Opinion

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Newspapers, including small community newspapers, have a particular duty to observe the deaths of journalists around the world as they do their jobs. The stories that 40, 50, and 60 journalists a year are killed while working on may seem remote, and the publications they work for may seem obscure, but the safety of journalists everywhere to do their work is a universally acknowledged cornerstone of fair and just societies. We make a social contract to protect a free press in order to help preserve our liberty, and we are all weakened when this privilege is assaulted.

So there is an acute anguish attached to watching and reading accounts of the slaughter in France this past week, leaving 17 people dead, beginning with the executions of four satirical cartoonists at the offices of the Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo and ending, for now, in a crowded kosher market in a Jewish section of the city.

Charlie Hebdo is a predictable target of outrage, and in fact was the site of a firebomb attack in 2011. Its ’60s and ’70s-era satire was intertwined with the social upheaval of postcolonial, post-World War II France. Defiance of authority and humor at the expense of the powerful were essential if destabilizing steps in French modernization.

Charlie Hebdo is generally beloved, but is also showing its age. Increasingly controversial for drawings and prose meant to provoke and ridicule just about anyone in its sights (and not always the powerful and the pompous) at any cost, its satire increasingly tests the limits to which freedom of expression should be taken. Not all of us would make the same choices that Charlie has made.

But terrorists don’t get to define acceptable speech, and the machine-gun execution of satirical cartoonists, armed only with wit and pen, provides stark testimony to the ascending dissolution of all restraint separating social and religious frustration and anger from slaughter-as-remedy. We need, more than ever, an unencumbered press of all sensibilities, to discover, to illuminate, and most of all to get the story out. We are not “all Charlie,” but we need to all be journalists.

Peter Oberfest is the publisher of The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

Annually, Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard (Hospice MV) presents the Spirit of the Vineyard Award to a person, in its words, “whose work has made a difference to individuals and the community as a whole.”

The most recent award, presented at a well-attended ceremony in the West Tisbury library, honored John Early of West Tisbury for his many years of community service.

Were one to apply the same criterion — work that has made a difference — collectively to an Island organization, the fitting recipient would be Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard. Quietly and with no fanfare, often in the most emotionally challenging times of life that an individual and his or her loved ones will face, Hospice MV is there to provide comfort and support. It may be a reassuring hand to hold through a difficult moment, medication meant to ease pain, or advice for those navigating life’s currents.

The four nurses, two bereavement counselors, and approximately 35 volunteers of Hospice MV provide this support seven days a week, at all hours of the day and night.

Since its inception in 1981, its stated mission has been: “To meet the unique physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all who are facing advanced illness and loss, and to give them hope, comfort and compassion. From the beginning, through the journey.”

That Hospice MV does this for free is a testament to its dedicated staff, led by executive director Terre Young, and the generosity of the Vineyard community, upon which it relies for support. No one is denied succor because he or she does not have insurance or the ability to pay.

In turn, by not relying on insurance, Hospice MV is able to provide care unfettered by insurance requirements, and fills a large gap in the health care delivery system.

End-of-life decisions are difficult. Postponing those decisions, or even not talking about them, can have significant consequences for individuals and family members.

At the invitation of the Island’s various councils on aging, Hospice MV leads a conversation on advanced directives and end-of-life care. “That is part of our outreach to the community, and we are very excited to be part of the conversation,” Ms. Young told The Times.

A 500-page report released in September titled “Dying in America” by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that end-of-life discussions become part of the normal course of health care conversation.

That is not now the case. A national survey in 2013 found that 90 percent of Americans believed it was important to have end-of-life care discussions with their families, yet less than 30 percent had done so.

Key findings in the report include the fact that people nearing the end of life often experience multiple and apparently preventable hospitalizations:

“Of people who indicate end-of-life care preferences, most choose care focused on alleviating pain and suffering. However, because the default mode of hospital treatment is acute care, advance planning and medical orders are needed to ensure that these preferences are honored.”

Incentives under fee-for-service Medicare result in more use of services (hospital days, intensive care, emergency care), more transitions among care settings, and late enrollment in hospice, all of which jeopardize the quality of end-of-life care and add to its costs. In addition, payment silos contribute to fragmentation of care, hinder coordination across providers, and encourage inappropriate utilization.”

The IOM report said, “Efforts are needed to normalize conversations about death and dying. Several social trends suggest that the time is right for a national dialogue on this issue, including health care consumers’
motivation to pursue high-quality care for themselves and their loved ones; a growing willingness to share stories about end-of-life care experiences that resonate across diverse groups; and emerging leadership in local communities as well as national coalitions and collaborations.”

The IOM committee said it “believes a person-centered, family-oriented approach that honors individual preferences and promotes quality of life through the end of life should be a national priority.”

Hospice MV has its priorities in order.

John Early: Vineyard spirit

Intertwined with what you do is who you are. In recognizing John Early’s remarkable array of contributions to our community’s life, extending for more than 40 years — selectman, volunteer fireman and EMT, board member — with the 17th presentation of the Spirit of the Vineyard Award on Dec. 26, Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard celebrated John’s character as well as his service.

