Essay

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.

by -
0

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.

by -
0
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.

by -
0

In our house, the fever begins to build months before the official start of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Around March and April, the chatter starts about the upcoming Vineyard fishing season and the Derby. My husband, Sol, and his fishing buddy, Ed, start having conversations about what the strategies will be for making sure they have the right stuff to fish with.

What lures and flies worked last year? What new gear do we need this year? (They always manage to need something new. I smile.) When should we book a captain? And on and on.

Calls to other fishing friends take place as we get near summer. As I move throughout our apartment from one room to the next, I can hear Sol talking to his fishing buddies. “When will you be on the Vineyard? We need to lock in some fishing dates.”

When the phone calls are not occurring, still I can hear the constant, feverish clicking of the computer keys facilitating the hunt for fishing websites. The best sites convey the latest catch of various fish on Cape Cod and elsewhere. The online fishing reports are almost always supported by the reporting fisherman’s take on how big his/her fish was, tips on the lures or flies of the day, and let’s not forget those video playbacks with the sounds of roaring seas, whistling reels, and excited fishermen’s voices, as they bring in their catch. All of that allows the viewer to relive the fishing experience and pass it on to other fishing buddies.

Uh-oh, here we are, it’s July and then August. Boat captains, fishing buddies, and fishing strategies must have been locked in long before this.

By the end of August, the children and grandchildren have finished their vacations on the Vineyard, and have left the Island for home. It’s time to focus on Derby activity. There are flies to tie, lures to buy, captains to confirm, Derby badges and hats to buy — and make sure you pick a lucky number for your Derby button.

Spouses and significant others get ready, the Derby is about to start. There’ll be fishing from the boat; fishing from the shore, high tides and low tides, squeaky doors at 6 am and 10 pm, leading into and out of our house. There are sandwiches to make, alarm clocks to set. non-Derby activities to be scheduled around fishing dates and times, early morning fishing buddy calls to answer, stops to make (usually on the way to some place that I want to go) at Coop’s, Larry’s, and Dick’s Bait & Tackle, to buy more stuff and get the latest scoop on hot fishing spots. There are fishing clothes to wash, weigh-ins to attend — we hope. G grand slams; leader boards to appear on and prizes to be won — if we’re lucky. But the best part of all, is hearing the stories at the end of each daily fishing trip. And of course, the “one that got away” is always bigger.

On one Wednesday during the Derby, Sol came in around 10:30 pm after fishing for hours. Though I had settled into bed, I sat right up to hear the night’s fishing adventure. Sol filled me in. “I threw out a fresh eel and got a bite. The fish took the bait. It was a good fight before I got it to shore. The hook was right in the corner of his mouth. I’m glad I got the fish in before the hook pulled out of his mouth. The striper weighed in at 17 pounds. I’m glad Ed invited me along tonight.”

Sol could not have been happier than I that he caught such a wonderful fish. As any spouse, or anyone close to a Derby fisherman knows, you don’t want too much time to pass before there’s a Derby-worthy fish — right kind, size, method of catching — caught.

Sol continued, “I’ll be fishing on Friday. Oh, and we’re going out Thursday too. What’s on your schedule? Do you need me to help with anything?”

As he was talking, I was thinking to myself: in spite of all the fishing excitement, he’s pretty good about checking in to see if I need anything, and I’m pretty good about knowing when to take him away from the Derby and when not to.

On one Thursday, Sol returned from fishing and filled me in again. “It was slow today. We went a lot of places and drifted out some eels. The fish were too small, we had to throw them back. The captain was good. What’s for lunch? I’m whipped, I’m not going out tonight. Strike that, I just got a call from Ed, we’re going out tonight. I have to make sure I have the right flies. I’m going down in the basement to tie one more fly.”

It’s almost the end of September and I’m hoping to make it through another Derby.

Looking at the Derby from the other side — my side — it is never boring, lots of fun, and I’m always happy when Sol returns home safely. When the Derby is over, I look forward to the next year when the fever starts to build and the stories start to flow.

by -
0

Our eldest granddaughter has been coming to the Vineyard ever since she was a little baby. So, three years ago, while a sophomore in college, she asked if she could live with us for the summer, if she could find a job. Needless to say, we were overjoyed, thrilled, and every other adjective that would apply to a granddaughter asking to live with her grandparents. Her love for this place is as deep as ours, and we were ready for the experience, as was she. She found a wonderful job which developed into new friends, learning experiences, business lessons, and meeting all kinds of people.

