Ode to a Vineyard winter


To the Editor:

As I head out to the porch for another armload of wood for the stove, and take note that the bigger pile outside is dwindling faster than it ever has, I am reminded of the upside to this truly remarkable winter.

I just returned from my early-morning exercise adventure. Normally this consists of a 45-minute mountain bike ride out my driveway and across Land Bank property: Tradewinds to Farm Pond to the Beach Road bike path, and back across Farm Neck. I always change up my route a little, and it never becomes boring. One morning in January, it was 6° when I left the house. Amazingly, there was no snow or ice to worry about, but frostbite on my face was a concern. As I approached the seawall down from the Seaview condos, the cold wind questioned my sanity, but then I saw it: the sea smoke — spooky, quiet, a special winter treat. I was no longer aware of the cold.

A few weeks after this magical morning, and with many inches of ice accumulating on the ponds, I was wondering if I was ever going to get my few brief opportunities, usually when there is an inch of snow, to cross-country ski instead of bike. Then the first blizzard arrived. Twenty-seven inches of light, fluffy, windblown snow, with no rain mixed in. Amazing! I found those skis and I was out the door, determined to enjoy it while I can, because it usually doesn’t last long here with the warm ocean sheltering us.

Well, as I write this letter, it has been been exactly one month since that epic storm, and we now have more snow on the ground than I can remember in the 40-plus years I have lived here. My bike sits in the basement where my skis usually are, unridden for the longest stretch since I started mountain biking 30 years ago. But those skis have been on my feet at least once every day, and sometimes twice.

The snow, which even I have remarked might have outstayed its welcome, is allowing me to explore forests usually choked with poison ivy, bittersweet, and painful thorns, and ponds and marshes accessible only sometimes at high tide in a kayak. The conditions for skiing are the best I have ever experienced, and seem to get better every day. The variety of animal tracks each morning is fascinating, the quiet and cold air invigorating.

The Island has become a winter playground for me. I love to downhill-ski, but as John Abrams recently remarked, the only thing the Vineyard lacks is mountains. Forget New Hampshire or Vermont, it’s really cold up there. Get yourself a pair of skis, some snowshoes, or some microspikes for your boots, grab a sled, and get outside. You will be amazed how fast you warm up, how beautiful it is, and how much better you will feel.

Enjoying the treasures the Island is blessed with is a year-round treat for me. We are so lucky to have the Land Bank properties and all the other publicly accessible conservation lands. We are so lucky to have all the dedicated people who work so hard to keep our remote Island lifelines open — roads, ferries, health care, electricity, fuel, and food supplies. Thank you all for the work you do.

We are very much aware of the weather here, as our lives depend on it. We probably can’t change it, but we can prepare for it, and anticipate how it might impact us in the future. Instead of complaining or running away from it, experience it, enjoy it, and remember what a wonderful community we have to share it with. Stay warm.

Richard Toole

Oak Bluffs