“I guess if you’re comfortable with how the game is going to end, then you can play.” Sounds of a baseball game float through the window from the playing field on the other side of the trees. “Personally, and I don’t mean this for others, it’s like — I don’t know, but I tend to believe that this life is it. So I’m not sitting there worrying about judgments and devils and angels. No hell to pay. When it’s over, it’s over.” .

Famous for his hand-crafted, silent trackers of fair and foul winds, Travis Tuck negotiates his wheelchair next to the long dining table that dominates the small, sunny room in his apartment above his Vineyard Haven studio and, with almost determined exuberance, talks about his cancer, about having his leg amputated almost two months ago and about which way the wind is blowing.

Looking affable and hearty, the former New York city, been-there-done-that, 1960s radical, details his past two years of medical history since mesothelioma was discovered in the space between his lung and chest cavity. He shifts back and forth between medical jargon and descriptive analogies, becoming both informative and oddly entertaining. His lack of self pity, his nonchalance, is contagious.

“The first thing goes back to being comfortable with your mortality,” says the well-known sculptor of weathervanes that now grace buildings across the Island and the nation. “I have a fatal disease. It’s going to kill me. We don’t know whether it will be three months or three years at this point in time. In fact, I’m way ahead of the pack. I’m one of the longest survivors they’ve got for this disease.”

The phone rings. His guest stretches the spiral cord on the wall phone receiver and hands it to him. The medical laboratory. And he explains, coordinates, is put on hold, and waits.

Twenty minutes later, the Vineyard resident of 32 years tries to remember the point at which he was interrupted, then decides it doesn’t matter.

“I’ve been very lucky in life. I’ve lived a very good 59 years,” says the artist, who even now speaks with humor and hope and a philosophy of life. “I have probably 10 times as many friends as the law allows,” and he lists their good and generous deeds and talks about his ever-widening circles. “I mean I’m beginning to realize that I’m a personality and a public figure .... It never hurts to be the artist at the party.”

He and Vineyard Steamship Authority governor Cassie Roessel recently became engaged, although no date has been set. “I’m not even sure how much longer I’m going to be around.’.’ A “declaration of commitment,” he calls it.

“Somehow I figured out that I’m a survivor. I’ve been on every end of a relationship. And I guess one of the things that allows you to give and give generously, even if it goes on the rocks, is if you know you’ll still survive.”

He remembers his first call as an emergency medical technician was for a cardiac arrest victim on the Gay Head Cliffs. The man had worked in a mine or a Rust Belt steel mill for about 50 years, then got his gold watch and thought his life would finally begin.

“And he croaked on the Gay Head Cliffs 12 days later,” Travis remembers. “It made me say, ‘Live it fully because you don’t want your last thought going
out being, I wish I had.’”

“One nice thing is that the work that I do is very durable. There’s nothing neater than being up on a roof and admiring the craftsmanship of a guy who was there 100 years ago, and saying, ‘Damn, I wonder who did this?’ A pretty nice legacy.”

His first weathervane was a commission he wangled to make a three-foot, great white shark for the movie Jaws. Currently, he is booked two years in advance for work with an average price of $12,000.

In almost musical tones he describes his method: hollow copper sheeting, hammered over his hand-made molds, hand-carved and braised together. Weathervans designed as sculpture. “So I’ve been able to basically take a metal worker’s limited art form and elevate it to a real art form.

“The thing that’s so different with mine is that every hammer blow, every chisel blow, is an aesthetic decision. I would imagine 100 years from now, when they’re in museums, they’ll all be sitting on pedestals somewhere.”

The phone rings. The medical laboratory. Again.

His cancer, a form that conventionally results from exposure to asbestos, is being written up in medical journals for its aberrational course. There is now evidence of it in his shoulder and other thighbone. He hopes to be a candidate for a new process to kill tumors in bone and soft tissue. If he were a candidate for a prosthetic limb, he would have to learn to throw his weight forward from his hip for mobility.

“There’s no way it’s going to look natural, so why stick an Adidas on it,” he says, enthusiastically describing plans to fill an umbrella stand with different peg legs — carved wood, bronze and copper, one with a ball and claw. “Like the leg on a nice piece of furniture,” he says. “Could you imagine an ebony one with ivory claws? Wouldn’t that be cool? I mean if I’m walking like that, I might as well show the world I’ve got an artificial leg.”

Travis Tuck’s life, he agrees, has been a preparation for what’s happening now. “That’s why I’d really like to stick around for awhile .... I mean nobody wants the dance to end. But when I’m 90, I wouldn’t want it to end either. Nobody wants to hear, it’s last call.”

His smile flickers. “I’m going to fight this as long as I can. As long as the quality of life is good, I’m going to be here for it. I’ve got this tumor in my arm. I’ve got another small one in my femur that they think they can zap at the same time.

“But the thing is, they’re obviously reoccurring. Something’s going to turn up at some point that’s not fixable. There’s a point where the scale tips ....”

One thing for certain, says the amiable and talented sculptor, his funeral will be “a hell of a party.”

C.K. Wolfson’s Conversations column appears regularly on the editorial pages of the Vineyard Gazette.