West Tisbury: Lovers of words

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Russell Baker died this past week. He was, for me, the columnist sine qua non. His Observer columns in the New York Times could be funny or trenchant, as he skewered both popular culture and current politics in cogent prose for over 30 years. I have just called the library and requested some of his collections of columns.

Mary Oliver died the week before. A poet of seeming simplicity, her words evoked the richest and most striking pictures in my mind. She wrote of walking beaches and woodland paths, the companionship and then loss of beloved dogs, of passing seasons, of the grandness of skies.

Reading is as much a part of writing as putting words down on a page. Writing has broadened my literary curiosity and appreciation. I have always been a reader, a lover of words, of language, of ideas. I would give a lot to be able to write even one column close to the worst by Russell Baker or one poem nearly as evocative as Mary Oliver.

I began writing this column in December 2004, surprisingly long ago. My father-in-law, Richard Hull, a former newspaperman, was my editor. Every Monday morning I would walk through the woods between our houses, where Richard and I would settle ourselves with our coffee in a pair of Windsor writing chairs in his and Bobby’s kitchen. Richard would go through my columns with a pen, crossing out adjectives and commas.

It was Bobby’s idea that I should take on the West Tisbury column. We had been without a town columnist for awhile, and she thought it would provide a diversion for Richard, who was facing the recurrence of his cancer. He was a wonderful man whom I adored, and would have done anything for, even taking on the daunting task of a weekly column. Despite our disagreements over adjectives and the Oxford comma, he liked my columns, especially the funny ones. I always felt that if I could make him laugh, then I had done a good job.

It’s interesting to go back and read through old columns. They combine these recent years in West Tisbury with my own life and thoughts, with friends, weather, the year’s cycle of seasons and celebrations, comings and goings, births and deaths, graduations, marriages, and walks on the beach.

This all sounds like I’m planning to retire, which I’m not. I still enjoy the weekly challenge of coming up with something. I still enjoy telling stories. I hope you still enjoy reading them.

Earlier this afternoon, I attended the first of Joanne Scott’s winter tea parties. We start in January to celebrate Marie-Louise Rouff’s birthday. Suzi Wasserman’s birthday is our excuse for getting together in February. In March, we just get together to have cake for no reason at all. Lucky friends.

Suzi and Bob Wasserman’s grandson, Henry Bassett, will turn 18 on Jan. 29th. Henry is a well-known visitor here, especially in the summer when he has been an invaluable and devoted worker on the Friends of the Library Book Sale. Happy birthday, Henry.

The Polly Hill Arboretum is looking for artists who have painted, sketched, or photographed the property in all seasons and are interested in submitting work for an exhibition this summer. Please submit digital images by March 1 to info@pollyhillarboretum.org.

At the West Tisbury library:

Thursday, Jan. 31, 10:30 am, storytime with special guest Bruce the Bear.

Friday, Feb. 1, 4 pm, free Pilates class with Judy Krantz; bring your own yoga mat. At 5:15 pm, women’s committee of We Stand Together/Estamos Todos Juntos feminist book discussion of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister. All are welcome.

Saturday, Feb. 2, 11 am, Hugh Phear will lead a hands-on building activity for kids ages 8-plus. Kids under 10 must be accompanied by a mature caregiver. At 3:30 to 5 pm, come to an artist’s reception for photographer Susan Larsen.

Sunday, Feb. 3, 3 pm, “A Virtual Tour of Quansoo,” a multimedia presentation by Adam Moore and Kristen Fauteaux of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.

Monday, Feb. 4, 11:30 am, Kanta Lipsky’s Balance Workshop. At 3:30 pm, Kendra Buresch from Polly Hill Arboretum will lead a workshop for kids in grades K-3. “Habitat Helpers” will feature games and activities for kids to discover ways they can help island habitats. At 6:30 pm, Teen Open Mic Night with Andy Herr.

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 10:30 am, Adult Community Dance Class with the Yard.

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 10:30 am, “Classical Music Is for You” with David Rhoderick. At 4 pm, Jennifer Knight will lead a creative mini-retreat that will include guided visualization, breath work, journaling, and painting. Sign-up recommended.

Thursday, Feb. 7, 3:30 pm, Harry Potter Book Night for young wizards, witches, and Muggles. Come in costume if you like.

On last week’s trip to Mermaid Farm, I was delighted to find a dozen bantam hen eggs in the cooler along with the milk and yogurt I had come for. Bantam eggs are the absolute best, the most flavorful, tiny, perfect. They have been my breakfast all week. It was a great disappointment to arrive at Mermaid this week and find an empty space where those lovely eggs should have been.