It is now three years later. She has been here for three summers, living with us for months in the summer, working hard, being with her friends, being with her aunt, uncle, and cousin who also live here, and being a perfect boarder. She would spend many hours working, many hours at the beach, spending as much time as possible with other young people, eating out at her favorite restaurants, biking, kayaking, shopping, texting, reading, conversing, and most of all, challenging us with her dreams, her goals, and her complexities about her future.

But, now, she has left us to go back to college for her senior year, and the silence is deafening, as they say. My husband and I were away for the weekend, we returned late in the afternoon, rounded the corner to our house, and there was no Honda Civic. I walked into the house, and her shoes, always in the hall, were gone. Her favorite foods, such as seafood spread from the Net Result, were gone, the Brie in the cheese drawer was half eaten, her favorite croissants were almost gone, my bike, which she rode, was still on the front porch, and most of all, I realized that she was on her way back to school…and the missing her started. There is no more of her running down the stairs to take her much-needed outdoor shower. There were no more dinners together on the deck, where we would all devour any kinds of fish, which she adored. There were no more conversations about “life” or the “tempo of life and the times,” no more discussions about “I haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life yet,” and so on and so on. And, watching her go out in the evenings all dressed up like a true twenty-one year old, looking so beautiful, new outfit, great hairdo, and smile on her face, will also be something we will miss.

However, we are content. The memories she has given us are unexplainable. The joys she has given us are unmatchable. I only hope that she has learned as much from us as we have from her, and as she looks towards graduation, she will feel secure in whatever decision she makes going forward about her life. We know that the Vineyard has been nothing but nurturing, informative, mentally expanding, and loving. I know it will be a “forever” place for her, as it has for us and our whole family. How lucky we have been to have her in our lives at her age and at our age.

by -
0

And so, once again, I spent the majority of my August vacation on the phone with Comcast. This is nothing new. Every time I come home to visit my parents, whether it’s midsummer or Christmas time, a whole slew of tech issues await me. Last time it was the brand new Apple laptop that wouldn’t turn on because it had never been plugged in. The time before it was the cell phone that was never answered because the ringer wasn’t turned on. As if my parents actually wanted to see me.

The last time I was home, this July, there was a lightning storm that knocked out the telephone, internet, and television with one strike: the true Comcast Triple Play. This meant that I came home this week to an entirely new system: two new phones and an answering machine that didn’t answer, an internet cable that didn’t carry any signal, a “brand-new” wireless router with a significantly decreased range, and HD channels that “didn’t look very HD,” according to my dad.

Sweet. Nice checklist. After sitting at a desk all summer, the last thing I wanted was to look at a computer or pick up a phone. I longed for a project with a definite end and immediate rewards, something I didn’t have to schedule two weeks in advance. I know, I thought, I’ll go mow the lawn to get some exercise and get my mind off all things tech or work related. Oh wait, Comcast’s solution to the cable outage was to strew a cable wire across the front lawn. Guess that’s out of the question then. “Isn’t this a little dangerous?” “Nevermind that, the 6 pm Sportscenter’s on in 10 minutes.”

Of course, even when things are going right with all the technology, I’m still on call 24/7. Ever since I was old enough to go away for the weekend, I’ve gotten calls, not to see if I got there all right, but angry calls about how many remotes were needed to turn on the TV and how all we got this for was to watch the Sox, and somehow we can’t even do that. Now, living in New York, I still get calls from both parents about various tech issues, meaning that the calls to Comcast are not merely an Island phenomenon.

About once a month, something happens to the picture on the TV, and I have to sift through my dad’s explanation of the problem: “Now they’re squishy.” “No, that didn’t do it, now they’re all stretched.” “Now their heads are cut off.” I quickly get online and start reading FAQs and tech forums, hoping to find a solution before my dad finally follows through on his threat of walking up the road to the head of Comast’s mansion and banging on the door to see if his cable is working. “He’s probably got a dish anyway,” I tell him.

For every problem I solve, another two seem to pop up. During this summer’s European soccer championship, I had to explain to my dad how to use the DVR, both how to record and then watch it back. “Record it first, then I’ll tell you how to watch it. One thing at a time.” The other night my friend was over watching the Red Sox and re-wound at one point during the game to watch a play again. “Now how’d you do that?” my dad asked.

