My Martha’s Vineyard

Which Martha’s Vineyard do you live on?

All the road maps and atlases agree that there’s just one Martha’s Vineyard, but none of us live on those maps. I’m talking about the map that lives in each of our heads. Call it our psychic map. No two psychic maps are exactly the same, though you’ll almost certainly find the Steamship Authority dock in Vineyard Haven on just about everyone’s map, be they day-tripper, summer visitor, recent arrival, longtime year-rounder, or island native.

For many summer people, the island winks into existence in late spring and winks out again around Columbus Day. For year-rounders there’s no winking in and out, but some parts of the Vineyard are much realer than others, and some don’t exist at all. Here is the Martha’s Vineyard I live on:

On my Martha’s Vineyard, State Road ends at my friend Cris’s road, across from what is now the Grey Barn and Farm. If Martha’s Vineyard were flat, Chilmark and Aquinnah would be over the edge, in “Here be dragons” territory. Yes, I can find my way to Beetlebung Corner, the Gay Head Cliffs, and Menemsha, but unless I’m en route to or from, they’re wavery to nonexistent on my psychic map.

My map starts to dissolve in the middle of the island about half a mile east of Barnes Road. Edgartown snaps into existence when I have to go there, then it slides back into the mist. Chappaquiddick might as well be in upstate New York. At the Edgartown post office, I rarely recognize anybody either in line or at the counter. That’s how I know I’ve crossed the border into another country. When I go to Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs or up-Island Cronig’s in West Tisbury, I recognize the cashiers and many of the customers. When I go to either the Stop & Shop in Edgartown or the one in Vineyard Haven, I can’t find anything and I don’t know anyone. Try going to a supermarket or a post office that you rarely visit. See if you don’t feel at least a little out of place, not quite at home.

That rose-colored squiggle on my map is (don’t laugh) State Road. All but 2 of my 26 years on the Vineyard have been lived within a mile of State Road, about half in Vineyard Haven and half in West Tisbury. Many longtimers and island natives identify strongly with one town. I’m sort of a bi-townie with a third affinity for Oak Bluffs, where I’ve had a lot of friends over the years and spent a lot of time.  I feel most at home when I’m within hailing distance of State Road.

Over the years my psychic map has evolved. Getting back into horses at the end of 1998 overhauled my map in a big way, bringing new places and people into focus while familiar ones receded into the background. Horses, I learned, leave little time or energy for other serious commitments, which is why there’s very little overlap between, say, horse people and theater people: horse people and theater people live on different Martha’s Vineyards. When I sold my horse in 2010, the horse places dimmed on my map, but they retain a vestigial presence that they didn’t have before.

People often talk about Martha’s Vineyard as if it’s one big community. It isn’t. Martha’s Vineyard is made up of many overlapping communities that exist in one geographical space. Our psychic maps are so different. A place familiar to me may barely exist for you. A venue that you find welcoming may turn a cold shoulder to me. The Island’s real fault lines don’t lie between the six towns but between the maps we have in our heads.

So, if you live in the U.S. — which United States do you live in? (Feel free to substitute the country, state, province, or other geopolitical unit of your choice!)

About Susanna J. Sturgis

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.
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11 Responses to My Martha’s Vineyard

  1. Reblogged this on From the Seasonally Occupied Territories . . . and commented:

    This is one of my earliest posts to this blog, and one I think about often. I live in a town with fewer than 3,000 residents and an island with an estimated 15,000 year-round residents. I’ve lived here nearly 30 years and I have a hard time making generalizations about either this town or this island. Yet some people apparently have no trouble making generalizations about Muslims, a group that includes hundreds of millions of people and about which they know much, much less than I know about West Tisbury or Martha’s Vineyard. What’s going on here?


  2. mvobsession says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments about ‘psychic maps’ and attachments to certain Vineyard areas. I think I always realized that the Vineyard is different things to different people but seeing it in print made it more of a reality.
    My mother was raised on the Vineyard in the 1920’s and 30’s. After she graduated from Oak Bluffs High School (each town had its own high school, it wasn’t the regional one) she moved to Newark, NJ where she met my dad and eventually had me. My first trip to the Vineyard was summer of 1943, I was 16 months old. I think I automatically knew even then that this was an important place and would be part of my life forever… it was like the essence of the Vineyard had been etched into my soul even before I stepped, or crawled, foot onto it.
    I never met my mother’s mother who brought her to the Vineyard when she was 9 years old, as my grandmother died before my parents were married. My mother and I visited her grave in Oak Grove cemetery every year and I still do to this day. My grandmother, by the way, died in the house that is the Sweet Life Cafe… but that’s a whole other psychic story.
    My psychic map on MV is mostly Oak Bluffs with a little Edgartown thrown in and a pinch of Indian Hill.
    I am so glad I found your blog and look forward to reading more of it and the amazingly interesting comments too.


    • Welcome aboard, and thanks for your story. I just started this blog a month ago (after thinking about it and thinking about it and thinking about it some more :-)), and I’ve been so encouraged and energized by the comments that people have been moved to contribute. I hope it keeps growing, and maybe there’ll be a guest blogger from time to time . . .


