Essay

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Monday night, the last one in May, the Sox were laying a thumping on the Phillies, and the Blackhawks were pounding the Redwings, forcing Game 7 — more than enough to keep me up past 10:30.

During a TV timeout, I was in the front room on the phone when I noticed, peripherally, an odd flash in the hall. Light bulb blew, I figured. Ten minutes later there was another flash, this one preceded by a loud, angry buzz. A puff of smoke lingered near a double wall switch, along with an unmistakable electrical odor.

“Could this start a fire?” my wife asked.

“Not really,” I said, whatever that meant.

“We have to do something,” she said. “This could start a fire.”

“No it won’t. Take it easy.”

Damn. I just wanted the evening to proceed along its usual path — she heads to bed, I snooze in front of the tube, rally long enough to let the dogs out, brush my teeth, and slide into bed hoping not to wake her.

I went to the basement to throw the breaker for the offending switch.

“Okay, we’re all set.”

I resumed my slouch on the couch. “I’ll call Sheila in the morning.” Baird that is, the force behind Berube Electric who always manages to steer Frank Baird out our way before the sparks start to fly.

Laura hung around, drawn by the intensity of playoff hockey, which she’d never noticed before.

Ten minutes later, the switch buzzed again, flashed, and puffed out another acrid smudge.

Laura cursed. “Can you call Berube?” The emphasis on “you” sounded as if I’d somehow caused the problem — and I’d definitely better do something about it.

“They’ll never answer this time of night; just the machine.”

“You have to call somebody. What about the fire department: can you call Manny?” Estrella, that is, the chief in West Tisbury.

“What’ll they do?”

“We might have a fire.”

“But we don’t.”

“We can’t stay here like this. We need help.”

My cue, right? But I was flummoxed, and irritated. I hate electricity. I know nothing about it — always a good reason to hate something — and I’m scared of it. It can kill you. Plumbing, I’ll take a shot at. You screw up, you get a mess. But electricity…

“We have to do something,” Laura said, meaning me. “I’m not staying in this house tonight.”

“I can shut off the main switch, but the breaker should have already killed power to this switch. I don’t get it.” She wasn’t listening.

“Hey this is the chance I’ve been waiting for.” I’ve joked for years that torching the place was the only way we could afford to improve it. “We’ll get all the valuable stuff, the sentimental stuff, out and stand back and let ‘er rip.”

She didn’t bite. “Please call the fire department. Please?”

What was I waiting for? To avoid looking foolish because there was no fire? Having to admit that I couldn’t figure what was going on? Two days earlier I’d had an electrical triumph, running a wire through 190 feet of conduit and splicing it to the leads down to our submersible pump. Other than slicing my left thumb when I was stripping the wire with a jackknife, I was so pleased with myself that I’d kept eight inches of the wire as a memento. Was this payback, just rewards for a lucky do-it-yourselfer? No, no, I told myself, get real.

Finally, defiantly, I admitted — to myself — that hoping this would all go away was hopeless. It might even get worse.

“Please.”

“Okay… Okay, okay. I’ll call Communications,” I said. “But I’m not calling 9-1-1. This isn’t an emergency.” Was it?

Within ten minutes, Manny Estrella and a police officer appeared. No flashing lights, they just drove in.

I thanked them for coming out, which Laura doubled down. I showed them the offending switch and described its behavior.

“You got a screwdriver?” Manny asked. He removed the plate with the other three of us looking over his shoulder, rapt — though none of us knew what we were looking at.

“There’s your problem,” Manny said, pointing at a dirty switch. He pulled something out of a pocket and held it up to the switch. He shook it, then walked into the room and peered at it under a light, muttering.

He came back and now the gizmo shot a red laser at the switch. “See? It isn’t hot.”

We stared at the switch, trying to understand. I glared at it.

“Are we safe staying here, Manny?” Laura wanted some reassurance.

“You better have an electrician look at this,” Manny said.

“I’ll call ours first thing.”

“I can call one,” Manny said. “Just a minute.”

“Now? An electrician?”

“I know somebody.” Manny headed into the kitchen, pulling out his cell phone.

“He’ll be over in ten minutes,” he said when he returned.

While we waited, Manny demonstrated the laser gadget, somehow registering temperature remotely. He aimed it at a lamp across the room, and I watched the needle go up. Same thing when I asked him to zap one of the dogs. Cool. Then he went out front to wait for John. Cotterill, that is, an electrician in town and a fireman.

“I’m so glad we called,” Laura said. We? “Do we have to pay for this?”

“Manny comes out of our taxes,” I said. “But the electrician…”

John arrived and listened to our story, in triplicate. When he took my word for it that the breaker was off, I felt like a half-fledged electrician.