Oh God, don’t show him that, I thought. I’m not even sure how that works. I could just imagine the call, “I was trying to use the fast-forward and now it’s been paused on this guy’s shrunken, cutoff head for a week.”

When I’m home from the city, the only activities that interest me are either manual labor or relaxing. So, I go sit on the back porch and try not to look at the overgrown backyard or the vines threatening to tear the roof off. As hard as I try, I can’t help running through a quick inventory in my head: 1. Lawn either overgrown or charred, check, 2. At least one issue with Comast, check, 3. Christmas lights still up – or I guess already up at this point, check.

Enough. I have to be able to relax for at least a few minutes, I tell myself and finally manage to tune everything out. I have to at least momentarily disconnect, disidentify myself as a series of zeros and ones, and read something that isn’t in manual form. To just be alone with my thoughts and the breeze and the sounds of the waves, and the offensively invasive dull roar of the cropper chopper.

I imagined what their infrared technology was picking up around my house. Not much wireless signal, that’s for sure. The thought of all that state-of-the-art, fiber optic, or whatever, technology wasted checking out my tan – “Don’t judge it, I’ve been inside all week on the phone!” – and not being used in my wireless router and cable cord, took my wandering mind right back to technical issues this “vacation” was supposed to help me tune out.

Whenever I come – especially in the summer – I spend the few weeks before imagining the Island as a place where time will stand still. Living in New York, I find myself constantly searching for an end, for a moment when things actually stop. Some nights, I just sit in the park when it’s empty and no-people watch. Of course, as soon as I do get home, I realize that there’s plenty to do and plenty that I want to do as well. Instead of a chance to recharge, I usually end up going back to the city more tired than when I left. And sure, sometimes I do envy the people who come for a week, a month, a summer, and can actually relax when they’re here, but to me, to notice the creaky floorboard, the invading vine or the squished head means more than any “vacation” ever could. It means home.

Sam Griswold lives in New York, although much of his tech rehab business takes place at home in West Tisbury.

by -
0

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is a good place to die, I thought as my mother lay fading away in a hospital bed overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor on a sunny afternoon as the Shenandoah made her way to sea.

A woman had just entered the room — to deliver a meal, or replenish the linen closet — I forget exactly why. But upon unexpectedly finding me sitting there, she reassured me that my mother was comforted by my presence. “Helen, your son is here,” she said to the frail woman who stared blankly out the window. Her familiarity, the kindness in the voice of someone who could have simply entered and left without a word, affected me more than the sight of my mother dying in a hospital bed.

Several days in the hospital brought my mother, 87, back from the brink, but the outcome of her medical trajectory was never in doubt. With the reassuring professional guidance of Dr. John Lamb, I said that the best course would be to let her return to Windemere, her home for the last four years of her life. We agreed there would be no more trips to the emergency room or hospital stays. The effort would be to keep her comfortable, and not use medical technology to prolong life in a body that was ready to give it up.

My mother had lived in her own house in Boston until it became too much for her to cope with ownership, and she moved into an elderly housing complex in the neighboring town of Dedham. The Vineyard chapter of her life began four years ago. On one of my periodic visits to her apartment, I discovered months of unpaid bills, undeposited checks and uncompleted paperwork. There was a fall that ended with a trip to the local emergency room and a nearby rehabilitation facility. I reluctantly realized that my mother, a very independent and private woman, could no longer live on her own.

It was also the start of my education in the bureaucracy of aging: well before we bury our elderly in dirt we bury them in paper. Medicare has endless forms and health care choices. There are supplement plans and prescription drug plans and variations of the same. It is a bewildering menu for those who must cope on their own.

One insurance form I tried to complete for my mother said, “Do not populate below this line.”

“What does ‘populate’ mean,” I asked the helpful woman on the other end of the toll-free telephone line. “Oh, that means write,” she said.

“Well,” I said, “why not use ‘write;’ it is a perfectly good word.” Of course, I did not expect the insurance bureaucracy to undertake a rewrite on my behalf. It was frustrating, and there would be more of it.

My mother did not have a lawyer or accountant on the payroll. There was no trust protecting the money she had managed to save over a lifetime of hard work. The cost of a shared room and board in Windemere is approximately $7,000 a month. It is a lot of money, but writing checks month after month has a way of making the figures not seem real. I suppose it is a defense mechanism.

