Positively Pro Postcards

Back in early February I blogged about writing postcards to Democratic voters. At that point, I was writing for my seventh campaign, for Conor Lamb, running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. This was, by my count, the 54th undertaken by the volunteer-fueled organization Postcards To Voters. Conor made a big splash when he won the March 13 special election in a district that was handily carried by Trump in 2016.

I’m still at it, and so is Postcards To Voters (PTV). I just finished writing for my 21st campaign. PTV is on its 88th. There are now more than 20,000 volunteers writing postcards from every state in the union, and with election season moving into high gear, more are needed! The more volunteers there are, the more campaigns PTV can take on. Here are several ways to sign up:

  • Use the form on the PTV website.
  • Send an email to join@TonyTheDemocrat.org
  • Text HELLO to Abby the Address Bot at 1-484-ASK-ABBY (1-484-275-2229)

As a new writer, you’ll be sent complete instructions and asked to write a sample postcard. Once that’s approved, you can get addresses for any active campaign by texting Abby the Address Bot or (if you’re on Facebook) friending Abby and private-messaging her for addresses.

Volunteers donate postage and postcards (and/or the material to make postcards) as well as our time, but Postcards To Voters welcomes donations of money to keep running and to help grow the volunteer ranks so we can write for more campaigns between now and November. You can donate via PayPal or the old-fashioned way, by check; I just used my credit card to make a modest monthly donation. Here’s how to do it.

So why am I (still) so excited about Postcards To Voters?

  • For each campaign I participate in, I learn something about the district. So far I’ve written for candidates in Alabama, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts (Emily Antul for Chelmsford board of selectmen — she won!), Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, Georgia, Mississippi, and California.
  • I’m awed by the caliber of the candidates. The statistics alone are impressive, of how many Democrats, especially women, have taken up the challenge of running for public office. Learning about some of the individual candidates adds depth to the statistics. They’re a pretty amazing bunch.
  • I never realized how many special and local elections take place around the country between one November and the next.
  • I’m now paying more attention to state legislative and other “down-ballot” races than I was before.
  • The postcards are positive. After consulting with each campaign, PTV sends out instructions to volunteer writers. Typically these include three “must-haves” for each card, which include the candidate’s name and office, the fact that s/he’s a Democrat, the date of the election, and a key talking point. They also include a longer list of optional points, from which each writer can devise a personalized message. The message and address are always handwritten, and the focus is always on each candidate’s experience and what they want to do in office.
  • Postcard parties are fun, and a great way to get new people engaged in writing postcards.
  • Every Tuesday is election day somewhere. PTV writers and friends get together in the Postcards To Writers Facebook group to hear the results for the candidates we wrote for and for Democrats running in other races across the country. We also share images of the postcards we wrote. This is a positive, upbeat, and creative group — a great antidote to the pervasive gloom-and-doomery of the national news.

Many PTV candidates win, sometimes in races that receive national attention, like Doug Jones in Alabama, Patty Schachtner for Wisconsin state senate, Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, Rebecca Dallet for the Wisconsin supreme court, and Helen Tai for Pennsylvania state representative. Those who lose often have done better than any Democrat in their districts in years, even decades; in some cases, no Democrat has even run recently.

Here are some of my recent cards. At first I personalized them for each race, but some people thought they looked too professional, as if they might have come from the campaign itself (which is never the case), so I started making them generic. So far I’ve managed to devise a different one for each campaign, using Avery.com templates and my own messages, but with more and more campaigns to write for, I’m thinking of having a bunch of my favorites printed up instead of printing them on my sometimes finicky inkjet.

For Emily Antul, board of selectmen, Chelmsford, MA

For Javier Fernandez, FL state representative. This is one of my faves so far.

For Helen “Give ’em Helen!” Tai, PA state represenative. This is my #1 favorite card so far.

For Machaela Cavanaugh, NE state legislature

For Geneviéve Jones-Wright, San Diego County district attorney, CA. The election’s coming up!