“So if it’s still shorting, it’s getting power from somewhere else,” John said. “Has to be. Is this a three-way?” That is, connected to another switch.

It came back to me. “Wait a second. There used to be a spotlight on the way over to the Little House, the place next door. Maybe this was the switch for it. I always thought it was dead.”

The house next door used to be the guesthouse to my parents’ main house, which Laura and I now own. To light the path through a stone wall between the two buildings, my folks installed a spotlight 60 years ago that could be turned on at one end and off at the other — a three-way switch.

“And there was a switch for it over there?” John asked.

“Probably. No…yes, there was. In the bedroom.” It was coming back clearer now.

“Can we check the breaker over there?” John asked.

“Sure. Well, actually it may be locked, but we can check. I used to know where they hide the key.”

The three of use headed over, through the wall, through the bushes. I was about to step up on the stoop, when John noticed a light on inside.

Odd… Oh no, the tenants. They’d just arrived that day, I’d seen them earlier.

We retreated. Back in our yard, I figured Manny and John would head home. But then I wondered aloud if I should wake the tenants and let them know, at least, about the problem.

“I would,” John said.

“I would, too,” Manny said.

I headed back over and tried to open the screen door, so I could knock on the main door. It was locked.

I rapped on a window until the bedroom door opened and a couple appeared, she pulling a robe around herself, he in boxers, apparently not modest about his substantial torso — or maybe just still asleep.

I explained what was going on, apologizing all the while. Manny and John and I squeezed into the bedroom to check out the breaker panel in the closet. The fellow with the belly explained that the lights in the bedroom had gone out, so he’d thrown the breaker a couple of times and they’d come back on for a second and then the breaker would flip again.

John looked at me and I looked at Manny and we all thought “so that’s it” at once. The breaker had done its job after all, only it was the breaker in the house next door, which used to get its power and water and inhabitants from ours. I thought it had been on its own for 20 years, but some kids never grow up.

We backed out, again apologizing, and Manny and John and I parted in the middle of our yard. I thanked them once, twice, told them what a comfort it is to have them ten minutes away, day or night, and asked John if he had a card, so I could track him down to settle up.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“I’m not worried, but I want to. It’s almost midnight, and you’re out here helping us out.”

“Don’t worry,” John said. “Manny called me, and I came out.”

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— File photo by Carlene Gatting

I am writing to thank you for providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience — the chance to go to the National Scripps Spelling Bee. From the moment I arrived in Oxon Hill, Maryland, at the Gaylord Resort, I was excited, overwhelmed, enthusiastic, and filled with anticipation, and that was all at once. You first enter the hotel in a grand marble lobby, with a 17-story glass atrium overlooking the sparkling Potomac River. It is breathtaking.

The lobby and surrounding courtyards were filled with women with their heads carefully wrapped in scarves and many in floor-length robes with only a rectangle of their eyes showing. I expected there to be many spellers of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, but this was ridiculous. I later learned that the King of Saudi Arabia, where they provide billions of dollars in scholarship money to Saudi students, had flown many Saudi families over to America to celebrate the graduation of their Saudi college students. They were not there for the Bee.

After checking in, we went to check out the “room” where the Bee takes place. Well, it is a ballroom that must hold 2,000 people, with a colorful stage that stretched the width of the ballroom, and 281 seats on center stage for the spellers. Butterflies began to flutter in my stomach. Everywhere I turned there were kids from all over the country and as far away as China and Guam wearing their “Spellebrity” tee-shirts, and their families wearing their “Bee On” tee-shirts. We were an easy group to identify in this big resort.

When Bee day came, I could not lift my head off the pillow. My mom had given me some kind of cold medicine the night before to help my cold, allergies, and fever — and I never take medicine — and I was knocked out. I finally dressed quickly, splashed cold water on my face, and took my place on stage. I sat between two towering, giant boys. The lights were bright, and the ESPN cameras everywhere. The words started to come fast and furious while I waited for my turn, as No. 117. Some words that other spellers got, I knew — Beethovenian, meiosis — some I didn’t — brankursine, acervation. Really the luck of the draw. My luck ran out with “asana.” I did my best and learned to accept elimination gracefully — kind of. I really felt bad for the very first speller to be eliminated, who was from China, although he got a big round of applause, and then your parents meet you by the side of the stage. My mom just about carried me back to the room, where I slept for hours.

Then the real fun began. I visited more memorials, monuments, and museums and ate more frozen yogurt in two days than I have in all of my 11 years. My favorite was the World War II memorial, where I learned about where my grandfather fought and was a prisoner of war. It was also cooling to stand by the giant pool with fountains there. Did I mention that it was 90-plus degrees and that I learned that Washington, D.C., was built on a swamp and is therefore humid? As you can see, I learned a lot more than spelling while in D.C.