  3. susan robinson says:

    I live in northeastern New Mexico, and both Santa Fe and the fairly nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains. There are two Santa Fe’s I know about: the one where a movie star known for her spirituality wants to build a 12-foot high wall around her property because “We’re rich and the poor people will come take our stuff.” This is a Santa Fe of art galleries and people who come from all over the world, dressed in glitz, to step out of limos at the opening of the annual Indian Market and whisk themselves away after an hour. It is a market where breathtakingly beautiful carvings and sculpture remind me that in New Mexico grandeur is found inside people like it’s found rising to the sky around us. I live on a street, Irvine St. aka Heroin Alley where the beauty comes from the kindness among people who do terrible things to animals and other people. Where pairs of running shoes too frequently hang from the electric wires to announce that the former wearer is dead.

    Many Indians and Latinos live in New Mexico as working poor and many are without jobs. Many fabulously wealthy people have second homes here and thereby do not pay property taxes. This is high desert, but in the Santa Fe Reporter at the end of every summer, we read about the ten homes/businesses that used the most water, and it’s always an amazing amount, and the usually- absent owners explain that a leak apparently sprang up while they were gone. In NM we have the highest number of PHDs per capita of any state in the union, thanks to jobs at LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) where nuclear weapons are made and on the ready for the Pentagon, and where the surrounding Navajo country is seeped with uranium and plutonium.

    I came here to live in the mountains, but at first was shown things like verticle sides of cliffs for sale for $200,000. That’s why I settled in Santa Fe once my job as caretaker at the Quaker Meeting House ended. The Quaker Meeting House is on Canyon Road, which has most of the galleries owned by Anglos. Irvine St. is on the other side of town, in the Barrio, the oldest part of Santa Fe with a winding street that reminds me of streets in Mexico, where dogs find dead snakes for toys if they’re lucky enough to get to go beyond their house. And where a brilliant anonymous artist paints savagely beautiful murals on the walls of his home and the small adjacent park. In one mural which I think is his autobiography, the baby is born at the left end and dies in prison at the right end.

    In the mountains there are also the rich and poor but they don’t live that near each other. I live with my husband, four dogs, and African Grey parrot there on weekends in a strawbale house we built, with solar modules and a well and we cross over a bridge over a currently dry creek to get there. Our land meets up with the Santa Fe National Forest where we like to climb the limestone rocks and dusty animal trails. In the snow there are mainly elk and turkey tracks with some big cat and bear tracks. In the other seasons the sand blows up high because the wind is always working through the trees, through the sky. Red-tail hawks swoop gracefully, owls fly only if we inadvertently pass near their trees, coyotes have dens near where the hawks nest and all raise their families in this huge volcano-created crater. New Mexico has had more volcanos than any other state. The land where we live when we’re in the mountains is poor so we have few kinds of vegetation–mostly juniper and pinon trees. There are large swatches of mountainside that have burnt sticks sticking up from ashen ground. Our mountain and the nearest ones are lucky to have escaped that so far. The majesty of the mountains is something. When I moved here I left a small community I loved in New York and I thought it was wrong to leave people for mountains. After a couple of years a friend said to me, But mountains are people. I don’t understand it but I know it.


  4. Hal Davis says:

    I like “A Map of the Heart.”

    Yes, everyone has their psychic space that expands, but not too much.

    I have lived in Minneapolis since 2007, and sections of the city are slowly accreting in my mind as I become familiar with them. Leaving a parking garage after an event at the University of Minnesota, I got directions from the attendant that put me a block away — smack dab in front of the Cedar Cultural Center, a folkie mecca that I haunt. Had never connected, in my mind, the U a block away.

    Still a lot of Here Be Dragons territory, but I’m getting to know my rich neighborhood pretty well — rich in amenities; we’re average folk.


  5. doug Pease says:

    I get the tight circle map after living in NY. Everything you need/want is within a five block radius. Everyone’s very friendly and welcoming so there’s no need to venture much further. Way warmer than Boston.

    I guess your MV map depends on your most emotional experiences here and whether or not you’re an explorer at heart. My roots are in Harthaven in Oak Bluffs and in Chilmark. That’s what being a teenager working at the Community Center for several summers will do for you. My MV psychic map had such a strong pull that I became a washashore two years ago.

    If I had a GPS chip in my head you’d know that my favorite beach is under the cliffs in Aquinnah, that I hit church in West Tisbury when the spirit moves me, and sometimes Humphreys donuts lure me to Vineyard Haven in weak moments. I’m now living in Oak Bluffs where hurricane Carol welcomed me after I came into the world. Edgartown is usually way off my grid as is any town center from 11-2 if I can help it.

    Certain spots have a less frequent but very strong magnetic pull… Larsens in Menemsha, Polly Hill, the West Tisbury Library and the Abel’s Hill cemetery.

