On almost the last day of summer my husband and I loaded our kayaks on top of the car and found our way to the entrance of Squibnocket Pond for our last waterway exploration of the summer.
Earlier in the month we had taken advantage of the clear blue weather and the post Labor Day relaxation of rules regarding parking and admission to many of the Vineyard’s most beautiful places and had dropped our two blue kayaks into Chilmark Pond, a place we had barely seen in all of our 34 summers on the Island. We’d paddled to the outer beach and stood on the South Shore looking as far as we could in either direction. No other human being anywhere in sight on that empty sweep of sand. Between the two sections of pond runs a narrow stream, its banks lined with beach grass and the lush pink blossoms of swamp rose mallow, flowers as lovely as any in Edgartown’s finest gardens and all the more wonderful because they were a surprise.
On another warm September afternoon we had launched our boats at Quitsa and paddled under the bridge into Stonewall Pond, then all around Quitsa Pond where we admired the boats peacefully resting at their moorings and imagined what it would be like to live in one of the houses looking down at the view we were gliding through. We went all the way to Menemsha that afternoon, stopping once at a sandy strip of shore to rest our arms. The wind rose against us on the return trip, but the current helped us back to the boat ramp. We were tired but pleased with ourselves, a pair of seniors with enough strength to paddle to Menemsha and back.
In earlier summers we had dipped our paddles into the Great Ponds in Edgartown and Tisbury. We’d been in the Lagoon, the harbors of Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, Poucha Pond and Tashmoo, but never to Squibnocket. Being down-Island residents, we had no parking rights at that beach and no access to the pond during regular summer months, but now in September’s glory the Island was ours to explore.
The entrance to Squibnocket Pond is a shallow channel choked with reeds. Our paddles came out of the water with garlands of grass dripping from the blades. The surface of the inlet was sprinkled with downy feathers cast off by the swans who patrol the pond. A dignified swan family glided along the far shore, two parents trailed by three cygnets moving in line as if pulled by an invisible cord.
Past the Island at the mouth of the inlet we hugged the southern shore to keep out of the wind and found a landing spot where the sand bristled with clumps of salt marsh fleabane, bearing clusters of pink-purple flower heads shaped like tiny pin cushions. We ignored the posted warnings telling us of private property rights and restricted use, and walked through an opening in the sculpted dunes to stand on the outer beach.
The sand lay in rippled patterns. A moon shell lay alone on the sand. I picked it up, ran my fingers around its smooth unbroken surface and slipped it in my pocket. We stood by the water’s edge awed by a world where wind and tide are in charge of the landscape, and the only signs of life are the tracks left in the sand by deer and gulls and the occasional skunk. It was hard to believe that we were a few miles away from the congestion of five corners or the bustle of tourists on Circuit avenue. Out there, on that desolate beach, it was easy to think that we stood on the edge of the world.
Back in our kayaks, we paddled across the eastern end of the pond and turned toward the inlet, passing an island where a gathering of cormorants sat waiting, ready to lift off with the furious beating of hundreds of wings when we got too close. We saw no other boats, only the swans cruising with us in the afternoon light. With a stiffening wind at our backs we rode the choppy waves toward the inlet where a forest of beach grass swayed in the breeze, feathery plumes bent toward the earth, wind seething through a thicket of stems.
Our kayaks are put away now, moored to the rafters of our Edgartown garage. Summer is over and we’ve returned to off-Island life, to a world of stop lights, subway trains, sidewalks and shopping malls, but the moon shell rests on my window sill, a reminder of the wonder of wild places, so near and yet so far.
Betsy Campbell lives in Natick and Edgartown.