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Martha's Vineyard hospital has been preparing for Ebola since August. – File photo by Michael Cummo

The World Health Organization has called the recent Ebola outbreak “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times.”

On Monday, results from a survey by National Nurses United of more than 2,100 registered nurses in 46 states reported that 85 percent of them said their hospitals have given them no specific training on dealing with the virus.

Such is not the case on Martha’s Vineyard. “We started looking into this in August, in conjunction with Partners HealthCare,” Martha’s Vineyard Hospital chief nurse executive Carol Bardwell told The Times. “We evaluated what we had for isolation facilities and protective gear. We’ve added more gear and we’ve had regular drills and information sessions for the staff, and we’ll continue to update our protocol per the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.”

Under the current hospital plan, if a person checks in showing any symptoms of Ebola, they will be asked if they have traveled to Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone. If they answer yes, they will be put into an isolation unit until a special ambulance from Mass General Hospital arrives on the Island.

Additionally, Ms. Bardwell said the hospital is bringing in a consultant from Sylvester Consultants in Hyannis on Monday to evaluate hospital housekeeping protocol. “We think it’s valuable to have a third party take a look at our procedures,” she said.

The first recorded Ebola fatality in United States occurred on October 8, when a man who’d recently returned from Liberia succumbed to the disease in a Dallas,Texas, hospital. Two attending nurses were infected with the virus, and one of them flew on a commercial flight to Ohio, unaware she had contracted the deadly disease. Both women are showing steady improvement, but the incident served as a reminder that no place is immune to a virulent virus in the jet-age.

“We hope it doesn’t happen here, but we’re doing everything we can to be prepared if it does,” Ms. Bardwell said, adding that the virus is not transmitted through the air, like the flu, but is spread only by direct exposure to an infected person’s bodily fluids.

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Ahoy! Maties for life for two Chappy Ferry captains.

Becca Hamilton LaMarche and her husband Jeff LaMarche got hitched on the Chappy Ferry. – Photos by Sarahrae Gruner

Downtown Edgartown was Wedding Central at 1 pm on Saturday afternoon. A group of nervous-looking groomsmen were clustered in front of St. Elizabeth’s Church. Crews were setting up tables under the tent at the Daniel Fisher House. Main Street was crowded with bands of perfectly turned-out couples, the ladies skittering along the bricks in high heels toward the Old Whaling Church and the Harbor View Hotel.

However, Becca Hamilton and Jeff LaMarche’s wedding last Saturday was the Island Wedding of the Year.

The Reverend Canon Robert  Edmunds administered the vow.
The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds administered the vow.

That’s saying a lot because the Island has 400 or more weddings a year and wedding mags rate Martha’s Vineyard nationally as a top-five wedding venue. Many of the nuptials are elaborate six-figure affairs starring the rich and famous.

But a true Island wedding is a different animal. For starters, one of the prospective spouses has to be an Islander. On Saturday, that would have been Becca Hamilton and Jeffrey LaMarche, both born and raised in Edgartown.

For another, the best Island weddings are planned with a sense of unexpected whimsy, a dash of practicality, and a generous dollop of community participation — a mirror of everyday life here.

Tony Peak led the wedding procession with his bagpipe.
Tony Peak led the wedding procession with his bagpipe.

Here’s why the LaMarches get the mythical though coveted Wedding of The Year designation. These two free spirits, both captains on the Chappaquiddick Ferry, got married where they work, aboard the On Time II at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown in front of God, guests, startled fishermen, a few dozen delighted tourists and passersby, and those aboard a couple of passing boats that idled in the channel for a gull’s-eye view of the proceedings.

Several hundred men, women, and children. More than you could fit in the Old Whaling Church. Most of them going crazy with cellphone cameras. At this writing, the World Wide Web from here to Peoria is likely groaning under the weight of wedding photos being uploaded. It was that special.

And the men wore kilts, left to right: Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells, Tom Sullivan, Rick Hamilton, Matt McKenzie, Sam McKenzie, and piper Tony Peak.
And the men wore kilts, left to right: Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells, Tom Sullivan, Rick Hamilton, Matt McKenzie, Sam McKenzie, and piper Tony Peak.

Another piece of the whimsy was provided by Becca’s dad, Rick Hamilton, a man dedicated to his Scots ancestry. He had appealed to all and sundry to wear kilts if they had ‘em. About a half-dozen men including Tom Sullivan and Matt McKenzie and one tyke, Sam McKenzie, came in their clan tartans.

Promptly at 2 pm, bagpiper Tony Peak (“mostly American  mongrel, with a touch of Scots”) led the wedding party, pipes skirling, aboard the On Time II to begin a 200-foot voyage to the harbor-facing front of Memorial Wharf. The wedding couple did not pilot the On Time. That was handled by ferry owner Peter Wells, himself dressed in full clan regalia.

boat2.jpgOnce the On Time II was snugged at the wharf, and after several nonplussed anglers had reeled in, the wedding party completed a stately walk to the wheelhouse where The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds, in formal cassock (black with red piping and accents), delivered the wedding instructions and administered the vows. The bride was kissed to a roar of applause, pictures were taken, then Capt. Wells sounded the horn and brought the On Time II back to port.

