Martha’s Vineyard Love Letter

A Love Letter to

M A R T H A ‘ S ….V I N E Y A R D

Marth's Vineyard

ow could I not fall in love with Martha’s Vineyard? Southern California, where I was born and raised, was a wonderful place to grow up; we were free as birds in shorts and T-shirts pretty much year ’round… but until I came to New England, I never saw a hillside of daffodils, or a snowstorm, never rode on a ferry, ate a whole lobster (especially not on the beach when the sun was going down…), wore out a leather jacket from going on morning walks in the cold winters, saw ice skaters on a frozen pond, filled a vase with springtime lilacs, or smelled wood smoke on cool Autumn days while leaves blew off the trees. But I sure dreamed of it. When I was young, I would see gas station calendars with photos of picturesque Vermont villages in the fall…..it couldn’t be real, I thought, the photographer must have put a colored filter over the camera lens; nothing could ever be that pretty. Imagine my amazement, not only is it real, but it happens every single year! Like clockwork. Sometimes I think it might not, but it always does.

 

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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198 Responses to Martha’s Vineyard Love Letter

  1. Donna Erickson says:

    I remember reading in one of your posts that you moved here after your divorce. Did you have a job at the island? You are a brave woman to move so far away from family by yourself. I’m not sure I would have had the guts to do it! Your surroundings have surely fueled your passions!

    • sbranch says:

      I was a little bit unconscious when I did it having just experienced that huge broken heart from divorce. I kind of didn’t know what I was doing, accidentally bought a house, and that was it, I found out I’d moved to the island! I got a job at the gourmet food store on Main Street. Finding out how to live in the winter was where I suffered most on the learning curve. It all worked out well, I wouldn’t change a thing.♥

  2. Anneliese Henderson says:

    Just finished your magnificent love letter to England! It blew me away; not just the wonderful travelogue, but the drawings, photos, recipes, little bits of great information about the many magical locales you explored. I wish I could pack my bags now and take a voyage there like you did! What an inspiring book filled with humor and insight (I did shed tears at times, but also chuckled and smiled). Thank you Susan for sharing your experiences with us. Your love for nature and all the creatures made your writing even more endearing.
    Have several of your cook books (love, love them all!), but now I will have to get the rest plus some of your treasures on your website.
    You are a rare gem with talent galore.
    Thanks for all the love and effort you put into your books!

    Happy New Year to you, Joe, and the kitties!

    Anneliese

    • sbranch says:

      Thank you Anneliese… you can’t imagine how nice it is to read such wonderful words. xoxo Happy New Year to you and yours!

  3. Jo Ann Pollick says:

    Dear Susan,
    My sweet sister gave me your book “A Fine Romance” for Christmas, read it in two evenings. Have followed your blog for a long time and love it. I fear for our young ladies who are not learning the Homemakin’ Arts from their Mothers as most of my generation learned. I’m so thankful that you are available on the internet and in print for those who search.
    Thank you for sharing your life and talent with the world.

  4. Barb Kile says:

    Susan, is there any way I would be able to purchase your books: Christmas, Baby Love, Mom and Christmas Memories ? Would LOVE to have them in my collection. Sending Hugs !! Barb Kile

    • sbranch says:

      Sometimes you can find them in the vintage part of our webstore … just click on “shopping at the top of the page” — then on “vintage” in the left-hand column.

  5. Deborah Dowling says:

    I loved your book , “A Fine Romance”. I wish that I could take a trip like that.
    I have always been a person who loved British things. I went there when I was
    in college for a short term class in Medieval Literature. I wish I could go back.
    Deborah Dowling from Gilbert, Az.

  6. Josephine Gadaleta says:

    Hello Susan! Your blogs are such a pleasure to read. Your love letter to Martha’s Vineyard makes me want to visit your island myself. Actually, me and my family would love to vacation there this summer for a week. I’ve been on some MV websites and the accommodation options are so overwhelming and expensive to boot! Can you give me any feedback on which town to stay in, for example? It would be our first time there. We visited Oak Bluffs a couple of years ago but only for the day, which wasn’t enough. It would be nice to get some recommendations from a local. Thank you Susan! Any tidbit is appreciated! Can’t wait for your next blog. PS: I have your 2014 calendar and I’m loving it!

