Painting a picture of an Island in crisis

Empty streets, shuttered stores, masked faces; locals find hope amid despair.


There are so many things that summer on the Vineyard promises us Islanders. Yes, there is the inundation of tourists with their multi-colored striped beach chairs, Thule racks, and the dreaded return of mopeds. 

But those folks are what keep our little rock in the middle of the ocean running (some of the time). And the vast majority of those beach-going visitors are well-intentioned and kind, at least in my experience. 

Apart from the slight inconveniences borne of a swelling population and some inconsiderate drivers who think Barnes Road is the Autobahn, summer promises so much happiness.

However, as we approach the month of April, the buzzing energy that normally fills my head with the joyful anticipation of catching bluefish at Eastville Beach and eating too many french fries at Nancy’s Snack Bar has turned to an unsettling stillness.

What would normally be a bustling Friday afternoon on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, with store owners sweeping sidewalks and friends greeting each other over morning coffee, has been replaced by “CLOSED” signs and masked faces.

The silence, although remarkable, is a reminder that people who live on Martha’s Vineyard are doing their part to stem the spread of this virus, for the most part.

In Tisbury, one woman wearing a blue surgical mask was digging through her pocketbook for her wallet before going in for her weekly visit to Stop & Shop. I approached her, making sure to stand the appropriate distance away.

“I really am trying to go out as little as I can; I live all the way in Aquinnah and it helps to save gas,” the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said. 

The woman said she often gets assistance from the Island Food Pantry and Helping Hands, but goes shopping when she feels able.

After seeing that I was wearing a facemask as well, she said, “It’s good to see people taking more precautions. I see so many people acting like nothing is wrong. But it seems like more people are getting the hint.”

As a 75-year-old, the Aquinnah resident said she feels susceptible when she is out in public, and has had to change her routine drastically in the last few weeks.

“I am older, and the whole thing is just so scary and upsetting for everyone’s life,” the woman said. “For me, it’s been adjusting to the acceptance that this might be the new normal for a while. It’s a necessary adjustment.”

Over at the Black Dog Bakery Cafe on State Road, a little window was open where people could get whatever beverages or baked goods they wanted, without having to enter the store.

Griffin Hughes, an Oak Bluffs fitness instructor at Evolve Pilates, approached the window with a smile and waved hello to the employees working diligently while sporting purple latex gloves.

“My business is people,” Hughes said. “I am totally lost without that connection. That is one reason why this has been so hard on me.”

In a time when personal face-to-face interactions are generally avoided — with the exception of a Zoom call or a brief conversation at six feet — Hughes said her day-to-day life has come to a “screeching halt.”

“Everyone is connecting through screens, and I suppose it’s good we have that at least,” she said, and went on to say that the hardest thing for her has been telling her 4-year-old son that he can’t play with his friends.

“It’s so impossible to explain to a child that age that he can’t go over to his friend’s house for a playdate, but I think he is starting to understand,” Hughes said.

In a time when outside interactions must be limited to the best of one’s abilities, Hughes said her immediate family relationships have grown ever closer. 

“I think, once this is all over, we will miss the time we spent together as a family,” Hughes said. “Everyone always wishes they could freeze time, well I think we have.”

At Post Office Square in Oak Bluffs, Valli Hamilton was pulling a cart of mail and adjusting the elastics on her facemask.

“It’s reassuring to see people taking the necessary precautions, but it does make you scared,” Hamilton said. “It’s eerie when you go down the street at 5 pm and there is no one out and about.”

Hamilton is an employee at Stop & Shop in Edgartown, and said everyone who works there is required to wear protective equipment and practice safe social distancing.

“I’m doing alright, trying to keep myself safe, and counting my blessings,” Hamilton said.

Right down the street, in front of a vacant Mocha Mott’s, retired Dukes County Superior Court clerk of courts Joe Sollitto walked his cavalier King Charles spaniel, Sophie, toward the harbor. 

Also donning a mask, Sollitto said he has been taking a lot of long walks with his dog and reading lots of good books. 

“Reading and exercise are necessities,” Sollitto said. “I think this is going to last a while, but it’s good to see that people are being safe when they are out.”

As he continued his stroll toward the water, Sollitto turned and said, “This is how Oak Bluffs used to look in the winter many, many years ago.”

Over on Head of Pond Road — one of my favorite spots to catch brown trout and laugh with my friends — a lone fisherman, who asked to remain anonymous, was casting a shiny spinner out into the shimmering water of Upper Lagoon Pond. 

“This is where I come to clear my head. It’s really meditative, and there aren’t as many people fishing with all this craziness going on,” the man said.

After pulling up his third baby brown trout of the afternoon and tossing it back into the pond, the man laughed and said, “Who needs to hit the town when the fish are biting? This is where the action is.”

Living on an Island with so many winding woodland trails and sandy spits of beach to enjoy, the man said he feels lucky to be here, especially during a time of crisis.

“We should all thank our lucky stars to live here. I know times are tough right now, but that sunset is going to be beautiful tonight,” he said.



  1. If this building stop continues beyond the 2 weeks, I recommend the following. A single worker should be able to continue work. Guidelines could be no direct contact with whomever hired you and you must work alone, or only with others that live in your household already. No work inside an occupied home. One example, you want your fence painted. One painter shows up, paints the fence, you mail a check, where’s the danger?

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