Mr. Peak led the wedding party away from the dock through a gathering crowd drawn by his pipes to the wedding party procession heading toward Main Street and the wedding reception at Atria restaurant.

The bride wore a full-length ivory champagne gown with small pearls at the bodice and a shimmer of delicate sequins. The gown had a short train, a good decision, considering that footing and clean decks can be tricky on ferries. The bridesmaids wore midnight blue knee-length dresses, suitable for reuse, perhaps at a Holly Ball this holiday season. The groom and groomsmen wore buff-colored suits. The wedding party completed their ensembles with fire-engine red sunglasses. Island chic, baby.

On Monday afternoon, Becca and Jeff took a few minutes to review their wedding day with The Times. “We’re kind of shy in general and we were nervous and a little embarrassed by all the people who came,” Becca said.

“I told myself that all these people came because they love us. When I got real nervous I could look at the people and see someone close to me, like my Grandma.

smiles.jpg“So many people helped us, Winnetu, Atria, Peter (Wells) and Jay (Gruner). Atria was fantastic and very generous. Benito’s (Oak Bluffs hair salon) even gave Jeff a trim and cleanup — he was looking a little Duck Dynasty a week ago. Your Market provided champagne. We are lucky people.”

The community aspect of this wedding was apparent in the manner in which people and businesses showed up for a couple of kids who worked hard to scrape together a down payment on a house and were strapped for wedding funds. For example, Jason Gruner, a Chappy resident, stood next to his gleaming Jaguar at Memorial wharf, dressed in a chauffeur cap and white gloves. Mr. Gruner, his wife, Lisa, and two-year old daughter, Ella, would drive the couple to the to the Winnetu Resort following the reception for a night in the wedding suite, courtesy of owner Mark Snider and his staff.

The Gruners had worked mightily on the event because they like the couple and because of a strong bond cemented two years ago. “Ella decided to be born in the middle of the night two years ago, long after the ferry stopped running,” Ms. Gruner explained. “We called for an emergency run and Jeff showed up to take us to the mainland.”

The couple’s offbeat wedding plan drew rave reviews from onlookers. The best testimony about an Island wedding must be pronounced by Islanders. Delia and Chris Gibson, Oak Bluffs natives, were at Memorial Wharf with their two grandkids — Alishay, 5, and Rhemel, 2 — to do some last-day Derby fishing in the Edgartown Harbor channel that often attracts bonito and false albacore.

The kids were enthralled with the bagpipes and the wedding pageantry and color. “This is great,” Ms. Gibson said. “We’re lucky to have been here today. The kids love the bagpipes and the colorful clothes and I have never seen a wedding aboard a ferry before.”

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—Photo by Alan Brigish

Renowned photographer Alan Brigish of West Tisbury and beloved storyteller Susan Klein of Oak Bluffs have teamed up for a mixed-media event, on tap this Saturday, October 26, at 3:30 at the M.V. Film Center.

To discuss what precisely this dynamic duo has wrought this time around, the MV Times met up with Brigish at his home studio. We sat in his conservatory, windows open on all three sides, as the slanting rays of autumn dappled the woods, and gusts of wind drowned out all birdsong.

Brigish has recently returned from a Buddhist retreat in California. “For the first three days I hated it,” he said about the regimen of day-long meditation. “On the third day, all I could think about was escaping into town and devouring a cheeseburger. And then it hit me. I was completely caught up in it.” The glow continued, and he plans to attend a new retreat in Barre.

Brigish, now 72, developed an interest in meditation and Buddhist philosophy in 2006 when he found himself on a photographic sojourn, first to India which was swelteringly hot and physically injurious, followed by a touch-down in Bhutan. “When I woke up in the morning, the air was cool [about 50 degrees cooler], it was fragrant, quiet, I heard cow bells in the distance, I looked out the window and saw Swiss-style chalets,” Mr. Brigish said of Bhutan. “I thought I must have died. This was Heaven. And then I learned about this country’s concept of Gross National Happiness. There was a whole lot of Buddhism going on.”

—Photo by Alan Brigish
—Photo by Alan Brigish

Brigish, born, raised, and married to Joyce in South Africa, has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. since 1964. The Brigishes started coming to the Vineyard in 1979 when their son, Sy, attended Camp Jabberwocky. Alan and Joyce fell in love with the Island. They have two other kids, Hal and Jackie, and three grandchildren. They moved here year-round from Connecticut in 2005.

The Bhutan trip inspired a new photographic hegira, this one with a book in mind. With a UNESCO guide and translator, Brigish followed in the footsteps of the Buddha from Laos to Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. His impressions and inquiries on the nature of happiness and suffering, and on the paradox of happiness achieved even in the midst of what to the western eye would appear to be appalling poverty, are captured in the 2008 photographic masterpiece, Breathing In The Buddha.

One day, as he displayed his books at the Artisans Fair in West Tisbury, a woman told Mr. Brigish crisply, “You should do a book about the Vineyard.” The woman was Ann Nelson, founder of the iconic Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven. And right on the synchronistic dot, a short time later he bumped into Susan Klein, storyteller and Oak Bluffs native. They got to talking, and Brigish mentioned Ann Nelson’s call for a new kind of photographic survey of the Island, with text that digs deeper into times past and present. Klein said in her inimitably cut-to-the-chase way, “I’ve been telling those stories for years.”