Posted in public life | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

New Station on the African-American Heritage Trail

NOTE: I sing in the M.V. Spirituals Choir, part of the U.S. Slave Song Project, and also manage its website. This post is a reprint of one I posted there yesterday. If you’re on the Vineyard and like to sing, join us! We rehearse from 6 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday at the Windemere recreation room. Singing these songs and learning their history is an ongoing inspiration.

The Spirituals Choir’s presentation schedule generally doesn’t begin till mid-June. Through May, we’re learning the songs we haven’t sung before, getting reacquainted with familiar ones, and coalescing as an ensemble. Our summer members often don’t return till the end of the month.

But when we were invited to sing at the unveiling of the plaque marking the 28th stop on the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Heritage Trail, no way could we turn it down.

Stained-glass windows in the Grace church sanctuary honor the Rev. Absalom Jones (left) and the Rt. Rev. John Burgess.

The 28th stop on the trail is Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. Grace Episcopal has demonstrated its commitment to local African-American history in multiple ways. The plaque that has been mounted near the Woodlawn Avenue entrance to the parish hall commemorates the Rev. Absalom Jones (1746–1818), first African American priest ordained in the Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. John Melville Burgess (1909–2003), first African-American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church; and liturgical artist Allan Rohan Crite (1910–2007), whose mural was installed in Grace’s children’s chapel in the 1950s.

The parish hall was packed with attentive listeners as speakers introduced each of the honorees and the church’s commitment to local African-American history and the struggle for racial justice. Elaine Weintraub, co-founder with Carrie Tankard of the M.V. African-American Heritage Trail, spoke of how the trail began with a promise she made to a young student who asked where the black people were in Vineyard history. Elaine said she didn’t know but she would find out. And she did.

In the mid-1990s it seemed astonishing when the trail dedicated its fourth or fifth plaque. But the research has continued, our knowledge of the Vineyard’s African-American history has broadened and deepened, and now the trail has 28 stations on it. Now in its second edition, Elaine’s book Lighting the Trail: The African-American Heritage of Martha’s Vineyard, written with Carrie Tankard and with photographs by Mark Alan Lovewell, covers the first 26 stops on the trail.

Leigh Ann Yuen read from the powerful, inspiring Beatitudes from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Carole Boston Weatherford — published for children, but this adult was deeply moved by it. Singing the slave songs one can’t help but acknowledge the importance of faith and religious imagery to the enslaved and those escaping slavery. This little book makes it real.

After the program, everyone trooped outside to watch the unveiling of the plaque, presided over by Julia Burgess, Bishop Burgess’s daughter, a Vineyard resident. Then everyone trooped back in to hear the Spirituals Choir sing “Rise, Shine, for the Light Is a-Coming,” which celebrates the approach of the Union army during the Civil War; and “Done Made My Vow to the Lord,” in which those preparing to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad vowed that they never would turn back but would press on to “see what the end’s gonna be.”

Allan Rohan Crite’s mural in the children’s chapel at Grace church. The banner at the top reads “O ye seas and floods, O ye whales and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever.” Adapted from the “Benedicite omnia opera.”

Posted in Martha's Vineyard, music, public life | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rally for Gun Safety

Note: This post first appeared on the new website of the Women’s Committee of We Stand Together / Estamos Todos Juntos (WST/ETJ), which I manage; it has been updated and revised. If you live or spend time on the Vineyard (or even if you don’t!) and want to keep informed about events and activities of particular interest to women, please stop by and follow it (aka “subscribe”).

Before Friday morning was out, news arrived of yet another school shooting, this one at the Santa Fe, Texas, high school. Eight students and two teachers were killed and ten others wounded, including a school resource officer who at last report was in critical but stable condition.

Once again the shooter was a white man: 17-year-old student Dimitrios Pagourtzis surrendered to law enforcement at the scene and has confessed to the crime. And once again a (white) shooter was taken into custody alive, as opposed to the numerous black non-shooters who are shot and killed for carrying cell phones, reaching for their driver’s licenses, etc.