As Rich Saltzberg reported last week (Dec. 31, “John Early honored with Spirit of the Vineyard Award”), John’s public contributions have always shown a bias toward getting things done — housing units developed, trails built, land conserved — but never at the expense of careful and thoughtful listening. He has also has been a first responder for 40 years. Watching John discreetly take a call while out to dinner with friends and then slip quietly away to rush to an automobile accident or a fire, knowing the suffering he would have to mediate on behalf of families and friends, was a lesson in community service at its most human and fundamental.

In accepting the 2014 Spirit award, John attributed the long list of challenges he has undertaken to his failure to realize that “no” could be a complete sentence. While that was appropriately self-deprecating, it’s not that John is a pushover; it just isn’t in his nature to turn aside a chance to be useful.

As we bid goodbye to 2014 and anticipate the promise and challenge 2015 holds for Martha’s Vineyard, New Year’s Day provides an opportunity for Island leaders to take stock — if only at halftime — and consider the course they will chart moving forward. For some it will be full speed ahead; for others, a change may be advisable.

Almost one year ago the board of the Vineyard Nursing Association, faced with mounting debts, made the sensible decision in January 2013 to sell the agency to the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNACC), part of Cape Cod Healthcare, a $700 million operation that is the leading health care provider on the Cape.

Ultimately, the deal collapsed. The VNA ended operations on March 11, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod picked up the pieces, insuring stability for a critical component of the Vineyard health care delivery system, one that serves the Island’s overwhelmingly aging population.

The challenge now is how to knit together the network of services that the Island’s aging population will require. The Dukes County Health Council’s Healthy Aging Task Force is grappling with the problem. It will not be easy on an Island with six towns and six of most everything else.

In a year-end essay, part of a collection of essays that appear in this week’s MV Times, Paddy Moore of West Tisbury, co-chairman of the Healthy Aging Task Force, described the dimensions of the challenge. “It is expected that 70 percent of people who reach age 65 will need long-term care at some time in their longer lives, usually for an average of three years,” Ms. Moore said. “This means the Vineyard must strengthen home care services to enable elders to age in their homes, and establish more assisted living facilities, and more nursing home beds.”

Windemere, the Island’s only nursing home, will not be able to meet the need. Ms. Moore said it is time “to explore and develop new models of nursing homes, such as the much-praised Green House model of small cottages with private rooms, private baths, mixed funding, and unusual staffing.”

She is correct. But the task force will be hard-pressed to move forward without significant cooperation from Island agencies and boards. There is an opportunity in 2015 for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which too often is focused on the natural landscape, to direct some of its planning horsepower and $1.4 million budget to the Island’s equally important social landscape.

As we move into 2015 and glance in the rearview mirror, we see the decrepit fixture of the Stop and Shop market in Vineyard Haven. This project was one of Tisbury’s missed opportunities in 2014.

The company wanted to construct a new two-story market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. The company agreed to provide much-needed parking, pay to move a house that no one had paid any attention to but suddenly took on historic importance, and at the request of town officials contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements. The project in its entirety would have transformed a block badly in need of a magic wand.

But in May, after one year of planning, meetings, squabbling, and an excruciating public hearing process that oftentimes resembled a game of “I’m thinking of a number; what is it?” Stop and Shop withdrew its application before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The town and the larger Island community were left with nothing to show for this exercise. In a vague corporate statement, Stop and Shop said it would “remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the Town of Tisbury.”

Tisbury selectmen and planning board members have an opportunity to exercise leadership and extend an invitation to Stop and Shop executives to return to the Island and move forward in partnership in 2015. The status quo is unacceptable.

A far less visible battle took place in 2014, one that will continue to play out in 2015 in federal court in Boston with potentially significant ramifications for the entire Island.

On August 6, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled from the bench that the town of Aquinnah and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association Inc. (AGHCA) may intervene in a lawsuit Governor Deval Patrick filed to block the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from building what the tribe has described as a boutique casino in its unfinished community center on tribal lands.

The central issue and major hurdle in the tribe’s long-running battle to build a casino, either in southeastern Massachusetts or on tribal lands, is the Settlement Agreement, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987, which stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time.

The tribe did not oppose intervention by the town, but did object to intervention by the AGHCA. In his remarks from the bench, Judge Saylor said the only real question was whether the town or the Commonwealth could adequately represent the association’s interests.

Judge Saylor said, “They are both political entities with different interests that may change over time, depending on the interests in part of the elected officials who are the decision-makers.” He noted that the association, by contrast, is made up of private landowners with private economic interests.

And he continued, “To flesh it out a little bit and to look ahead, one of the questions here — it’s not directly raised yet, and it may not be raised — but if the Settlement Agreement is not valid or not enforceable, the question is, what then? As I understand it, private and public property was transferred to the Tribe as consideration for the Settlement Agreement. I don’t know what happens at that point. Maybe things are left where they are. Maybe there’s some issue of unjust enrichment or taking or something. I don’t know. But, in any event, depending on the twists and turns of this case as it develops, it’s possible that private landowners may have a very different interest than the governmental bodies in the future; but certainly at the present, their interests are sufficiently divergent that intervention is appropriate.”