    • sbranch says:

      All the towns are a little bit different from each other, but they all have something to offer. The whole island is only 100 square miles, most of it is country roads and beaches — the towns are tiny, but fun — no chain stores are here at all except for a Dairy Queen that’s been here since the 50′s. It takes about 20 minutes to get to any furthest point on the island. It’s probably better to rent a house, very likely much cheaper and more fun because you can cook if you want to. It’s not really a “rock and roll” type vacation, more laid back, reading, walks, boats, eating ice cream, water things, like that. Also, if you will need a car, which I’m sure you will, make your boat reservations asap because that’s where any problems can come — those reservation slots for the summer fill up early. Hope this helps!

  7. Jan maskrey says:

    I live in a pretty village in the UK but have an obsession about New England, I visited a few years ago and fell in love with it. Next time I come I really want to visit Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket …one day I will come ….love your blog x

  8. Marie-Christine Hornstein-Elissalde says:

    You have at least two French admirers for I offered your lovely “A Fine Romance” to a dear friend at Xmas ! We were already in love with England before reading it, but your travel journal only increased our crave for English country pubs, lovely hedge-lined roads, old manours and cute little brick, sash-windowed, thatch-roofed cottages, warm old ladies with delicious accents and cookies on their tables …Nothing was missing ! Thank you for your exquisite and humourous drawings that provide every page with the surprise of an ever-renewed inspiration, and the richness of a firework. You are so right in calling the very ordinary craftsmen of bygone days true artists who did not know about their talents, and in glorifying the hand-made objects that bring peace to one’s soul. ( Have you ever tried patchwork ? I’m sure you would make beautiful quilts ! ) This is the only passion we seem not to have in common. Come and visit our lovely French country ! It’s worth a trip too !

    • sbranch says:

      Oh how nice Marie-Christine! French people too! :-) Love it! Yes, so much in common. Before I learned to paint I sewed everything, my clothes, curtains, pillow cases, and I made quilts too. But when I was thirty I tried watercolors and that took over my life and I discovered I could paint quilts faster than making them! I’ve designed fabric and quilts too . . . I love them and have collected old ones forever. Here are some of them . . . We would love to come visit . . . have been to Paris and to the coast, but not the countryside yet. Soon! Thank you!

  9. Marie-Christine Hornstein-Elissalde says:

    I offered “A Fine Romance” to a dear friend at Xmas ! We were already in love with England before reading it, but your travel journal only increased our crave for English country pubs, hedge-lined roads, old manours and cute little brick cottages, warm old ladies with delicious accents and cookies on their tables …Nothing was missing ! Thank you for your exquisite and humourous drawings that provide every page with the surprise of an ever-renewed inspiration . You are so right in calling the very ordinary craftsmen of bygone days true artists who did not know about their talents, and in praising the hand-made objects that bring peace to one’s soul. ( Have you ever tried patchwork ? I’m sure you could make beautiful quilts ! ) This is the only passion we seem not to have in common. Come and visit our lovely French countryside , we have a couple ofold villages that are worth seeing too !

    • sbranch says:

      “Crave” is the perfect word. I have one girlfriend who lives in CA — we call each other just to talk about England ~ we try to feed the “crave” factor — which is difficult to do, but so fun to remember those meadows, wildflowers, lambs, hills and dales, gardens and cottages. I did quilting long before I painted — didn’t know I could paint until I was thirty so I had years of sewing and embroidery and quilting before that. Thank you Marie-Christine!

