Islanders explain what keeps them busy in winter

Susan Safford

While the crowds of summer see the Island at its blossoming height of tourism in July and August, a question pops into their minds as they get set to leave. Inevitably, Islanders are asked, “What do you do here in the winter?”

Anyone who has spent at least one winter on the Vineyard has their own answer(s) to this question, but the question is posed as if there is only one answer to encompass all the year-round residents of Martha’s Vineyard.

After talking to a few residents in their 20s who have true winter experience, it came as no surprise that most create their own unique routines to pass the time. Even if the routines are different, there are shared ideologies for living day-to-day life on the Vineyard in the winter.

Sean DeBettencourt is 29 years old. He lives in Chilmark, and works at Tisbury School as the fifth and sixth grade social studies teacher. Sean grew up on the Island and knows the winters well.

“I think it’s important to find yourself some type of hobby,” Sean said. “When it comes to keeping your sanity together in the winter, you find a small group of like-minded people and pick up a hobby, pick up an activity, something you do together. It doesn’t hurt having a loved one by your side to spend the winter with, either.”

Sean played on the golf team when he attended Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and this hobby has stuck with him. He’s grateful that the Island winters still allow him to participate in the sport. “I play golf,” he said. “I played on the team in high school, and it’s something I had to take a break from during college, but when I got back here it’s something I really glommed onto, and I try and get out there whenever I can.”

Those dedicated enough to the sport will hit the links in winter weather, but Sean has noticed that it’s not just the golf courses that are occupied: the Frisbee golf course located in the State Forest has quite the diverse following as well. “I play disc golf,” he said. “It’s wonderful because it’s free, you can pick it up at six in the morning, or three in the afternoon. It’s great. You get a very diverse population with disc golf.”

Seniel Hannagan is 27. She lives in Vineyard Haven and owns and operates her own hair salon, Circuit Style, on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. As a business owner on a busy main street, Seniel knows the polarity of summer and winter very well. “I find that I like the winters here because it gives me time to just relax. ‘Me time’ is good time.

“I like the winter because I can take more time off from work. In the summer it’s crazy, so it’s nice to have some time that’s really just me time. I get errands done, and then I give myself permission to do whatever I feel like. I think winter gives people time to take up things they’ve always wanted to do, like yoga, or writing — anything that usually gets pushed aside.”

Tristan Atwood is 24 years old and lives in West Tisbury. He works for Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, and this is his first winter on the Vineyard since high school. Sharing similar sentiments as Sean and Seniel, Tristan does not see the winter as a death sentence, but rather an opportunity to dedicate more of your time to friends, family, and yourself.

“Since the [M.V. Striped Bass and Bluefish] Derby has ended, it’s really about getting together with friends as much as possible, whether it’s for poker night, going to the gym, watching movies, sports, miscellaneous. The Island feels more like a community during the winter, and you kind of find your niche.”

Ben Stiller of Vineyard Haven is a 2006 graduate of M.V. Regional High School and a 2010 graduate of Clark University in Worcester. He is spending his first winter here since graduating high school.