Stay tuned in 2015.

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At a recent Donors Collaborative meeting of nonprofit executive directors, Betty Burton, who runs the Family to Family Holiday Meal Program, told the group that if they wanted to see a great example of collaboration, they should come to the program’s Thanksgiving distribution. It was, she said, an incredible effort by a long list of donors and volunteers that included Island farmers, Island Grown Gleaners, the FARM Institute, Vineyard Committee on Hunger, Reliable Market, Cronigs, Stop and Shop, the First Baptist Church, preschoolers from the First Light Day Care Center, 10 members of the high school football team, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School faculty and students, members of Daybreak Clubhouse, and the financial donations of hundreds of Islanders.

Collaboration is a buzzword in the nonprofit world that elicits varied reactions. Donors and foundations encourage it because they believe it gives their gifts more impact, and they see it as a solution to a glut of nonprofits, many with overlapping missions, which would benefit from merging. Nonprofits can feel threatened by large-scale collaborations or mergers because change can be scary and people’s jobs are at risk. Nevertheless, Vineyard nonprofits have been finding ways to work together, mostly through joint programming and marketing efforts, but donors and foundations are insisting more be done.

So how can we overcome the natural forces that impede the community benefits of larger-scale collaboration? One way is to learn from those who are doing it.

Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone and chairman of the recently formed Arts Martha’s Vineyard, the Island’s arts & cultural collaborative, said she was skeptical about the benefits of collaborating with competing arts and cultural organizations until she attended a meeting several years ago where they were all brought together to discuss how they could address common issues. She has been astonished at the camaraderie and business they’ve developed. Also, they aren’t going to the towns for money but instead are getting state and national grants because they are collaborating. She’s passionate when encouraging others to not be afraid to collaborate. “We have to get the elephant out of the room, focus on what’s good for M.V. and the entire Island,” she said.

Julie Fay, executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, said her organization started two new large-scale collaborations after identifying critical gaps in services for Islanders.

Working with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, they filled a gap in addiction and mental health treatment by establishing an on-Island community crisis stabilization program (CCSP) on the hospital grounds. This will help reduce the number of Vineyarders who have to be sent off-Island for hospitalization for acute distress due to addiction or mental health issues. It will also reduce treatment costs.

Community Services also helped form the Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC) to address the sharp increase in the demand for youth-oriented mental health services on the Island and the lack of resources to handle it. They plan to better coordinate the efforts of Island clinicians and provide specialized training, along with increased outreach and prevention programs for kids and parents. The IWYC is comprised of members from the public schools, the hospital, the YMCA, the M.V. Youth Task Force, and private practitioners. This collaborative effort was impressive enough that it received a larger-than-requested grant from the Tower Foundation: up to $300,000 a year for two years.

Foundation money will continue to drive collaboration on the Vineyard. The recently formed MVYouth plans to invest a remarkable $1 million a year in youth programs and have made it clear collaboration is a key criterion.

The Vineyard also has issues at the other end of the age spectrum, as the bubble of baby boomers reach their golden years, and more and more seasonal residents retire here. The Island will feel this impact much more than the rest of Massachusetts and the country: the 65-plus population of the Vineyard is predicted to grow 134 percent by 2030, while the U.S. elderly population grows only 81 percent and the state 61 percent.

These numbers raise big questions about town budgets for the Councils on Aging and the Center for Living, and about future needs for housing, transportation, assisted living, homecare, and basic health and human services. To address these issues, the Donors Collaborative helped put together the Healthy Aging Task Force (HATF), a group of more than 36 health, human services and municipal organizations that provide services to Island elders, working to address the needs of our growing elder population.

It is clear that to succeed, the HATF will need to develop new models of service delivery and patient-centered care, which will require large-scale collaboration and major changes in the way things are done. Our doctors, the hospital, the VNA, Elder Services, home health care organizations and others will need to work together as a team, sharing information and responsibility for managing individual patient-care plans.

The needs of our growing elder population do not stop at town lines, and the big elder issues of affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure, and workforce development clearly require Island-wide solutions. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission needs to add social services to its planning agenda, and the six towns through the four Councils on Aging and the Center for Living need to have a unified mission and plan for meeting the growing needs of Island elders if they are to improve the efficiency, quality, and quantity of services offered.

So how can we overcome the bureaucratic challenges to changing the status quo that impede large-scale collaboration and regionalization?

Betty Burton also described her Thanksgiving Food program as an “all-Island community affair,” and it is indeed a great example of how the entire Vineyard community comes together to help those in need. Both of our Food Pantries, the Red Stocking Fund, and You’ve Got a Friend are shining examples of this. We do community really well, but need to improve collaboration.

What Julie Fay did, however, is really just the same as what Betty Burton did, but on a larger scale. They both mobilized people, organizations, and resources to help Vineyarders in need, and their focus was on the Vineyarders, not their organizations. Betty used volunteers and small donations while Julie used paid staff and large grants.

Could the solution to improved collaboration be to just think of it as community, but on a larger scale?

