At Large

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In the mid-1970s, when the ground rules for implementing the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s enabling legislation were being written, a general goal was to identify and devise protective protocols for fragile landscapes, for delicate and delightful environmental features, and for open space, which was under assault. A companion objective was the protection from regional regulatory intrusion into town centers. Since those hallowed, ingenuous moments, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has spread itself, with the witless, complacent connivance of Island voters into downtown environs, most of them well protected by zoning rules and vigilant planning boards.

The most recent version of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) developments of regional impact checklist sparked some wan sense of relief. Practical people — town officials, business owners, contractors, and others — have recognized the spreading intrusion of the commission’s regulatory appetite and attempted to correct the regional agency’s course.

This question of which developments the MVC should play a role in regulating and which should be reserved to the towns is a legacy of what was the very genius of the 1973-1974 effort that led to the creation of the Vineyard’s super-zoning planning and regulatory authority.

Islanders spurned Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s 1972 Nantucket Sound Islands Trust legislation because of its top-down, federal government approach. Islanders saw it correctly as a clumsy effort to transform the Vineyard into a kind of national park that would, if the legislation passed, hold the Island in suspension, unchanging and monochromatic forever. It was a national, indiscriminate bludgeon.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s enabling legislation, envisioned as a prophylactic against the Kennedy Bill, was to be a locally inspired and locally managed effort to add protective authority to overwhelmed town government regulators. Local, to the authors of that legislation, meant the towns, in all their individual natures and aspirations. It was not a state-level corollary to the federal effort, and homogenizing the six Island towns as they grew and changed was not a goal of Governor Francis Sargent’s effort. But, in practice the self-referential nature of regulatory regimes and the instinct for reinforcing and expanding its authority has led the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to do what Governor Sargent attempted to avoid by checkmating the Islands Trust Bill.

The first slate of elected Martha’s Vineyard Commission members in 1974 — this writer was one of them — were determined to tailor development of regional impact and districts of critical planning concern rules to the inclinations of the six communities, each one having become, over generations, an aggregation of like-minded souls, different in every case from its neighbors in other towns.

And, that early foundational effort, derived from the spirit that prevailed in the development of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission itself, also attempted to reserve for the towns the use of the MVC to help but never to trample or intrude upon the management of their individual lives.

That spirit has been eroded over time, and today the differentiation among Island towns is threatened with extinction, as the MVC inflicts itself on even the most unarguably local issues, such as the permitting of a Main Street pizza parlor in a business area.

Or, recall the history of the Girl Scout Camp expansion off Middle Road in Chilmark. There, the scouts’ expansion plans fell within all the town zoning and building rules. There was no possible argument that the contemplated changes had regional impact. But, harrying neighbors pressed the town selectmen to make a referral to the MVC. Their defense of their action was to say that the referral was a way to get the Girl Scout plans aired in a public hearing, because the efforts by critics in lawful municipal forums had not achieved the critics’ aims. In the Girl Scout Camp matter, the MVC had a finger hold on the project, because development permits from Chilmark were needed for the project to proceed.

Which brings us to the bowling alley proposal for Oak Bluffs. It is a development of a sort that can be and was overseen by the town planning board and the rules in place. Or, if a more discriminating set of rules that recognized the potential for distress when an established commercial district abuts an established residential area, the planning board might have asked voters for carefully targeted fresh tools. For example, planners could have amended the commercial district so that developments of certain types, while specifically allowed by the existing bylaw in all parts of the district, would require stricter scrutiny or be disallowed altogether within some specified distance from the commercial/residential boundary line. The town has access to tools to deal with bowling alleys in commercial neighborhoods adjacent to residential neighborhoods. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to recognize the town’s right to control such decisions on its own.

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Updated at 6:30 pm, February 6, 2014

Perhaps the window has closed for so-called medicinal marijuana for Martha’s Vineyard. News this week that pot shops, fronted as medical dispensaries, have been approved for many counties in Massachusetts, but not for Dukes County, spares Islanders the need to participate in the hoax — for now, although perhaps not forever.

That there is a powerful interest in easier and legal access to marijuana on Martha’s Vineyard is unarguable, which is not the same as saying that Islanders favor the unrestricted use of pot and its derivatives, no matter how the license is disguised.

Statewide, voters, including Islanders in especially enthusiastic numbers, have agreed to allow medicinal marijuana sales from as many as 35 outlets statewide. Voters nationally have moved toward broadly legalizing marijuana use. The trend is clear, but the implications are not. Three generally accepted views are that marijuana can ease suffering in some gravely ill persons; that the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries and the creeping relaxation of pot laws across the country will lead to wider use of the drugs; and that this wider use will include increasing use by young people and especially teenagers. The latter effect is already making itself felt. The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force reported, in its 2012 survey of risky behaviors among teenagers, that as alcohol consumption among teens has declined steadily since 2007, marijuana use has increased. Thirty-nine percent of the Task Force’s survey respondents in 2012, 10 percent higher than in the 2007 survey, have used marijuana. Marijuana use by Vineyard young people is markedly higher than is the case statewide or nationally. And, now that President Barack Obama has spoken encouragingly of the innocent effects of marijuana use, we may expect a further increase in teenage pot use ahead.