The collaboration is the incandescent 2010 release Now And Zen, still available at Island bookstores, and very likely resting on your own bookshelves.

—Photo by Alan Brigish
—Photo by Alan Brigish

Klein and Brigish went on to produce the luscious Bountiful, text and photos an homage to local farms, sponsored by the Agricultural Society. You’ve seen its striking reds-golds-and-green cover of vegetables-being-gorgeous.

The latest venture utilizes Klein’s eye rather than her written or spoken word. “Just as she’s a great editor of writing, she has the same brilliance with visual imagery,” Brigish said.

Together, Klein and Brigish poured over countless photos of flowers. “I have over 110,000 photographs in my computer,” he said cheerfully; this artist will never be caught short of material. At last they assembled a ten-minute meditation on color, form, and the eternal now.

In Breathing In The Buddha, Brigish muses, “we find safety and comfort in trying to make permanent that which is impermanent. We are addicted.” Along the lines on this reflection, this new DVD is entitled Impermanence, a vital construct of the Buddha’s teachings.

West Tisbury musician Ed Merck, also a writer (Sailing The Mystery) and a Buddhist,, provided an exquisite recorder soundtrack to the images. Mr. Merck said, “my challenge was how to portray that musically. I found, of all my recorders, the bass caught the mood irresistibly.”

Brigish explained that the seamless shifting of photographs involved two seconds of stasis with nine seconds transition. The effect is mesmerizing, one set of flowers morphing into another before the brain has time to register a pattern or the eye has time to blink.

—Photo by Alan Brigish
—Photo by Alan Brigish

The event on Sunday will unpack itself in five parts: cocktails in the lobby and an exhibition of Alan Brigish photographs. Also in the lobby, an overhead screen will play the Brigish/Klein DVD Vineyard Zen, once silent, now accompanied by Falmouth pianist Gary Girouard.

Once guests are seated in the theater, Susan Klein will provide a five-minute narrative about taking time and stopping time to kick off the debut of the ten-minute Impermanence on the silver screen, with Merck’s spellbinding music emanating from Dolby speakers. The final treat will be a pre-screening of a documentary, Monk With A Camera about New York photographer Nicky Vreeland, who turned his back on the glittery haute monde to become an ordained monk in South Asia, only to be tapped by the Dalai Lama to once again strap on his camera and photograph surrounding monasteries.

The official release will take place in New York in November so, as often happens on the Vineyard, we’ll be given a first look at something artsy, crafty, boho, or anyhoo. We’d be fools to miss this.

For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.

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The public fishing pier in Oak Bluffs is a popular destination that is enjoyed by fishermen and non-fishermen alike. —File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Acting on a request from the state Division of Marine Fisheries, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) last month approved modifications to the Oak Bluffs public fishing pier that will include bait-cutting surfaces on the railing and a hand-operated water pump. But the MVC scaled back a request to place solar powered lights along the length of the pier, which has become a popular stroll.

The MVC review sparked some sharp exchanges among the commissioners. Several commission members disagreed on whether the improvements were significant enough to require a public hearing, and whether the addition of lights is necessary.

Funded and built by the state’s Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA), the pier is the largest public saltwater pier in the state. The MVC approved the pier as a development of regional impact over the objections of abutters on November 18, 2010. A grand opening attended by town and state officials was held on June 19, 2014.

In a recap of the project at the MVC’s September 18 meeting, staff coastal planner Jo-Ann Taylor reminded the commissioners that the DRI decision included two conditions relevant to the proposed modifications: that the pier would not be lighted, and that it would not be equipped with amenities such as running water and electricity, according to a televised recording of the meeting.

Public hearing or not?

The MVC’s first battle line was over the need for a public hearing.

“The land use planning committee [LUPC] did recommend that because the subject of lights on the pier was a concern during the original approval, and it seemed if we were going to change something of concern where we had written ‘there shall be none,’ there should be a public hearing,” LUPC chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury said.

West Tisbury member Erik Hammarlund and Chilmark member Doug Sederholm agreed. “I think it’s important we give the fishing community the opportunity to comment, and the neighbors,” Mr. Sederholm said.

“I completely disagree,” Tisbury member Josh Goldstein said. “I think this is a safety issue. These are tiny lights.

“Doesn’t this commission have better things to do? This is an outrageous waste of our time, and this is why people think the commission is such a waste.”

Chilmark member Joan Malkin said that although she understood Mr. Goldstein’s position, she thought a hearing was needed and it would be helpful for the commissioners and public to see a couple of sample solar lights installed at the pier in advance.

“I would like to expedite it, but it seems ridiculous but necessary to go through the process,” Ms. Malkin said.

Ross Kessler, Public Access Coordinator for the Division of Marine Fisheries, had installed some sample solar lights on a post in the MVC’s driveway before the meeting. On a suggestion by Kathy Newman of Aquinnah, commissioners went outside to look at the lights. On their return, MVC chairman Fred Hancock called for a vote on a motion that the proposed modifications would require a public hearing. It was defeated 7 to 6.

Lights for safety — or not?