I feel really fortunate that I got to be a part of the National Spelling Bee, thanks to the MV Times. Scripps does such a great job of making all 281 spellers feel like champions. It was really well-organized with lots to do to mingle and get to know the other spellers. Everyone gets a Beekeeper picture book, like a yearbook, to get all the other spellers to sign. It was eye-opening for me to see the level of commitment and discipline the top spellers have to get where they did. All of the finalists had been there at least once before, and some three times before.

I’ll be at Falmouth Academy next year, so I won’t have a chance to compete again, but I have some triplet friends that I’m going to coach so they can be as fortunate as I was to get to the National Spelling Bee. I know one out of the three can make it.

Thanks to the newspaper for your generous support. Thanks, too, to Janet Hefler for the thoughtful article she wrote.

I hope I haven’t misspelled any words.

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While the country mourns the loss of 20 innocent children and six of their teachers and the school principal, the debate seeking solutions focuses on two areas, gun control and mental health. The rationale to own guns ranges from need to protect, desire to hunt, and arguments of individual rights. The NRA recommends armed police in every school, a violent approach to a problem of violence that fails to address the underlying cause of violence in our society.

Many people fear those with mental illness, considering them to be more inclined to be violent. Those of us who work in the field of psychiatry know that those with mental illness, when properly treated, pose no greater risk to society. However, people with mental illness who also have drug and alcohol problems, and those who are untreated and suffer from serious and persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, paranoia and some personality disorders, are at greater risk to commit acts of violence as well as to be victims of acts of violence. Early intervention and treatment have been shown to be effective.

It is important to differentiate those with mental illness from those who lack the ability to regulate their emotions. We see that evidenced in road rage and high speed police chases. Identifying those who may potentially be violent is difficult at best and even more so with children whose normal development sometimes includes a period of antisocial behavior.

So while early identification and effective and continuing treatment are part of the solution, mental health has endured severe and continuous reductions in funding and fewer people pursuing careers in psychiatry, resulting in harmful cutbacks in services. Despite cuts, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ Island Counseling Center (MVCS-ICC) continues to have emergency and urgent care services available 24/7 and will soon offer mobile crisis services in the community.

So what is the core of violence in our society? The movie industry perpetuates violence in many of its movies and so-called action films. Viewed by millions, many of whom are children, these films display vivid images of unimaginable violence, death, and destruction. Add to this the violent and very popular video games.

The known shooter in Connecticut spent his days alone in a dark basement playing violent video games. Despite his problems and his mother’s plan to commit him to a psychiatric facility, she left multiple guns unprotected in their house. His mother might have made a difference if she had sought help more actively and locked her guns up or placed them in protective police custody.

The response to Sandy Hook violence has been an increased concern not only in schools but throughout the community to see what can be done to identify possible perpetrators and seek help for them and to add security to their facilities and train those in the facility in lockdown procedures.

Professionals seem to have lowered their threshold of responding to behavior that in the past they might have ignored. Parents on the other hand seem to have a high level of denial about their own children and their children’s’ potential for violence.

It is indeed sad for our community to acknowledge that the safe, small community, treasured by so many, may also not be as safe as we believed. We too are vulnerable to random acts of violence.

I believe this community should come together and develop a common understanding of the issues, the risks, the warning signs and knowledge of early interventions for those who are isolated and disconnected from society. We need to understand that in every community, children see violence in their homes and view violence in movies, videos and TV. The response must address both improvements in funding and in the ability of the mental health system to be responsive to community need, plus well thought out changes to the gun control laws.

In closing, let us remember that communication, kindness, forgiveness, and humor are part of the foundation of a healthy society, and every person deep down wishes to be accepted and understood. It is our job to reach out to those with mental illness in attempts to understand and help them seek the treatment they need and, with successful treatment, to continue to welcome them as part of our society.

Helen Keller said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot change everything, but I can change something.”Those of us at Island Counseling Center look forward to working with the community on this important issue.

Nancy Langman is the program director at Martha’s Vineyard Services’ Island Counseling Center. This is the text of remarks on gun violence and peace she made to the interfaith service at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center on Friday, January 4, 2013.

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On December 14, a 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School with an assault rifle and killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

No one wants to hear what I’m going to say, especially not from a former school administrator and member of a school committee, but I’ll say it anyway. Schools cannot guarantee that children are safe from such an unspeakably awful act at school. There is much that Vineyard schools can and should do to make children safer in school, but the disaster that struck in Newtown, Connecticut, was rare enough to be statistically almost unique, and the circumstances were so bizarre as to be unpreventable by the school.