Peter Temple is a resident of Aquinnah and the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, an advocacy organization devoted to sustaining the Vineyard by strengthening its nonprofit community.

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GreatPondBluefishIn mid-November of this year, a series of sunny days with light southwest winds moved my partner Ruth Kirchmeier and me to extend the fishing season by going forth for white perch in Tisbury Great Pond’s Town Cove.

In mid-afternoon we paddled our canoe south down the cove from Mill Brook to the mouth of the Tiasquam River (brook) where we anchored. I began spincasting a tiny Hopkins stainless steel jig — its single hook adorned with a small piece of squid — and Ruth got out her pencils and crayons and a sketch pad. A superb woodcut artist, she rarely climbs into a canoe without the tools of the initial phase of her trade.

White perch are one of our favorite food fishes and I had good reason to anticipate success, having caught many of them in the same spot in previous Novembers.

After 20 minutes of casting without a hit my optimism was fading.

A sharp strike startled me and I was startled again when my hooked quarry leapt from the water, something that white perch don’t do.

It was a big snapper — a handsome, gleaming bluefish of about a pound and a half. I caught several more of the same size in the next hour.

Ruth was delighted. She greatly enjoys one of my recipes for cooking snappers of this size. I scale and gut them and make an incision down the lateral line on both sides, brush them thoroughly on both sides with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper and a substantial dusting of garlic-flavored bread crumbs, and bake them for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. It is a good idea to check them with a fork after 10 minutes. If the flesh flakes apart easily, they’ve been cooked long enough.

Tisbury Great Pond is a so-called salt pond, opened to the ocean — typically four times a year — by man. The reasons for these periodic openings include maintaining proper salinity for the pond’s oysters and soft-shelled clams, allowing access by spawning alewives (herring) and spawning American eels in spring, and avoiding the flooding of pond-side fields, marshes, roads, and homes. White perch also enter the pond to spawn, although some members of that species remain in the pond year-round. Low salinity and cold water doesn’t bother them and they can live their entire lives in freshwater ponds, lakes, and streams.

From the Tiasquam River’s outlet south to the ocean, the West Tisbury-Chilmark town line goes down the center of the pond. The pond’s riparian owners — there are about 100 of them — in both towns have formed an organization that is responsible for opening the pond at the proper times. They also annually elect a president, vice-president, clerk, treasurer, and three commissioners. They assess themselves annual dues of $100 each. In recent years, pond openings have cost about $600 each.

In 1839, the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commissioners made formal notice of the ecological need for periodic great (salt) pond openings, and in 1904 the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the riparian owners of all such ponds (save Edgartown Great Pond) in Dukes County to form organizations that would attend to pond openings. The Tisbury Great Pond riparian owners have been doing this for more than a century.

Kent Healy of West Tisbury — a civil engineer who is one of the Tisbury Great Pond riparian group’s commissioners — says that his organization confers with various state agencies about the timing of the openings. As an example of this, Brad Chase of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is a frequent visitor to the Vineyard and Tisbury Great Pond.

The day I caught the snappers, the pond was high. It had been last opened in mid-July and had closed a month later. As of December 5, it was still closed. If the health of the pond’s fish and shellfish isn’t being threatened, the pond’s stewards let it fill until it is about 3.5 to 5 feet above sea level.

Snappers enter the pond in early June if it is open. They are usually six to seven inches long at that time, having been spawned offshore in the Atlantic in late spring. In the western Atlantic, bluefish range from Nova Scotia to Argentina. Bluefish can live to be 12 years old. Maximum weight is over 30 pounds, but 20 pounders are unusual. A five-pounder is considered a good fish by Vineyard anglers. The species is found throughout the world in most temperate oceanic waters.

Bluefish reach sexual maturity in their second year. At that time they are from 12 to 18 inches long. A three-year-old female produces from 0.6 to 1.4 million eggs annually.

Large bluefish occasionally enter Tisbury Great Pond, but don’t make a habit of it and rarely range any great distance from the barrier beach. Bluefish are voracious feeders and one of the reasons the snappers enter the pond is to escape predation from other fish, including their parents. Another reason is that ample food for them — including shrimp, crabs, silverside minnow, and young menhaden — is plentiful in salt ponds, bays, and estuaries.

The snapper’s habit of seeking food and shelter in salt ponds sometimes backfires. My son Jeff, his son Sam, and I observed this firsthand a few days after Ruth and I caught our snappers.

During the previous week Jeff and I had been refurbishing our three waterfowling blinds at the outer end of Mill Brook and putting out duck and Canada goose decoys. Because the pond was high, we used an aluminum skiff to get to those blinds. Two or three times an oar dipping into the water produced swirls from fish we judged to be more than a foot long.

We had already noted that the last two downstream pools in the brook were filled with great numbers of menhaden an inch or two long, medium-sized silverside minnows and some half-grown sea robins.

On our return to the landing in our skiff, the light was such that we could see what had caused the swirls: scores of large snapper blues surging up and down the pool. Jeff decided to fish the pool with Sam the following morning which was the opening day of the waterfowling season. (He wanted some snappers for smoking and freezing, and we had already made plans to hunt ducks and Canada geese in that spot the afternoon of the same day.)