The calculus is this. Unless you are wealthy and have prepared in advance, or you are poor and you are already receiving state assistance, you deplete all your assets until you only have $2,000 left to your name. At that point, the taxpayers take over the cost of nursing home care.

The more you have, the more you pay out. The less you have, the less you pay out. If you have nothing, you don’t worry about it. If you are a middle class hero, you are pretty much on your own, and you worry plenty.

Your first worry is that the nursing home accepts Medicaid and will have a room available. Many only accept private pay. Your second worry is how in the world you will ever be able to complete the Medicaid application.

I hired a lawyer at a cost of several thousand dollars who specializes in Medicaid applications. I was advised to consolidate what was left of my mother’s bank accounts, and purchase an annuity that would pay out a set amount each month.

My mother’s combined monthly income, including a social security check for $1,354, was approximately $3,500. And each month for almost four years, I wrote a check for about $3,500, and Medicaid paid the balance.

On Friday, I called the Social Security office to report that my mother had died on July 25. The woman told me that my mother’s monthly July social security check would be debited. Because my mother had died before the end of the month she would not receive that month’s check. I told the woman that my mother’s nursing home bill was based on that payment.

“That just seems so unfair.” I said. The woman said nothing. There was a pause.

“On behalf of Social Security I do wish to extend our condolences on your loss,” she said.

Over the course of four years, my habit was to visit Windemere each week and take my mother to lunch in the hospital cafeteria, then push her wheelchair through the hospital corridors. The new hospital provided a nice addition to our route.

My mother always looked forward to the second floor and the window that provided a view of the nursery. She particularly liked the sign in the window, “beach babies.” Most afternoons it was empty, but one day we hit it just right. A newborn was being swaddled in a blanket as the proud dad looked on. The nurse saw my mother in the window and brought the newborn over to give her a better look. My mother beamed. She was happy to tell anyone who would listen that she had once given birth to twins.

Each week, we would encounter people she had met in one capacity or another. “Hi Helen,” was a familiar greeting. The intimacy of the day-to-day caregivers, from cafeteria workers to nurses, the genuine warmth of the greetings reflected the ties that bind our community and elevate the experience of being in the hospital or Windemere.

After my mother returned to Windemere, I stopped in, if only briefly, as often as I could to reassure her that I was near. She did not speak, she only stared straight ahead. One night, she lay trembling. The night nurse, a young woman named Anna, came in and began stroking my mother’s forehead and speaking to her soothingly. Anna’s was one of so many of the small interactions I had witnessed over the past four years between patients and staff at all levels.

Anna left the room and returned with some medicine to make my mother more comfortable. My mother spent her last week of life in a shared room looked over by loving and caring people.

Nelson Sigelman is The Martha’s Vineyard Times managing editor.

by -
0

Wet bathing suits are back on the line, and we shower outside amid pale pink roses that tangle in my hair. We brush by the fireplace in our rush to get outside, barely recalling its central place in our lives these past six months. Summer solstice is just two days away and now we’re eating barefoot on the porch and listening to screen doors slap.

More visitors arrive every day. Hummingbirds have been dashing to the feeder since early May. Catbirds and bluebirds have nested, and the first eggs have already hatched. A friend tells me that when I hear the catbirds sing, I am listening to mothers and babies calling back and forth, trying to strike the right balance. Too much calling and they will attract predators. Too little, and the babies might get lost.

Our phone, quiet in March and April, starts ringing off the hook in June. “We’re here on the Island, can you come to dinner?” “Can we visit you for three or four nights?” Like the catbirds, finding the right balance can be delicate. Too many guests and we feel like we’re running a hotel. Too few and we feel selfish, hoarding this thick summer beauty.

It’s hard to set limits when a niece travels all the way from Singapore to visit, or a friend from elementary school days wants to drop by. Saying no when the fecund world is shouting yes is a challenge. Even the days are deliciously lopsided, with seemingly endless light and short nights punctured early by vibrant birdsong.

What helps me rebalance in these hectic summer months is a good swim each day. Morning plunges start in early June when the water is bracing and cold. Diving in takes my breath away, but I sputter to the surface exhilarated to be here doing this once again. As the water gradually warms, a dip becomes a long, leisurely swim in the shallow waters of Lambert’s Cove. I drop a towel on the beach and swim west to the inlet of James Pond and back. The water is so clear, I sometimes see striped bass swimming nearby. Occasionally water and movement and beauty create an alchemy that is the closest I get to rapture.

