It’s July, one of the two most challenging months in the Vineyard calendar. It’s also the birthday of my father, Robert Shaw Sturgis (1922-2008), without whom I might not ever have set foot on Martha’s Vineyard. The summer of 1965 he rented a rustic summer house on Tisbury Great Pond’s Deep Bottom Cove from a college friend whose family was then living in London. I was 14. My mare was due to foal in mid-July, and Martha’s Vineyard was the last place I wanted to be. We struck a deal: I’d come for two weeks, then I could return to my hometown and live at my grandmother’s. I missed the foaling by eight hours.
My father, an avid sailor, loved the Vineyard. He rented the house again and again. In the early 1970s he bought a scant four acres out on Thumb Point for $20K and built an old-style camp (no phone, no electric) for something like $25K.
After I moved to Washington, D.C., I started warming to Martha’s Vineyard, or at least to Tisbury Great Pond and the barrier beach. Most years I’d come back in mid-spring and late summer, spending a little time with family and a lot of time by myself. To make a phone call, I’d hike through the woods and scrub to the airport. To get anywhere else, I hitched.
Walking along South Beach in September 1984, I picked up a bit of wampum and tucked it into the blue amulet bag a friend had crocheted for me. Within two weeks of returning to D.C., I’d decided to move to Martha’s Vineyard. I arrived at the Changeover in 1985, when the July tide was ebbing and the August tide coming in.
From the Seasonally Occupied Territories is my attempt to make sense of what happened next.
The Vineyard is like a siren song to the people who love it and when you sink yours roots here you are no longer a wash-ashore.
I’ve always been in awe of people who find a place they love and decide to live there … somehow. I didn’t manage that until I was at the point of making my living through the Internet—never had the gumption to do it before. Your courage to say, “Okay, this is where I’m going to live,” and to make it happen, is an inspiration.
It’s more that I learned to love it in spite of itself and myself. People who love the place from the get-go tend to be gone in a few years. Mostly I make a beeline for wherever I think I should be then fumble around trying to make it work.