ou lucky people who grew up with the seasons know how exciting it can be! I watched old movies and read magazines with pictures of darling old houses, long lawns, and picket fences; saw those arbors dripping with roses and wisteria…especially I dreamed of the old houses with picket fences and arbors. When I finally got myself to New England, I felt like I was coming home. How could I not fall in love with it; it’s my dream. Every change of season still seems like a miracle to me.
get lots of letters from people asking me what the island is like, what they should see when they visit, where they should stay; all the information we want to know about a place before we go. I’ve been meaning to do this for years, give you all the details in one place. Perhaps you will agree, as I wrote in my book Vineyard Seasons, “that fairies seem to be running ahead of me setting up scenes just for my pleasure.” Soon I’ll be adding links to this page for my favorite shops and restaurants, inns, hotels, and events you might like to attend. But here’s a starter-kit of island basics — first off, this is a map of the island so you can get your bearings:
This is the shape of the island. If you come here you will see it
on mugs, napkins, lampshades, dishes, charms, purses, ties, hats,
T-shirts, and bumper stickers. And on diamond necklaces for those
who are seriously committed.
f you’ve seen the movie Jaws, you already kind of know what the island looks like because it was filmed here. Martha’s Vineyard is seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, just far enough away to make it interesting, but not so far you can’t get to the mainland when you want. Two hours by car or bus from Boston, another 45 minutes by ferry, we are out in the Atlantic, near our sister island of Nantucket.
ere’s a bit of local jargon…when you are on the island, you are “on-island” — when you go away, you are “off-island” which can be shortened, when speaking to other islanders, to “I’m going off.” In this case, “off” is a place, therefore its a noun. In a sentence, you might say, “I’ll be on-island on the 12th.” And we call it “The Vineyard.” (Our funny friend from England, Paul, calls it “Martha’s.”)
he Vineyard is 100 square miles; about 20 miles from one end to the other, which takes about an hour to drive at a leisurely summer pace on our narrow country roads. You can fly in to our small airport, but the most popular approach is by ferry boat. Big white boats (with snack bars) bring people and their cars, bikes, dogs, and children across the water. It’s a lovely way to arrive in the summer–you can sit on top of the boat with the ocean air, sparkling water, seagulls white against the blue sky, and sailboats all around.The island slowly comes into focus as you approach the lighthouse at West Chop, you get your first view of the antique houses dotting the shore, and the tall white church spires that break the tree line — this sight always sends a thrill to my heart. Coming home, I can see the treetops around my house from the ship’s rail.
he island was settled by the English in the 1600’s, but it was already a thriving Native American trade center when the Mayflower landed in Plymouth; it’s been a popular summer resort since the 1800’s. They say John Adams stopped here once; we know President Ulysses S. Grant stayed here, and that is just the beginning.
wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard of Martha’s Vineyard in connection to someone famous; the island draws artists, writers, presidents, princesses, talk show queens, singers, and your basic average everyday movie star. It really makes things interesting when you’re downtown, running into someone you think you know, you know you know, but can’t quite place how; you almost say “Hi” before suddenly realizing, oh no, you don’t know them, and most importantly they don’t know you! All of this flickers behind your eyes in about a second and a half; the reaching out, the confusion, the dawning. No, I don’t know you Greg Kinnear. Look away. Feel stupid. It’s fun to have celebrities here, they add spice and excitement to the summer.
ue to the seasonal nature of the island, and what I call “the moat” (note body of water surrounding island), we’re somewhat cut off from the world. In the 1970’s, the island tried very seriously to secede from the state. Independent self-sufficient New Englanders live here. They have to be strong, the place is one nor’easter, one hurricane, one frozen harbor away from isolation and disaster; self sufficient, but interdependent in that neighbor-caring-for-neighbor kind of way.
he year-round population is about 15,000, but in the summer it swells to over 100,000 people (and their dogs and cars).The summer brings the glitterati, but most of the year, it’s just us, the lucky ones; the normal paint-the-house, put-out-the-trash, work-in-the-garden, go-to-work kind of Vineyarders, living our small-town lives, having dinner parties, tea parties, and cookouts on the beach to keep each other entertained, in this remarkably unspoiled pastoral setting with wonderful water views all around us.
here are six little towns (three of them, if you blink, you’ll miss), old picket-fenced cemeteries from before the American Revolution filled with beautiful stone grave markers, sandy beaches, miles of bumpy dirt roads, charming architecture in tree-lined neighborhoods, lighthouses, gray-weathered fishing shacks, wildflower-studded meadows, lakes, ponds, woods to walk in, harbors filled with schooners and cat boats, old farm houses in rolling pastures bordered by lichen-covered rock walls, all surrounded by sunsets and water which are never the same two days in a row. It’s very easy to “go back in time,” the quiet village streets are of another era, and church bells ring as they’ve done here forever.
he season” goes from the unofficial beginning of summer, Memorial Day, through Labor Day. August is the high point, some of the most popular “events” such as the Agricultural Fair and Grand Illumination Night are held in August. In September, some of the stores begin to close for winter, restaurants and movie theaters too. By the time Christmas is over, the hatches have been battened down; firewood is stacked, storm windows have been put on, hibernation sets in; the long (wonderful) quiet winter begins (as I’m writing this, it’s an early January morning, still dark and quiet, there’s a fire popping in the fireplace, the furnace is humming, and every so often a snow plow crunches down the street outside my window). If you appreciate tradition and consistency in a place, you will like the island.
eople ask me what they shouldn’t miss when they visit. For me, it’s the simple, old-fashioned, small-town ambience. Our local papers provide lists of island events, parades, flea markets, bandstand sing-a-longs, fireworks, street fairs, lectures, book signings, farmer’s markets, art openings, sweet little museums, theatre, dance, and music concerts. The first thing you should do when you get here is pick up either the Vineyard
Gazette or the Martha’s Vineyard Times. There is always a page of events and you’ll find everything you need to know.
here are no chain stores on the Vineyard. Darling small shops line the main streets; the movie theatres date from the time of silent films. It’s a meandering sort of place, a wandering-down-country-roads-exploring-place, a picnic-basket-to-the-beach, ice cream cones-on-hot-summer-nights-window-shopping kind of place. Simple pleasures. Roam through bookstores; play cards on a porch. Eat lobsters and watch the sunset. Take a yoga class on the beach; fish, play golf or tennis; go for a bike ride in the state forest; nap in a hammock. These are the things people come to Martha’s Vineyard to do.
n the summer, pack casual clothes; it’s usually warm and humid, but it might rain, so tuck in a small umbrella. It will often cool down at night; you will likely want a sweater and jacket. Edgartown is dressier than the other towns, especially at night; you can wear high heels if you want, but you don’t have to; you can wear pants anywhere. During the day your children can walk through any town with a towel around their bathing suits wearing flip flops. Mostly it’s cotton and linen; sun-dresses and Bermuda shorts, skirts, palazzo pants, capris, bathing suits (the Gulf stream circles the island, the water is warm!), jeans, T-shirts; sandals and walking shoes … summer things. Men can wear green pants with embroidered whales on them (if they must, this is the place for it); blue blazers are popular here too .
oon I will be adding links here for hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts I think you’ll like; some of my favorite restaurants; which of the darling shops not to miss, a little bit about the different towns, and other inside information, such as the best way to get around — just pulling it all together now, but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for an island view of your own. Get a little jar, drop a few coins in, and let the enchantment begin! Watch out, guard yourself, it’s dangerous here….you might fall in love like me.
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