Late in May each year, when the southwest breezes start to warm our waters, creating an eerie chartreuse mist over Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs — that body of water that lies just beyond the sea cliff manors of Beach Road, and before the hills that yield Lola’s and the golf course — our very own sea serpent, Vanessa, her long pine-green body curled up in a double undulation, smiling pert head at one end, pointy tail in a piquant salute at the other, appears as if out of nowhere.
If you don’t believe me, drive over to Farm Pond and look for yourself. She’s very much there.
Two women who live along the pond, on a road named, coincidentally enough, Vanessa Avenue, Mindy Kendall and her niece, Amelie Loyot, have watched over this legendary sea creature for 35 years. They’ve learned her secrets, and Vanessa has kindly allowed Ms. Loyot to join forces with artist Charlie Hoar to tell the tale in a book titled “Vanessa, the Sea Serpent of Martha’s Vineyard.”
You might think this sculpture in the middle of Farm Pond is a simple artwork sans magic, tethered upright by heavy keels, perhaps lofted by a hidden boogie board, kept in storage over the winter, and brought out by a couple of brawny men who tie the wooden critter to a rowboat, then paddle it out to a mooring where all can see it, end of story.
In fact, according to Vanessa’s human handmaidens, Ms. Kendall and Ms. Loyot, the sea serpent is as real as, well, the little mermaid of Copenhagen or Nessie of Loch Ness. You believe in enchanted creatures, do you not? Here’s a test: Let’s say you’re visiting Loch Ness in Scotland, and you’re lodged at an inn with a deck perched over the wide, mysterious lagoon. Even if you’re the world’s biggest cynic, and you’re proud of it, you don’t believe in ghosts or leprechauns or UFOs; all the same, standing on that deck, you take a few moments to look for Nessie. Don’t you? And you’re disappointed if you fail to spot her.
So now, believers and disbelievers alike, here’s the tale of the sea serpent of Farm Pond, as brought to us by Ms. Loyot in her book with these opening lines: “Believe it or not, before you turned 2, there were lots of great creatures living down in the blue.” The creatures included a gaggle of long-haired mermaids and a lone sea serpent named Vanessa who “joined in the fun” of playing hide-and-seek with them. Poor Vanessa hid herself away so cleverly, the mermaids lost sight of her. Also, “If you never met a mermaid, then you probably don’t know, that they tend to be flighty as sea creatures go.”
Vanessa has a sort of Zen approach to time, so it took her quite a few years to surface from the pond bottom floor to find nary a mermaid. But never mind mermaids with their clique-ish ways; Vanessa discovered a new species far more interesting: Humans! From her watery hideaway, she watched them riding bicycles — yeah, we’d like to see a stupid mermaid try that! — hanging out on the beach, drinking lemonade, and riding the Flying Horses. There were kids frolicking around the Ocean Park gazebo by the light of the moon, families thronging the rails of the ferry, flying kites, jumping from bridges, and all that good stuff.
The problem was, once dear little Vanessa popped her cute, bright-eyed little face alongside a boy who’d just leapt from Second Bridge, he was, understandably, shocked. Well, we all know how coming face-to-face with a sea monster can be upsetting. Vanessa, heartbroken, returned to Farm Pond. Luckily the nice woman Mindy, who lived along the bank, swam out to meet her, and to analyze the poor critter’s dilemma: “You wish to watch people while awake and asleep, but they think you’re a monster, come up from the deep.”
Mindy, a dab hand at Island magic, devised a plan to turn Vanessa into a wood sculpture each summer, so that she can watch all the silly humans to her heart’s content without giving them the heebie-jeebies. In the off-season, her wood scales return to glistening fishy tissue, and she can “play all winter long deep in the blue.”
On a recent sunny Saturday morning, I joined Ms. Loyot and three other intriguing people on the deck of one of her family’s three cottages along the pond. Ms. Loyot is an award-winning art director in the advertising business. These days she freelances in Boston to allow herself more time at home in Scituate, which itself reminds her of the home of her heart, Martha’s Vineyard. Her husband, Rob Loyot, plays saxophone and various other instruments for the Island band Entrain. As a day job, he works in IT for the New England Aquarium.
Also on deck was Dave Grunden, shellfish counselor, who some might think has a hand in rowing the wooden Vanessa out to her mooring, but he’ll deny it. His wife, ceramicist Sharry Grunden, made up the fourth human (well, I guess this reporter brought the number to five) for Vanessa to observe under her cover of woodenness. (Ms. Grunden took my mind off the sea monster for a few minutes as she recounted the story of how she survived an airplane crash in the woods just short of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. But that’s a story for another time.)
Amelie Loyot’s book about our very real sea serpent may be purchased at Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books, Secret Garden, Slight Indulgence, Soft as a Grape, the Museum Shop in the Campground, and C’est la Vie. Also log on to mvseaserpent.com. As the sea serpent’s principal caretaker these days, Ms. Loyot sends out tweets and pictures of the secretive critter on Twitter and Instagram.