An Editor’s Musings

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of September, 1982:

Autumn is when the earth’s tilt turns sidewise with respect to the sun. Light will fall equally on northern and southern hemispheres, with day and night parceled out impartially, share and share alike, on all parts of the earth. As to the experience of autumn, the matter is not easily resolved. Our Vineyard autumn, which is a variation of the New England autumn, has its own scent, flavor, sunrise, sunset and night sky full of stars. We have been living it again along with an unruly amount of fog. How can one see the daylight reek of the ponds, hot by day, chilled by night, when there is so much fog around? The reek, however, is a specialty of October, and we may expect to see it again when October comes.

The experience of autumn is not limited to walking in the changing wrap of the season, to view the colors of swamp maples, tupelo, sassafras, sumac and so on, that recurring annual marvel. Nor is it a deliberate or chance observation of lonely, orange-bright sunset and afterglow in a surprised sky. It is only slightly related to rain, fog and the hardy institution of the northeast gale.

Autumn cries aloud to be lived, though the cry is muted and lonely in its softness. A natural whisper at the time of the year is better than a bombardment at almost any other. The Vineyard remembers, though the busily preoccupied regions of the main do not, that autumn must be allowed to enter the bloodstream by way of lungs, vision and poems remembered from the third grade.

Elizabeth Coatsworth, poet and wife of Henry Beston who wrote The Outermost House, who with him visited the Vineyard one time when stormy weather interrupted a projected journey to Nantucket, wrote “The English landscape often seemed to have horizons that rolled down, most places having horizons that roll up and enclose them.“ Martha’s Vineyard was singled out by Nathaniel Southgate Shaler as having an Old World spring, and the poet’s observation raised the likelihood that we also have Old World horizons.

But just what does a rolled-down horizon look like? A rolled-down horizon is for everyone to test by repeated observation, but when seen from the South Beach on a clear day or moonlit night it seems to be one over which the observer can almost see beyond and down over the other side. As a matter of fact, a Vineyarder can at times see over the rolled-down horizon and discern the spires and elevations of Nantucket in luminous mist, though not — so far as any record goes — the chosen people of that neighboring Island going about their affairs in the streets.

There’s no older principle in fact of culture or economics or folklore. Tennyson wrote: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” Times change, no matter how the phrasing may go. Even in classified advertisements we have a summation of our changed and changing history.

The following notice appeared in the Vineyard Gazette in the year 1900.

“Farm For Sale in North Tisbury. On account of protracted ill health, the subscriber offers his farm for sale, near Indian Hill, 1/2 mile from State Road, consisting of 70 acres pasture, 7 meadow, and a small lot of wood land, entirely fenced with stone walls. House, of 8 rooms, in good repair. Barn 22 x 32, split stone cellar under whole. Workshop, two henhouses, wood-house, corn-house, and root cellar, separate from house. House piped for water from a never-failing spring 575 feet away, which never falls below a temperature of 36 degrees.

“Excellent place to keep sheep and poultry and to raise strawberries for market. Running brook through a part of the premises. Swamp suitable for cranberry bog, if desired.

“Farm well stocked with tools, consisting of farm wagons, mowing machine, plows, harrows, horse-hoes, cultivators, cider mill, and all the smaller tools which will be sold with the farm if desired. Good neighborhood. Three minutes walk to school.”

The following is a classified advertisement typical of the present day, made up from familiar items, descriptive terms, and so on, though not a copy of any actual notice.

“For Sale. West Tisbury, Indian Hill area. Attractive contemporary with view of Vineyard Sound. Four baths, fireplaces in 4 of 12 spacious rooms, cathedral ceilings, 3 maids rooms with two baths, spacious verandas on 3 sides, hardwood floors, large kitchen, all utilities underground. Two miles from public beach. Level acreage suitable for tennis courts. Two-car garage, brick patios, picnic area.”

Times change.

Would we go back if we could? The temptation is certainly there: sheep, strawberries, cranberries, meadow, pasture, independence! But no, we wouldn’t go back if we could, and it is a plain fact of our modern standard of living that we couldn’t.

There’s really no moral, nothing but history.

Compiled by Eulalie Regan