West Tisbury: Remembering Nelson Bryant


We had a beautiful night for Abby’s Wednesday 2 am outing. Snow was falling, and the tree branches were bent almost to the ground under its weight. I don’t know if she had ever seen snow before. She enjoyed it, eating it as it fell, then rubbing her nose along the snowy ground.

This week’s weather news is the warm spell we were treated to over the weekend. Even with the wind blowing, the air felt mild. It was in the high 50s here. Rain during Sunday night and morning gave off a moist, earthy scent, then stopped by midday. The rest of the afternoon was lovely. 

It made taking the puppy out during the night at 10 and 2 and 6 a gift rather than a chore. I didn’t even mind her sitting implacably on the ground chewing up sticks. It was nice out. Nice to look at shrubs to see where branches need to be trimmed, nice to think where something tall might need to be planted in the expanding border, nice to think about snowdrops and crocuses and daffodils coming up. It felt like spring.

I know we will have many cold, icy, snowy days to come, but this was a pleasant respite.

Sue Hruby stopped by to check on Abby, who seems to have doubled in size, and to tell me about the new Climate Advisory Group that has been formed in town. I had an email from Kate Warner, the chairperson of the group, with the following information stating their mission: “To think about how the town should move forward with actions to make us more resilient to the impacts of the climate crisis before us.” They have been looking at action items on the town’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness list and reviewing emergency preparedness procedures within each department, with an emphasis on how we can respond to other climate-related issues, such as power and water supply during a prolonged power failure, forest fires, flooding, and drought, to name a few. Other members of the group are Russ Hartenstine (emergency manager), Rob Hauck (library board), Sue Hruby (energy committee), Ginny Jones (planning board), Donna Paulnock (conservation commission), Garrison Viera (police department) and Faren Worthington (at large).

Town and national elections are coming up, and town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells has been busy preparing for the 2020 season. The warrant for our annual town meeting closes on Feb. 4, and nomination papers for local offices are due by Feb. 29. March 3 is Super Tuesday, the presidential primary. To be eligible to vote in the primary, make sure you are registered by Feb. 12. Early voting dates are Feb. 24 to 28. Stop by Town Hall for an absentee ballot. 

You have probably already gotten your annual town street listing form in the mail. Don’t forget to fill it out and return it to Tara; it not only confirms your residency in West Tisbury, but also keeps your voter status up to date. As of Jan. 1, you are automatically registered to vote by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, unless you opt out. Check with Tara if you have any questions.

Many of us have known Henry Landes Bell as he grew up summers here. His parents are Fran Woods and Landes Bell. I received a postcard from Henry last week, announcing an exhibition of his paintings at the Keystone Gallery in Los Angeles. His show is called “Reverent, Revenant, Remnant, Referent.” The postcard image is one of Henry’s paintings, a closely cropped city view of angles and shadows. He is showing with two other artists, Lee Piechocki and Julian Tan. The Keystone Gallery website has an interesting article about the exhibition. The opening is Jan. 18.

At the library this week:

Thursday, Jan. 16, 10:30 am, David Rhoderick will discuss Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in his weekly classical music presentation. At 2:15 pm, Laura Jordan’s Little Bird Music and Movement Class for children.

Friday, Jan. 17, 3:30 pm, a Glow Yoga workshop for tweens and teens ages 9 to 17, with Emily LaPierre.

Saturday, Jan. 18, 10:30 am, Lego Club for all ages. At 2:30 pm, educational consultant Abby Remer will lead a cover letter writing workshop. Participants are asked to bring their laptops, if possible, and some job posting ads to use for practice. Signup is required.

Sunday, Jan. 19, 1:30 pm, a free ballroom dancing class. No signup required

The library will be closed on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 10:30 am, Adult Community Dance Class with the Yard! At 4 pm, a Sign Language Practice Circle. At 4:30 pm, architect Bruce MacNelly will present “The Most Beautiful Room in the World.”

My apologies to everyone at the West Tisbury Post Office. They asked me before New Year’s to thank everyone for all the treats and kind words they received over the holidays. I have forgotten to do so till now.

Before I started writing this column, I received the news from my friend Ruth Kirchmeier telling me that Nelson Bryant had died at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Nelson was 96, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. It was impossible to imagine the world without Nelson.

I “met” Nelson even before I moved to the Vineyard, reading his “Outdoors” columns in the New York Times, then actually met him here with Mike’s family. He was my father-in-law’s dearest friend since boyhood. He is our nephew’s grandfather. He has been my friend’s partner, rowing the canoe and fishing while Ruth drew the waterways and landscapes around them.

There is a picture in a family album of Nelson, probably at Quansoo, shirtless, bleached blond hair, handsome, maybe 20 years old. More pictures over the years. Richard and Nelson as young soldiers in uniform during the war. Nelson and Jean, Richard and Bobby as glorious young friends, then as parents surrounded by children. Newspapermen, lovers of words and good writing. Stan Murphy’s portraits of Nelson. My painting of Nelson and Richard at the cherry dining table Nelson made that sits in front of big plant-filled, sun-filled windows. Ruth’s bouquets on that table. So many meals and cups of tea and conversations. Watching birds and late-blooming nasturtiums, Nelson’s squirrel-thwarting feeders. Nelson working in his huge garden, or carrying in vegetables for some wonderful meal he will cook. Nelson’s “hunniker,” his vinegar concoction that makes salads unbelievably delicious. Clams buried outside to keep cold, and game hanging upside down in the trees. War stories. Dartmouth Grant stories. A bag of watercress he and Ruth gathered in early spring. Packing for trips to their camp in Maine, so distant they have to canoe with supplies to get there. Years of Ruth’s drawings and woodcuts of Nelson fishing, dressed as he often was, in camouflage, beret, suspenders, heavy boots.

Nelson aged over the years. He lost weight, bent over as he walked, wore hearing aids when he remembered, took naps sometimes. Still, he always smiled and had welcoming kisses and hugs before he disappeared to the cellar or basement or garden or his office. He drove Ruth crazy by climbing ladders and doing difficult chores when she wasn’t home. He learned to use a computer. He still wrote. 

We all knew he would eventually die; it was inevitable. Richard Hull, Don Sexton, Steve Murphy, and now Nelson Bryant. All golden-haired boys, adventurers in their own ways. Now they are all gone. An infinity of moments in my mind, though I have only described a few.

My love for Ruth and Jeffrey, who will grieve and support each other. Condolences to Steve and Mary, Bill Bailey, the grandchildren he loved, the great-grandchildren who lived right next door, Ruth’s family who loved him, too.

There will be more stories, maybe more art will turn up, too. May they bring comfort to all.