Islanders will have to consider what to think about the future of life on Martha’s Vineyard as the coincidence of this data and these trends is realized.

Nevertheless, if parents and the Vineyard community at large are doubtful about the wisdom of young people drinking alcohol, using prescription drugs, and smoking marijuana, the Youth Task Force numbers, even when they reveal declines in these practices, as is the case with alcohol use, they cannot be genuinely comforted by the news. Combined with a state and national relaxation in attitudes toward marijuana use, the trend lines point to trouble ahead.

If often helps, when one is determined to make a bad decision, to gild the pig. Thus, the government’s eagerness to embrace the income potential of legal gambling veils the harm done by gambling to the less well off and the elderly. And, the avidity with which lawmakers move to align themselves with powerful trends and with the potential for tax and fee income boosts to government coffers leads them to mask pot use by calling it medicinal.

As Dr. Henry Nieder wrote in an essay [ Essay: Medicinal marijuana, mostly a fiction, November 14, 2013], “Prescribing medications is complicated. To do it as safely as possible, doctors must know effective doses and duration of effect so that they can determine the correct initial dose and frequency of use with the original prescription and then can adjust in a logical fashion if the dose requires adjustment. Prescribed marijuana has no reliable dosage. In states with legal medical marijuana, patients are generally advised to adjust the amount of marijuana they purchase to obtain the desired result and to repeat the dose as needed. That is no different than buying marijuana on the street and being told to stop smoking when you feel the way that you want to feel.”

None of these protocols holds for medicinal marijuana dispensing, and thus, so-called medicinal marijuana applies lipstick to the porker. The trend rolls along. We shall see what the result will be, whether the pot culture will produce in the young a determined and disciplined population of young learners, eager to work hard, ambitious to succeed, trained to think critically, sensitive in human interaction, and ever mindful of what is important and watchful for what is fruitlessly diverting.

The word guild, referring to gussied up pigs, was misused in this column. The commenter who styles himself “oligarch” brought the error to my attention. The word I intended was gild. I have corrected the error, and I thank oligarch for his careful attention. D.A.C.

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The politicians who drafted the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s enabling legislation in 1974 tried to strike a delicate balance. They wanted to empower the commission to push out the town-by-town boundaries of limited zoning and subdivision regulation, but they also wanted the commission’s jurisdiction to function as a limited grant of authority from the towns and town voters. The target then was the large, multiplying development of housing subdivisions, whose buildout and occupancy would ultimately have significant and often deleterious effects on the abilities of towns and the Island as a whole to meet the demands of growth.

Despite the wholesome results of the MVC’s establishment in the overheated 1970s and 1980s, it is reasonable to wonder if a revision of the enabling legislation, undertaken today, would approach 21st century problems the way the law in place today does. For example, among other failings of the original legislation, the unwitting grant of discretion to Martha’s Vineyard Commissioners reviewing certain sorts of development projects appears — or at least their self-indulgent interpretation of the scope of that grant does — to untether the commission members from common sense and from all sense of regulatory modesty. That’s why the MVC consideration of the Stop & Shop expansion is entering the seventh round of public hearing consideration. Because the commissioners believe they can follow whatever whimsical notion comes into their heads, and because they see no difference between the core question posed by the project and any notional sidetracks that pop up along the way from a wholly untethered public, there are no accepted limits to the commission’s grip on the applicant and no fundamental responsibility for the cost of the exercise or the adequacy of the outcome.

That’s why the Martha’s Vineyard Commission indulged itself in a long, expensive effort to see if the new Martha’s Vineyard Hospital might be built somewhere else, despite the common sense reality of hospital economics and philanthropic possibilities.

And that’s why the commission’s consideration of the Stop & Shop’s plans for remodeling and enlarging its Water Street, Vineyard Haven, store finds itself whirling in eddies of chimerical options. It is why some imagine that the market project may be used to solve a host of problems — traffic, parking, affordable housing, historic preservation, architectural exhaltation of the neighborhood, just to name a few.

Stop & Shop wants to enlarge its small, worn-out store, on a site that is sensible business-wise. It wants to disguise the mass of the building so that it will look like a collection of shops, not like the big box Cronig’s or Edgartown Stop & Shop. It wants to create onsite parking beneath the market, where ordinary retail construction might be subject to flooding. In doing so, Stop & Shop wants to incorporate several adjacent buildings that are completely undistinguished architecturally and help with the protection of another building it owns that has some historic value.