    I guess I have an up/down island schizoprenic personality. Know though that my ashes will be in three different places in Chilmark when I’m gone. Some on Abel’s Hill with family fathers, some in Chilmark Pond and the rest across the dunes in the ocean swimming with the fishes, in a good way


    • Doug, I’m especially intrigued by “explorer at heart” — hold that thought and report back after you’ve been a year-rounder 5, 10, and 15 years. My first few years here, I did a fair amount of exploring. Did so much walking on Land Bank and other properties that people would lend me their dogs who needed walking. Finally in 1994 I got my own dog. 🙂 From 1988 to 1993 I worked for the M.V. Times. I wrote reviews (mostly theater) and features, then I was the features editor. Could basically get in free anywhere I wanted to go, and I did. Gradually, though, I settled on favorite places and favorite activities. In those early years, I’d be amazed when I met someone who almost never left their own town. (This wasn’t all that uncommon among island natives with strong family connections.) After a while I stopped being amazed. I’d go for years without ever going off-island. Keep in mind, though, that I got online in 1994 and from the get-go had flourishing conversations going with editors, science fiction fans and writers, and (eventually) horse people all over North America and beyond. Working full-time and developing deeper relationships with particular places, people, and interests left less time and inclination to explore. I and many longtimers I know do most of our exploring when we’re showing visitors around. That’s the only way I get to Aquinnah or Menemsha or Chappy.

      On my psychic map there’s a rose-colored dot that I didn’t explain, toward the bottom of the map. Thumb Point on Tisbury Great Pond. My family rented down there at first then my father bought land and built an old-style camp in the early 1970s. From age 14 till I moved here at 34,Tisbury Great Pond was huge on my psychic map. Then it started a fast fade. It’s a summer world of its own, perfect if that’s what you’re looking for, but for a neophyte year-rounder who wants to be involved with the rest of the island? Not so good. Two miles down a rough dirt road, no electric, no phone . . .

      So I suspect that one’s map may begin with glowing magnetic dots that are fairly distinct from each other, but that the longer one lives here the stronger the connections between them will become. Like paths trod over and over again. Probably the perimeter of my map has grown smaller over the years, but I know that terrain more deeply than I used to. Time adds a whole other dimension to it.


  6. Jan Pogue says:

    I moved a lot before I came here, and learned that I really lived in about 5 square miles. Within those, I had my hair dresser, my doctors, my grocery store, my favorite shopping place. I think it gives us comfort to have those “psychic” maps. On the Vineyard, of course, it actually all becomes either a lot easier or a lot harder, depending on your attitude, right?


    • Not sure about “a lot easier or a lot harder” — don’t think I’ve ever thought of MV as “easy”! I was struck years ago by something the late Stan Hart said — it was quoted in a Peter Simon calendar of all things. The gist was “I realized that I had married the Vineyard, and whatever accommodations were necessary were going to have to come from me.” I am totally not the marrying kind, but by the time I read that, I knew that was exactly what I had done. (Would love to have the original so I could stop butchering the quote.) That’s the big change I’ve noticed in the last dozen years or so: more and more affluent new arrivals who take it for granted that the Vineyard is going to have to accommodate them, not vice versa. They’re exempt from the various assimilation processes — working two or three part-time jobs, under the table if you’re lucky, no insurance, move twice a year, etc.


  7. Sam Low says:

    Thanks Susanna

    I, too, love the concept of psychic maps. Part of my Ph.D. thesis was based on how people define their social maps.

    I wrote a piece ten years ago for the MV Magazine on the topic.

    It is at:

    Here are the first two paragraphs…

    A Map of the Heart – Sense of Place on Martha’s Vineyard
    Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, May-June 2001
    By Sam Low
    A friend once composed a map after a visit to the island. It was a very personal sort of cartography. Where we lived she painted a gingerbread cottage and for the larger area around it penned in “where the Harts all live.” A location at South Beach became “the fishing place,” a trail became “the hike” and a big-eyed owl was painted where we had seen one. It was an example of what one urban planner calls “sacred cartography” – a map of the heart. It showed how landscape becomes evocative of pleasure and – when experiences accumulate – the land itself becomes a memory device, triggering meaning that goes back into the past.

    It’s a primal concept of place and it’s shared by societies that we label as ‘primitive.’ Australian aborigines, for example, conceive of their world as crisscrossed with songlines, gossamer paths left behind by the Ancestors. The Ancestors created the landscape and gave it meaning, so when an aborigine goes on a ‘walkabout’, following the songlines, he participates in that act of creation and, I presume, experiences a direct connection to his past – to the seeding of his bloodline. I think many of us do this, only we don’t have such a formal way of conceiving it. It’s like the map my friend made. Standing at the “fishing place” conjures her face and the time we were there and the laughter and stories we told.


    • Sam, you sent me the URL to your article after a piece of mine appeared in the Gazette a couple of years ago — this is a reworking and updating of that, and I’ve written others dealing with psychic maps. Still love it, and the connection to the songlines. The paths and the creation keep getting deeper. On Thursday nights Travvy and I go to Rally class at Karen Ogden’s Positive Rewards training center, in the place where the M.V. Times office was when I first worked there. It looks different, but when I walk out after class the smell is exactly like it was 20+ years ago when I’d walk out of there late Tuesday night after putting the Calendar section to bed: fresh doughnuts from Dippin’ Donuts just up the hill.


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