Consider that Sandy Hook Elementary had excellent rules and procedures to keep children safe from outsiders, stricter than the schools on Martha’s Vineyard, stricter than in any school I ever worked at. The doors were locked. Visitors needed to be identified by a surveillance camera before being admitted. Adam Lanza was not admitted to Sandy Hook on that Friday morning, apparently because he was not recognized. He broke in.

Until we make schools like prisons, with bars on every door and window, it will always be a simple matter for a man with a high-powered weapon to shoot his way into a locked school. Even if we had the money to create fortress-schools and were willing to sacrifice the welcoming feeling of our buildings, would they be safer? After years and years without a threat, wouldn’t doors be sometimes carelessly left unlocked, or even propped open for extra ventilation? Unbarred windows may be ways for intruders to get in, but they are also escape routes from an attacker who is inside, as they were for Columbine students escaping Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — or from fire, a much more likely threat.

The heroic principal who challenged Adam Lanza probably did save many lives. She activated the public address system in the school, and her dying screams alerted teachers who put the school in a lockdown. There had been drills. Students knew to hide in closets or other designated areas and be silent. Someone called 911 and the police were at the school in five minutes. The teacher-training, the lockdown drills, and the 911 call saved lives. But they could not save the 20 beautiful children who lost their lives in the first minutes of the attack.

The rest of the community

What about the greater community — the town, the state, or the federal government? Would more stringent gun laws have helped? Perhaps, but probably not. Connecticut has strong gun laws. Adam Lanza did not own the Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle. Because of his age he could not have bought it legally. He stole it from his survivalist mother, whom he also killed. I would argue that no one, especially not Nancy Lanza, needed such a weapon — not for hunting, not for target shooting. It is famously inaccurate except at very close range. It has only one purpose, to kill human beings. It kills by sending a wall of deadly fire in the general direction of the target, and of so many bullets, some usually hit.

I am one who believes that such weapons and ammunition for them should not be sold in the U.S. However, if they were banned, survivalists like Nancy Lanza would probably have found ways to own such weapons illegally. There are even groups who believe that automatic weapons should be stockpiled in case a rebellion against the U.S. government is needed (a paranoid fantasy). If the U.S. were to ban the hateful things today, it would be decades before they would be eradicated. And anyway, if Adam Lanza had been denied the Bushmaster, he might have done nearly as much damage with the other stolen weapon he had with him — another rifle and two handguns.

How about easier gun laws? There are those who argue that allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms would have enabled one of them, perhaps the principal who first confronted Adam Lanza, to shoot and kill him before he could hurt anyone. Or, they say, knowing that teachers might be armed would deter potential school attackers. You’ll hear that from the NRA. While the argument has a certain twisted logic, it is unlikely that a random civilian would have the skill, training, or experience to take out an attacker without shooting and perhaps killing bystanders. Guns in school would raise the possibility of a whole set of consequences much more likely to harm students than an intruder. People who own guns are several times more likely to be killed by their own guns (like Nancy Lanza) than to hurt an intruder. Ask your local police whether arming teachers is a good idea.

Would an armed police officer at the school have deterred Adam Lanza? Perhaps. That’s the one security feature that Sandy Hook Elementary did not have. It’s impossible to say for sure, but it might have helped. From what we know of shooters like Harris and Klebold, it’s likely that shooting the police officer first would have been part of their plan. However for other demented attackers, just the presence of the officer might turn them away, or perhaps a well-trained officer could recognize and disarm or kill an attacker. But if the only reason to have a police officer at school is to prevent killings, I would reluctantly conclude that the risk is too small, and the outcome too uncertain, to justify the expense (at least $100,000 a year). However, there are other, very good reasons for a school to have a school resource officer (SRO) in the building during school hours. SROs are role models and sources of information and counseling not available elsewhere in schools. Especially at the middle and high school level, a SRO can establish lines of communication that will prove valuable in crime prevention, drug interdiction, and public safety outside of school. Therefor, even if the expense is not justified solely by the threat of a shooter on campus, SROs are worth considering by both school administrations and police departments. The extra margin of safety would be a bonus.

The evil that visited Newtown that day was like a tornado or a gas explosion or a meteor striking Sandy Hook Elementary School. Sudden, unexpected disaster can be guarded against, but not always prevented. Communities do what they can to protect children, and children can be consoled in knowing that adults are doing their best to keep them safe. Such disasters are very, very rare.

Dan Cabot is chairman of the Up-Island Regional School District committee and a frequent contributor to The Times.

‘Twas the week before Christmas, the elves worked in shiftsAt generous Grace Church wrapping thousands of gifts.

The children we served totaled 425With Barbie and Batman and Baby Alive.

The ones that we cared for without using their name, Last year, added up to exactly the same.

All got their crayons and lots of Play-DohAnd warm winter clothes to romp in the snow.

