Senator Edward M. Kennedy's death reminds us of his undoubted and never diminished affection for our part of the world. Noteworthy, of course, is the Cape Cod National Seashore, as permanent a legacy as the shifting tides and northeasterly winds will allow. The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), in an oblique way, testifies to the senator's interest not only in Cape Cod but also in the islands of Dukes County. It was the Senator's 1972 legislative proposal, known as the Nantucket Sound Islands Trust Bill, that both galvanized opposition to the senator's preservation plan, eventually leading to its failure, and inspired Francis Sargent, the governor of Massachusetts at the time, to begin in response the effort to create the MVC, whose influence is with us today.
The Nantucket Sound Islands Trust Bill called for the federal government to annex Nantucket, the Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands to protect us from the threat of damaging development that had been gathering since the late 1960s. A complex set of rules would have prevented all development outside then existing town centers and shifted ownership of all open lands to the Secretary of the Interior, to be held in trust for the American public. Islanders, the opponents argued, would become wards of the state. To hold off the feds, Islanders embraced, not warmly but guardedly, the state.
After the stain of Chappaquiddick, which had raised the Vineyard's profile and may have inspired some of the development Senator Kennedy's Islands Trust Bill was created to interrupt, the senator might have been wiser and kinder to himself to avoid linking himself to legislation affecting Martha's Vineyard. But, his commitment to his neighborhood and ours was strong and enduring, as were his other statewide, national, and global commitments. The senator's long record of broad and unwavering determination to do good for others may - one hopes it will - redeem the record of tragic blunders of years past. They will certainly survive in the memories of many, along with their affection and respect for the man.
This page has waged a long campaign to end the use of certain trite and misbegotten adjectives to describe the Vineyard and its charms. We've outlawed "special" and criminalized "precious." Sad to say, we've not had a lot of success. Now, with the president visiting, attended by the worshipful but underemployed global press, a vile new adjective has cropped up. It's "swank," as in Farm Neck Golf Course is a "swank" place. A press pool type committed "swank" in cold blood.
Farm Neck is lovely, a great place for a walk, with clubs or without, in summer or winter. It's a semi-private course that anyone can play, according to the rules and with limits. Founding members and full members have privileges, naturally, but so do Island members. Plumbers, carpenters, reporters, teachers, and their sons and daughters play there. The high school golf team plays there. It's terrific, beautiful, challenging, and in most respects modest in its appearance. Hardly swank.
And, that's true of the Island generally. Lovely but modest. Some splendid houses in spectacular places, but not so many and not so splendid as, say, Palm Beach, which may deserve "swank." May even like it. Some of the best spots are owned by families who've been summering here for generations. They call their summer houses camps or cottages.
There are well known people here, but there are lots more little known ones, and most of the big shots aren't here in the winter. There are people who live in trailers or tents in the summer so they can rent out their houses to pay the mortgage. Most of the newer houses were built by boomers 20 years before retirement, so the rental income could pay the mortgage until retirement became the full-time job. None of the six Island towns meets the state's requirement that 10 percent of the housing stock qualify as affordable housing. Many of the more modest earners among us live in houses on one- or one-and-a-half-acre lots that were called too small when they were created and would never be replicated today. We like our density low. We are notoriously helpful and generous to those in need, but we argue like banshees over the slightest thing. We spend lavishly, delighted that most of the tax dollars come from wealthy summer property owners who can't vote.
We were delighted when former President Bill Clinton and his family visited in the 1990s, and we are delighted that President Barack Obama, his wife, and their children are here this week. We like it that our place offers pleasure and respite to a friend with such a tough job to do.
But, lest the Vineyard reveal itself to the Obamas as merely the realm of golf courses, rich folks, and "I Partied With President Obama on the Vineyard in 2009" tee-shirts - as the global press seems to make it out to be - consider another possibility.
Imagine, it's late in the evening. The president, his wife, and the kids step off the long, low porch from Tony Fisher's old place. They've kept the girls up on purpose. They stroll down the sloping lawn to the boathouse and the dock. They ask the black suited sniper stationed there to give them a minute. They lie back on the dock, looking up and listening. It's dark, really dark, just stars and a quarter moon lighting the scene. It's quiet, but not silent. Across the way, there's Flat Point Farm where sheep used to roam. To the right, there's the boom of the surf on Quansoo beach. To the left there's the edge of the property where the Tiasquam River flows into Town Cove. That's where the blue heron of the title lives. There may be some gurgling, maybe a hawk or an owl making hunting and navigating noises.
It's hardly "swank," but it's the Vineyard, and perhaps it's refreshing.