After the public hearing vote, Mr. Hancock said the next question was whether the commissioners wanted to see some sample lights installed on the pier before making a decision.

Mr. Kessler suggested the downward-facing lights be placed low on the inside of the pier posts to illuminate the walkway, and spaced about 20 feet apart, with five along the end of the “L.” He said that DMF would like to take the lights down on November 30 and reinstall them on April 1, to avoid the wear and tear of winter weather.

Mr. Goldstein made a motion to approve the pier modifications as submitted by the applicant. Mr. Hammarlund took the lead when Mr. Hancock asked if there was further discussion.

“I think that putting lights on is ridiculous,” said Mr. Hammarlund, who practices law in Vineyard Haven. “Yes, of course, it is safer — well, it is and it isn’t — lights, when you make things safer, it tempts people to use them.

“You’re more likely to go out there on a slippery night if there are lights than you would if it’s dark,” he added, noting they were also “ugly.”

Ms. Newman said she agreed with Ms. Malkin and would like Mr. Kessler to install a few lights on the pier first to see what it would look like.

“We’re going to ask the state to put them up, and then if we say no, they’ll have to pay to take them down?” Mr. Goldstein questioned.

“We’d be very willing to put them up at the end in the L, so where people are fishing at night there would be some illumination to tie a knot or unhook a fish,” Mr. Kessler said.

“Can I ask how did the need for lights come up; is there a safety issue?” Ms. Newman continued.

“Jesus, yes,” commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes of Tisbury exclaimed.

“How many people have been hurt on the dock?” Mr. Hammarlund asked.

“We had a visit over here this spring before the ribbon-cutting, and some of our administrators came,” Mr. Kessler explained. “One of first things our director brought up was, why aren’t there any lights on the pier? We were a major funder to the pier, but we were not the engineers and didn’t deal with any of the permitting.”

Differences of opinion among fishermen about the need for lighting at the pier also came up.

“It may appear to be a no-brainer to put lights on for safety. However, I was approached by two different members of the fishing community in the past week, both of whom thought it was absurd to put lights out there,” Mr. Sederholm said. Mr. Hancock asked if they said why.

“For one thing, they said fishermen always have their own lights; that was their main reason,” Mr. Sederholm said, adding, “But of course there are other people who would use it, too.”

“Doug found a couple of fishermen who don’t like lights; I can tell you myself as a fishermen in the Derby, I wouldn’t mind having lights there,” Edgartown commissioner Jim Joyce said. “You’ll find fishermen on either side.”

Expressing concern that the commission would reach a stalemate, Ms. Malkin asked Mr. Kessler, “If the decision was to be only with lights on the L, would that make you happy or not?”

“Right now, yes,” Mr. Kessler said.

Ms. Malkin asked to amend Mr. Goldstein’s motion to approve the pump, bait stations, and lighting at the end of the L, from April 1 to Nov. 30. Mr. Goldstein agreed, “with reluctance.”

In a vote taken by roll call, nine commissioners voted yes. Mr. Hammarlund and Mr. Hancock voted no. Christina Brown of Edgartown, Mr. Sederholm, and Ms. Sibley abstained.

“God, that was painful,” Ms. Malkin exclaimed once the issue had been resolved.

For Joe Lopez, an unexpected trip to Martha’s Vineyard was the setting for an extraordinary reunion with a man he had never met.

Retired Army First Sergeant Jon Hill, recipient of the Silver Star, with a pair of blues. – Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby ended last week in a frenzy of activity that would have made it easy to overlook a small group of Island visitors, veterans of combat and in several cases still recovering from grievous wounds suffered in Afghanistan, who from Sunday to Thursday enjoyed fishing and the hospitality extended to them by the Nixon family of Chilmark, and a group of dedicated Island volunteers.

Five years ago on October 3, 2009, Army First Sergeant Jonathan Hill woke up to the sound of gunfire and rocket explosions when up to 400 Taliban attacked 54 U.S. soldiers based in Combat Outpost (COP) Keating set at the bottom of three steep mountains just 14 miles from the Pakistan border. Retired after 21 years in service to his country, last week Jon’s only concern was how to improve his luck after being outfished by retired Marine Joe Roberts, who despite falling over in his wheelchair at least once, kept catching all the fish as guests of veteran Island charter captain Scott McDowell, one of a group of Menemsha captains who donated their time and boats in a community-based effort  known as the the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge.

Now in its sixth year, the fishing respite began when Jack Nixon, then 7, saw a newspaper photo essay about the challenges facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and told his dad, Bob Nixon, a documentary filmmaker, that he wished some veterans could fish the Derby.

Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, described COP Keating, the men and their battle in his bestselling book,“The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” published by Little, Brown and Company. The daylong battle left eight American soldiers dead and 22 more wounded, making it one of the deadliest military fights in decades.

Mr. Tapper and his wife are friends of Bob and Sarah Nixon, owners of the Beach Plum Inn, Menemsha Inn, and Home Port restaurant. Last spring, Ms. Nixon called Mr. Tapper to see who among the group of men he had chronicled might like to visit the Island and participate in the Saltwater Challenge. It was the start of a new chapter that placed COP Keating at the nucleus of the event.