There were boots and jackets, lots of balls but no gunsAnd even some diapers for all the wee ones.

Each got one or maybe two booksAnd the food was waiting in crannies and nooks.

The bags overflowed with mittens and hatsAnd dolls and games and gloves and bats.

The volunteers came in a steady streamTo help each child achieve his dream.

Without our supporters we could not do this(WMVY we surely will miss.)

Brickman’s and Basics do more than their shareBy wrapping the clothes that we purchase there.

Without “Chowder” and “Chili” and Harleys on bikesWe’d not be able to give to these tykes.

Each Red Stocking elf has turned off his lightSo, thank you to all and to all a good night.

Kerry Alley and Lorraine Clark are co-chairmen of the Red Stocking Fund.

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Dear Santa,

I turned 60 a couple of years ago and to be honest, I haven’t even thought about writing to you for decades. I am a bit ashamed to admit that many of those decades I spent as a non-believer. I hope you haven’t felt neglected. I know you have a full plate, so I doubt you noticed.

I guess another reason I haven’t written to you is that I haven’t needed anything. My health is pretty good. I have been blessed with a terrific family, a life partner, my wife, so much better than I deserve. She has handled with me with humor and affection. There are two great daughters and two tall, hardworking sons-in-law who cherish them, three practically perfect grandkids, my parents are doing well, and I get along with my brother and sister pretty well.

I can count as friends more people than I have fingers and toes. I also live on the Vineyard in a mostly warm and caring community of interesting people that often feels like one big family. I’ve had plenty to eat, actually a little too much. I have a warm, dry house with running water, hot and cold, tools to make just about anything, a couple of really nice bicycles, the internet and cable TV, a sound system, shelves of books and a couple of guitars I have planned to learn to play since I was 19. I want for nothing.

I still haven’t gotten over the time you tricked me when I was eight. I am sure you remember. I wanted an electric saber saw, one of those reciprocating hand held scroll saws, more than anything else in the world. I got up early to look under the tree, sure I would see the saw.

There were many wrapped boxes that were either the wrong size or not heavy enough and, off to one side near the base of a bookcase next to the tree, a set of two battalions of civil war soldiers, blue and grey. It was an antique free-standing bookcase with old wavy glass doors. It had five-inch legs and an open area underneath. I moved to get a better view of the soldiers and noticed a coping saw under the bookcase. My selfish little boy heart fell through my stomach. I had gotten a crummy little handsaw.

I worked off my disappointment, playing with the soldiers, killing them off one by one until my parents got up and my dad suggested that I look further under the bookcase. I was speechless. The saber saw I wanted was there.

I know there is a moral here somewhere. Don’t give up the ship. You never know what’s under the next bookcase. Life is good. There is a Santa Claus. Whatever it is, I think that event helped me become a pretty optimistic person who thinks there is always room for improvement, even if I still carry a little guilt, more than 50 years later, for being so selfish. Thank you Santa for that.

So why am I writing to you? I would ask you to work for world peace and solutions to hunger, but I am pretty sure that is our work and not yours. I guess I just wanted you to know that I am glad you are around. I don’t need anything. I am a pretty lucky guy. You can skip my house this year. Maybe you can finish up a little early and work in a winter nap, like I plan to do on Christmas. Merry Christmas.

Tony Omer is a Martha’s Vineyard Times staff writer.

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Finally, I was alone at my desk, ready to write. Yet just a single nudge from a soft black muzzle, and I was in the mudroom pulling on my jacket, fumbling for a hat, ready to go. After yesterday’s rain and relentless gray, the world seemed washed to glistening, the need to step out urgent.

I watched myself get the dogs into the car, adjust the seat, turn on the ignition, amazed. How had I abandoned my work without any apparent struggle? Hadn’t I fought hard for the privilege of sitting in that chair? Was it reading William Faulkner with my morning tea? In a single sentence of Pantaloon in Black, he said more about love and grief and time and race and humanity than seemed possible. No wonder my page remained blank.

I didn’t think I had a plan, but the car turned up Island at the end of Lambert’s Cove Road, veered southwest past Alley’s into Chilmark and turned in at the Quansoo Road. This was no longer the dusty slow road of August lined with the big cars of impatient beach key holders. This morning the gate leans open, gesturing a wide welcome for us winter folk. My tire tracks are the first since last night’s rain swept the dirt clear. A twist, a turn, a bump or two, and then just sand, shrub, water and sky, sky, sky.

This dormant time is why I chose and still choose to live here. This pause when one season is behind and the preparations for the next have yet to begin. Now Islanders can fully explore, not the unknown, but the familiar we forget to pay attention to. I park among puddles. The dogs pop out, tails up. There is the footbridge, the creek, and the sandy path slipping up and over the dune. Are there words to describe the sun on Black Point Pond? For a moment I try to grab for the names of colors, tones, feelings and then leave it for someone else. Faulkner would know, but for me it is enough to stand there saturated by its glory.

