The picture on my computer screen shows four grandchildren dancing at the edge of the water on South Beach. Madeline stands knee deep in surf, her hands lifted above the froth. Lindy is half turned from the incoming wave, ready to run for higher ground. Her cousin Burns faces bravely forward, feet firmly planted in the running sand while Liza, poised on one foot with the other kicked up in the spray behind her, welcomes the waves. This ordinary summer moment would have been forgotten had it not been caught by the camera to reappear every time I turn on the computer, reminding me of the long warm summer days, running with sand and salt and sunshine.
My four grandchildren would be surprised if they were here today in the frozen reality of January. For them it is always summer at the Vineyard. They have never seen Edgartown harbor empty of boats. They’ve never walked a beach scattered with chunks of ice. The sidewalk they know so well that leads downtown to ice cream and candy lies buried under frozen snow. Main street is all but deserted. The crowds of tourists with their backpacks, cameras and strollers are long gone. Most stores are closed, their windows dark. Parking places abound. The town is asleep, waiting for the season to turn again.
For Islanders who live here all the time, this is the normal world. Free of crowds and tour buses, traffic and noise, life goes on here just as it does anywhere else. People work and eat and watch television, go to the dentist, buy groceries and walk the dog.
But those of us who come and go between Island homes and homes away see the Island differently from those who live here and those who only come when the sea is warm and the days are long. We suffer torn loyalties, wanting to be in one place and having to be in the other. We live with a foot in each place, and sometimes we wonder if the balancing act is worth the trouble of ferry reservations, calendar arrangements, cancellations and preparations. But we have the privilege of coming and going, of knowing the Island in all its moods. Each time we return we notice the small shifts in light and color that go with seasonal change. With fresh eyes, we notice differences we might not see if we were here all the time.
I like the empty streets, the bare trees, the clean sweep of icy blue that is the harbor without its flock of boats and sails. I like the enormous sky, the sculpted sand on a beach where nobody walks, the single gull perched on the life guard stand at State Beach. I like the clean look of everything under an uncluttered sky. The sunlight slants through clumps of naked oaks casting shadows on the snow. The trees stand free of foliage showing off their skeletons, their twisted limbs, their silver bark. At this time of year you can look into places you cannot see in summer. Woods and yards that are hidden from curious eyes when cloaked in summer foliage, are fully exposed in the bright winter sun.
For me these winter days on the Vineyard are a gift, a gift not available to seasonal visitors who always see the Vineyard under a summer sun. January days in my Island house give me a chance to step out of my off-Island life, a chance to see friends, sleep late and read my Christmas books, but also a chance to stop and look and breathe the peace of an Island left to itself under the wide winter sky.
Betsy Campbell lives in Natick and Edgartown, and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.