COP Keating, which was slated to be closed, came under attack from all sides just before 6 am. The attackers quickly overran the base and set fires that burned down most of the barracks. Within the first hour, the defenders had “collapsed their perimeter” to the immediate area around the command post, which became “their final fighting position.”

At the Beach Plum Inn during a break in the fishing, golfing, and eating schedule, Jon Hill spoke about what it meant to serve his country, the Army, the men he served with, and his work as a member of the board of directors of the Defenders of Freedom, a group that assists active and retired military members.

Captain Rahul Harpalani (left) and Jonathan Hill on the patio of the Beach Plum Inn. – Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Captain Rahul Harpalani (left) and Jonathan Hill on the patio of the Beach Plum Inn. – Photo by Nelson Sigelman

“I’ll tell you, those were some of the best men that the United States Army ever had in one spot, in one fight and I couldn’t be prouder of the guys I served with,” Sergeant Hill said. “The men there fought valiantly, they fought hard and they did some phenomenal things under the worst circumstances.”

Medically retired, Jon, 42, lives in Louisiana with his wife and two children, a 13-year-old girl and a boy, 17. He said what he misses most about the Army is being with young soldiers, watching them grow, mentoring them, “and putting them on a good path to success.”

Jake Tapper called and told him about the Vineyard trip. “I was not going to say no,” he said. “It’s a once in a lifetime chance for folks like me.”

There was one regret. “I really wished I could bring my family,” he said. “There are a lot of spouses and children that go through a lot of pain while their loved ones are deployed and I think they should get recognized a little more than they do.”

Jon likes to fish and hunt. But most of his time is spent working on behalf of Defenders of Freedom. “The best therapy for me is helping other vets move forward,” he said.

The organization offers a menu of services to help veterans who are making the transition from military to civilian life get back on their feet. “Being in military is like being institutionalized, you get so used to doing things so differently from the civilian world,” he said.

Across the dining room, West Point graduate Captain Rahul Harpalani was having a grand time with his fellow fishermen. Next year he will leave the military and enter Columbia Business School.

Sergeant Hill and Capt. Harpalani met at COP Keating. One month later, on May 15, 2010, Lieutenant Harpalani lost his leg to an IED (improvised explosive device).

“What makes me so proud to know him and say I would follow a guy like that into hell,” Jon said, “is he is a torch-bearing leader. He is an example of the ethos of, I will never quit. He has moved forward, he has rehabilitated himself, and now he is a captain in the Army and when he was injured he was a lieutenant. He is a testament to the fact that you can continue to move forward and continue to do great things and I have a lot of respect for that. He is setting a huge example.”

Jon said he was asleep when the attack occurred. He and the other members of his platoon had no time to don body armor. “It was just chaos outside,” he said. His first concern was getting men and ammo to guard positions.

What Jon never mentioned as we spoke was the Silver Star he received “for exceptional valor in action against an armed enemy.”

The citation states that Sergeant First Class Hill “led and directed his platoon while exposing himself to a heavy barrage of enemy fire. With no regard for his own personal safety, Sergeant First Class Hill organized multiple efforts to recover fallen soldiers under effective, accurate fire.”

The full citation only hints at the drama of the battle and the selfless nature of ordinary men caught in an extraordinary situation.

That day was far from his mind last Tuesday. “I’ve had the best two days I’ve had in a long time, catching fish or not,” Jon Hill told me.

Before he would leave the Vineyard, Jon would also would make a difference in the life of one soldier still grappling with the loss of a brother in arms and create another link in a story now intertwined with the Derby and the Vineyard.

Joseneth (Joe) Lopez, Army specialist 1st Infantry Division, was stationed at COP Keating. Three months prior to the battle, and after 12 months of intermittent fire, Joe’s unit was transferred out. Specialist Nathan Nash, a senior member of the platoon, remained behind a few weeks to help introduce the new men to the surrounding area. The newcomers included Sergeant Hill, who by coincidence had been Nathan’s drill sergeant in basic training.

Army veteran Joe Lopez holds a bluefish he caught in the Saltwater challenge. – Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop
Army veteran Joe Lopez holds a bluefish he caught in the Saltwater challenge. – Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

One of the men newly assigned to COP Keating was Stephen Mace, Joe’s bunk mate and best friend throughout basic training. The two men reconnected briefly at COP Keating. Months later Joe learned his friend was among the battle dead.

Joe, 25, left the military and moved to Orlando to attend school, but the memory of his best friend’s death in a place he had left continued to haunt him. Last fall, Nathan Nash was a member of the group of soldiers that visited the Vineyard. Nathan Nash encouraged Joe to make the Vineyard trip and speak to Jon Hill.

Last week, with Menemsha as a backdrop the two men met for the first time. “We sat down and we spoke and I told him about Mace and he told me he was his platoon sergeant and he told me how he passed away and I finally got closure out of it due to this magical trip,” Joe told me in a phone call Tuesday. “We were able to hug it out and I felt like for a second that Mace was next to me and at that point it was beautiful.”

blackfoot troop
Joe Lopez was a member of Blackfoot Troop 6-4 Cav (Dirty) Third platoon, shown here at COP Keating. – Photo courtesy of Joe Lopez

They spoke about Mace and how great a person he was and how he lives through them. Joe said that he had not been able to stop mourning his lost friends. The Vineyard embrace, the beauty of the environment, “no sense of rush or regular life,” helped soothe his pain.

