Almost every day since I’ve been back from the Vineyard, I’ve walked my dogs around Fresh Pond, the local reservoir in Cambridge, a city of 100,000. There, the dogs romp on a dirt path fenced off from the water. They love the chance to run free here, where the city’s noises are muted and they can be off-leash. But every morning I take them there reluctantly. It doesn’t hold a stick to Squibnocket where the dogs ran up and down the beach and dove head first into rolling waves to retrieve things thrown for them.
Inevitably, summer ended, forcing me back to the academic world, and I had to leave one home for the other. Now, I’m making a stab at re-entry, which isn’t always pretty.
You’d think after six weeks on the Vineyard, I’d be ready to come home to what I should consider my real life. It is, after all, where my kids go to school and where my husband and I work. You’d think I would have had enough relaxation, sun, time with friends and family and my dogs to get on with my responsibilities.
But you’d be wrong.
Re-entry is hard, and I’m not gracious about it. I bitch and moan, much to my husband’s dismay. He never gets the same time on the Vineyard I do every summer. He fights the traffic on weekends and only gets a one- or two-week vacation while I move in for the duration, which varies from six to 10 weeks.
If I sound spoiled, I am. For almost every summer of my life, I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of it on the Vineyard, originally as my grandmother’s guest and then as my parents’.
I get into a groove of simplicity when I’m on the Vineyard. Life just seems easier — maybe a misconception but a nice one to have for a few weeks every year. I tend to focus on the here and now — what I’m going to do each day and not what’s going to happen later in the week or month. I even do my work among the beauty of the meadows, the beaches, and the stars. If I’m sitting in a morning meeting, I know I’ll be on the beach in the afternoon.
The first night and day back on the mainland are the hardest. The air conditioning unit in my bedroom just isn’t the same as the Vineyard breeze through open windows. Navigating the bikers, runners, and strollers at Fresh Pond with my dogs isn’t the same as watching them swim at Squibby. And running out for an ice cream cone? I may not have to drive in circles in Menemsha looking for a parking space, but there is no sunset to watch in Belmont, at our favorite ice cream parlor.
Even though my house is bigger in Cambridge than the guesthouse we live in on the Vineyard, I feel more claustrophobic. The dogs are stuck inside, our clutter strangles me, and the front yard is a mess of weeds that need to be pulled or mowed down.
While I work on my fall syllabus, I click on summer photos and daydream of the days of the whole family together at the beach, not separated by college and work.
During the summer, one day fell into the next. There was always tomorrow, and now that there aren’t any more tomorrows. I could kick myself for all the days I didn’t go to the beach or have coffee with friends. Every minute is planned with doctors’ appointments, work, taking one daughter to college, my younger daughter’s school, the dogs, de-cluttering the house, and grocery shopping — Whole Foods is no Beetlebung Farm.
I wallow in self-pity, especially as my tan fades.
Despite all the fantasizing I do about staying on the Vineyard longer, September is a month of promises — the weather is crisp but not cold, and there is a freshness to the days. There’s a hint of promise in the air, similar to the promise I sense every year when I arrive on the Vineyard. Just as I got into the Vineyard groove, with time, I’ll get into the mainland groove. If it gets too stressful and I need a break, I’ll look at one of the photos of my dogs swimming or the self-timed one of the family.
When I left the Island, one of my friends commented that the long count had begun until next summer. And, as my daughter said, the Vineyard’s not going anywhere, and each day brings me closer to next summer.
Morgan Baker has summered in West Tisbury or Chilmark all her life. She teaches writing at Emerson College and lives in Cambridge.