Today I swam in Ice House Pond to remind myself this delicious alternative is always available. When beach parking lots fill to bursting and visitors outnumber us ten to one, I often leave our wide open saltwater rim to the summer guests and turn inland.

With space for only four cars, this tiny Land Bank property off Lambert’s Cove Road is an ideal place for a quiet swim. Songbirds, flowering blueberries, and stands of oak and evergreen circle the small body of water. Swimming here can be a relief after the challenge of the open sea. Little fish with flashes of blue-green on their fins feed on the sandy bottom, their backs dappled by sunlight. Diving in, I braced myself for the sting of salt, but my eyes opened easily in the fresh water. I drank some. It had a loamy, sweet taste. My body was heavier in this fresh water; instead of being buoyed, I felt embraced.

Picking up a languid crawl, I swam to the middle of the pond. Voices of two other swimmers drifted over the spun sugar fog as they called to one another like catbirds. Suddenly it was quiet, and I was alone. I floated on my back and soaked in the magnificent wide sky. The tensions of this season drained away in the cool water. By the time I got out and dripped dry on the metal dock, I had fallen back in love with this Island, with summer solidly fixed on our glorious dizzy planet. At home, with a lighter step, I stood in the warm grass and pinned my bathing suit to the clothesline. The catbirds were calling to and fro in the thicket nearby.

It’s all about finding the right balance.

Laura Wainwright is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury. Her essays appear here from time to time. Her book of essays, “Home Bird: Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard,” was published this month by Vineyard Stories. She will sign copies of Home Bird at the Bunch of Grapes on Saturday, July 28, from 2 to 4 pm.The illustration accompanying this essay is from Home Bird.

by -
0

I got into the habit of coasting downhill in neutral my first winter on Martha’s Vineyard, in the fall of 1979. I had a book contract and a National Geographic Magazine assignment, but would be broke until my literary ships came in. The habit continued the fall of 1997 when I returned to work for The Martha’s Vineyard Times, then again in 2004 when I returned to the Island after a few years off. Once more, I had a book contract and a National Geographic assignment. Once more, I was broke. Not much had changed.

In 1979 I had rented the Captain Silva House, which my old, now-departed friend Doug Parker had just bought on State Road on the outskirts of Vineyard Haven (eventually he turned the barn into a gallery called On the Vineyard, now the Trustees of Reservation offices).

The Captain Silva House sits at the bottom of a dip in the road, whether coming from up Island or down. To save on gas, whenever I returned home I would shift my ’72 Volkswagen Bug into neutral and, as my calculations and skills improved, could coast all the way into my driveway from the top of the hill — all of about half a mile — without ever stepping on the accelerator pedal.

It was my understanding, fact or not, that such a tactic, legal or not, safe or not, saved a few dear drops of fossil fuel, ergo protecting both my pocketbook and the Planet. If it was illegal, not to mention slightly dangerous, I defended it with the good old ends-and-means justification. (By the way, there’s no mention of it being illegal in the Commonwealth here: http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90).

At the time we were in the throes of an oil crisis, so a gallon cost — gasp! — around 85 cents. It was not much compared to the approximately $4 one shells out today. But still, I reasoned unreasonably, a half mile here, a half mile there could add up by the time I’d reach the Pearly Gates – or got rich enough to buy a piece of Windy Gates.

There was another flaw in this strategy to save a few precious pennies on even more precious petrol. In case you have not noticed, Martha’s Vineyard is not exactly, say, Nepal. Hills are not plentiful. Downhill skiing is not our big tourist draw. Our poor incline-deprived kids are reduced to sledding down that paltry mound at Tashmoo Lookout from not-quite-nosebleed heights.

Yet, over time I discovered the hidden ups and downs, ebbs and flows, rises and falls — in short, the topographical sensuousness of the lady landmass named Martha.

For example, from just about in front of the Tisbury Farm Market on State Road in Tisbury, an ever so gentle incline begins to take a coaster all the way to Five Corners when there’s no traffic and if there’s a slight wind at your back.

From the intersection of the North Road and the Menemsha Crossroad, you can make it all the way to the Menemsha Galley and, if you’re not careful, right into the pond.

From the scenic Keith Farm overlook on Middle Road in Chilmark you can roll down to Beetlebung Corner. And then there’s that glorious roller coaster a half mile further east on Middle Road.