The proposal will probably increase traffic some. While it will add parking, parking will remain deficient in the immediate area of the market and throughout Vineyard Haven. The plan would attempt, with the cooperation of town planners, to improve the efficiency of the town parking lot adjacent to the Stop & Shop property and to improve the connection between Main Street and Water Street for pedestrians. It will enhance downtown Vineyard Haven, not detract from it. The larger market will employ more Islanders. The developers will help as they can to house the market’s workers.

The plan will not cure Five Corners, but it is unreasonable to expect that it should. It will not fix traffic congestion, largely spawned by the location of the Steamship Authority, and it will not solve Tisbury’s overall parking problem. (By the way, the Steamship Authority is a public utility of sorts, and if the town and the Island’s purposes could be better served — as I am sure they could — by moving its terminal elsewhere, the Island towns, the Island’s planners, and the state government can jolly well tell the Steamship Authority to move. That isn’t the case with the private Stop & Shop business.) But the Stop & Shop plan will give the appearance of Water Street a tremendous lift. It will make it more efficient for Islanders, motorists, visitors, and it will improve competition for Islanders’ shopping dollars.

After all the keening and claptrap, the Stop & Shop proposal will do downtown a lot of good, make some of downtown’s problems a little less severe, and leave plenty of planning issues for the planners to chew over — and fail to digest — for years to come.

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The long trajectories of human lives, some of them blazing, some meandering, are impossible to predict. There are so many intersections with other trajectories, many of them opportunities missed, others surprises that change, stir, and perhaps delight a life that had been plodding.

Diesel’s trajectory and mine intersected about 10 years ago. It was more of a collision. I did not welcome him, but I did not object quickly enough to influence the decision to add him to the family. The graph of our subsequent trajectories would describe a series of collisions and estrangements. As his personality developed and I learned who he was, the years piled up and the lines merged, and I learned to my chagrin that he and I were alike in more ways than I had expected, if I had expected any similarities at all, and that we were in step, one with the other, as our lives extended.

Diesel is not human, of course. He’s a mastiff, about 165 pounds, a hairy, drooly, a mess on every level. He is shy, embarrassed at his mass, I suspect. As time has worn on, he has had a growing interest in infirmities of all sorts. He wishes he had become a surgeon, probably an orthopod, because they are often large, athletic, avuncular, comforting animals. It’s his self-image. When his partner, Teddy the pug, is under the weather, Diesel’s probing black nose is at the scene of the treatment. Push him aside here and he’s butting in there. Stick the thermometer in, Diesel is making close investigations. Shake a pill bottle and he’s reading the label, judging the dosage, an overgrown, unhygienic nosy Parker. And, he has an opinion about everything. That temp is high, he’ll say, submerge him in cold water in the bath. Diesel is not malicious but his scientific bent runs to experimentation, and Teddy is a convenient patient for his studies.

We’ve noticed for a while that Diesel’s rear legs aren’t working right. His right rear sometimes waves around as if it were remembering some swing dancing step it was fond of in years gone by. His left rear sometimes doesn’t pay attention and lands on the top of his toes, not the pads. Sometimes, in his rush to supper or treats he will leave the two after legs behind on the tiled kitchen floor and sprawl in a heap. After years of building evening fires, carrying the wood in with my arms or in an ancient L.L. Bean canvas bag, it occurred to me that there must be wood carriers for just this task, so I asked for one for Christmas, and, lo and behold, it appeared. When Diesel gets out of touch with his two hind legs and ends in a heap in the kitchen, Moll and I use the log carrier to get him up. We slip it under his belly and lift until he reestablishes communications with the rear guard. Teddy watches with feverish curiosity.

Of course, dogs have trajectories too, and I recognized this week that Diesel’s and my trajectories had intersected, of all the unimagined places, on the stairs to the second floor of our house. Diesel has a big bed in my second floor office, right next to the bedroom, and his habit for years has been to spend the night in the office, but not in the bedroom. The snoring, the thumping, the drooling, the 3 am wakeup, all make that impossible. We trudge up to bed, and so does he. The stairs are two short flights, with a landing separating, not very steep. With time, and because of his infirmity, his nightly move up to bed has become slow, stumbling, carefully planned, and occasionally there’s a pause of a few minutes on the landing, for rest. Not that he has any intention of ending the practice, and he doesn’t cry for assistance. He just moves up and especially down at an exquisitely deliberate pace, because he is smart and cautious and he knows things aren’t firing anymore on all cylinders.

I got home from the hospital Sunday after knee surgery, and as I attempted the stairs with a crutch and wavering balance, I knew I would have to imitate Diesel’s care and deliberation for a while. He watched and said to me, comfortingly, you too, huh.

Now, we contemplate the struggle together and observe the security precautions the same way. I do let him go down first, because I wouldn’t want that load slipping down on me from behind. He has asked, shall we sleep downstairs for a while? Not yet, I answered, but you tell me when.

