At Large : Despite everything we've tried, they come
We've tried nearly everything to protect this special place. No one would say we've succeeded, at least not utterly. Greater effort and enthusiasm for repelling boarders seems required. And, maybe the stars, as an astrologer might put it, are aligning themselves for success. They must be entering retrograde or some other similar grade. Of course retrograde would be perfect. Retrograde is what we're all about.
I have thought for a while that zoning rules, health rules, subdivision rules, conservation rules, Martha's Vineyard Commission rules, endangered species rules, water conservation rules, setback rules, parking rules, pesticide rules, herbicide rules, smoking rules, Jet Ski rules, low-fat rules, moped rules, and other rules I've not the space to mention have not, acting in concert, been sufficient to turn back the summer tourism tide. Wrong. And, four years of stagnant real estate sales and declining property values haven't done the trick. We need something more powerful.
Perhaps there'll be big house rules — on the horizon now, in your face soon. Everyone will be allowed a 3,000-square-foot house, period. Really, it's all that anyone needs. Plus, as is the case at Nantucket, your house must look like my house and the neighbor's house, and the school, and the police station, and be the same size, and most important, be something that pleases me, not you. No rational foundation for such a rule needs to be advanced. In fact, it may be that the sheer irrationality of it could be the key to its usefulness. Who would want to build a house where the rules were conceived in whimsy and executed in bruised ego?
The newspaper business is always under fire for publishing too much bad news. Critics say newspaper people like bad news because its sells newspapers. Well, sure, but by that logic it's the readers that like the bad news, isn't it? Anyway, the anti–bad news movement has gone so far as to suggest that newspapers should publish stories that encourage good things to happen, so that good news will result, and then stories about the good news will fill the gaping columns in each week's edition. That seems an extreme view. After all, one of the virtues of the news business is that for the most part we just play it as it lies, good or bad. That way we limit our exposure, so to speak, to criticism if something we touted that seemed a good thing ultimately turns out to be a bad thing. I think the theory is known as plausible deniability. We in the news game like that.
But anyhow, this is not a case where we need to worry about good news turning out bad. This is the opposite. Bad news may turn out to be good. For us, I mean. In the general sense, you understand, not in any particular, individual, human sense.
For several years, folks have been counting on ticks to do the job of discouraging tourism. The mere nuisance of them, never mind the medical complications, is enough to put almost anyone off. But it's clear that it hasn't worked. Visitors persist. We all persist. Ticks persist. No, actually ticks thrive.
We might have thought the diseases associated with ticks — Lyme, babesiosis — would have discouraged some of the braver ones who said, in effect, to hell with these pesky ticks. But, again, no.
The Island's rodents have pitched in with tularemia, and you would have thought news of the threat of that sort of infection would have spoiled the place a bit for the visiting hordes. Nope.
Not that anyone hoped that visitors would contract these diseases. Not a bit. But some folks, enamored of even the nastiest of God's critters, have taken note of the, well, reverse publicity value they offer as semi-hidden dissuaders. Wouldn't want to harm such valuable pests.
Plus, now there is the West Nile virus, discovered for the first time years ago in a dead crow who was a resident of Vineyard Haven. It's not as if this crow never left town, never visited Oak Bluffs or Edgartown, or even Chilmark. It's a regional problem, as some folks like to say. Crowing about this sort of potential health risk ought to discourage some of the pilgrims who might otherwise hop a ferry for a trip to the summer isle.
I thought maybe great white sharks in Vineyard Sound, Nantucket Sound, and off the South Shore might help. You don't want to think about hungry great white sharks browsing for a meal in the waters where you swim.
The seals, clueless visitors to the area, have moved in. They use to be day-trippers, short-timers, but now they hang out in droves. So, we hear a lot of bad news about sharks mixing it up with the visiting human population on Cape Cod. You would guess that a great white shark population explosion would do everything that the rules, in place now and yet to come, the ticks, the viruses, and all the rest have not done to put the kibosh to the Vineyard as a vacation destination. But, no. Instead there are tournaments and fests celebrating the sporting nature of sharks and their cinematic magnetism. It's bewildering. Maybe we could add the great white to the Vineyard flag as a perverse sort of mascot, or maybe it could be the image of a central planner wagging a finger and saying, "No you don't," the symbol of what's awaiting August visitors to the Island where the stars vacation. Besides high prices, I mean.
We've been unsuccessful, but we'll keep at it, letting people know that If the ticks and the great whites don't discourage you, the rules and the disdain will.
A version of this column appeared in this space in 2002.