While I have not saved a fortune, in the process I found a greater value in the practice. It has taught me to slow down, to appreciate the scenery I sometimes forget to admire in the summer rush from farmers’ market to beach to fundraiser to cocktail party, or in the winter blahs when all I pay attention to is when summer will arrive.

Over many years of my own Island ups and downs, of brushes with literary immortality and love eternal (brushes regrettably avoided), and of jobs come and gone, I came to another realization: coasting on Martha’s Vineyard is not just a driving technique – it’s a way of life. In fact, it may be our defining lifestyle choice.

It’s very easy to coast through life here. You can cobble together a living, make enough money through the busy summer months – drive a tour bus by day, shuck oysters at parties by night, garden or hammer nails when called upon, sell a little real estate here and there, live off your trust-afarian inheritance, whatever it takes – and still disappear to Vieques for the winter with what disposable income you care to dispose of in any indiscriminate manner you choose. Then you can come home and do it all over again and again season after season. I know people who have lived that way for decades, well past the time when you may dismiss this modus operandi as the devil-may-care randomness of one’s 20s and 30s.

Then too, the landscape remains relatively the same. Oh, there is change: the sudden and complete disappearance of such beloved and iconic landmarks as Humphreys in North Tisbury one season, or the unsettling appearance of a trophy house that blocks a heretofore unobstructed view from your own trophy house on Osprey. But generally speaking, the scene stays reliably, dependably, beatifically just like it was last year, just like it will be next year.

The same can be said for people’s social landscape. From one year to the next, it’s the same old same old faces at the same old same old Fourth of July parties. As time goes by, in fact, those social circles become blessedly insular.

In a manner, time here can effortlessly stand still, lulling us into the belief that we can coast not just in neutral, but almost with eyes closed, trusting that the curves and hills are right where we left them the last time we had to shift into gear.

And therein lies the final flaw in my coasting system, whether metaphorical or not. At some point you do have to shift into gear to move forward. You can’t coast uphill.

Nonetheless, for those few miles — or those few years — the thrill endures, luring us into the firm conviction that coasting, at least on Martha’s Vineyard, is a good thing.

Perry Garfinkel, a former editor of The Martha’s Vineyard Times Calendar section and the author of “Buddha or Bust” (http://www.perrygarfinkel.com) promises to shift into gear. Soon.

by -
0
Londoners Gerard and Sarah Griffin plan to remove these wires to improve their West Chop view. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

To view or not to view, that is the question agitating the hearts and minds of so many MV Times readers, whether to praise or blame Londoners Gerard and Sarah Griffin for spending a lot of money to get poles and wires out of their West Chop water view.

Taking down three poles and burying the cable along 300 feet of road, running them upwards of $100,000. That’s counting the cable, the conduit to run underneath the road, resurfacing the road, what with professional plans and permits, oh probably more than $300 a foot. Just to free their view of poles and wires.

Some Times readers applaud the Griffins, but some call them elitists, for spending so much money, just for a view.

All this foofaraw put me in mind of when I dealt in poles and wires and views. Five poles did not get taken down; they were never put up. A thousand feet of cable disappeared underground. The view, not just mine, but for neighbors then and to come, remained pristine. And not for $300 a foot, not for $100,000. No, for a measly $4,000, $4 a foot, tax and tips and plans and permits, not withstanding, just with digging.

And some mental agony.

This was back in 1974 (oh, I know prices have gone up since then), it was not in West Chop, it was in Gay Head, where Emmett Carroll was building me a little camp, in off Moshup Trail. It had a little, small, very small, blue ocean view. Without poles and wires.

The power company, not Nstar, Cape & Vineyard, would put up four or five poles along the Trail, from where their poles ended, two lots down from where my house was going up. Then they would put up one more pole on my road. Cable included. They’d pay for all that.

But that 600-foot stretch of road without poles and wires did look kind of nice.

Even if Cape & Vineyard was going to let me bury my own cable in their right of way along the Trail, which they were not going to do, I’d still need all kinds of permits.

Permits from Dukes County, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (after all, a project of regional impact), the Massachusetts Power Commission, the Department of Public Works, even the Gay Head board of health. It could and probably would be a federal case.

I was stubborn. No poles, no wires, no how.

It was my friend, Bill O’Gorman, who laid out the plan and got me the cable at a bargain price.

I’d go over private property. Two lots I didn’t own to cross, and then under my road to the house.

