We all have that one moment when summer officially begins. That point in time when you stop in your tracks and smile to yourself thinking, “ahh, now THIS is summer.” For some it may be the first car ride, windows down, with your hair tangled in the breeze. Crunching into a s’more of gooey, golden brown. Spotting fireflies bursting with light against the dark, night sky. Or catching a whiff of sizzled hot dogs wafting off the charcoal. But for me my summer officially begins with a familiar sound. The Woods Hole ferry fog horn. A deep drawn out flat that sounds as the vessel departs on its journey to the island, Martha’s Vineyard. A sound of warning to fresh ears. But after 26 summers it calls like a conch from the inner depths of the sea. A welcoming home.
Sitting on the ferry deck beckoning the breeze I bask in the views of the 45-minute cruise: Luffed sails of boats passing by, lighthouses at attention atop their rocky bluffs, the ocean spray a deep blue tickled with salt, gulls gliding in the breezeways, and the hum of excitement among family and foe ready to begin their adventures ashore.
“On island time,” an adage ringing of rest and relaxation holds true to an extent. Yet with so much to do and explore around every bend, it’s hard to keep my feet from wandering. Getting up with the sun I can’t wait to sink my toes into the cool grains of sand each morning. Coffee in hand I make my way down the wooden slat steps to the beach.
A few sips in I find myself walking along the rocky shore. With the sun glistening across the lapping sound, occasionally washing over my feet, my head is bent focused on the low tide line. My eyes on the hunt for sea glass: fragments of broken bottles, ship wrecked windows, jugs, and jars tossed to the waves. Frosted in salt from a life time tumbling at sea, born again on the shimmering shore. Every piece a different size, shade, and shape all with a hidden history. Some leave clues etched with stray markings, ridges, and grooves. Others lay flat. But each piece remains unique waiting to be scooped up, brightening hearts young and old who scour the beach for the colorful treasure.
As the cool sand fades to tingling tinges beneath my feet, I begin to plan my adventures about the island. It is a spectacular sight to ogle in the glitz and glamour of Edgartown’s manicured mansions. Hedged in hydrangea overlooking the sparkling harbor, they epitomize the American dream right down to their white picket fences climbing with roses. Walking down the cobble stone paths you’re lead to an Oz of candy bazaars and art galleries, hand crafted jewelers and fudgeries, coveted clothing shops and cafes al fresco, and ice cream parlors on every corner. All with their doors open inviting you right in to their storybook scene.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing quite like Edgartown. But for a true taste of the Vineyard I find myself drawn to the grit of the island. The textured towns spattered in salt. Towns like Menemsha where fishing boats dock with torn up twine scuffed and scarred from the sloshing sea. Where waders and slickers in yellows and orange hang like tattered trophies; strewn in sea weed they teem with tales of guts and glory. Where lobster traps a plenty are stacked pungently proud. Where bustling boots squish and squash trailing the docks with the day’s catch. And rubber buoys creek against the wooden piers breathing in and out after a long day’s work.
Another rule of thumb for my island adventures is the longer the name the more fun the place. One spot in particular (among many), Sengekontacket Pond follows suit. With a six-foot pronged rusty rake hauled over my shoulder, an innertubed basket tethered around my waist, and a whole pond in front of me I put my best sea legs forward and wade into the water in search of the elusive quahogs: hard shelled clams that thrive buried under the mucky, mud flats of brackish waters. Slowly sauntering with the tide my feet sink, grabbed by the goopy gunk below. Splashing the rake into the pond I begin to dig down deep into the soiled sand. Dragging the rake, I hear a scraping sound. Arms clenched and back bowed I burrow my rake a little deeper before hauling up the catch. Rinsing out the muddied bottom with a few shakes, I comb through the rocks and weeds looking for a rutted pop of whitish gray. A sport not for the faint of heart, you’ll feel it the next day. But when you pull up the grainy goods, you won’t want to stop. Two, three, four at a time, they’ll keep you plunging your rake back in for more. With a sweated brow, salt soaked shirt, and a bushel of clams later, I walk out of the pond with my head held high. Proud of the digs, I return home to wash off the day’s journey in the open-aired shower, ready for what tomorrow’s adventure brings.
For me, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that I want on the magical island. It seems that somehow sun up to sun down is shortened up there. That the time flies as it pleases, “on island time.” And before I know it I’m back on the ferry tanned and torn. Replaying the trip, overcome in bittersweet silence, I smile as the fog horn sounds its drawn out goodbye. Sitting on the top deck beckoning the breeze I’m rewound to the gulls gliding in the breezeways, the sails luffed in the rippling wind, the lighthouses at attention atop their rocky bluffs, and the ocean spray tickled with salt. Taking it all in one last time, as the vessel plunges through the deep blue waves, I already can’t wait to return next summer.
One of our favorite parts of this particular vacation was the day on the water we spent with Captain Rich and his crew aboard the Schooner Eleanor. Our boys had sailed before, but never in Maine. They were up bright and early that morning eager to see what the ride would be like.