As Laura Wainwright distinguishes in the titular essay of her new book Home Bird: Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard, a home bird is different from a homebody. Unlike a homebody, who does not like leaving home, a home bird very much enjoys going out and traveling, but simply finds “special delight in the comfort, nourishment and complexity of our lives at home.”
But Ms. Wainwright also views her home as not merely her house on Lambert’s Cove where she lives with her husband and dogs, but the entirety of Martha’s Vineyard.
Home Bird was published earlier this summer by Vineyard Stories. This Saturday, Oct. 6, Ms. Wainwright will give a reading and discuss her writing process at Polly Hill Arboretum beginning at 2 p.m.
Ms. Wainwright had been living in Cambridge with her husband and young children, working as a third-grade teacher and a children’s librarian when, in 1997, the family decided to try a year-long experiment of living on the Vineyard. And, as many Vineyard stories go, they never left. Although they had spent many summers here prior, living in a camp with no electricity that her husband had built, this was the first time living here year-round in a fully-functioning house.
She fell in love with the simplicity of the place, that Island children all attend public school, for example. She recalled one particular story when she was driving her children to school, realizing once they got there, that she wasn’t wearing any shoes. “What a delight,” she said, “to live in a place where putting on shoes could be an afterthought.”
In the 15 years that have followed, Ms. Wainwright has experienced the Vineyard to its fullest: the summertime foraging of huckleberries, hazelnuts or watercress; battening down the hatches for an autumn storm; both the delights and frights that can accompany winter pond skating; and the sight of the endangered lady slipper come spring.
As the experiences multiplied over many seasons, year after year, Ms. Wainwright began to write about them, one essay at a time. She hadn’t planned on writing at all, let alone a book, but as the essays accumulated, she decided to join a writing group and enrolled in a creative writing program earning an MFA at Lesley University. While organizing her many essays, she began seeing a theme of Vineyard seasons emerge. Thus, her collection of essays was born. When Ms. Wainwright describes a scene, animal or flower she does so with such detail, beauty and uniqueness, it is as if this were the only bluebird ever to boast such colors and sounds. Reading her essays, one is transported to the walk at Wompesket, harvesting raspberries at Mermaid Farm, or lingering at Cary Luckey’s estate sale. They are meditations on the simple everyday beauty to be found everywhere you look, as well as field guide explanations of birds’ seasonal patterns or explanations on the rarity of sea glass (and with a few recipes thrown in, too).
She chooses her words well and deliberately, but also knows when to cede ground when the image is overpowering.
“Are there words to describe the sun on Black Point Pond? For a moment I try to grab the names of colors, tones, feelings and then leave it for someone else. Faulkner would know, but for me it is enough to stand here saturated by its glory.”
Yet she does, in fact, grab the words, and in so doing, grabs the reader, too.
Those who do live here year-round will read and relate. For those who have yet to experience the Vineyard in the off-season, or even summer for that matter, this book will be both an invitation and an appetizer to the experience of both the hidden and overt beauty of this Island.