A sad and sobering scene greeted my son and grandson when they arrived at the pond.

The bottom of the brook and its shores and the marsh beyond was littered with dead snappers and a much smaller number of sea robins. Gulls, cormorants, black-crowned night herons (locally called “quawks,” my own spelling), eastern turkey vultures, and crows were feasting on them. Most had been eaten by mid-afternoon. I suspect, although we didn’t see one, that otters also took part in the feast.

I should add that we didn’t inspect the remainder of the pond to see if other contingents of the fish had perished. The shallow pond covers about 600 acres when it is low and 800 when it is high. A few days later I learned from Tony Rezendes of West Tisbury that Nick Bayer, who has a home on the pond, had seen dead snappers on the shore in the Tiah’s Cove area.

Whilst duck hunting the east side of the main body of the pond in winter over the past half-century, I had occasionally seen young bluefish breaking water among my decoys, or clusters of them lying frozen on the shore of Tiah’s Cove, but this most recent experience was the only time I had observed schools of them alive one day and dead the next.

I felt that cold water was the major cause of their demise although low salinity would also have been a factor. The air temperature had dropped below freezing on recent nights. Bluefish less than 10 inches long need water temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to survive. Larger bluefish can take a bit more cold. If the pond is open when its waters get too cold for bluefish, they return to the warmer ocean.

The day we found the dead snappers I took the water temperature of the pond at the brook’s mouth. It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time that day in the ocean offshore of the Vineyard near Nantucket Island, the Nantucket Sound Main Channel 17 Lighted Gong Buoy recorded a surface water temperature of about 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jeff and I assumed that — ignoring the lower salinity they encountered — the snappers and the sea robins had pushed their way into the brook to dine on the silverside minnows and the young menhaden.

Because the snappers we found ranged from 8 inches in length to one that was 18 inches long and weighed 2¼ pounds, we also came to believe that separate young-of-the-year contingents — or even a few from the previous year — had entered the pond.

I have come to think that those responsible for opening the pond to the ocean should include the welfare of bluefish in their endeavors and that all of the salt ponds within the bluefish’s range up and down the Atlantic coast should be similarly regulated. This is a relatively inexpensive way to further protect one of our most valuable food and game fishes.

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 dock builder on the Vineyard, before beginning a career as a columnist that would take him around the world and back again to the Vineyard.

About the artist

Beginning in 1979, Glenn Wolff’s pen-and-ink illustrations accompanied Mr. Bryant’s Outdoors column. The evocative images and attention to detail traced the currents of the written word in a collaboration that delighted New York Times readers for 26 years and was renewed in The MV Times (November 2012, “Writer Nelson Bryant recalls a lifetime in the hunt”). Original fine art, prints, and more information is available at www.glennwolff.com.

Cold weather, gray skies, and rain cannot dim the holiday mood on Martha’s Vineyard this Christmas week. Decorations and lights of all shapes and all levels of grandeur add a festive glow to Island storefronts and houses along the quietest country roads — the Donaroma’s Christmas light display in Edgartown and the Gatchell family house in Oak Bluffs are a treat.

The pleasures of life in a small community during the holiday season were easily seen this week. “How are you? Merry Christmas!” was a common refrain. On the sidewalk, strollers, shopping bags in hand; at the post office, people waiting to mail off presents, or pick up packages; in shops and restaurants, friends embraced friends and exchanged news.

Early Christmas morning across the Island, children — and adults for whom Christmas still kindles childhood delight —  will scramble out of bed to discover what Santa left under the tree. And Santa has been quite busy.

The familiar Santa is a jolly big guy in a red suit who visits one night a year. And then there is the Island Santa. He or she — yes, she — is generally a less flashy dresser, though not necessarily thinner. The hair may be black, brown, red, or nonexistent. That Island Santa, in his or her many forms, has been very busy. Some Santas write checks, some collect them, but all provide a multitude of gifts to the many nonprofits that support our community every day of the year.

For example, one day in November a group of Island Santas rode motorcycles around the Vineyard collecting more than $15,000 in money and toys in support of the Red Stocking Fund. This month a group of Tisbury schoolchildren raised another $3,000 for the same organization.

And throughout the fall, a dedicated group of mostly women collected clothing, food, and toys for needy Vineyard children as they have since the 1930s. Over eight decades, the Red Stocking Fund has brightened Christmas for thousands of Island families. This December, over the course of three days, these Santas and their volunteer elves gathered in the basement of St. Augustine Church to wrap presents that will be found under trees in hundreds of homes on Thursday.

Letters to the Editor regularly speak to the generosity of Islanders. In a letter that appears this week, Margery Pires of West Tisbury, a foster mother, wrote that due to the generosity of the Red Stocking Fund, three young children, ages 5, 8, and 10, will “have a blessed Christmas.”

Also this week, in a Letter to the Editor, Greg Ehrman, a member of the Niantic Park Playground committee, a group of volunteers working to build a playground in the Oak Bluffs park, described a fundraising challenge — $5,000 for a matching donation — that Island Santas easily met.

