We decorate with rocks, using them to landscape, cover driveways, mark parking spots or protect our grass from cars. We paint them — usually white but sometimes yellow — to attract further attention. Smooth purple rocks are sparingly gathered from a purposefully unnamed up-Island beach. Ancient bricks are found at The Inkwell, smoothed from the surf and collected as treasure. We stack rocks as sign markers or to show off how many and how creatively we can do it. Were ancient, moss-covered stone walls built to mark property lines or just to neatly move them out of the way of agricultural activity?
Doesn’t every teenage girl who has ever come to Martha’s Vineyard still have a small, heart-shaped rock that some thoughtful young man gave her? Even if that token was not reciprocated, I’d bet those ladies still remember the young man’s name. A mother given a jewel like a pebble by her five year old may not recall the exact day it was given, but probably kept that keepsake on the windowsill and remembers which member of her tribe provided the trinket.
Here on the Island, rocks play a part in our history. Thomas Mayhew Jr. is credited as having proselytized Hiacoomes, the first of the original people who adopted and then taught Christianity. In a letter dated Oct. 16, 1651 to the Rev. Henry Whitfield, Mr. Mayhew describes the location of Hiacoomes’s teaching: “Where stood the rock on a descending ground upon which he used to sometimes stand and preach . . . ” We recognize that hallowed spot as Pulpit
Rock, probably our second most famous rock after Lovers’ Rock.
Ironically, Lovers’ Rock (a huge glacial boulder called an erratic) is no longer visible. Too big to be moved, it was covered with sand in 1973 in an early effort to save Inkwell beach. Following public outcry, a gray granite rock a fraction of its size sits above it, marking the spot of an Oak Bluffs landmark since, well, the ice age. Lovers’ Rock played a part in the social life of Cottage City. Lovers strolled down the wooden boardwalk and sat on it in the moonlight, and families used it for annual pictures. We played on and around it, jumping into the water at high tide. When the Seaview Hotel burned down, its romantic owner, Colonel Frederic J. Hart, published a booklet afterward called Lovers’ Rock, a Summer Idyll that had a poem about a lonely man who saved a widow from drowning after she fell off a pier. The man almost died on the beach near Lovers’ Rock in the rescue, but survived and the two were married and lived happily after. The newer Seaview Hotel, in the July 23, 1948 Vineyard Gazette, advertised a Lovers’ Rock Spa. Today Lovers’ Rock remains in our mind’s eye and on nautical charts that still list it as an aid to navigation. You can also see it on Google maps — along with nearby Lone Rock beneath at least a couple of fathoms of water out near the buoy.
Another, Rhode Island Rock, lies in the water off of East Chop, perhaps 25 to 30 feet deep. On charts it appears that ferries to Woods Hole ride right over it. Lesser-known Robbins Rock is under water halfway down the lagoon on the Oak Bluffs side, near land but, according to charts and Google, it must be large enough for boaters to want to avoid it. I have an old photo of opening day of the original Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company dock and the big, white painted rock at the base of Ocean Park (where buses park) is in the picture.
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with Irish movies this weekend. If you show your Film Society member’s card you get 10 per cent off for meals at Offshore Ale and Park Corner Bistro tonight until Sunday. Of course, they are serving special Irish menus, too.
Support the American Cancer Society by stopping by the Vineyard Haven Cronig’s or the hospital on March 19 and 20 and making a $10 donation. In return, you’ll receive a bunch of ready to blossom, budded daffodils welcoming spring. The funds are for cancer research and programs to help battle this disease. Call Judy Baynes at 508-627-5468 for more details.
Innocently ignored, sometimes decorated, and always interesting, Oak Bluffs rocks are constants in our lives and stalwart reminders to . . . keep your foot on a rock.