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People are communicating more these days. They are writing more, but it’s not like the old days, when folks dipped the nib into the ink and wrote brief thank-you notes and long descriptions of their travels. Now, it’s digital, there’s a character limit, folks say it in selfies, and the messages never go away, never get burned up in a fire, never end up in a box in the attic. Whether all this fresh, new communication is improving communication, I’m not sure. People say a lot, they know what they are saying, and unencumbered by the physical toll and the noisy scratch, scratch that putting pen to paper takes — plus the licking, stamping, and going to the post office — they let fly — or rather, post — in the most uncivil terms.

And some of those terms do not shoulder the responsibility for clarity that they should. The writer may know what he intended, and I may have expectations as to what I’ll read, but the two often share no common ground. I mention my bewilderment to my digitally with-it kids, and they are moved to pat me gently on the arm, and say comfortingly, “Don’t worry about it, old man.”

But I do worry. Fortunately, a friend gave me Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, by Jonathon Green — it’s a solid three inches thick — and I thought it would get me up to speed. I’ve referred to it often as the online revolution has picked up pace over the years. For a while I kept it handy in the office and when I came across words with which I was unfamiliar, or even sounds which appeared to represent words but weren’t really words, I dove into the Dictionary of Slang. Once, when I read a communication about someone who seemed to fit the term blowsy, I thought, wait a minute, I know what blowsy means. But it wasn’t blowsy, it was loser, and I’m afraid to think who the writer was talking about.

This is a widespread problem, and academics have begun scientific investigations to learn the language that people use nowadays. It is a language, not just a colloquial expression. For instance, you know the expression, “A pox on you.” It’s an expression of annoyance, or maybe a curse, equivalent to, “I wish you a venereal disease.” I use it all the time. Perhaps you do too. It’s practically Shakespearean. But that’s not the kind of language folks are using in the online world. Or, for instance, hanky-panky, another slang term I’m familiar with and irrationally fond of. Perhaps you are too. We’re soulmates. But, I shrink from imagining the response I’d get if I tweeted, “And, no hanky-panky.” If I tweeted.

Greg Livingston, explaining some of the conclusions of a Youth University study, explains the new lingo this way, “The widespread use of email and instant messaging has spawned the proliferation of slang, shorthand writing and a general denigration of proper language use among the teen population.” The general population, if you ask me.

I would not have used the loaded term “denigration” because of course, language is a living, changing thing. Dictionaries don’t prescribe language, at least not in the inflexible sense of that term. Rather, they describe it, and then re-describe it as new usages and new words emerge from conversation and writing.

But Mr. Livingston is sympathetic to the human dimensions of the problem caused by the new language. “English teachers across the country have been crying themselves to sleep ever since,” he says. “Now, just when Internet lingo like brb (be right back) and lol (laugh out loud) is becoming common knowledge and generally accepted in society, a new version of information-age slang is on the rise with teens.” I thought language was my BFF. WTF.

That’s right, it’s worse than you thought. “Leetspeek, or leet for short, (leet is a vernacular form of “elite”) is a type of Internet slang where users replace regular letters with other characters to form words phonetically. Leet words can be expressed in hundreds of different ways, using a multitude of combinations and substitutions. This new language can seem very difficult to decipher to the inexperienced, but once one learns the basic principles, leetspeek isn’t that difficult to pick up,” Mr. Livingston says, soothingly, he hopes.

But, to us traditionalists, it sounds like chaos. Think Chaucerian, Middle English, when every word had dozens of different spellings. You couldn’t spell a word wrong if you tried.

“Leetspeek,” Mr. Livingston continues, “is like all other forms of Internet slang — users rarely obey rules of grammar and mistakes often go uncorrected. However, according to Microsoft®, there are several distinct characteristics that set leetspeek apart. For instance, numbers are often used as letters, non-numeric characters can replace letters they resemble and letters can be substituted for other letters that sound alike. With leetspeek, non-alphanumeric characters can also be used to form letters, and teens often use the suffix ‘0rz’ with words for emphasis or to make them plural.”

Rules of grammar disobeyed. Typos intentionally uncorrected. Numbers used to replace letters they resemble graphically, 1 for L, for instance. Non-numeric characters, like the dollar sign, for instance, used to stand for a letter it looks like, say, S. Mr. Livingston has documented these and many other departures from normal, and even colloquial, conventions of written and spoken communication. Already, it’s tough to understand how online dwellers think, or rather why they think what they think, and there are zillions of them. We can’t understand why they do the things we don’t want them to do and won’t do the things they are supposed to do, and why they do what they do all the time. And now, we have to learn a whole new language. It’s a lot to ask.

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In defense of politicians and other public figures, they are not without consciences. As we all do, they regret the bad things they’ve done. We ordinary souls must deal with the wife, or the kids, or your mother in law. All of these near and dear ones seem to have that special inborn genetic technology that can detect your screw-ups whenever and wherever they are committed. Sometimes, they even know before you do something wrong that you’re going to. There’s no escaping.

These bigwigs, on the other hand, believe that, because they do business on a grand scale and spend taxpayers’ money as if they are doing us a favor, and as exuberantly as if it belonged to them, maybe they can slip by without getting caught. That’s why they smile at odd moments. For instance, a typical politician unleashes that vote-getting grin anytime a camera is pointed at him. Now, if he happens to be on the steps of the federal courthouse moments after being indicted for tax evasion or election fraud or consorting with prostitutes, his thoughts turn to wishing he’d flossed that morning or that he’d taken his press secretary’s advice about having his teeth bleached, or worn the red tie rather than the blue, but he smiles broadly nevertheless, as he says to the cameras and the microphones, it’s all a mistake, I’ll be cleared in the end.

Sometimes, he (seldom, but occasionally she) will offer an apology, but only if we the people are offended. If we happen not to be offended by his thievery, fecklessness, or prurience, he encourages us to ignore the apology and text a small but meaningful donation to his campaign website. And anyhow, it was was not his fault but rather the fault of the president or the Congress or the Republicans or the Democrats or the previous administration or the NSA, not him.

Nothing embarrasses them, and they never go away.

Senators and Congressmen and presidents smile because they hope the dazzle will blind us to their unfinished or mangled business. But, believe me, they and all the lesser public figures we endure know they’ve done wrong, and if they can’t hide their sins, well then they want forgiveness and a second chance. As I have often done, I offer forgiveness to the miscreants who rule us. I am prepared to hear their sins and absolve them. Sometimes, I ask them to do a little penance.

To be plain, these are newspaper absolutions, not presidential pardons or divine indulgences. There are several important differences. First, and most regrettably, no money changes hands. Not one of the recipients of this newspaper’s editorial clemency will be obliged to kick in so much as a thin, persuasive dime to lubricate the process. Which makes these dispensations cheap, I suppose, though hardly honorable?

Second — and this is not necessarily something we are proud of either — the recipients of clemency will be chosen mostly by whimsy. The behavior of public figures needs a lot of forgiveness, of course, and the quality of my mercy is decidedly strained, so I pick and choose.

Third, clemency is based upon what I hear when the candidates make their confessions to me in private. (There’s a little room behind the office here where they come. There’s a screen between the sinner and me. I can’t see them, but I can hear what they say, and generally I know who they are.)

Fourth, when they say they’re sorry, I don’t always believe them, but I figure feigned regret is better than smiling denial, so all are welcome.

To the many public servants and just plain folks who make their confessions but are not absolved, I say, be of good cheer. You will have more to regret in the years ahead, and we can visit then.

Hear ye, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, who hear and hear and hear applicants’ plans; members of the Dukes County commission, who over the years have shed all of their meaningful responsibilities but kept the tax dollars sent to fund them; the judges of the Dukes County District Court who serially convict and release malefactors to continue their villainy upon this community whose justice and security is the responsibility of their courts; and the members of the Steamship Authority, who raise the rates annually and pay the cries from the afflicted communities for relief no heed.

I have taken my place in the confessional. I await you, and all the others not mentioned who long to make their confessions. You know who you are.

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Whether 2013 real estate sales mark a continuing stabilization and perhaps an upswing in the market or an unwelcome retreat from what was a sort of breakout year in 2012 depends on December results. At the end of November, the total dollar value of qualifying transactions this year was about $160 million behind the 2012 year-end total. That’s a big deficit for one month’s transactions to make up. Typically, one month’s transactions total between 30 and 40. The total value for those deals of between $30 million and $45 million is not enough to push 2013 sales above those for 2012.

The market since the crash in 2007 has been up and down, strengthening one year, staggering the next, but overall, recovering. Brokers say that the combination of low mortgage rates, lower prices, and inflated inventories have aided the recovery. But, each of these contributing elements includes some contradictions. For instance, lower interest rates would be hugely desirable strengtheners for the market if lenders had not at the same time become as risk-averse as they have. Mortgage requirements, including down payments and credit scores, have stiffened as interest rates have remained historically low. But this paradox affects the mid- to low-end segments of the market, where the sales volume is high.

At the upper end — properties of more than $1 million, waterfront or waterview — all cash buyers figure in many transactions, as do high income buyers who have no trouble meeting credit requirements, so that segment has turned in steadily improving performances, but such sales are few. The paradox in this part of the Vineyard market is that prices have not softened the way they have lower down the food chain. Sales in this top of the market segment increased in number last year, and they are strong this year also.

As to inventory, the historically high number of properties that flooded the market just before and immediately after the crash has not been significantly reduced. Some sellers have dropped out of the market to await price recovery, and some have lost their properties to foreclosure. Many have kept their properties on the market and refused to mark them down, except trivially.