The turbulent surf and huge waves surprise me as I crest the dune. The hills of sand had muffled the ocean’s ferocity. The beach, like the road, is wiped clean by yesterday’s weather. Ours are the first tracks belonging to human or dog. I pretend I’m Robinson Crusoe as I mosey along picking up pieces of peat, a pair of crab claws, and a few white feathers. There’s a swirl of shells dumped so exquisitely that I wonder, is there a better artist than the sea itself?

By the time we turn back, pushed by sand and wind, I’m singing as loudly as I can an old ballad about stalking the shore. “Dear wind that blows the body free, blow home my true love’s ship to me. Fill his sails.” Too quickly we’re back in the parking lot where our car waits alone. The wet dogs climb in the back, my treasures go between the seats, I’m ready for an egg salad sandwich and even the blank sheet of paper on my desk.

Laura Wainwright, a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury, is a frequent contributor to The Times. This essay originally appeared in Home Bird, her collection of essays that was published by Vineyard Stories earlier this year.

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Steve Nixon said a word to Mev Good, who was stunned to find himself celebrated for his contributions to students and faculty over the year. — Photo courtesy of Elaine Weintraub

In an age when the educational mantra is keep it simple so we can measure it, Mev Good keeps proving that complexity makes life more interesting. Thanks to Mev, students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School have learned to appreciate the wisdom one accumulates through a variety of life experiences and the value of simply listening. Over the last 10 years, Mev has been a substitute teacher and frequent guest speaker at the high school.

On November 30, the high school celebrated Mev Good Day. Now 88, Mev and his wife, Anne, moved to Vineyard Haven in 1989, after retiring from Aetna Life Insurance Company in Hartford, Conn., where he was a senior administrator of training. Since then he has served on several town committees in Tisbury, among many other activities.

Mev’s life has included so much, celebrants agreed on Friday. Students recalled stories of a young man of privilege growing up in a segregated society who drew comfort from the family maid when his flying, pioneer aunt was lost. As an 18-year-old, Mev left Princeton in 1942, to enlist in the U.S. Army.

The Irish history class at the high school created a bulletin board display showing Mev in 1972, standing at Kilmainham Jail, the museum of Irish national independence in Dublin. When high school principal Steve Nixon mentioned that he vacationed each year in the Scottish village of Ballachulish, Mev recalled that his family made their home there before moving to Northern Ireland.

It is not just Mev’s many and varied experiences that have impressed history students at the high school. It’s also that life has always been and continues to be a learning experience for him. He has never seemed to lose his willingness to reflect on his experiences, and he’s always ready to delve more deeply into them. “Knowledge is power,” he says often, “and it helps us to stand up to authority and combat bigotry and intolerance.”

We believe that students have realized that they’ve been very fortunate to have an elder from their community as part of their lives — someone vital and engaged in every aspect of the school. Mev is a part of an ancient tradition of sharing wisdom gained with those who follow, teaching them the values of their community and placing a human face on the long march of history. He’ll be the first to say, “That’s the point, we’re all living history right now, and we all have choices to make in any given moment.”

Looking back at his personal story as it has woven through nearly a century of world history, Mev makes that greater story come alive and makes it real for students

On Friday, all those whose lives he touched celebrated Mev. With balloons, banners, posters, and cakes, various members of the school community dropped in to greet him. Mev wiped his eyes.

“This has been such a moving experience,” he said, wiping his eyes. “You could have knocked me down. I had no idea.”

Not only will Mev Good remember the celebration fondly, but so will all the young people who were so happy to see him and join the celebration.

“I am so glad that I got the chance to be part of this,” senior Bella Bennett said. “I got so much pleasure out of honoring Mr. Good. I won’t ever forget how this day made me feel.”

Kate Holter is a history teacher and Elaine Cawley Weintraub is history department chairman at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

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A strong northeast wind blew across the Island just in time for Halloween, blasting away any illusions that Indian summer might linger. The powerful wind whipped up the waves on Vineyard Sound and rattled our hundred-year-old farmhouse. Ferryboats were cancelled, snarling Vineyard Haven and bringing back

our houseguest who put his dirty sheets back on the bed.

My husband and I ran from room to room dropping storm windows while our dogs took cover under our bed. Expecting to lose our electricity, we filled the claw-foot bathtub with water and gathered a hefty supply of candles, oil lanterns, and flashlights. We brought in plenty of firewood, figured out a meal we could cook on the gas burner, opened a bottle of wine, lit the fire, and settled in for a good storm. We weren’t disappointed.