Also in the déjà vu department, it’s been reported that the alleged shooter had a grudge against women, particularly Shana Fisher, a student who had declined to go out with him. She was  one of the dead. Pagourtzis has also reportedly said that he targeted people he didn’t like and spared people he did. One of the dead was Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan. I can’t help wondering if this has any connection to the guy’s posting of neo-Nazi imagery on social media.

News of the latest school shooting spread quickly on social media and via email, and despite the short notice about 15 Vineyarders gathered at Five Corners at 5:30 to mark the event, honor the dead, and call for stronger gun-safety laws. Both the Martha’s Vineyard Times and the Vineyard Gazette covered the event.

Many passing vehicles honked, waved, or called out their support. One fellow, however, driving a late-model pickup that was almost big enough for a tiny house, held up traffic while he vociferously protested the protesters.

By the way, there was a school-related shooting in Illinois on Thursday, fortunately with no fatalities; the only injury was to the gunman, a 19-year-old — you guessed it — white guy. While fleeing the scene, this fellow fired at a pursuing school resource officer, yet the officer managed to bring him down by wounding him. Interesting, no?

Friday night in the Atlanta area, one woman was shot and killed and another wounded near a high school graduation. Reports are still sketchy, and it’s not clear if the shooting had any connection to the graduation.

That’s me near the middle, just to the right of the signpost.


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Laundry Doesn’t Lie

Seems everyone’s mumbling and grumbling and wondering “Where’s spring?” as if chilly weather in mid-May were unusual, alarming even.

Ghost flowers

Every year in early May I’m convinced I missed the shadbush blooming, ghost flowers floating in woods where the oaks are just beginning to bud. I’m convinced they’re supposed to bloom by the end of April.

I noticed the first ones around the 5th. Within a couple of days they were everywhere I looked. They’re still out there, just beginning to fade and fall.

Photographs I’ve taken in past years tell me that May 6–10 is about right. Could be I got the late April idea in my head when I was living on the Vineyard Haven side of the West Tisbury line. Spring — meaning the flowering of forsythia and daffodils and the sudden brightening of the winter landscape — arrives earlier in Vineyard Haven than it does in West Tisbury, and it arrived earlier in West Tisbury center than it did on my road, but it is arriving.

Last year, in “Is That You, Spring?,” I blogged “Most of the time it’s been feeling like mid or late April” — on June 2, facrissakes.

This is why I don’t believe myself or anyone else when we swear this is the coldest spring, the snowiest winter, the driest summer ever, or at least in years. Photographs or the written word usually tell me otherwise.

I get why some people don’t believe in climate change. Our year-to-year memories are unreliable, and often influenced by other people’s perceptions. Photographs, or written words, and the patient recording of statistics year after year — these are essential to temper and even contradict our extravagant claims.

Undies on the drying rack. Socks are on the backside, bras somewhere in the middle.

So I track the changing seasons with the clothesline in the back yard. (From November to April I do it with ice disks, but “Ice in August” appears only in my blog.) There’s a two- or three-week lag between the clothes on the line and the actual weather because I do my laundry at the Airport Laundromat whenever I’m about to run out of underwear, and I’ve got an almost three-week supply of that.

The clothes at the bottom of the laundry hamper, in other words, haven’t been worn for up to three weeks. This time of year, that’s where you’ll find the longjohns and sweaters. In late fall it’s T-shirts and shorts.

Note that there were only three pairs of longjohns on last Friday’s line, and no sweaters. One warmish day in mid-April I didn’t put my longjohns on before my jeans. Once I’ve taken this momentous step, the pressure is to leave them off, even when the wind is blowing hard enough to cut through denim.

Turtlenecks share the line with long-sleeve T-shirts, and even three regular Ts. The latter include my two newest: WTFJHT, for What the Fuck Just Happened Today, a daily e-newsletter that I love and do some volunteer copyediting for; and S.W.A.T. / Smart Women Against Trump, a local issue that I acquired by being in the right place at the right time. My T-shirt collection has been out of control for a long time, but there’s always room for another good one.