“A lot of questions were put to rest because of First Sergeant Hill and the way he was able to close those wounds,” Joe said. “It’s crazy. We don’t know each other from nowhere, but somehow the stars align and we all got to talk about it.” On Martha’s Vineyard.

This is my last weekly fishing column of the season. Tight lines.

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A small group gathered at an informal meeting of the Martha's Vineyard Fishermen's Preservation Trust at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury Tuesday. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Leaders of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (MVFPT) invited Island fishermen to a public meeting Tuesday night as part of a renewed effort to clear the air about the purpose of the organization and to listen to all voices while moving forward with plans to build an organization that can support the Vineyard fishing industry.

The effort to cast a wide net and attract fishermen from across the Island fell short Tuesday evening at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. Only a small group of mostly up-Island fisherman attended what newly elected president John Keene of Chilmark described as a “clear the air” session. While disappointed in the turnout of just 11 people with ties to the fishing industry, Mr. Keene said he was encouraged that the Trust is moving in the right direction, after a period of inactivity.

Mr. Keene said there is no certainty the organization will succeed. “But I feel there’s a chance,” he said. “But it would have to be with everyone supporting it.”

Hard feelings are anchored in a lawsuit that the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, the precursor to the MVFPT, filed to stop Cape Wind’s project on Horseshoe Shoals, prime fishing grounds for Island fishermen. In 2012, that group agreed to settle the lawsuit, for an amount later revealed to by $1.25 million, and promised to support the project, while working with Cape Wind to resolve issues that affect fishing.

Hammered out in secret, the agreement was roundly criticized by many local fishermen. In 2010, the MVFPT, an entirely separate legal entity, was formed to administer the proceeds from that settlement.

The group has not received any funds. The agreement called for a payment of $250,000 once Cape Wind completes its financing, and a $1 million payment when construction is complete, according to several sources familiar with the agreement.

A mistake

Mr. Keene made the lawsuit settlement the first item for discussion at Tuesday’s informal meeting.

“How could they sign off on that without the people who were involved even knowing about it,” asked Steve Larsen, a lobster fisherman from Menemsha. “If we don’t stick together, why be in a group? You may wonder why a lot more people aren’t here. They probably don’t trust us.”

Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and the founding president of the two fishermen’s organizations, said the settlement was a mistake.

“I take responsibility for not communicating enough of what happened with Cape Wind,” he said. “It was kind of a swirling thing happening. We had lawyers calling every day asking us if we were going to send more money. They suggested to try to see if they could get a settlement. That was a mistake.”

Fishermen at the meeting said that they hope Cape Wind does not get built, that they do not expect to see any of the settlement money, and that they are not making any future plans based on the settlement.

Fishing issues

After discussing the fallout from the Cape Wind settlement, Mr. Keene steered the discussion to the challenges facing local fishermen and how the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust might help.

Several fishermen expressed concerns about a new Ocean Management Plan released recently by state officials. It identified several areas near Martha’s Vineyard which might be used as pilot projects to mine sand for beach renourishment.

“Smaller boat fishing, more precisely Island smaller boat fishing, is under fire not just from sand mining projects, not just from losing access and quotas,” said MVFPT board member Wesley Brighton, a conch fisherman from Chilmark. “The entire front, walls are closing in. The reason I’m putting my time into this is because we want to protect our Island small boat fishery.”

The Trust is also exploring ways to facilitate financing for upgrading fishing equipment, and to secure fishing permits, among other issues.

“There are situations that I see an opportunity to get a permit, but financing just isn’t available,” Mr. Brighton said. “We don’t want to become a bank, but if we partner with a bank to help secure the loan, that’s more of a public relationship. Providing the opportunity is most important part.”

The group also discussed ways to set qualifications for financial help from MVFPT, including the possibility of setting up a separate panel to evaluate applications, in order to avoid any appearance of favoritism.

Reorganization

After a long period of dormancy, members of the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust began meeting regularly last spring. Board members said they have begun to correct some organizational issues, including the loss of their tax-exempt status.

As Mr. Doty steps away from a lead role in the group, the board is expanding to include a more diverse group. A new addition is David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard, a contemporary dance and performance center. Mr. Keene said that Mr. White will bring experience in fundraising and nonprofit administration to the group.

The board also includes fisherman Matthew Mayhew of Chilmark, Katherine Carroll of Chilmark, and Shelley Edmundson of Vineyard Haven, a fisheries scientist.

Mr. Keene asked Tuesday’s attendees to generate some momentum for a follow-up meeting, planned for Tuesday, December 16, at 5 pm. The location is yet to be determined.

“If you guys think it’s worthwhile coming, it would be great to spread the word,” Mr. Keene said. “If everyone could be ambassadors to spread the word, that it’s kind of a new energy, we’ll give it our best shot.”

Mr. Keene said he hopes to invite members of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance to the next meeting. The Cape group has advocated successfully on fisheries issues and is advising the MVFPT.

The original version of this online article was updated to reflect that Katherine Carroll also serves on the board of the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust.

