On Friday, February 8, a blizzard of historic proportions struck much of New England, disrupting life for millions of residents. But with the help of friends and loved ones, and a good measure of Island resourcefulness, it did not stop the meticulously planned West Tisbury wedding of Griffin Hughes, 34, a holistic health and fitness consultant, to captain Morgan Douglas, 35, manager of the Black Dog Tall Ships.
The wedding would have been memorable without the snow. But with all the challenges and changes the blizzard brought, it inspired the couple and their loved ones to craft a spontaneous wedding that proved more authentic and magical than anything they had imagined.
The two surfing enthusiasts first met each other on a windy Squibnocket Beach 10 years ago and slowly began a friendship that deepened even as Griffin, originally from New Jersey, and Vineyard native Morgan, went their separate ways. In 2006 Griffin returned to the Vineyard from San Diego. The couple became more serious about their relationship and one year ago, on February 5, they got engaged.
Determined not to have “just another cookie cutter wedding” the couple decided to marry outdoors at Arrowhead Farm in West Tisbury, the home of Morgan’s parents, Capt. Robert and Charlene Douglas. Horses would greet the 200 guests as they entered the barn where the riding arena would be transformed with glittering branches and twinkling white lights. The Black Dog would cater, Mike Benjamin would play. Guests would take home a potted herb to plant.
Early that week the off-Island guests — some 160 of them — had made their travel plans. Airline tickets had been purchased, ferry reservations secured, hotel rooms booked. Big Sky Tents prepared tables, chairs, china, linens, and heaters for delivery. A beverage order was readied. The Black Dog kitchen was set to cook for 200. Then the weather forecast turned ominous.
The blizzard loomed. On Thursday with heavy hearts Griffin and Morgan emailed their guests that they would still have a small family wedding but the big reception was cancelled. Replies of support and love “kept us going,” Griffin said. She got busy on the phone, cancelling arrangements it had taken six months to make.
Everything was in constant flux. Plans were made, changed, then changed again. Events were scrapped then recreated. Things went wrong then got fixed. But amid the swirl of blowing snow and shifting expectations one thing was always certain. As though steering towards a bright fixed star on a dark night, Griffin and Morgan knew they were determined to get married.
It may be that God watches over lovers, or, as Griffin suggested, that acceptance allows things to work out. Whatever the cause, the intimate, joyful wedding celebration that took place became a shining illustration of the powerful magic that takes over when caring Vineyarders come together to help neighbors.
“This couldn’t have happened anywhere else on the planet,” Griffin reflected. “We have such close ties here to people on the Island. It was like family style. People are saying to me it’s what old Martha’s Vineyard felt like. It was raw and real, a wedding where some people wore jeans, some people wore suits, some people wore gowns. That’s always how I wanted it. Just for people to be comfortable and be happy and be there.”
About 25 family members and close friends beat the storm, and a Friday afternoon driving ban, arriving Thursday. Along with Vineyarders the original 200-person list became barely 50.
A determined friend hopped the redeye from California Thursday night despite Griffin’s warnings. She arrived at Logan Friday dawn expecting to board a bus to the Vineyard. But buses were cancelled. Griffin located another friend preparing to drive down from Boston. He made an airport detour, introduced himself, and the pair headed for the Island.
Another stalwart hit the treacherous highway from New Jersey at 3 am, Friday, following a salt truck. Nearing the Cape he called the SSA, imploring them to hold the 10:45 am boat.
“They told him, ‘No, you’d better just get here, Buddy,’” Griffin laughed. He made it!
Saturday’s plans were still up in the air. The big barn reception was off. Serendipitously, Charlotte Caskey who owns Alchemy Restaurant in Edgartown with her husband, Scott, is a friend of Charlene Douglas’s. She was at the farm as Morgan and Griffin agonized. The restaurant, which had been closed for a January winter break, was prepared to reopen that weekend. Although storm challenges loomed, she offered to host the reception. The couple was thrilled, but realizing that power and travel problems could make it impossible, they made a back-up plan — a gathering at the farm. Charlene Douglas began cooking, “just in case.”
After hours of uncertainty as the storm worsened, it was decided to go ahead with the rehearsal dinner at Café Moxie. Griffin’s black Lab, Lucy, ran off just as it was time for the couple to leave for the restaurant. Griffin could barely enjoy herself as she worried about her dog, but Island magic was at work. Morgan received a call from a total stranger named Carl who’d found Lucy at his door.
“You’re at your rehearsal dinner? I’ll take her back to your house,” Carl said, according to Griffin. “We love Carl!”
Halfway through the festive dinner for 42 by chef Josh Aronie, the power went out. “But nobody seemed to care,” said Griffin.
Saturday dawned blustery, snowy, and cold. Morgan headed to the farm early to find the plow hadn’t come. Everyone grabbed shovels to clear walkways and a space for the ceremony. Griffin received a call from violinist Becky Barca-Tinus who was snowed in. Morgan frantically called his brother, Jamie, who luckily plays bagpipes. Jamie dug out kilt and pipes for the occasion.
Stuck in a snow bank, hair stylist Lisa Dmitri arrived 40 minutes late, barely in time to twist Griffin’s hair into a bun. The bride pulled on long wool socks and cowboy boots with her wedding gown, and with photographer Diana Pozzi shooting away they drove up Island.
Arriving at the farm in drifted snow, Griffin had no idea where the ceremony would be. Her mom and dad, Marcia and Martin Hughes, lead her to the cozy farmhouse where guests sipped hot whiskies by the fireplace.
“And there was Morgan, waiting for me on the Oriental rug outside in the snow!” said Griffin. She walked out with her parents to meet him to the sound of bagpipes.
Mr. Hughes, who had obtained a license for the day, officiated at the ceremony. Griffin and Morgan exchanged the moving vows they had written. Sunshine broke out and close friend Joe Keenan sang a love ballad to send the newlyweds on their way.
“We all had visions and dreams of what we thought was going to be ‘perfect,’” said Griffin. “But it was exactly that.”
Alchemy served a sumptuous wedding feast topped off by Black Dog cake and cupcakes. There was no band but iPods played as Griffin had traditional dances with her husband and her dad.
“It felt so good, everybody was so happy. We were like a bonded team, because everybody did so much to get this thing to happen,” said Griffin.
“People are calling me saying that their lives are better, they’ll never forget this, and this is the best event they’ve ever seen.”
Long after midnight the newlyweds walked through snowy Edgartown streets to a nearly deserted Harbor View Hotel. They awoke in the morning to sun glinting off the water and blue skies for the first day of their married life.