I could actually use a couple more long-sleeve Ts. They’re perfect for the swing seasons, mid-spring and mid-fall, but they don’t come my way very often.

Laundry line, May 11, 2018

For contrast, here’s the line from April 5. No T-shirts anywhere, long- or short-sleeved. To the trained eye (e.g., mine), the telltale sign is the number of longjohns: only four. I’ve got twice that many, and in midwinter they’re all out there.

Laundry line, April 5, 2018

Trav watches me hang laundry.

And here is the line from February 27 — Travvy’s 10th birthday. He hit double digits and all he got was a trip to the laundromat. While my clothes wash, we take our morning walk around the county airport.

Winter clothes tend to be as drab as the woods, which is why I love seeing that yellow turtleneck flapping on the line. Its cuffs and neck are frayed beyond wearing in polite company, but I don’t spend much time in polite company. Not only does it still keep me warm, it brightens my winter laundry line.

Laundry line, February 27, 2018


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Cows Uncowed

Most mornings Travvy and I walk around part of the big field at Misty Meadows. Owned by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, a conservation group, it’s leased to two Chilmark farms, Mermaid and North Tabor. From time to time, thanks to the wondrous portability of electric fencing, livestock take up residence in some part of the field. We’ve seen goats and we’ve seen sheep, and just now we’re seeing cattle — not for the first time, but it’s been a while.

When we passed by yesterday, most of them were grazing or snoozing.

Then one cow took notice and came over to check us out. Another made ready to follow suit.

Trav does not find cows as fascinating as he does either goats or sheep, possibly because they tend to move slowly and deliberately. He also has a healthy respect for electric fencing, having accidently bumped into it on a narrow path a couple of years ago. The late Rhodry, being a barn dog for more than half his life, had so much respect for electric fencing that he was reluctant to go anywhere near anything string-like lying on the ground.

This one had the most interesting face. If she were a horse, her coloring would be described as “high white” — white above the knees and hocks on an otherwise dark animal — and attributed to the sabino gene. I don’t know how color genetics works in cattle or what the various color patterns are called. (If you do, please clue me in!)

This one was noticeably smaller, her horns less developed, than the others, so I’m guessing she’s a youngster.

These guys were less interested in us than in something off to the right. I’m still not sure what it was.

By this point, most of the herd was moving in our general direction. They seemed to have no interest in testing the fence, though I did wonder if they might inadvertently lean too hard on it. Clearly Trav and I were a distraction from grazing and snoozing, so we went on our way.

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Not Stranded

For days I’d been planning to head off-island this past Sunday afternoon for State Rep. Dylan Fernandes’s 2018 campaign kickoff in Woods Hole. The venue, the Captain Kidd, is an easy walk from the ferry dock, so no big deal, right?

Ordinarily the Steamship Authority (SSA) ferries are drop-dead reliable, at least for walk-on passengers. All you have to do is know the schedule, get there on time, pony up $8.50 each way (frequent travelers get a discount by buying 10-ticket books), and, well, walk on.

Lately, however, it’s been harder to take passage across Vineyard Sound for granted. Saturday afternoon the ferry Martha’s Vineyard lost power shortly after leaving Woods Hole. It managed to get back to the slip, but that caused further complications. Due to the ongoing construction of a new Woods Hole terminal, there is only one working slip at Woods Hole. This meant that the Island Home couldn’t leave Vineyard Haven for its 5 o’clock run because there was nowhere to dock on the other side.

People were stranded for up to four hours on one side or the other, and the boats weren’t back on schedule again till Sunday morning.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes speaks; State Senator Julian Cyr (left) listens.

Taking the 1:15 boat to a 2:00–3:30 event and hopping the 3:45 home is not a big deal. Having it turn into an overnight stay would have been a very big deal, not least because my writers’ group meets every Sunday at 7. Also Trav was out on the deck and would be looking for his supper around 5:30.