Looking at the dollar value of sales in December 2012, brokers suggest that some of what would have been 2013 sales took place at the end of last year, to avoid tax increases and the uncertainties surrounding the calamitous mess created by the Congress and the Administration.

Brokers report that summer has been busy with shoppers, and the inventory spiked in the spring. The appetite for Vineyard property survives the fiscal, debt, and monetary storms that have unhinged the national economy. The real estate market has not succumbed the way some highly stressed regions elsewhere in the country have, brokers say, nor has it rebounded as strongly as some areas have.

Despite what was an uptick in 2012, the pace of sales has declined this year about 10 percent, especially during the first six months. The value of closed transactions fell almost 20 percent. Median prices jumped more than 10 percent this year, to about $600,000, while the average fell about 10 percent to roughly $860,000. Fewer sales at $2 million-plus account for the lower average.

Consideration of these numbers requires some perspective. For instance, if the number of qualifying, recorded transactions for 2013 equals the number for 2012, about 500, it will be fewer than were recorded for 2002, when the total for the year was closer to 600. It will be way lower than the total for 1998 when the total was 1,000. Indeed, it will be lower than the number for any year since 1991. On the other hand, average value of a transaction will be about 20 percent higher than in 2002 and even higher still than in any year since 1989, except 2001, when the average was about $900,000.

The mirthless irony is that between 1998 and 2007, in good times and lean ones for the real estate industry, there were few years which tallied more sales at high dollar figures than has been the case in the worst of the six years since post-Great Recession. So, one might reasonably ask, are the industry and the Island economy that benefits enormously from real estate activity better off today, as we scrabble out of the economic swamps, than they were a decade ago?

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Another year in the hopper. And what have we learned?

A while back, on Main Street, I ran into a young woman who has been a friend of my oldest daughter since preschool. We were both prowling for Christmas shopping inspiration. The window of opportunity was closing. Good ideas had eluded me. It was a relief to stop for a few minutes to reminisce.

Twenty-six years ago, the kids, including this young woman, swam at Edgartown Great Pond. I remember her sitting at the water’s edge, hugging her knees, giggling. I remember the shows she and my daughter put on for us, often an exhausted and unwilling audience. Together, they wrote nonsensical sketches and performed them standing on ottomans in front of the woodstove in that summer house on Vineyard Sound that we rented for two frigid winters. My daughter sang rock music, her dear friend was a country and western diva.

She is not a little girl anymore. She’s a professional woman, a mother, married and carrying on through relationship turbulence to a steady, reunited state. The giggling is muted. After all, life takes a toll, but good humor, equanimity, even a certain mordant worldliness have survived.

Folks change, but sometimes we miss the the transformations. That’s especially true with children. But, this Christmas, with all four of ours far away and full of their adult lives, change is unmistakable. Parents are often late to the lesson that they actually have two sets of descendants. There are the ones we have in mind when we think of the kids. And then there are, surprising sometimes, the ones who the kids have become.

How to reconcile what they were and what they are? It’s taxing, and I’m reluctant. It can be shattering. We share a meal. I watch carefully and see glimpses of the little ones they were and puzzle over the young men and women they are. Who are these adult visitors?

It works both ways. Speaking of no one you know, of course, Charles Dickens described his creation Pip’s uneasiness as he contemplated his father-like benefactor:

“Words cannot tell what a sense I had of the dreadful mystery that he was to me. When he fell asleep of an evening, with his knotted hands clenching the sides of the easy chair, and his bald head tattooed with the deep wrinkles falling forward on his breast, I would sit and look at him, wondering what he had done, until the impulse was powerful on me to start up and fly from him. I doubt if a ghost could have been more terrible to me.”

Of course, Pip’s father figure, as Dickens conjured him, was a murderer wanted by police, not like you and me, as we are, conventional men and women, familiar parents to these former children. But they puzzle over us, I guess, as we do them. We have we become mysteries to them.

It is a relief that the young ones have gone off on their own. The college bills are done. Moll and I can start living our lives again. That sort of relief.

Or, it can be prideful. That one was an odd little duck as a child. Charming, but a challenge. Now, she’s got a responsible job in a big city. Her sister is the mother of two. Each in her own way is helping make the world, her world, better. The boys, similarly, are well started, even accomplished, though maybe not settled, still searching. Things have worked out the way we planned. Just happenstance really, not effective day to day management, as one might like to think.

It can be troubling, these moments of adjustment. Imagine, she says, Dad, I met Anatole. He’s French and frisky (my word, not hers). He’ll be staying with us.

Or, Dad, I won’t be coming back East this Christmas. It’s hard to get time off. Or, it’s just too much traveling with two kids under four. Or, I’ve got a line on a new, bigger job.