The wild storms that punctuate each season are part of the thrill of Vineyard life. Tomorrow when the storm has passed, the beaches will be strewn with drift wood and other treasures. Surfers will gather in the parking lots of Squibnocket and other beaches eager to challenge the huge waves. Tonight we are all home waiting it out, pacing our houses, like sea captain’s wives. The whistling winds and thrashing waves accentuate our smallness, and we are grateful for neighbors whose lights, like ours, are off.

The wind reached its crescendo shortly after midnight. We lay awake in our beds listening to its howl and moan. By morning the storm had blown by, but traces of it remained everywhere. Wind and a high storm sea carved deep gullies around seaside boulders, and Lambert’s Cove Beach was sharply cut. Heavy rain lingered in potholes and deep puddles. Trails in the woods were blocked by big fallen trees. Matted leaves and sticks lay atop the grass seed we’d waited too long to plant.

We are entering those months visitors question us about, wondering how we survive here when we don’t have them to entertain us. It’s true there is less of everything except sky and sea. Deciduous trees are stripped down. Fields are reaped, and home gardens have been put to bed. Spring pigs and sheep have been slaughtered. There are fewer homes lit at night and when I’m driving up Island in the evening I can often count on one hand the number of cars I see.

Daylight savings begins this Sunday and falling back is hard. The afternoons are over so quickly. My husband checks the Farmer’s Almanac each day and calls out the number of minutes lost until Winter Solstice, when the days start getting longer little by little once again. This season I’m noticing that with less comes more: more sky, more moon watching, more time to see friends, to read, to cook, to walk. I am enjoying the paring down. I look forward to the hard frost that will sweeten the carrots and provide a clean break to a new season.

There is something benign about lying in the grass in August and watching the predictable parade of shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. This is a soft kind of wonder. The huge winter sky is altogether different. With Orion in ascendance, the sky opens wider and wider as leaves fall and naked branches reveal yet more constellations, more universes, a multitude of suns.

I dress warmly, wear boots and gloves and challenge myself to really study the sharp night sky. Almost immediately its vastness overwhelms me. I love our watery planet so fiercely that I have to look away. Any thoughts about our significance falter. Thank goodness for the moon, our close companion. It’s comforting to know that no matter where we are we are all looking at the same moon.

Now that I’ve lived on the Island for over a decade, I find these stripped down months are what keep me here. The short days hone something essential inside me. The long nights, swirling with galaxies I can’t comprehend, challenge me and whet my appetite for spare simple truths. When all the fanfare falls away, I remember again how sturdy my love is for my family, for people and animals, for plants and stones and all the blessings of this earth.

Laura Wainwright is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury. This essay, written in 2011, appears in “Home Bird,” a collection of her essays published by Vineyard Stories in 2012.

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Steve Hurley, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife southeast district fisheries manager, holds a small trout found in the upper reaches of Mill Brook during a fish survey in September. — Photo courtesy of Steve Hurley

Whether — for ecological reasons — to dredge or even obliterate West Tisbury’s historic Mill Pond is an issue that stirs strong emotions among the town’s residents.

These feelings are so intense that one can envision — if the grist mill dam that created the pond in the 1700s were to be removed — townspeople gathering on a back porch with their guitars to conjure up a new version of an old song, the first four lines of which might be:

“Go tell Aunt Rhody,

Go tell Aunt Rhody,

Go tell Aunt Rhody

The old Mill Pond is gone.”

The 2.5-acre pond was last dredged in the 1970s. Its average depth is probably less than two feet and its deepest portions less than six feet. The most downstream of the man-made ponds on Mill Brook, it has been slowly filling with silt and accumulating aquatic vegetation, particularly at its upper end.

Wild brook trout once lived in the Mill Pond and the portion of Mill Brook that is below it. This is no longer true. Throughout recent summers the temperature of the water coming over the dam has gone into the 70s and 80s, and the same temperatures existed in lower Mill Brook. Brook trout cannot survive, let alone propagate, in water that warm. During the past decade, in my watercress wanderings up and down lower Mill Brook, I have never seen a brook trout swimming or feeding.

Hence the proposal to remove the Mill Pond dam, which had its genesis in a public meeting at the West Tisbury Library last year, arranged by Prudy Burt, a member of the town’s conservation commission. At that affair, Michael Hopper, president of the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition, gave a slide show presentation of his group’s successful efforts to restore sea-run brook trout in two Massachusetts coastal streams, the Quashnet River in Falmouth and Red Brook in Wareham. Both restorations included removal of dams.