As it turned out, the trip over and back was uneventful, the kickoff was fun, Travvy got fed (and walked), and I got to my writers’ group on time. As usual, we Vineyarders got extra creds for making it to an off-island event. This time we might actually have deserved some of it. For sure there were a few cracks about where we could spend the night if we got stranded.

Maybe the only thing all Vineyarders have in common is a relationship with the SSA. The ferry docks in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and in Woods Hole across the water, are on the psychic map of every one of us. We grumble frequently about the inconveniences, and the more knowledgeable express concern about SSA management’s long-running lack of transparency, but mostly we get along OK.

So the ALL CAPS headline in the March 22 Martha’s Vineyard Times was startling:


The two front-page stories above the fold — “Martha’s Vineyard out of service” and “Passengers stranded for five hours” — were devoted to the tribulations of the ferry Martha’s Vineyard, the same one that screwed up Saturday, some six weeks later. Below the fold the front page chronicled the mishaps of the Woods Hole: “Ferry runs aground, bounces in and out of service.”

At the time, the third full-size ferry in the fleet, the Island Home, was out of service for scheduled routine maintenance. The freight boats are much smaller. Their main purpose is to carry, you guessed it, big trucks back and forth across the sound. Of course they carry passenger vehicles as well, and a few walk-on passengers, but they’re meant to supplement the scheduled ferries, not substitute for them. So a fast ferry (which doesn’t carry cars) was pressed into service to transport passengers to and from the island.

To put it mildly, it was a mess. And it went on, and on, and on. As another M.V. Times story put it: “14 days of chaos — and counting.”

March was a trying month weatherwise. Plenty of ferry runs were cancelled thanks to high winds from our several nor’easters: the one that rolled in as families were returning from school vacation was especially disruptive. Weather-related cancellations we generally take in stride, though a few will second-guess the SSA, the Coast Guard, and the weather reports and insist that such-and-such boat should have run.

These ongoing mechanical problems are something else again. If gale-force winds had been blowing on Sunday, that would have affected my calculations: If I manage to get there, will I be able to get back? But these breakdowns and run-agrounds come out of nowhere. It’s disorienting.

For many, it’s worse than disorienting. Plenty of off-islanders are employed on the Vineyard, and quite a few Vineyarders commute regularly to work elsewhere. Tourism isn’t a huge deal in March, but when the snafus happen in May, everyone with a connection to the summer economy — in other words, most working Vineyarders — gets nervous.

My connection to the summer economy these days is minimal: As I blogged in “O is for Online” last month, I do most of my traveling in the virtual world. Clients send me work electronically and I return completed jobs the same way. So I was a little surprised by how very many people I know have been caught up in one or more of these mishaps, going to or from work, coming back from or going on vacation, heading off for medical appointments, etc.

The mid-March mess affected the dozens of Vineyard high school students who were traveling to D.C. for March for Our Lives, to demand more effective gun control. The two buses they’d chartered would be waiting on the other side, and the schedule didn’t leave much wiggle room. We all held our breath and crossed our fingers. (They made it, some having taken earlier-than-necessary ferries to make sure they got to Woods Hole.)

The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority is a quasi-public agency, but its lack of transparency has been an issue for at least as long as I’ve lived here. It’s very much subject to the political winds blowing on Beacon Hill, and though residents of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are the most affected by its operations (or non-operations), we’ve had very little clout at the state level.

The short version is that in this intensely political year, we’ve got another battle to make our voices heard, and I’m glad we’ve got legislators who’ll help us do it.

Posted in Martha's Vineyard, public life | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments


The bike path in summer. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming.

Most mornings Travvy and I head out in the general direction of Old County Road and the bike path beyond it. We have three basic routes, all circular and all taking about an hour’s brisk walk to complete.