The first thing was the cable. We didn’t worry about conduit. Who needed conduit? What was conduit? We weren’t going under public road. We were going under private property, and our cable was the same as the power company was stringing from pole to pole in the view. We would be legal.

Bill had found a thousand feet of cable. Cape & Vineyard insisted on 25,000 volt cable. As Bill said, only 5,000 volts was going into Gay Head. But we’d be prepared for 25,000 volts, just in case, for the centuries to come.

That cable was thick as my wrist and weighed a ton wrapped around its spool, waiting at the house site. Bill had found it on sale, out of season. I think it was 87 cents a foot. Maybe $1.27. Still, a tidy sum. A thousand feet of cable, but nowhere yet to put it.

Had to get the right to cross two lots. They belonged to a woman in California. Had to be legal. I got upset when her lawyer on the Island laid out the legal problems. I pounded the table.

“No poles, no wires,” I shouted. “Her lots won’t have any poles or wires in front of them. The view will remain unsullied.”

The lawyer thought I was crazy. But I promised to cross along the bottom of her lots, where nobody would build and promised to save the vegetation, promised to let her tie on anytime in the future, for $500 a lot.

In the end, she didn’t charge me anything. But there was the fee for registering her grant of the right of way, and the lawyer’s fee for representing her and me. All in all, it was around $300. The Island way.

Now to tie onto a power line. A Gay Head neighbor had the line running up from Moshup Trail, on poles along his road to his house. But his ocean view was over the Vargas lots, and over the Trail where I was not going to have the power company put up poles and wires. If he’d just let me tie on to his pole.

I promised I’d do everything in my power to keep poles and wires out from his view. Bill O’Gorman had said we could put down concrete boxes at the intersection of the lot lines, so anyone could tie on. I promised to put down the boxes.

My neighbor gave me the right to tie on to his pole. He even gave me $400 toward what the project was costing. The costs were mounting. The cable. The lawyer. The concrete boxes. The hardware to connect the cable to the pole. The ditching.

It was turning into the Gay Head & Ochsmark Power Company (GH&OP). Maybe I could sell stock.

On the ferry, I ran into an electrical engineer who told me the exact gizmo I needed to connect my cable to the last pole. Only $80 or so.

The ditching. We got Joe King, with his backhoe. The ditch had to be three feet deep, clear of stones. We led him along the bottom of the next-door lots, dodging around the bushes. Not too crooked, because we had only the one thousand feet of the 25,000-volt cable. We didn’t take out one bush.

Joe dug out holes for the concrete boxes. One for each lot line intersection. Goodale brought the concrete boxes. One was not cured properly, and it started to collapse in the hole.

I raced out in my ancient BMW and caught up with the Goodale truck at Alley’s. They came back and took out the bad box. They brought a new one the next day.

Brad, our own, young off-Island electrician – we called him Brad Electric – connected the cable to the pole. Joe unspooled the cable into the ditch he’d dug, making a loop inside each of the concrete boxes. Across the neighbor’s lots, up my road through Leonard Vanderhoop’s lot, and up to the house. Cape & Vineyard would put in the big transformer, to get the 5,000 volts down to house current.

The 1,000 feet of cable was just enough. We had less than 30 feet left over up at the house.

Verizon came and put the phone line in next to the cable. A dozen pairs, enough for future users.

Then we had to fill the ditch. We filled the first foot down by hand. Bill, his son Rick, Brad, and me. Then Joe pushed the rest of the dirt down. No stones. When the land freezes, stones move. If they move against the cable, bruise it, the cable shorts, and we have no electricity. Then, you have to find the fault and fix it. That’s why the concrete boxes are good. The fault will be between two boxes, not anywhere along the line. And, the power company doesn’t pay to fix it. It’s not their cable. I’d have to pay.

Finally, no poles, no wires. Just air and sky, between my neighbors and me, and all who pass on Moshup Trail.

All added up — cable, boxes, ditch, the lawyer, filing fees — it came out to just under $4,000. Four dollars a foot for five poles that didn’t get built.

I think the Griffins did just right. For me, that $4,000 was the best money I ever spent. That view, still there, priceless.

Peter Ochs, long-retired from NBC, is a veteran Gay Head hand, from before Gay Head became Aquinnah. He’s still on Gay Head time. Mr. Ochs owned a summer house off Moshup Trail for years, and now he rents for several months annually, near where he used to own. The rest of the year, he lives in Vienna.