I occasionally caught sea-run brook trout — also called “salters” — in lower Mill Brook until the mid-1900s. “Sea-run” is slightly misleading. Unlike the anadromous Atlantic salmon, these trout don’t go to sea. They drop down out of the brooks in which they were born into bays, estuaries, and salt ponds, and return to fresh water to spawn. For a few weeks after their return, they have darker backs and lighter sides than do their fresh water counterparts. Smelt were also in lower Mill Brook when I was a boy, but I never knew whether they were of the fresh water or anadromous variety. An anadromous fish is one that is born in fresh water, goes to salt water to attain growth and maturity and returns to fresh water to spawn.

Mill Brook is about four miles long. Major ponds above the Mill Pond are Priester’s Pond, Crocker Pond, and Fisher Pond (also called Woods Pond). There are also several smaller impoundments along the way, most created after WW2.

Last month, biologist Steve Hurley, who is Southeast District Fisheries Manager for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, visited Mill Brook with his backpack electrofishing survey crew. Fish are temporarily stunned by an electrical charge that emanates from the tip of a hand-held probing rod. They are then netted, identified, measured, photographed, and returned to the water with minimal handling and harm.

Mr. Hurley’s survey was assisted by Prudy Burt, who made arrangements with landowners for access to the brook in various locations. Mr. Hurley and his team found wild brook trout — including young of the year — in the brook and its tributaries from its headwaters above Fisher Pond downstream to a point about a mile above the Mill Pond where their survey of the upper reaches of the brook ended. As an interesting aside, they also found large clusters of American eels, a pleasing discovery, because eel populations in Tisbury Great Pond — into which Mill Brook flows — have been declining.

The American eel is a catadromous species. Each spring, small eels, known as elvers, depart their birthplace — the Sargasso Sea — and range along the North American coast from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, entering estuaries and salt ponds. The females swim up rivers and streams where they attain growth and maturity, which may take a decade. The males remain in their salty environment waiting for the females, which grow much larger than the males, to return. When that happens, they all swim back to the Sargasso, procreate and die, and a new crop of elvers repeats the cycle.

Mr. Hurley and his co-workers found no trout in lower Mill Brook even though it has several substantial cold springs flowing into its east shore.

West Tisbury residents now know that wild brook trout still survive in the upper reaches of Mill Brook, making the restoration of them — if deemed desirable — in the Mill Pond and lower Mill Brook a more attainable goal.

In a recent letter to this newspaper, Bob Woodruff, chairman of West Tisbury’s Mill Pond Committee, examines the complexities of dealing with the Mill Pond dilemma. He favors dredging, but adds — erroneously, I believe — that it would not benefit trout. It seems likely that proper dredging would allow trout to also live — as they did for many years — in the Mill Pond and the brook below it. Also, of course, sea-run brook trout could once again visit lower Mill Brook.

The estimated cost of one dredging plan considered by the Pond Committee was about $400,000, and one dam removal estimate given Prudy Burt was more than $550,000.

These figures should be regarded with caution and are extremely preliminary. For example, Ms. Burt notes that in similar projects in Massachusetts, various NOAA Restoration Partnerships, the national Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and private organizations have absorbed most of the stream restoration costs. Mr. Woodruff notes that outside help for dredging is also possible and that the various dredging plans being considered by his committee vary considerably in cost.

Save for the Mill Pond and Crocker Pond (which once had a grist mill) Mill Brook and its impoundments are a vivid example of the urge to divert or dam a stream for no significant practical purpose that often possesses riparian owners, an urge to which I probably would have succumbed had I owned land with a stream flowing through it as a young man.

The Tiasquam River, the only other major stream, in addition to Mill Brook, that enters Tisbury Great Pond, has three major ponds on it, Look’s and Davis, and one created in recent years by the late West Tisbury artist Stan Murphy. Look’s Pond once hosted a grist mill, and Davis Pond a fulling mill. The remaining small impoundments and the Murphy pond are examples of the aforementioned riparian owner syndrome.

In observing that restoring stream habitat for sea-run brook trout is a laudable goal where “appropriate,” Mr. Woodruff goes to the core of the Mill Pond problem. If the Mill Pond was seen and visited by few, eliminating it would be much less of a social and philosophical problem. For centuries, the Mill Pond has given visual and emotional sustenance to Vineyarders and its visitors. It is presently little more than a shallow mud hole, but it still pleases the eye. It is also a highly visible public treasure. I always slow down and scan its surface for otters, birds, or rising fish when I drive past, and among the memories that seize me is when, 75 years ago, I huddled in my duck blind at its upper end waiting for black ducks to drop down out of a dark December sky.

Nelson Bryant of West Tisbury was for almost 40 years the outdoor columnist for The New York Times. As a young man, he participated in the D-Day invasion with the 82nd Airborne. Later he became managing editor of the Daily Eagle in Claremont, New Hampshire, and then a dockbuilder on the Vineyard, before beginning a career as a columnist that would take him around the world and back again to the Vineyard.