Sometimes, though, when I’ve got something to mail or I’ve run out of something that can’t wait till the next serious grocery run, we go in the opposite direction, toward the West Tisbury post office and up-island Cronig’s. This takes us through the Island Farms subdivision.

After trespassing alongside a house that’s deserted most of the year, and where a big pine that went down in one of the March nor’easters is still blocking the driveway, we come out across from a single-story house with a big garden on one side and goats and chickens out back. Trav is intrigued by the goats, and since the chickens do occasionally cross the short, dead-end road I keep an eye out.

The main event at this house, however, is always the dogs. There are two of them, medium size, short-haired, one brown, one brown and white. As soon as Trav and I come in sight, they start tearing back and forth along the perimeter of their invisible fence line. There are craters in the dirt at either end where they wheel and start back in the other direction, dodging around the considerable plantings en route.

They’re good-looking dogs. Until yesterday, I hadn’t given much thought to what breed they are, beyond surmising that if they belong to a breed, it’s probably the same one.

A few mornings ago, the brown one crossed the invisible fenceline onto the pavement and came at us teeth bared. I stood my ground, yelling — I’m pretty good at yelling — and the dog finally retreated to the yard. I should have reported this, I can see now, but every one of the dozens of times we’d walked by, the dogs had stayed on their side of the “fence.” So I thought it was a fluke.

In the front yard of the deserted house is a small deer family. Here Trav gets acquainted.

When Trav and I passed that way late yesterday morning, with Trav, as always, on a leash heeling at my side, both dogs crossed into the road snarling and barking and ambushed Trav from behind, knocking him down. One of them tried to sink its teeth into Trav’s hindquarters. I screamed bloody murder and charged at them, making them back off but not give up.

What I really didn’t want was Trav to start fighting back. A 10-year-old malamute against two apparently much younger and more aggressive dogs, and me hanging on to a four-foot leash — this could have been very ugly. Surely someone would hear me yelling and come out of the house?

No one did. I hope this meant no one was home. A guy did appear some ways up the road into the subdivision, ready to intervene — didn’t I say I’m pretty good at yelling? — but by then I’d managed to scare the two dogs back into their yard.

Trav scrambled to his feet. We moved out of range. He seemed OK, but when I cleared away some tufts of loose fur toward his tail I found a scrape that was bleeding slightly and what looked like the imprint of a tooth tip. Under a wet place on his side was a similar scrape.

On the return trip, I was on guard. I also wondered if Trav would be leery of passing within range of those dogs again. Did he get why those dogs who always raced back and forth barking so ferociously hadn’t come any closer, and why this time they had?

Trav trotted along on my right side while I gave strenuous warnings and the evil eye to the dogs on my left. We made it through.

When I got home, I called West Tisbury animal control to report the incident. I learned from ACO Tony Cordray that the commonwealth does not consider invisible fencing to be restraint. In other words, if you’re ordered to restrain your dog, invisible fencing alone will not meet the requirement. When I described how the two dogs had stayed in their yard dozens of times as we passed by, he said that the batteries in the collars that must be used with invisible fencing must eventually be replaced.

Tony also said that because the dogs had drawn blood, they would have to be quarantined. Even if they’ve had rabies shots? I asked. Apparently so: State law requires a 10-day quarantine for any dog or cat that bites or scratches another animal or a human. I ventured cautiously that I didn’t know, but I guessed the dogs might be pit bull mixes, hoping I wasn’t getting into canine profiling.

Then I posted a short account of the incident to the Islanders Talk group on Facebook, as a cautionary note both to those who use invisible fencing and to anyone in the Island Farms subdivision. Trav got a lot of sympathy, and I got some useful info about invisible fencing. One user commented that dogs who consistently run back and forth along the boundary line are not considered good candidates for invisible fencing. It was also suggested that other complaints had been made about those two dogs. Hmmmm . . .

