big Money gets to decide what it wants, and it doesn’t have to consult anyone else.

Unless, of course, “the people united” push back hard. Which seems to be happening in West Tisbury. The board of selectmen is meeting on the issue at 4:30. I’m going. Back later.

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May License Plate Report

201605 may license map

There were plenty of cars on the road, especially in the second half of the month, but the only new state on the map is Illinois. Not a toughie. The eastern third of the country seems to be moving westward en masse, with Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida on the cutting edge.

It being presidential election season in the U.S., I’ve seen a whole bunch of U.S. maps showing primary results and projections state by state. The convention (pardon my pun) is to color Democratic states blue, Republican states red, and (sometimes) could-go-either-way states purple. This is pretty funny because back in the day it was Republicans who were more likely to be vowing “Better dead than red.” Now it’s the Democrats — although “dead” is going a little too far.

Anyway, my hunch is that blue-state license plates are more common on Vineyard roads than those from red states. If I had the mathematical smarts to develop an algorithm that predicted license-plate sightings on Martha’s Vineyard, the major variables would be a state’s distance from Massachusetts, the size of its population, and its per-capita income. (This explains why North Dakota and Mississippi are especially hard to get: their populations are small, they’re a ways off, and they aren’t rich.) Maybe I should add blue/red to the factor list.

It’s Democratic presidents who vacation here, after all, and yes, word is out that the current president will be back this summer. With any luck the record will continue next summer.

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Late May on the Line

Yesterday I asked someone if Memorial Day really was this weekend. It really was, or is, or is soon to be. Spring has been touch-and-go, catch-me-if-you-can this year, but being caught by surprise by Memorial Day weekend is like being drenched by a big wave when you’re facing in the opposite direction

I’m now facing in the right direction. I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt — a vintage one, gold on blue, from Moonstone Bookcellars, the D.C. bookstore where I bought most of my fantasy and science fiction in the 1970s. It’s one of several T-shirts in my collection from bookstores that no longer exist.

Not only that, I’ve finally begun the Great Seasonal Clothes Swap. The swap is the outward and visible sign of my faith that I will be living mostly in shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops for the next few months. Jeans, longjohns, gloves, and hats come out of the drawers, turtle necks and flannel shirts out of the closet. Shorts, tank tops, and a selection of presentable shirts, skirts, and pants in summer-weight fabrics come out of two big plastic boxes. My bed serves as the transfer station. Travvy helps.

20160526 clothes switchBecause the weather ebbs and flows no matter what the season, I keep a couple pairs of jeans in the drawers and a few turtlenecks hanging in the closet, just in case.

Because I would never, ever pack dirty clothes away for the summer (or winter either), I did laundry yesterday, even though I wasn’t out of underwear yet. The timing turned out to be fortuitous: not only was it a stellar drying day — everything was dry by 2;30 even though I got a late start — but the Airport Laundromat was offering a two-for-one deal. There’s been a poster on the wall since forever that says Wednesday is two-for-one day, but I thought it was a relic from days gone by. If so, it’s back on active duty: I put my quarters ($5.25 worth) in one machine and the attendant started the other one with her key.

20160525 laundry 320160525 laundry 1

To my eye this is a pretty typical early to mid May line, though maybe heavier on the jeans than usual: five pairs of jeans trumps one pair of shorts. Three long-sleeved T-shirts, four with short sleeves. No muscle shirts or tank tops — they’re just now coming out of storage — but no longjohns either. Didn’t I swear earlier this month, in “Spring on the Line,” that the longjohns were done for the season? True, on a couple of chilly windy days I was tempted to don a pair, but I kept my vow.

There are only three turtlenecks on the line, and two 3/4-sleeve Henley jerseys. Only last fall did I discover the wonders of 3/4-sleeve Henleys. I don’t have to roll the sleeves up when washing dishes, and since they have neither cuffs nor necks they won’t be looking tatty after a few years like all my turtlenecks do. This is a conundrum for frugal me: ratty, tatty turtlenecks have plenty of wear in them but what if someone sees those horribly frayed cuffs peeking out from under my sweater? One of the joys of living on Martha’s Vineyard is that most of my friends won’t notice and the rest of them won’t care. The real problem is that old T-necks are too grungy to give to the Dumptique but too usable to throw out — and they’re taking up space in my closet.

Anyway, most of the T-necks are going into storage, but the 3/4-sleeve Henleys have earned their summer hangers. I’m keeping them around.

Here’s an aerial view of almost the whole laundry line. There are a couple of jeans you can’t see in the upper-right corner.

20160525 laundry all

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Weeds Like Us

Weeds like us are hard to kill
Weeds like us so hard to kill.
— Janiva Magness

poison ivy green leaves

Poison ivy tree, June

Poison ivy tree, early October

Poison ivy tree, early October

Every year early fall brings glorious color to Martha’s Vineyard, and every fall a highlight of my daily walks with Travvy is the poison ivy tree. Sturdy vines have grown up the trunk of this oak, embedding themselves in the bark like parts of the tree. They leaf out in mid-spring, the green darkens as summer approaches, and then in early October they go wild with color.

poison ivy vine

Leafless vine, early May

Through April this year, spring seemed to be bursting out in some places and holding its breath in others. At first I wasn’t surprised to see no new leaves on the poison ivy tree. By the beginning of May, though, I started to wonder: Had someone applied weed-killer to the tree? Unlikely, I decided. The property is owned by a conservation group not likely to go wild with chemical weed-killers.

Still, though the woody vines were as tenacious as ever, no leaves appeared on them.

Some poking around in the rough grass at the foot of the tree solved the mystery of the leafless vines. The vines had been cut near the root.

Cut vine

Cut vine

Yes, I know that poison ivy is a weed, and not a friendly one. I’ve been on first-name terms with calamine lotion and its various equivalents since I was a kid, and I’ve got a bottle of Tecnu in the medicine cabinet in case I get exposed again. The poison ivy vines probably aren’t doing their host any good either, though the oak seems to be doing fine. Maybe there’s enough rain, enough sun, enough nutrients in the soil to sustain them both.

Next fall would be a little less bright without the glorious color of the poison ivy tree.

A few days later, as I passed by the tree, some color caught my eye. Wonder of wonders, a young vine was slithering up the tree, and it was leafing out.

"Weeds like us are hard to kill."

“Weeds like us are hard to kill.”

Here’s Janiva Magness singing the song I stole my epigraph from.

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