Some days, you may be hard-pressed to find an uncovered face on the Island, and that’s a good thing.
It’s a hopeful thing — especially for Islanders who struggle to conceptualize the possibility of a summer not filled with nights out with friends and family, or challenging other beachgoing groups to a game of Spikeball at Norton Point.
But another, more serious concern looms on my mind, as well as the minds of many others. We are in a public health crisis, and despite ongoing economic devastation, many locals fear for their family, neighbors, and themselves.
Walking down Circuit Avenue is a strange but reassuring sight. Everyone in view is wearing purple nitrile gloves and surgical masks; sometimes a walker with a patterned cloth mask will pass by.
I’ve noticed that even if you pass by someone with a mask on, you can still tell they’re smiling.
Down at Post Office Square in Oak Bluffs, Rita Barse rested next to her husband for a moment at a bench to soak up some sun.
Barse said the couple had just moved to Oak Bluffs in March from Connecticut, but she has had family here for many years. Her daughter is the founder and owner of the Green Room in Vineyard Haven.
She acknowledged all the work that local health officials on the Island are doing to handle the situation, and noted the optimism of the entire community. “From what I’ve seen, people are pretty positive. I think everyone is doing their best, and it’s good to see that everyone is trying to be safe,” Barse said.
When asked what she hopes for most this summer, Barse said, “Sunshine,” and smiled behind her floral mask.
Another woman, one of Barse’s neighbors, walked by and greeted the couple. The woman, who wished to be identified as Ms. M, said she was a longtime educator on-Island, and is trying to focus on the positives. “You just have to make it the best. I am doing chores and being as productive as I can at home.” She walked away and laughed, “I’ll see you back at the ranch.”
A short walk from the Post Office, Giuliana Casalino checked in to see if her friend Samantha Church was working at Driftwood, her art shop that promotes local artisans and craftspeople.
Casalino, who has lived on-Island since 2008, said she usually travels a lot for work, but is happy to be spending more time at home, and more time enjoying some of the simple, yet most joyous pleasures of life. “I’ve been meeting friends for walks, and really just spending more time outdoors,” Casalino said.
She noted how lucky folks here are to have open spaces, and urged the importance of maintaining our especially delicate natural world.
Recently, Casalino has been working on a home garden. She advocated for food security awareness, and said that starting a garden is enjoyable and also provides a healthy, consistent food supply.
“As difficult as it can be to do the simple things right now, they are so important. It makes you think about what you don’t need,” Casalino said.
When asked what she thinks might happen in the coming summer months, Casalino said she is feeling uncertain about the massive seasonal economy on Martha’s Vineyard that sustains thousands of people. But she also worries about the numbers increasing here, and what that might look like in terms of the pandemic.
“I am already scared to go to the grocery store, and I’m really scared about an influx of people coming here,” she said. “We already get overwhelmed every summer.”
Even with these worries, Casalino said, she has been trying to connect with nature and appreciate the little things in life as much as possible.
At a trailhead off Little Pond Road near Goodale’s pit, Kris Ward walked briskly down the paved pathway with his pitbull. Ward said he traveled from Vermont to the Island last month to visit a family member who owns a house in town, and is taking as many precautions as possible.
Donning a checkered face wrap, Ward said he has been staying in a sequestered apartment of his family’s home, and not leaving that space much, except for fresh air and exercise.
“I basically have been keeping to myself and living away from anyone else for a while now. It is scary, the idea of getting sick or getting someone else sick,” he said.
As for the future, Ward said he is staying put and trying to focus on getting out on bike rides and walks with his dog, Gibson. “You have to focus on what makes you happy that doesn’t involve a whole lot of other people. Play an instrument, or pick up a hobby,” Ward said. “Take the time to do things for yourself and with yourself, because that’s pretty important to consider, even without a pandemic.”