I cleaned Trav’s wounds, thinking all the while that a smaller dog with much less fur could have been seriously injured in a similar attack. As the afternoon wore on, he growled when I stroked his left foreleg. He’s a growly dog under any circumstances, but these growls advanced to snarls, so I took them seriously. When we went out for our early evening walk, he favored that leg and didn’t want to go faster than a walk. We took a shorter and slower than usual stroll and returned to the apartment. He gamely made it up the stairs.

This morning he was back to normal, trotting along, bushy tail waving. It was a close call, but we’re both OK.

Posted in dogs, home, outdoors | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

April License Plate Report

I spotted NO new license plates in April. This may be a first for any month in the first half of the year. It is not one I want to repeat. So —

This afternoon, on my way home from the Mailroom in Edgartown (where I overnighted a hardcopy proofread back to a client) by way of Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs (where I bought a few staples I’d run out of, like brown sugar and maple syrup), I parked Malvina Forester in the hospital parking lot and took a stroll.

Exotic license plates are often to be found in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital parking lots. This walkabout yielded Missouri and Iowa — good job! Reassured that May will not be the bust that April was, I can now get on with license-plate spotting on the road.

Posted in license plates | Tagged | 1 Comment

Z is for Zoning #AtoZChallenge

When I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985 I was as ignorant about zoning and land-use planning as I was about refuse disposal. (See “Unsustainable” for more about that.)

My education started PDQ: In January of my first winter, I attended a meeting of the West Tisbury planning board where what eventually became the Deep Bottom Pond subdivision was on the agenda. The place was packed. This gave me an unexpected partial answer to the perennial question “What do you people do in the winter?” The civic-minded among us turn out en masse for board meetings on hot topics!

Before the end of that month, my “Sonnets on a Planning Board Meeting” were an op-ed in the Vineyard Gazette. At the moment I’m particularly struck by these lines (emphasis added):

This dextrous wizardry cannot be stopped,
it seems that right is on his side. This plan
is like a demon called when no one can
inspire the strength to bind it. Who would opt
for rules finds rules are less than ribbons when
this monster must be bound. 

The rules are daunting, long and complex and written in legalese. It’s a rare annual town meeting that doesn’t at least tweak them in some way, sometimes after heated debate. Homeowners, builders, and, hey, just about everyone at some time or another complain about how picayune and restrictive they are, and how easily they can be amended or interpreted to suit particular needs. There’s plenty of truth in this, but the larger problem is the perception that while ordinary people must jump through hoop after hoop after hoop, anyone with enough money, time, and legal expertise can blow the hoops down and do whatever they want.

Martha’s Vineyard Commission hearing on the roundabout proposal, September 2011.

That perception is justified, even though deep pockets don’t always guarantee a win. During the fight against the roundabout in 2011–12, I attended enough Martha’s Vineyard Commission meetings to realize that deep pockets aren’t the only problem. Some of our elected officials seem all too ready to ignore both the letter and the spirit of the rules and regs when it suits them. (I blogged about the roundabout battle frequently. This blogsite’s search function — look over on the right — will return a bunch of hits. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.)

Zoning bylaws can have unintended and unforeseen effects. Suburban-style three-acre zoning has been disastrous in West Tisbury and other semi-rural and small-town places, contributing to the breakdown of community, inefficient land use, and the ever worsening housing crisis, but three or four decades ago it looked like a good idea, at least to those who stood to benefit from it in the short term.

And no, this is not confined to zoning, or to Martha’s Vineyard. “The law” is far more complex than West Tisbury zoning bylaws and just as easily manipulated by interests with deep pockets that have a lot at stake. It takes serious effort just to learn how it works, and far more to affect the process and influence the outcome. Small wonder that most people throw up their hands and swear they’ll have nothing to do with “politics.”

Trouble is, as things get worse and worse (as they almost certainly will if we don’t pay attention), we get either angrier and angrier or ever more depressed. Often we become patsies for knights in shining armor who turn out to be snake-oil salesmen, and the anger that could be channeled into constructive action gets directed at scapegoats (see “X is for Xenophobia”).