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Students at West Tisbury School have an additional 16 classmates this year, based on an enrollment census taken October 1 in Martha's Vineyard Public Schools. — File photo by Michael Cummo

Enrollment is up by 47 students this year in Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS), based on a census of students physically present in school buildings on October 1. That brings the total to 2,122 attending town elementary schools and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), compared to 2,075 in 2013.

At the All-Island School Committee’s meeting last week, school superintendent James Weiss said the slight increase tracks with enrollment projections provided as a membership service to MVPS by the New England School Development Council.

Elementary school enrollment increased by 43 students. Oak Bluffs School gained 18 students, West Tisbury School 16, Tisbury School 8, and Edgartown School 2. Chilmark School has one less student this year.

The regional high school gained four students. This year’s sophomore class is the largest, with 183 students, and the senior class the smallest, with 157 students. Boys continue to outnumber the girls. The total enrollment includes 354 boys and 332 girls, compared to 356 boys and 326 girls last year.

In comparing high school enrollments by town, Oak Bluffs shows the biggest increase since last year, with 11 more students. Aquinnah has 5 additional high school students and West Tisbury 1. Chilmark has 11 fewer high school students and Edgartown 2. Tisbury remains the same as last year.

The enrollment census is a state requirement, and the numbers are used in calculations for funding and to determine town assessments.

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Josh Aronie, chef, framed by the door of The Food Truck in front of the Chilmark Store. Josh will operate his truck again this winter. — File photo By Kaylea Moore

Chilmark selectmen focused on shellfish Tuesday night. Selectmen agreed to establish four new shellfish grants in Menemsha Pond which would increase the number of available grants from six to ten.

“In terms of producing shellfish,” selectman Warren Doty said, “it seems to me that the 12 grants in Edgartown are producing something like 3 million oysters a year and if they are selling at between 50 and 60 cents a piece, that means a million-and-a-half dollars are being generated out of that project — and maybe more. Here in Menemsha if we pushed it a little, we could be producing a million oysters a year out of our aquaculture project.”

Selectmen also agreed to open the recreational oyster season for Tisbury Great Pond on November 1. The commercial bay scallop season will open Nov. 3 for Nashaquitsa Pond and a portion of Menemsha Pond. The limit is two level boxes per day, Monday through Friday. The remainder of Menemsha Pond will open for commercial scalloping on Dec. 1.

Shellfish Constable Isaiah Scheffer told The Times the newly designated grant area is basically unfishable. “The bottom has a lot of sedimentation and it is pretty deep water. It really has no commercial or recreational value. It’s a water usage issue really,” he said. “If someone holds a grant in that area you really can’t have someone sailing through. This is the reason selectmen wanted it to be on the eastern side so that there are no conflicts with other pond usage, which really makes a lot of sense.”

In other news, selectmen learned that the town has received 14 applications for the four proposed lots in the Nab’s Corner affordable housing development. Notification letters of eligibility will be sent out November 7. The lottery is scheduled for December 5.

Selectmen also approved Josh Aronie’s permit to operate a food truck from November 3 to May 2 in either the Home Port or Chilmark Store parking lots; approved a preliminary screening committee’s selection of 14 police patrolman applications; and approved an application to the state Department of Transportation to reduce the Beetlebung Corner area speed limit from 25 to 20 mph from the police station to the bank.

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Superintendent of Schools James Weiss. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent James Weiss presented a draft fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget for his office and shared service programs, which includes special education, at the All-Island School Committee’s (AISC) meeting last week.

Mr. Weiss said his proposed $5.8 million budget includes only items that are truly required, for an overall increase of $456,256, or 8.49 percent over FY15. It includes no new services but does expand mandated special education programs. The proposed FY16 budget also includes funds for maintenance at the superintendent’s office building and to expand English language instruction for children Island-wide in response to increasing demand.

Mr. Weiss also presented another proposal for comparison purposes that included all of the “wants” in program and personnel additions suggested to him. A new cafeteria/food service manager and facilities manager were among them.

Unfortunately, Mr. Weiss said, all of those new items and program changes, as well as contractually obligated increases in salaries and benefits, would increase the budget by $755,000, or 14.5 percent over FY15.

“I’ve heard from town folk, school committee members, and principals about concerns about money and concerns about needs,” Mr. Weiss said. “I tried to make choices based on input I’ve received from all of the stakeholders in this room.”

The AISC will take up the superintendent’s budget discussion again at 7 pm on November 20 in the regional high school’s library conference room.

One man steps close to the edge, as Iceland blows off steam.

This is not up-Island, but for a story about Iceland in our Off the Rock section. The late noon sun turns the Holuhraun volcano plume an eerie yellow.

Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic that has captivated me since my first visit in 1967.  This is a remote place of pollution-free skies, rugged, natural beauty,  green valleys, unobstructed sea and landscapes, glaciers, geysers, and volcanoes. It is known to many as the land of ice and fire.

The Jokulsa riverbed with encroaching lava flow in the distance.
The Jokulsa riverbed with encroaching lava flow in the distance.

This past September my wife, Jane, and I were visiting with family residing in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. We would all be together for my 71st birthday.

