The sunset at Lake Champlain (the closest I can get to the ocean). — Photo Courtesy of Zana Van Rooye

For the past three years, The MVTimes has asked four recent Vineyard high school graduates to share their experiences during their first year after graduation. Zana van Rooyen is a freshman at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt. This is her second dispatch.

I miss the ocean every time I look out a Vermont window and see the snow-covered mountains in the distance. I’m used to driving into Vineyard Haven from West Tisbury, passing Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road on my right, and seeing the tiny patch of the harbor for a split-second. I miss moments like that — moments that lasted a half second that I didn’t take into consideration when I thought about what I was going to miss about home.

I took the ocean for granted. Growing up, I was always taught to respect the ocean and its true power and strength. But I was never taught to remember the ocean. Coming back for Thanksgiving break, I thought I was going to break down in tears when the Greyhound bus finally got to Woods Hole and I saw the harbor as we drove past the overlook. I jumped off the bus and ran like a maniac, duffle bag and pillow in hand, over to as close to the ocean as I could get. The smell overcame me, and even though I wasn’t quite on the Island yet, I knew I was home … or, 45 minutes away. But that’s not what I’m trying to get at.

What I’m trying to say is that the ocean is a safe haven for me that I don’t have in this landlocked state of Vermont. Lake Champlain, beautiful and all, doesn’t compare to the beauty of the Atlantic. Being landlocked has brought me a lot of anxiety. I suspect that for most people, being on an island might give them a feeling of being stuck or trapped there. For me (and I assume most Vineyarders), I feel that same feeling being landlocked. Growing up on the water and sailing boats gave me a sense of freedom. Being on the water, harnessing the strength of the wind and water, makes me feel free. I don’t feel trapped on the Island because I am surrounded by my sense of freedom.

The convenience of living off-Island is something that I’m still getting used to. I still haven’t gotten over the concept of delivery and 24-hour stores, but I’m working on it. These conveniences are normalcies to most people here. When I tell my friends that there are no Walmarts, and that I get medicine at a place named Leslie’s, to them I sound like I come from a place with no electricity. People here love hearing about the way of life on the Island. When I describe it to people, when I hear the words come out of my mouth, it sometimes sounds like I am describing a magical place where nothing goes wrong. But we all know that’s just not true.

Things go wrong everywhere, and there’s no avoiding that. People argue, people get sick, people make mistakes. Humans are flawed in their nature, and that doesn’t go away based on what location they are in. I seem to have ended up in two extremely special places in my life: Martha’s Vineyard and Saint Michael’s College. The people who are “produced” from these places are unique and genuine people. Though what I have realized from living in these two places is that no matter how genuine and special people are, they cannot spend too much time together. Being from a small Island and a small campus, I have figured out a few things.

The first thing is to remember to spend time with myself. At home I would go to the ocean and reflect. On campus I go for a walk or to the practice rooms in the Arts Building and play the piano. The second thing that I try to remember is that everyone comes from different backgrounds. In college, and mostly everywhere, everyone has a different storybook behind them. Sometimes people say things they don’t mean, or something that is OK to say in their hometown but not yours. Everyone is the way they are for a reason, and you can’t change that reason.

Though I don’t have the ocean next to me anymore, I still try to keep myself centered without it. Here I am about to embark on the first finals week of my life. Moving forward, I am going to be checking in with myself and making sure my mental state is OK before all else. The ocean is far away from me now, so I guess a cup of tea and Lake Champlain will have to do until winter break. Maybe it’ll still be this warm by then, so I can take a quick dip.