Every step I take along Main Street at Christmas brings me face to face with young men and women who were, and in my enduring memory still seem, kids – driving go-karts, grooming their dolls’ hair, building imaginary villages on the floor of the bathroom, playing field hockey or hockey or basketball or lacrosse. And their parents, who could not stop shaking their heads wonderingly as they shopped with their children, stopped to talk about how the kids are all grown up now.

One dear, chattery mother told me, her head cycling a mile a minute, that her daughter, just back from a graduate program in England, is now arranging a longer stay in the U.K., for another, higher degree. She marveled, and admiringly, threw up her hands in fond resignation.

The question is, must we stunned parents — so wise when the kids were kids, now so yesterday to these young adults we spawned — adapt? Would these mutating offspring be happier with us if we transformed ourselves into hipper, more mobile, less conservative, more cyber-iffic, barely recognizable incarnations of the duds we used to be?

Or do they take satisfaction in our gaping mouths, our bewildered glances, and the head shaking that they provoke in their elders.

With luck, and if they have the iPhones handy, they’ll tweet us an answer.

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Major League Baseball’s honchos are together in Orlando now for their annual winter meetings. They are doing business, not making poetry. The National Football League’s professional managers are puzzling over whether the league would make as much money as it does, if it became a flag football league. Or if that is too drastic, maybe they could ban ankle, knee, and stomach hits the way they’ve banned head hits, leaving a narrow thoracic target for the tacklers. But, the big problem, these deep thinkers worry, is that the referees are blowing so many calls already, what sense does it make to make it harder for them to get things right. No poetry there.

The Patriots have found a new way to build a winning streak. They play only half of each game and, rested as they are, they pull it out in the last minute, ultimately winning by a point or three or four. Absolutely unpoetic, unmusical, unfun, and life threatening, if you factor in the anxiety factor for the fans. Can’t accuse the Pats of committing poetry.

There’s not a lot of music in the three-point shot. Poetry may be out of the question when the players are so big and often clumsy, and the blocking and tackling on the basketball court resembles the NFL’s version of marketable mayhem — whack the other guy, give a hard foul, celebrate yourself after you score.

But, after all, there is beauty and poetry in sports, not at the professional league office level, not even in the club offices, maybe not even on the Little League diamond or the high school basketball court — not yet anyway — because, after all, the poets I have in mind aren’t ordinary. They have complicated, practiced skill sets, and physical gifts that are not consigned to we run of the mill humans. These endowed performers make moments of grace and athletic meaning, moments that surprise and thrill we clods as we watch, moments that seem more important than they are, moments in which those who are not athletes, not even sports fans, share.

The double play in baseball, for example. Think Derek Jeter gathering up a sharply hit ground ball at the edge of the left field grass, flipping it to Dustin Pedroia (this is a fantasy), who touches the bag, launches himself into the air over the sliding runner and, nearly horizontal in flight, throws a torch to David Ortiz, filling in at first because it’s interleague play, for the out. The crowd lights up in a poetic afterglow.

The poet Robert Wallace made the double play call in his verse, The Double Play (2007). He wrote “… the leaning-out first baseman ends the dance/drawing it disappearing into his long brown glove/stretches./What is too swift for deception is final, lost,/ among the loosened figures jogging off the field/(the pitcher walks), casual in the space where the poem has happened.”

That last is important, because poetry in sports is not conceived, fussed over, written, and published. It’s not done alone. It happens among players and us, we are there, and it’s done.

Doug Flutie, the Boston College quarterback in 1984 — ESPN called him the “scrambling dynamo” — before he grew too small to play NFL football, the game all but lost, one second left, national champs the Miami Hurricanes in the driver’s seat. Flutie launched a 60-yard pass — the defense had chased him out of the crumbling pocket — to tight end Gerard Phelan who caught it in the end zone for the B.C. win, 47-45. It’s called the Hail Mary pass, and it’s a popular YouTube destination even today. Poetry, indeed. With a little luck. We use to chant “All the way with Yahweh,” and it worked.

Or, you might imagine the dressage rider, perfectly in tune with her light, expressive, cadenced mount, asking throughout for her horse to do athletic figures and transitions that he never thought of in his simply equine life, but she taught and encouraged him to master, finally completing a Grand Prix test, 90 percent of perfection for a team of human and animal, whose mutual trust and communication makes such verse possible.

I might have mentioned Ted Williams’s swing, or nearly every shot Michael Jordan ever made, or Usain Bolt, like lightning, or Greg Louganis, so precise, or, well, you name the performer. But, thrilling, heart-stopping, and astonishing as these athletes have been, they do not make poetry in sports. There must be a teammate, fellow performers, and us.

I might have mentioned David Ortiz, the fiercest, most brilliant and reliable hitter I have ever seen, but actually, David Ortiz made his poem in two verses, neither of them at the plate. And, we were part of the play.

