I rang in the 2015 New Year in my beloved Aquinnah with much happiness and cheer among a small gathering of close friends and family. They included a healer, a writer, an artist, an extrovert, a comic, and a critic, which are just some of the titles that describe them. I was 49 years old, and this was a great start to a challenging, successful, and eye-opening year.
The 2015 resolutions were to stay focused in the moment and do my best. I was now one of three members of the Aquinnah board of selectmen, and my business, Orange Peel Bakery, was moving into its ninth year. I was also an active member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). My fourth “job,” and the one which gives me the most pleasure, is being mom to my wonderful children, Ella and Emerson Mahoney.
January’s main event was the big snowstorm(s). Trying to manage the business of running an outdoor wood-fired oven with three feet of snow on the ground and five-foot snowdrifts proved impossible. My bakery display at Cronig’s would suffer. The safety of the elders in our town was of great concern to us all. The January storms had rocked our road crew; many roads were buried without a way in or out. Getting my son safely to school, hockey practice, and games was a challenge from Aquinnah. Staying focused on the task at hand was going to solve all problems and get us through what turned out to be one of the longest winters I have ever been through on Martha’s Vineyard.
In February, the Aquinnah budget ran short, and to help us close out the year we called a special town meeting — my first — to ask voters for the approval needed to overcome our budget shortfall. During this time I found myself getting to know some new members of my community, and worked closely with the staff in town hall. What a pleasure to see us all come together to find a solution. When a concise explanation was given to Aquinnah voters, nearly all voted to accept the necessary changes to help us get through the rest of our year with no trouble. February also brought a referendum vote by the tribe that allowed the gaming committee to continue its work of bringing gaming to our sacred land.
Onward into March, with roaring winds gusting to near gale force as our next feat approached: saving the Gay Head Lighthouse from erosion by moving it from the spot where it had sat for 159 years. After leaping the hurdles of the many state and federal processes, on May 28, Gay Head Light was prepared and secure atop a steel sled. All 400 tons began to move, an amazing sight to see, and part of my life history that the few of us here in this headland will be happy to tell for the remainder of our lives. On May 30 she was set down in her new home, 134 feet further inland. A new holiday was created in Aquinnah for the day the light was saved.
Summer 2015 fast approached, and my New Year’s resolution kept me on track. I am a commercial shellfisherman. Many of the days of spring were dishearteningly long, and with no scallop season for 2015 on our beloved Menemsha Pond, my time spent outdoors was limited. Summer arrived, and with it, my 50th birthday carried many bells and whistles and press blessings: an article about the Orange Peel Bakery in the New York Times Magazine, and an episode on PBS. Nine years of hard work and determination to remain focused resulted in heartwarming letters and emails from people all over the world who shared my vision of community, and praised my baked goods.
August highlights were visits from friends from all corners of the world, from Switzerland to California, introductions to new friends from both near and far, spending long hot days on the beach swimming with loved ones and having outdoor dinners with more people than seats, telling stories and sharing laughter deep into the evening.
Meanwhile, our community awaited a decision by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor on whether the tribe had the right to move forward and build a gaming facility on tribal lands in Aquinnah. The judge’s ruling arrived in November, and was in favor of the Town of Aquinnah. For now, the people of Aquinnah and the entire Island are unencumbered by the ills of gaming. I will continue to work for gentle development between our two governments, in hopes of making Aquinnah a better place for everyone to live and visit.
Moving forward, 2016 looks to be just as challenging, but hopefully not weather-wise. I am expanding the Orange Peel Bakery to a second location at the Aquinnah Circle. I will continue working with the town. One of our current projects is getting Aquinnah recognized as a Massachusetts Arts and Cultural District. In addition, a beach boardwalk and dredging of Menemsha channel will be completed.
In January, I will continue working with the tribe and town to ensure the vision we have for Aquinnah. Our fisheries programs on Menemsha Pond will be a major focus.
My son Emerson will be graduating from MVRHS, and Ella will venture to Iceland and Poland while continuing her studies at the School for Visual Arts. The matriarch of the family, Anne Vanderhoop, remains the center of our family’s universe, and the glue that holds us together. I am forever thankful for her support and continuous good health.
I lost people in both my tribal and Island communities too soon; I keep their light in my thoughts as I work moving forward. It is my hope that as I accept the losses of my dear friends and family members that I learned every day is a great one, to find the positives, find the smiles, find the beauty, and keep the focus. I wish happiness and health to all our Island community in 2016.
Julianne “Juli” Vanderhoop, the mother of two children, is the owner of the Orange Peel Bakery, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and one of three members of the Aquinnah board of selectmen. She has also served on the Aquinnah Board of Health and the Wampanoag tribe education committee for the past seven years.