And in a story published this week, reporter Barry Stringfellow described the energy that motivates the stunning display of Christmas lights Robert Gatchell has been putting up for 33 years at his house on County Road in Oak Bluffs. It is the centerpiece of a collection effort for the Island Food Pantry. In front of his house Mr. Gatchell has placed a large collection box where Island Santas can donate food and/or checks. Last year, Mr. Gatchell said, he collected $1,000 in cash donations and 28 cases of food.

In one week the year will end, and Martha’s Vineyard will enter several months of what can best be described as a period of Island hibernation. There will be no bright displays or cheerful holidays to break the winter gloom as we stay fixed on the prospect of spring.

This week, despite our individual and varied circumstances, we do our best to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, surrounded by all the gaiety and warmth that our small community provides. Merry Christmas to all.

After years of neglect, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has begun to pay attention to the historic Mayhew Chapel and adjacent Indian burial ground on Christiantown Road in West Tisbury. This effort is welcome and long overdue.

For years, the burial ground was lost in a tangle of briars, brush and poison ivy. In recent months, tribal workers have begun clearing brush from around the simple stones that mark the burial sites of the first Native American converts to Christianity.

In a story published this week, Bettina Washington, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) historic preservation officer, told reporter Steve Myrick that once the landscape is clean the tribe will attend to the condition of the Mayhew Chapel, named for Thomas Mayhew Jr., the first minister to Christianize any of the indigenous peoples of New England, beginning in 1643.

Set on less than one acre, the grounds are all that remain of the “one mile square given by Sachem Josias for a praying town for Indian converts to Christianity.” Their descendants constitute the oldest continuously existing community of Christian Native Americans.

Prior to November 1993, when Dukes County and not the tribe owned the building, elder members of the tribe regularly welcomed visitors to the chapel, which also was used for weddings and other events in keeping with the character of the building and its pastoral surroundings.

More than 25 years ago, Wenonah Silva, former president of the Wampanoag tribal council, lectured each summer Sunday on tribal history at the Christiantown chapel. A plaque outside the chapel directed visitors to the burial ground and a nearby wildflower sanctuary.

The chapel now sits sad and forlorn in appearance, its roof and window sills rotting, paint flaking inside and out. Ms. Washington told The Times that the tribe would like to have the chapel open this summer. The long-term goal is to have the chapel open and staffed by tribal members on weekends.

Deeds, not words, are long overdue from a tribe that has often opined about the value of its cultural heritage, yet has allowed this important place to deteriorate.

One year ago November, Tobias Vanderhoop, former tribal administrator, was elected chairman of the approximately 1,200 member tribe. Asked about the condition of the Mayhew Chapel in an interview prior to the election, Mr. Vanderhoop told The Times, “I am embarrassed by it and saddened by it.”

Mr. Vanderhoop said the tribe needed to do better. We agree and we are happy work has begun.

In that same interview, Mr. Vanderhoop commented on the unfinished community center on tribal land in Aquinnah, which outside investors, with the tribe’s blessing but not the state’s, want to turn into a “boutique casino.”

Mr. Vanderhoop said he had heard from many members that the tribe needed a place where young and old can gather. If elected, he said, “One way or another, that building is going to be completed.”

The community center shell was erected in the summers of 2004 and 2005 by Air Force reservists from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. In all, over six weeks, three squadrons of approximately 20 reservists in civil engineering groups worked on the project.

The 6,200-square-foot structure, erected at taxpayer expense, was to include a gymnasium, kitchen facilities, and meeting space. The fact that nine years later the building sits empty and unused is an insult to the citizen soldiers who built it and undermines the respect that this sovereign nation demands and expects.

Tisbury takes a toll

Not surprisingly, as they have for years, Tisbury selectmen Tuesday voted to dun the town’s non-resident property owners and keep in place the residential exemption under which qualified year-round residents get a break on their property tax bills at the expense of their non-resident neighbors.

No other Island town imposes this inherently unfair policy that is in place in only 13 other municipalities in the state.

The underlying logic is that we year-rounders are under some sort of hardship because after all, we have to live on Martha’s Vineyard all year and tend the place until the seasonal swells return. And as we all know, it is expensive to live here.

Of course, it is less expensive than it might be if our seasonal neighbors had to pay for many of the municipal services they do not use, beginning with Tisbury school costs, $9.5 million in 2015. Or decided to be less generous to the many Island nonprofits that they support.

A total of 1,045, or approximately one-third of the town’s 2,906 property owners, benefit from the discount. There is no question that some residents have trouble making ends meet. And that taxes continue to increase for all of us. But pitting voters who benefit from the tax exemption against non-voters who must pay for it, is inherently unfair.

Some towns have senior work-off programs that allows elderly residents to shave their tax bill. There are towns on the Cape that impose a permit fee on weekly rental properties. Tisbury leaders ought to do better for all the town’s residents.

This map prepared 24 years ago labeled "Design Concept for Vineyard Haven Port Redevelopment and Transportation Hub" shows a new terminal on Beach Road and a town park and marina where the present terminal is located.