Family members have often found it challenging to find ways to celebrate my birthday, but on this occasion my daughter, Maria and her husband, Brynjar Fridriksson, succeeded thousand-fold. Brynjar had been in touch with the Icelandic authorities monitoring and controlling access to Iceland’s current volcanic eruption. He had applied for a permit for a foreign photographer (me) to photograph the Holuhraun eruption located 165 miles northeast of Reykjavik and north of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull.

Brynjar and I would be travelling with a fellow named Kjartan Blöndal. The plan devised by Kjartan, himself an accomplished photographer, was to arrive in close proximity to the eruption in time to capture the “sweet light” of pre-dawn, sunrise and early morning. He figured we would photograph until about 10 am then leave the site and drive to a safe location some 15 miles away to set up camp. We would catch about five hours of sleep and head back out to the volcano to shoot in late afternoon, continuing to photograph until about 9 pm, then make the drive back to Reykjavik.

My companions Brynjar and Kjartan at lava's edge with gas masks due to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas.
My companions Brynjar and Kjartan at lava’s edge with gas masks due to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas.

At 7:00 pm, Wednesday, September 10, with all the required equipment, including gas masks, we left Reykjavik for what would be a 10-hour drive to the Holuhraun eruption.  Kjartan, an expert highly seasoned “4-wheeler,” did all the driving in his specially equipped SUV,  including six hours on paved and maintained dirt roads plus four hours across ancient lava fields, rivers and unmarked stretches of arctic desert. When we left Reykjavik  the weather was overcast and drizzling. Driving northeast, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped below 32 degrees, with clearing skies. With no light pollution, the Milky Way could be seen in all its splendor, accompanied by moonlight and faint waves of the Northern Lights. The only other source of light we could detect was the orange glow on the horizon. With nearly four hours of driving remaining, what we were seeing was the glow of the Holuhraun eruption. We stopped and turned off all lights to take in nature’s gift. The hardy Icelanders and I were deeply moved by these  magical lights piercing the darkness.

A night photo of Holuhraun's most active lava fountain.
A night photo of Holuhraun’s most active lava fountain.

The off road night drive was dangerous and should not be attempted without a properly equipped SUV or an expert driver like Kjartan. About a mile from the edge of the lava flow we stopped the vehicle. None of us were prepared for what lay before us:  Vivid fountains of lava pouring from a fissure that extended for miles, and a distinctive volcanic crater spewing huge chunks of magma every 20 seconds or so. We were about a mile from the eruption but just a few yards from the lava’s edge. There  also was a massive plume composed of steam, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide gas reaching upwards of 30,000 feet. It was difficult to comprehend what we were witnessing. The fact that this scene did not seem real may have diluted whatever fears I anticipated experiencing in the presence of such a violent event.

Anthony Rabasca.
Anthony Rabasca.

The timing of our arrival on site could not have been better. The predawn light enhanced the enormous gaseous plume, creating yellows and oranges spread across blue sky. The effect of morning, afternoon and evening light was equally dramatic. Tornadic stacks of steam rising from the confluence of the lava and the glacial river, Jokulsa a Fjollum, created an eerie, almost unworldly scene. The lingering scent of sulfur dioxide gas (rotten eggs), the cold wind, the backdrop of glaciers, the brilliant red and orange showers of lava, the cracking, crunching sound of the cooled crust being pushed by subsurface lava, all were punctuated by the distant rumbles of explosions. When the crust cracked we felt a blast of heat from the exposed molten lava. At times the earth trembled beneath our feet. To be in the presence of such violent forces of nature is to be stripped of one’s ego and acknowledge that we mortals are mere grains of sand. In all my travels I cannot recall an experience or a place that generated such profoundly humbling emotions.

Anthony Rabasca is the father of MVTimes graphic designer Kristofer Rabasca.
Anthony Rabasca is the father of MVTimes graphic designer Kristofer Rabasca.

During the long drive back to Reykjavik we received a number of radio calls from the authorities wanting to know our position and whether or not we had left the forbidden area. We also heard of an unauthorized group of French tourists being rescued and fined when their vehicle got stuck in the middle of a river. The calls were a reminder of how dangerous this area is and of how fortunate we were to have gained entry. Very few foreigners have visited this area from the ground and the authorities have shown no signs of relaxing those restrictions. However, there are opportunities for viewing the eruption via helicopter and fixed

fixed wing flights that one can book out of Reykjavik.

Facts

– Since August 14 there have been nearly 25,000 3.0 or stronger magnitude earthquakes recorded in this area.

– Lava from the eruption has now covered over 30 square miles.

– Holuhraun is a separate and distinct volcanic activity than that at Bardarbunga.

– For current scientific information about the eruptions: en.vedur.is.

-See a map of Iceland, with the location of the volcano at:  www.vegagerdin.is .

Getting there: IcelandAir.com is the only carrier flying directly from Boston. Upside: it’s only about four hours, and you can often get good deals for Iceland layovers (including hotels and food) while on your way to European destinations.

Hotel Deals: tripadvisor.com/SmartDeals

Favorite restaurants: grillmarkadurinn.is/

fiskmarkadurinn.is/english/index.php

fiskfelagid.is/

laekjarbrekka.is/

tripadvisor.com/Restaurants

Anthony Rabasca is the father of MVTimes graphic designer Kristofer Rabasca. See more of his photographs at Anthonyseye.com.