A Time to Breathe

Anyone can summer on Martha’s Vineyard. All you need is money, love of a beautiful place, and more taste than those who go to the Hamptons. The people who come here for “the season” are eager to let the world know that they do so; ergo the demand for T-shirts, hats, and M.V. stickers. There are many more cars off-Island with those stickers than there are on-Island. Wintering here is a gull of another color and produces a stubborn, quiet, Yankee sort of pride. A “we survived it together” pride.

When seasonal residents’ thoughts turn to the Vineyard, they remember beautiful weather, wonderful meals, and summer fun. The rest of us know that summer is only one of four Island seasons: summer, fall, winter, and fall again. Each spring all you hear is, “It feels like November. When’s it gonna get warm?” We really don’t have spring. We have a sort of reverse fall. Just think September to November and turn it around. March comes in like a lion and leaves like one, and the gentle April showers that are supposed to bring May flowers are more like northeasters. But eventually the grass turns green, the trees leaf, and the flowers come up in time for Memorial Day (sometimes even for a late Easter if we’ve had a mild reverse fall). Our winters aren’t typical of New England, either. Instead of white, our winters are shades of gray, varying from fog to aged cedar shakes. Be that as it may, most year-rounders will tell you they love the Island in the winter.

Why is that, you ask? For one thing you don’t have to worry about dinner reservations. Of course, most of the restaurants close off-season. The stores have no lines to speak of. Of course, many stores close off-season. There’s a fraction of the traffic in winter. Of course, there aren’t many places to go off-season. It’s cheaper and easier to get a ferry ticket in winter, but that predisposes a desire to go to the mainland, which isn’t a given. On the other hand, the air is clearer, the beaches are cleaner, and people nod and say hello because they know you’re not a tourist, and they smile in that “Don’t you just love this time of year” way. You don’t have to wait a month to get your hair cut, and the staff of just about any business you enter is glad to see you and has time for a chat.

Just like Avis, we try harder in the winter. There are plenty of activities to keep us busy. From Christmas in Edgartown to the Boys’ and Girls’ Club Ball to winter walks run by The Trustees of Reservations, you can always find something to do. You can ice skate, go to lectures, and see movies, old and new. You can dance, see plays, and go to concerts. The schools offer a variety of sports to watch, and there is time to socialize with neighbors and browse the bookstores. We do chores we’ve been putting off and work on hobbies we don’t have time for in summer. Organizations that suspend activities in the summer (usually due to lack of parking) resume meeting, and there’s time for planning all those summer fundraisers that take from the rich and give to the poor.

I’ll never forget the first winter I lived here. One night I came out of a midweek matinee at the Edgartown Cinema. It was about 6:30 p.m. and pitch dark. The streetlights were glowing on a car-less Main Street, and a few snowflakes were gently falling. There wasn’t another soul around. I could hear my steps echoing on the sidewalk as I walked to my car. It was such a remarkable contrast to the streets on the Fourth of July.

Unlike the snowbirds who go south to continue the party, for us life slows to a more manageable pace, and we get a break from off-Island visitors. It’s time to recharge our batteries and build up enough energy to get us through the next summer of beaches, barbecues, grandchildren, and lines at the
post office.