Having lived for better than 80 years (40 full-time on this Island) I know climate changes. I was here for the blizzard of ’78, and plenty of hot humid days since. And I was also here when the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) began. So I am a little put off by last week’s commentary (“A weighty choice awaits the MVC”) by the directors of 350 Martha’s Vineyard Island (350MVI) that the most important thing for the next director of the MVC to deal with is “climate change/global warming.”

The MVC is a regional organization. Can our Island region change climates? Or cool the earth?

According to Steamship Authority (SSA) traffic reports, we are toting about 1 percent more people to this Island every year — people you can count — not just computer-modeled temperatures. Now that seems to me to be a regional issue. What are we going to do with all those people?

The answer is simple; we will crowd them on to ever smaller lots. But how will we feed them? Not with local farms alone. How will we heat all those houses? Fuel all those cars and pickups and SUVs? The SSA will just have to do it — more boats — bigger boats — more trips per day.

I am sure that Stop & Shop, UPS, and all the other transporters can make bigger trucks, longer trucks, and plenty more of them. The problem is, what will we do with them when they arrive? Will we remove the Vineyard Haven Post Office so a wide curve can be made at Five Corners for the ever-longer trucks (or the articulated truck trains) to make the turn up the hill?

Will we be stuck in ever-longer lines to get up the hill or down Beach Road ourselves, in ever more cars or shuttle buses? Since these turns must be negotiated before we can eat, I think we have come upon a real “regional” issue. It perhaps is not as sexy as climate, but it is a damn sight more realistic an issue for the MVC.

So what is the answer? Move the Steamship terminal, of course. Where? Down Beach Road past Packer’s terminal, where traffic can exit both ways on the straightaway. Will it be easy? Of course not, but compared to slowing climate change it will be a slam dunk. Cost? Have you seen the national budget lately? It’s full of local projects like this.

And once the SSA has vacated that area, Vineyard Haven would have an opportunity to create a charming, income-producing town marina that incorporates eateries and shops along the waterfront, which would draw residents and visitors alike to shop, to stroll, to enjoy the area, while some of the land becomes available for badly needed parking. Is that a natural, or what?

This is not a new idea. Almost 24 years ago the MVC produced a drawing of a design concept of the move by John Schilling Sr., a member of the planning staff at the time who also served on the Tisbury board of selectmen. Will the Commission noodle around for another 24 years talking about changing the climate, while something doable here at home deteriorates further into deleterious fuel-spewing gridlock? Why not prioritize finding a new director who will work with Tisbury’s visioning effort and assist the Commission in worthy work which will win accolades from Islanders and visitors for decades to come?

J.B. Riggs Parker of Chilmark is a former Martha’s Vineyard member of the Steamship Authority, Chilmark selectman and planning board member.

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The founding goal of 350 Martha’s Vineyard Island is to facilitate collaboration to address climate change. We recognize that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) holds a unique position of opportunity and responsibility for how the challenges posed by climate change are handled. Therefore, understanding the unique history and potential of the commission, we regard the search for an executive director as a pivotal milestone in determining the future of our Island.

In this spirit, we offer the following input and urge the selection of an individual who is ready and equipped to lead the MVC with the implementation of its already existing Island Plan to combat the climate changes resulting from global warming.

To quote Oak Bluffs conservation agent Elizabeth Durkee, “Climate change is the most critical issue facing the Island. And, as our regional planning agency, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has a responsibility to aggressively address its short and long-term impacts. Just about every issue facing the commission is affected by climate change.”

We believe this to be an important and accurate assessment. As stated in the MVC’s Island Plan, “It is now clear that the Earth has entered a period of considerable climate change, threatening our coastline, ponds, farmland, wildlife habitats, buildings, and economy.”

As 350MVI, we are also very much aware that destructive, chaotic, climate change is arriving much faster than any of the science has predicted. Virtually every week there are new findings that give more cause for grave concern on an Island in these waters. In the words of David Vallee (Hydrologist-in-Charge at NE National Weather Service, June 2014), “We are a tremendously vulnerable region. Planning is of the utmost importance. It must reflect storm events that will undoubtedly far exceed the damage from Irene and Sandy.”

Before those storms, five years ago, the Island Plan had the foresight to state, “The potential sea rise is much greater for Martha’s Vineyard. The Cape and Islands are among many areas around the world where the earth continues to subside relative to sea level.… It is reasonable to assume that local sea level rise may be significantly higher than worldwide projections, meaning that significant public infrastructure as well as private properties on the Vineyard are at risk and will be inundated at some point.” The document also states, “the Island Plan is both a blueprint and a call to action.”

In our waters, the average rise in the past 100 years stands at about 1 foot, mostly since 1950 and accelerating now. Also, in the five years since the Island Plan was launched the suspected threat to our lucrative shellfish industry and our fisheries is ever more real. Many local scientists, including Scott Doney (WHOI Chair of Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry), have warned of the threat posed by nearly one-third of our extra atmospheric CO2 dissolving in and acidifying our oceans is happening to such an extent that shellfish will no longer be able to form their shells efficiently. To quote Doney, “The process of ocean acidification is well documented in field data, and the rate will accelerate over this century unless future CO2 emissions are curbed dramatically.”

