Vacation, just in time


Islanders and Island friends regularly travel the world. They especially favor leaving this particle of paradise in February and March. Not all Islanders, for sure. Not all friends. It’s a narrow slice of us, although we all wish we were part of the winter evacuation, and why not? It’s irresistible.

But, of course there is a lot to be said for experiencing their joyful wanderings from a Vineyard fireside, as long as we don’t have to hear too much about the warmth, the sparkling beaches, the turquoise water, and the food – oh, the food – when the travelers return.

Traveling imaginatively has its charms, even when winter’s threat is tempered as it has been this year, inspiring us to imagine that spring has invaded December’s astronomical jurisdiction here at home. Once, describing to a skeptical Moll that winter on Martha’s Vineyard was annually like winter 2011-2012 has been, I said that by January 1 each year, we had generally “broken the back of winter.”

Big mistake. Winter, indifferent to my forecast and just doing its job, got in several boisterous strokes that year in January, February, and even March. Ass deep in snow, I heard a lot about breaking winter’s back.

I’ve learned that a) making predictions is a fraught and dangerous business, and b) that drawing and pronouncing absolute conclusions about almost any issue that arises in a marriage is a practice, often witlessly indulged by the male of the species, that ought to be shunned.

At his Maine farm in January of 1943, E.B. White went traveling. “After a long spell of cold,” he wrote, “with little sun and little relief, sometimes a man’s thoughts turn to warmer climates with longing. I have been reading, with considerable pleasure, some essays of James Norman Hall’s on the warmth and indolence of Tahiti. It is alluring, but I doubt that I could last long away from the New England seasons.”

No one admires White’s insight and composition more than I, but here you have the standard, defensive posture that New Englanders assume when people talk about moving to southern climes. We’d miss the seasons.

What right-minded, sensate human would miss the frigid icy winter season, for one, or the sopping, foggy spring, for another? White was writing from Maine, of course, which is the state, along with Minnesota, in which more than 80 percent of the population wishes they were elsewhere in December, January, and February. Another 19 percent wish the same, but won’t admit it.

Who would not trade seasonality for warmth and indolence, even a week or two of it in the least hospitable parts of the Vineyard year? Especially that indolence.

Sometimes, just the thought of good neighbors living temporarily elsewhere can warm up a winter morning. Sometimes, good neighbors make their lives elsewhere, and warmth and indolence have nothing to do with it. They make new lives elsewhere, and neither the charms of the seasons or the attractions of palm trees and warm water have anything to do with the emigration decision. And sometimes, after the deed is done, there is none of the longing White described.

For instance, I had a note years ago from a wonderful fellow, a Vineyarder of long standing, first as a summer kid, then as a year-rounder in early retirement, a man whose character required that he pitch in and help, always, in any way he could. Ultimately though, he left the Vineyard to live closer to family, who happened to be in Maine.

It was B.D., that is, before the digital age, before websites, when The Times sold subscriptions to folks who spent the winter in Florida or elsewhere, and to people who just moved away.

“Please advise your subscription department to cancel [my subscription] now,” he wrote, “and, if it amounts to much, return any balance that may be left … At any rate, we are Mainers now, and need not continue to plague our thoughts with Vineyard problems, which we too failed to resolve.” A one percenter, never a follower, he got over us.