And this, dear readers, is what Martha’s Vineyard has given me over the years: endless opportunities to “chunk it down” and see how things work on the ground. This is a mixed blessing, to say the least. I’d love to blame everything that goes wrong on impersonal forces or identifiable enemies, but I can’t. I and my friends and neighbors, virtually all of us, are accomplices, willing or unwilling, witting or unwitting. The upside? This means there are things we can do about it.


Here ends the alphabet, and with it my contribution to the 2018 Blogging A to Z Challenge. I did it! Thanks to all who’ve encouraged me, especially all who’ve liked or commented on particular posts.

Blogging almost every day, combined with editing for a living and meeting other commitments, has left little time for following the A-to-Zs of my fellow bloggers. Now I’m going to catch up.

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Y is for Year-round #AtoZChallenge

This follows on “X is for Xenophobia,” which followed on “I is for Islander.” The more I think about this A to Z Challenge, the more I realize that everything follows on everything else. Long live hyperlinks!


Year-round vs. summer is the big one, or at least the most obvious one. But PDQ it gets complicated. Plenty of summer visitors have become year-round residents. (I raise my hand here.)

Plenty of people who grew up here have moved away for economic, creative, or some other necessity. They may be summer visitors, but they’ve got roots and relatives here.

Then there’s the “islander” business. I know and have known a bunch of people whose island roots go back to the 18th and even the 17th century, which is as long as white people have been around here.  Not infrequently, the island families who’ve been economically most successful have members who’ve spent much of their working lives off-island, earning off-island wages.

Many of those who never moved off-island spent much of their lives in the seafaring trades, which is to say they weren’t bodily on the island all that much — though their close kinfolk were. That makes a big difference.

The 19th century whaling ship Charles W. Morgan visited Vineyard Haven harbor in June 2014.

Seafarers from Portugal, Cape Verde, and elsewhere passed through, settled, and put down roots. Islanders, without a doubt, though those of Portuguese descent were still occasionally made fun of when I arrived in the mid-1980s, and those whose skin was noticeably darker — well, you know how that works as well as I do.

Lately for a writing project I’ve been messing around in the Vineyard of the mid-1850s. It’s not hard to conclude that the islanders most likely to help fugitive slaves escape to freedom were those with darker skins — Wampanoags and those of African descent.

OK, so let’s assume for a moment that an islander has to have been born here. Someone who was born and grew up here in the 1950s will have very different memories from one who was born and grew up in the 1970s or 1990s. At some point we’ve got to reckon with what makes an islander an islander — that it’s not simply the fact of being born here but the experiences you had and the places you knew growing up.

I’ve noticed that the experiences of my island friends who were, like me, born and grew up in the 1950s and early ’60s were not unlike mine in many respects, even though I grew up west of Boston in a small town that was evolving into a suburb. Some things were different for sure, but others were very similar. So were the experiences of ’60s summer kids.

So lately, like within the last 10 years or so, I came up with the category “year-round summer people.” Year-round summer people live here year-round — they vote here and qualify for preferred rates on the ferry — but (like summer people) they think real life is happening somewhere else, often but not always wherever it was they came from. They never worked island jobs or moved twice a year. They generally spend a fair amount of time off-island. The ones I know are generally nice people.

“Year-round summer people” started off as a way to describe and understand something I was seeing, but over the years it’s become a handy way to dismiss perspectives that piss me off: “Oh, well, whaddya expect, he’s just a year-round summer person.” Quite a few of these year-round summer people have retired here, often after many years of summer visits. They have lots of time to spend and, commendably, they want to get involved in island life — but excess time, it seems, has some of the same negative effects as excess money. Year-round summer people are like kudzu and other invasive plants: whatever they touch, they take over.

I would certainly take umbrage if that image were applied to me, which probably explains why I don’t mention it to the year-round summer people I know.

At the same time — I do get how us/them thinking arises from these more-or-less innocent attempts to understand what’s going on, and it gives me caution.

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