Included in the Island Plan’s overall goals is an intent to “Protect the distinct and diverse character of the Island’s six towns, while forging a stronger regional perspective for dealing with Island-wide issues.” Further, the Plan states, “Achieving greater diversity and balance will make a stronger, more resilient community, economy, and natural environment, better able to withstand whatever surprises come our way, from a global financial crisis to global warming. Resolving apparent conflicts often comes down to making sure we do the right thing in the right place.”

Thus, we feel it imperative that fresh MVC leadership will need to make this coming together an urgent priority — to help nurture our towns, our inter-town and inter-agency relationships, and our local collaborations between year-round, seasonal residents and businesses — and to foster intimate cooperation and communication. Surely, on this island “the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

We consider that a commitment to “do the right thing” as part of a united community is crucial if Martha’s Vineyard has any chance to continue as a viable, thriving place to live.

We recognize that the new executive director for whom we are searching needs the skills and character required to handle all the responsibilities entailed in the work of the MVC — but it is clearly essential that she/he have the knowledge, skills, experience and drive necessary to help navigate a course through the climate crisis that is already crashing in on our beaches, bluffs, coastal infrastructure, estuaries, freshwater supply, marine biology, terrestrial ecosystems and human economy.

We look forward to supporting the MVC’s search for a new executive director in any way we can.

Nicola Blake, Mas Kimball, Chris Riger, Antigone Rosenkranz

350MVI directors

Thomas and Mary Folliard, the recent target of some very unwarranted public mudslinging over their plans to build a two-car garage close by Edgartown’s 177-year-old pagoda tree, told the Edgartown conservation commission and the historic district commission last week that they have shelved plans for a new two-story, two-car carriage house style garage as part of an extensive home restoration project taking place on their quarter-acre South Water Street harborside lot. Instead, according to their architect, Patrick Ahearn, they will build a one-car garage on an existing garage foundation that will not impinge on the tree.

Critics of the original garage plan worried that construction, no matter how carefully orchestrated, might damage the root system of the tree. That stress, they said, might prove fatal to the tree. These were reasonable concerns, but they only emerged following an extensive public process that ended with board approvals of the original plan.

The Edgartown conservation commission held four separate public meetings. No member of the public spoke in opposition to the garage or expressed concern for the tree.

Mr. Ahearn’s design left the root system open to the air. And Mark DiBiase, an arborist, devised a plan to water the tree, provide nutrients, and aerate the compacted soil.

The conservation commission unanimously approved the plan on October 29.

There is nothing in the public record to suggest the Folliards were unwilling to take every precaution to protect the tree. Or had any inkling that the garage plan would stir controversy. They had every reason to think their plan would be beneficial, even appreciated.

David Hawkins, a consulting arborist hired to advise town tree warden Stuart Fuller, reviewed the plan and determined that it would adequately protect the tree. “Both the cultivation/aeration process and the fertilizer application will help improve the soil and the tree’s ability to counteract any negative effects of the construction and encourage root growth in the area,” Mr. Hawkins wrote in his review for the town.

Vineyarders have a long history of coming on board to protest late in the approval process. The Folliards had followed all the rules, survived the approval process, and had every expectation and right to proceed with their plans with no further delays or expense.

News stories, first in the Vineyard Gazette and then The Times generated significant criticism, much of it rooted in emotion rather than botanical science. Edgartown selectmen expressed concern. Online commenters treated the Folliards to lectures on Vineyard taste, aesthetics, manners, class and architecture, and expressed a familiar Vineyard sense of petty resentment toward the wealthy that is absent when the wealthy are being asked to fund community endeavors. The condemnation was unfair and unwarranted.

The wish to construct a grand house on Edgartown harbor is not a new phenomenon. More than a century and a half ago, Thomas Milton of Edgartown took time on one of his worldly voyages to preserve a cutting from a pagoda tree, and carry it back from China in a flower pot to South Water Street where he was building a stately home befitting his status as a successful sea captain.

The Folliards have demonstrated a sense of neighborliness that many of their critics did not.

About that front page photo

Some readers of The Times were unhappy and even offended by the photo of a dead deer on the front page of the issue of December 4.
Each week, The Times staff chooses a front page photo that illustrates life on Martha’s Vineyard. There are many elements that affect that decision-making process, including the quality and strength of the image, photographic elements (framing, color, focus), the news value of the image, and its timeliness. There are basic newspaper rules. People clearly shown must be identified by name in the caption and the photo must not be altered without informing the reader.
The news last week was the shotgun deer hunting season. Hundreds of hunters took to the woods of Martha’s Vineyard. Shots echoed. In a larger context, efforts to control the burgeoning deer herd is part of a public health initiative to reduce tick-borne diseases. State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife biologists staffed a check station in the state forest where they inspected and weighed deer taken during the first week of shotgun season. The information gathered on the health of the Island deer herd factors into future management.
A community newspaper tells and illustrates the community’s stories as clearly and powerfully as possible. The excellent photograph on the front page last week accurately and dramatically captured the reality of the weigh station and the hunting experience.