West Tisbury: Edward Steichen photography

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— Kyra Steck

This past week has been one of such sweetness. Every year I relish each minute change. This week it is the appearance of the shadbush, that most delicate and subtle of blossoming trees. It mostly inhabits the edges of woodlands, easily seen among the still leafless oaks and beech trees. We called it shadblow in Connecticut, and many people refer to it as Juneberry or wild pear.

One of Edward Steichen’s most famous series of photographs is of a shadblow tree on his property in Redding, Conn. I just watched a video on YouTube of Captain Steichen talking about and filming the tree. If you have read this column for any length of time, you will know that I am easily distracted, and can start looking for some bit of information and wander away for too long, reading about one thing after another. I recommend this short video of Captain Steichen standing across the pond from his shadblow tree, speaking about what attracted him to the project. Also there is a big coffee table book at our library about him. I read it years ago and assume it is still in the collection.

If you don’t know about Captain Steichen and have never looked at his work, you have a treat in store. He photographed probably every movie star and famous person of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, as well as many sites around New York City, all in black and white, playing up the contrasts in light and dark, creating dynamic compositions. His blacks are velvety and rich, the edges softened or sharp like in a painting. He eventually became the head of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art before retiring to his farm in Redding, where the to-become-famous shadblow tree awaited.

He and his wife, Joanna, were customers in my parents’ drugstore when I was growing up. I was in awe of the Captain and very shy around him. But I adored lovely Joanna, who was so approachable and kind and encouraging to this child who dreamed of being an artist so very long ago. I think of them both every spring when the shadbush blooms in our woods.

The past weekend afforded perfect gardening weather and I am sure I wasn’t the only person in town to work outside until I could barely stand up and walk. It’s so frustrating to be older. So many things I never thought twice about. I used to work in the yard from early in the morning until it was too dark to see. Now it all takes so much longer and demands so much more effort to do what seems like just a little digging or weeding. There is always more to do. But every bit is so satisfying and, as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, it was perfect weather for days digging outside.

My Abby feels much the same way, except that she can dig forever with youthful energy and enthusiasm. My formerly pretty backyard, now Abby’s fenced-in play yard, has devolved into a minefield of holes. Last night I discovered that she had begun digging under the stairs outside our dining room door, and the closest part of that garden was buried under a pile of dirt.

Mike and I had taken her for a walk on the beach earlier. She has taken to the water like a playful seal, jumping and frolicking and splashing with abandon. That is how she approaches most of her life, making her a joy to watch. Despite digging holes, she is proving to be a mostly perfect dog settling down nicely, and she is totally adorable, making it difficult to stay mad at her. I tell her she is lucky she is so cute.

The Martha’s Vineyard Democrats will meet this Saturday morning at 9:30 on Zoom. The guest speaker will be Geoff Foster, the executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts. He will speak about the importance of ensuring accessible, equitable, and secure elections. Email democratsmv@gmail.com for information and your Zoom invitation.

It has been a week of loss for four families and the whole Island with the loss of Peter Bettencourt, Jennifer Colligan Kuehne, Phyllis Jampol, and Ruth Schaffner. My condolences to your families and to all who will miss you.

The morning sky has lightened enough for me to see the first pink-tinged buds opening on the rhododendron hedge I planted almost 40 years ago. Some new sign of spring appears every morning. Nature shows its gifts to me every day. I feel luckier than I ever could have imagined.

If you have any West Tisbury Town Column suggestions, email Hermine Hull, hermine.hull@gmail.com.