You won’t have forgotten his few words, and his curse, standing alone in the infield at Fenway Park, right after the Marathon bombing, telling the evil-minded among us that Boston and its people were “Boston Strong.” And you won’t have forgotten the last game of the World Series, when the Sox won the crown, their third in a decade, just a few months after the bombing, a few months after David Ortiz’s “Boston Strong” anthem. And, of course, you won’t have forgotten the last stanza, that David Ortiz was the World Series Most Valuable Player, finishing a bit of sport poetry that began in May and ended in November and meant something beyond the ordinary to nearly every one of us.

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Which of these three is not like the others?

a) The Steamship Authority’s Vineyard Haven Terminal.

b) The Island Housing Trust’s (IHT) five-unit, affordable rental housing development at 6 Water Street, across from the Black Dog Bakery.

c) The Stop & Shop supermarket, as planned for significant construction and expansion.

The answer is “b,” but you guessed that.

There is not a more unambiguously business minded stretch of Vineyard road. There are no houses fronting on Water Street between the town parking lot at the north and Five Corners at the south, no apartments over shops, no houses converted to shops, no guesthouses, no B&Bs, no parks, no bike paths. Vineyard Haven’s large and growing resident population of turkeys stays away.

There are a lot of cars and trucks, most of them do-si-do-ing with the Steamship Authority 12 to 16 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many of the drivers are you and me.

You can rent a car, buy a pizza or a souvenir, a bagel, a donut, and a coffee, a tee-shirt or a stuffed dog. You can buy some windsurfing paraphernalia for the dude in you. And, you can do the marketing. You can get some food just as you get off the ferry or just before you get on. You can compare prices and maybe find what you want to eat tonight at the supermarket there rather than the other one. It’s open late and early, and though it’s old and small now, the owners plan for something sharper, brighter, bigger, and full of choice.

The expansion plan for the new Stop & Shop fits the neighborhood very well.

The Island Housing Trust’s plan for an affordable housing, loft type building on the tiny lot between the car rental place at the lip of Five Corners and the brand-new supermarket does not fit.

The trust got the gift of the decrepit house it intends to tear down and replace from Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier. Mr. Bernier made the generous, though tactically cold-blooded, donation, on condition that IHT could not monetize it by selling it to the Stop & Shop, a move that would have given the supermarket more elbow room for its business expansion and put some bucks in the IHT coffers. IHT thinks it’s stuck with the gift, and in its response to the Stop & Shop plan the tiny nonprofit, it turns out, has some sharp elbows of its own. In a Letter to the Editor [IHT schools Stop & Shop company, November 27], IHT, which has not yet designed or funded its proposed housing development, lectured Stop & Shop on how it might improve its plan and asked for some concessions that would enhance its five-unit residential building.

It is hard to imagine that a desirable residential experience can be shoehorned into a lot that long ago relinquished all claims to livability to the commercial hustle and bustle that surrounds it, and it may be that after all, the play is really to exact a few hundred thousand from the Stop & Shop company for the IHT developed housing, which the supermarket might then use to house its employees.

What’s utterly baffling is whether the gift of the property, with conditions, was actually an opportunity for IHT or a burden. Was IHT a beneficiary or a tool?

Vineyard Haven architect Jamie Weisman, who has developed a “concept” for the IHT development, limned the gambit in May.

“I think,” he said, “one thing we have to recognize is that this property was given to the housing trust by someone who wanted to prevent a larger store as a competitor, and I think the housing trust has created an opportunity to amplify mixed use in Vineyard Haven by suggesting that this be residential. So it creates the conundrum of how do you create residential in an urban or a town area?” Mr. Weisman also published a Letter to the Editor [Shop, no stop, November 27] last week, touting a plan of his that would have the town parking lot next to the supermarket become a mall-like shopping square.

How you do it might be the question IHT is asking itself, but why do it is the better question. The challenge for IHT ought to be, how do we get out of the obligation that comes with this gift? How do we avoid isolating five or more modest income residents in a residentially hostile commercial environment? Mixed use development has some appeal. Woods Hole, whose geographic focus is the Eel Pond, combines dwellings with commerce and big, stimulating scientific operations, not to mention the commotion of the Steamship Authority. In Vineyard Haven, apartments above retail shops have been happy confreres for decades. The same is true in Oak Bluffs. But the residential spaces are incorporated, they are not outliers. They do not answer the question posed at the beginning of this column. There’s some mixed use magic to successful mixed use development, not this one, small 5,200-square-foot disharmony.

The real imaginative opportunity is to find a way to flush the Bernier poison pill and allow the lot to be sold by IHT for commercial purposes (parking perhaps) — but not to Stop & Shop, if Mr. Bernier insists. Then the proceeds might be used for other IHT rental projects that have a greater chance to make their inhabitants happy.