From July Vineyard Gazette editions:
Ordinarily at this phase of an Island summer the hedgerows would be dusty, and dust would be coating the dry, hot sweet fern beside our sandy roads. The scent of huckleberry and bayberry thickets would seem to be part of the heat, part of the sunny day and the elixir of sunlight itself. Older inhabitants remember how the iron rims of carriage wheels used to sink into the sand, and how the heat and the dust mingled and then fell apart.
Now, though, as July ends, the hedgerows are green and fresh mud will probably cake and crack in August, but it has not caked yet. Swampholes which ought to be empty have been refilled. There is little crackling when one walks the paths through summer woodland, and the leaves that fall are only the lazy ones, unaffected by any crisping..
The hedgerows tell the summer story most completely as they luxuriate through the characteristic Vineyard succession of flowering and ripening. The elderberry bushes, tall and graceful with arching branches, have taken over the leading role now, their creamy white flower-heads decorating the roadsides, yet with so little ostentation that many moderns do not notice them.
Not for at least fifty or sixty years have they occupied their former rank of importance. Many Vineyarders used to make elderberry wine, and some Vineyarders, seeking a more precious bouquet made elderflower wine. One can still understand this pursuit of a particular excellence if he savors the delicate scent of the blossoms, unlike the assertive flavor of the berries.
At any rate, the elderflowers in the hedgerow mark the passing of this luxuriant summer on the Vineyard.
Hydrangeas are one of the many floral joys of midsummer and on the Vineyard they are blooming in blue and white profusion. There are dozens of varieties, from lacecap to snowball to climbing. The flowers can be cut right through the fall, when, as if on cue for the change in fashion colors they turn into shades of cream, russet and dusky pink. Best of all, deer and rabbits do not eat them.
The boulder-strewn hills of the Vineyard are enduring but many of the relics of a more recent past are not. Consider the split rail fences of fragrant cedar. A generation ago they were familiar in the landscape, though not so much as the stone walls, and today relatively few are left.
A split rail cedar fence was and is a beautiful thing, weathered to a soft gray, rugged and knotty in contour, well patterned with lichens. The view of such a fence ascending a long hill beside a sandy road which our ancestors necessarily traversed slowly, was one of the sound, shipshape, quietly appealing symbols of a way of life that wound and climbed and dipped like the road.
Not a few moderns have expressed surprise that the Island could have had cedar trees of such size and number so as to produce those rails. Well, it didn’t, at least in an era recent enough for the rails to have survived for present inspection. The Vineyard’s “cedars tall and straight” as described by Gosnold’s voyagers could not have outlasted the first generation of industrious settlers. The cedar rails known to our grandparents and, some of them, to the present time, were brought here by the schooner load from Maine or somewhere Down East. They were sold on the Island for a few cents, cheaply enough to compete with the stone walls which, though costing nothing for material, were laborious to build.
Now most of them have either been burned in fires on Vineyard hearths or are being absorbed gently into the soil and mould of the countryside and of slow time. But all that are left are singularly beautiful in their homely way and some, containing recesses for wild bees, are even musical, appealing to all the human senses at once.
As the cedar rails have gone and are going, so has gone and is going the old way of life of which they were a part and in which they regulated the order of many things, such as keeping sheep in and strangers out, or marking the course of rights of way and roads that went to church or school or far beyond.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner