March Walk

We “sprang forward” clock-wise (hyphen inserted to suggest that we aren’t going round in circles) in the wee hours of Sunday morning. What to do with the extra hour of daylight at the end of the afternoon? The day was bright, brisk, and breezy, perfect for walking. Aha! Why not visit a couple of my longtime favorite “secret places”?

Purple splotch = our range

What gave me that idea? I hadn’t been to either of them in at least a dozen years. From March 1992 through September 2001, I lived on State Road on the Tisbury side of the West Tisbury line. You could walk for hours in the woods back there without crossing your own trail, and if you crossed the main road you could walk for a few more hours and maybe even get lost. Rhodry and I spent a lot of time back there.

Horses changed our walking habits. After I got back into horses, and especially after I bought Allie in the fall of 1999, base camp was wherever Allie, not I, was living. And some trails that are easy for a person on foot are an obstacle course for a person on horseback. So Sunday Trav and I headed, in trusty Malvina Forester, for the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank property at Wompesket, at the top of the Merry Farm Road. One of my secret places was en route. Well, it’s not exactly secret, it’s right next to the road — but the road is a dead end, so people don’t find it accidentally.

Pet graveyard?

When I first came upon this, two L.L. Bean boots protruded, soles up, from the stones on the right. It cracked me up. I have no idea what the spoons signify: I would love to know who established this little cemetery, who maintains it, and who’s buried there. Here’s a close-up of the tombstone on the left. It says:

Bernie’d in his prime

A Facebook conversation Sunday night elicited the information that someone named Bernie who worked or works for the Steamship Authority might live back there, but that’s all I know — and it’s more than I knew when Rhodry and I first passed this way.

Trav, Malvina, and I continued up the road, only to discover that there’s no place to park a car at the Wompesket trailhead. I knew that, but in the old days, I always arrived on foot, so it didn’t register. It dawned on me that there are many places on Martha’s Vineyard that I can get to on foot or horseback but have no idea how to reach by car. I did know how to find the Ripley’s Field trailhead, which provides access to this general area from the Lambert’s Cove Road side, so thither we repaired.

Windmill at Ripley's Field

Ripley’s Field is currently carpeted by dozens, maybe hundreds, of baby pine trees. Possibly they are plotting to reclaim this gently rolling little meadow for the surrounding woods? When I used to pass this way regularly, the moribund remnants of a wind-driven pump stood off to one corner. Now there’s a windmill merrily spinning above it. Whether it’s pumping water I don’t know.

Sign on the way to the former Williams farmhouse

From there we struck out along the fenceline that marks Famous Singer’s property and finally hit the Red Coat Hill path, which looks a lot more like a (dirt) road than it did a dozen years ago. Following it, we came to the placid little tree-encompassed pond, and went on to what I first heard described as “Mrs. Williams’s place.” The sign that read “R. D. Williams” (IIRC — I may have the middle initial wrong) is gone. The farmhouse, one of the most beautifully sited dwellings I’ve ever seen, is still there. I cut right, trespassing across the little field. The path I used to take, along the old stone wall, was overgrown with brambles. This was hard going; maybe it was time to turn back?

Aha! After a little twisting and turning we came to a footpath clearer than anything I remember. It was heading in the right direction, toward the Hoft/Alisio farm, so we followed it. The Nature Conservancy acquired the property quite a few years ago, after my regular trespasses came to an end. Now my passage was legitimated by a well-maintained trail, the occasional sign, and a plea to keep dogs under control to avoid disturbing the wildlife.

This was the view when we emerged from the woods and climbed a rise in the field.

Old barn, Alisio/Hoft farm

The dam

We cut clockwise around the field, then followed the high thicket hedge till it opened up to allow passage to the dam. I remember when I first discovered this place. Keep in mind that I was trespassing; I wasn’t supposed to be there, and it was easy to imagine that no one else had been there for decades, at least no one else who wasn’t supposed to be there. The dam is still there. Water comes sluicing through, singing and sparkling, from Black Water Pond just above, heading through the trees toward Duarte’s Pond. Now as then, a board crosses the stream so you can bounce across the water to the path on the other side.

But what made the place magical for me was the numbers written in smooth stones set in concrete: 1902. Was this the year the dam was built, and the numbers the builder(s) way of signing his work? The builder must have set those stones for the eyes of future sojourners, and here I was, many decades later, unimagined by the builder but there to appreciate what he, or they, had created.

On this trip, 110 years later, my breath caught. The 0 had disintegrated or been smashed by something. The numbers were no longer perfectly formed. You can’t go home again, I thought — and yet I was glad I had come back, glad the place was still there, glad I was still around to come back to it.

Trav and I headed back to where Malvina Forester waited at the Ripley’s Field trailhead. I love this place, with all its mysteries and secret wonders and history waiting to be discovered. I remembered the lines that have been favorites of mine since Robert F. Kennedy was killed in 1968:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

They are the words of an old Ulysses (Odysseus) looking back at his life, put in his mouth by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, when the poet was still a very young man.

Much is taken, and much abides; and here we are.

My Fellow Traveller

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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3 Responses to March Walk

  1. Wendy says:

    This is the lovely area where Alex and I got lost one Sunday. A great three hour stroll, yakking away then realizing we had no idea where we were. We followed the setting sun and ended up out on the road three miles from our car, a much longer hike than we planned but memorable. This makes me want to try again.


  2. Very pleasant sojourn. Thank you Susanna. When you live in a place where people carve tombstones for chickens those markers could mean just about anything. *Saw a car from Michigan in Vineyard Haven a couple of days ago.


  3. Sharon Stewart says:

    Thank you for taking me on this walk. It’s just my kind of walk. Loved it!


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