  10. Amy Starr Van Duzen says:

    Susan,
    I just discovered your lovely book “A Fine Romance” at my local library recently and loved everything about it! It lead me here to your beautiful blog, which I can’t believe that I hadn’t discovered sooner! Call me a late bloomer, but better late than never. I’ve recommended your book to a few friends, one in particular who is madly in love with all things British! I especially enjoyed learning more about Beatrix Potter and seeing your photos and paintings from her farm. I decorated my daughter’s room when she was born in Peter Rabbit and friends motif and have save all of the special collectibles from that time. I will treasure them forever! I look forward to your new book! Thanks for putting a smile on my face :-)

  11. Maggie Roche says:

    Bon Jour,

    I found your blog most interesting. I hadn’t a clue there were so many interested in the finer things such as Laura Ashley, home baked scones, and old black and white cinema as sort of an “alternative lifestyle”. Kind Regards!

  12. Marilyn Britto says:

    My sister and I are headed for Boston in 2 days. I have never visited the east coast and I just realized today that we must visit Martha’s Vineyard! I love your artwork, cookbooks, and all that you do!
    I live in the mountains in Calif. and she lives in So. Texas, so we will find a happy medium/balance during our travels.
    Thank you for everything!

    • sbranch says:

      Be sure to walk the Trail of Freedom in Boston. I hope the weather cooperates with you, bring every warm thing you have.

  13. Wendy Jorden says:

    I have just learned of your books. I’m captvated. I have already signed up for your newsletters. Due to previous injuries to my wrists, I’m unable to read books, but do read many e-books. Do you have plans to offer your books in e-format? Once again, I’m thilled to have been introduced to your unique and charming talent. Thank you.

    • sbranch says:

      I’m so sorry Wendy .. but because my books are handwritten, apparently that makes them difficult to format for e-books. I’m hearing it may be possible in the future, but right now, it’s my understanding they can’t do it. There’s lots to read here though, I’m so happy to meet you.

  14. Kate says:

    Are you sure this isn’t describing heaven?

  15. Mary Bustamante says:

    Hi Susan – I live in Arroyo Grande your old CA neighborhood. I was wondering when you purchased your beautiful farm house on MV? I was reading through your blog and it has pictures of your first little place but not much about the big white house that I would die for. Miss the store in the Village. I loved to go there to see all your beautiful things. I still have a few garden signs amoung the flowers.

    • sbranch says:

      The big white house is on Martha’s Vineyard. The little white house is in Arroyo Grande . . . I think that’s what you are thinking of? Say hello to the beautiful California springtime, almost summer, for me. xo

  16. Marcelle Longueil Québec. says:

    Susan,found your colourfull site by La table de Nana.was inMV 25 years ago,stayed in a nice bed and breakfast The corner House.Thanks for remembering Mrs Gladys Taber was following fer inFamily circle

  17. Jenny Johnston says:

    Hello Susan,
    I’ll be on-island May 8th!!! My sweet, sweet husband is bringing me for our 30th wedding anniversary. I’ve loved everything Vineyard for so many years, and almost got there in 1972. Now, all these many years later, I’m going! Your wonderful book, Vineyard Seasons, has been displayed (and used) in my kitchen since 1988, as I dreamed of The Vineyard. I’ll be writing my own love letter to MV soon! As Carly said, “I’m bound for the island…” Xoxoxo
    Ps: love love love “A Fine Romance” and ALL things England, too! Using my new Peter Rabbit Emma mug! :)

  18. Susan Schmidt says:

    Many years ago I happened upon your Christmas book at the local library and fell in love with the book and all things Vineyard. I passed this down to one of my three sisters and before long we found ourselves on an airplane headed your way. I must say, upon arrival, we looked at each other saying “what have we done”. The airport was so small and very old however there has been a very nice new one built since then. We were naive to think we could “bicycle” around the island and not need a car! We spent a glorious week the first part of October on the Island and completely fell in love. We also ran into you at the local florist which was a treat, you were very gracious. Since this time we have been back three times and included my mother, two other sisters and my daughter. This is truly a magical place and I would know nothing about it without coming across your book in the library. My sisters and I have followed you ever since and look forward to the Willards. We are hopeful to get back to the Island again soon.

    • sbranch says:

      Isn’t that wonderful. We are all so connected. I’m so happy you love it here too. xoxo Hello to the family!

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