On cold, clear winter Vineyard days, I have trouble staying indoors. I am always tempted to set off for a walk in the woods or along a beach. The air is fresh, the sky blue. Trees gray as elephants stand out against the blueness of the sky.
And so it was on Monday, Martin Luther King Day. The air was a crisp 20, the sky the blue of medieval religious paintings, and tree limbs were clearly etched against it. Driving on Barnes Road near the Oak Bluffs water works, I stopped for a walk along the Lagoon.
For seven years, I lived above the Lagoon in Vineyard Haven. Mornings or evenings, I would walk the shore to the water works, jumping freshwater streams where watercress grew, searching for wild irises in season, startling ducks feeding near the shore, listening to bird songs, digging fruitlessly for arrowheads and climbing over fallen trees that, over time, became friends.
Monday morning, I followed my old route in reverse. I crossed the causeway. There were a few snow patches near shore and a thin layer of ice on the pond’s surface. A lone swan rested on it, and on my approach swooped away, flapping its great wings. Dave Frantz, who lives nearby, tells me that two swan families were living near the water works in spring. I saw bufflehead ducks too, and a flotilla of seagulls far out on the ice, but they were too far away for my presence to matter.
Cracks in the ice looked as if a giant had been writing on it, or drawing pictures of islands with strange contours. Under the ice near shore, the stones and pebbles that are not clearly seen when waves lap over them were gray, gold, tawny, brown and rust. Those were the colors of the shore landscape too. The sand was golden, fallen leaves were rust or brown, wind-blown grasses tawny, boulders (I had forgotten that there were boulders along the beach) tawny too.
I climbed under some old tree branches and over others, patting them affectionately, hoping to remind them somehow that once we had been good friends. A birch that I had loved long ago, but that had fallen, was gone, I noted. I looked for scallop shells beneath a tree at the head of the Lagoon where there had always been mounds of them washed ashore, but sadly, there were none.
Where the Frantzes’ boat, Tracker, used to be moored, there was a white ketch that I had never seen before. Hauled up on shore were various boats — a skiff, a green canoe, something inflatable and the sturdy raft Dave Frantz had built long ago. I climbed the steps over Dr. Michael Jacobs’s dock and crunched along over wind-flattened grass.
At our old house, I found a long flight of new stairs up the bluff, so I climbed them. I had been told that the house had been bought and was to be torn down, and I wanted to see if it was true. And if it was, I wondered if I could get back the holly tree my late husband, Tom Cocroft, and I had been given as a house-warming present long ago. I could make good use of it now to fill a bare spot near my West Tisbury house. There was one tall, widespread glistening holly filled with berries, and another very small one near the house foundation. The tall one, of course, must be the one we were given in the 1970s, but it is much too tall to move, I suppose. Behind it, the white pines that Tom planted then, also now grown tall, soughed.
There were cars outside the house and I knocked at the door, but no one answered.
I descended the staircase to the shore and retraced my steps. I remembered the Thanksgiving Day when we had guests and our yellow cat, out of sorts that there were so many people for the holiday, had gone door to door in the neighborhood soliciting turkey scraps. Tom had been embarrassed and incensed when Marian Halperin had told us how the yellow cat had come plaintively meowing to her deck.
I remembered too when our calico cat, Groucho, had disappeared in a thunderstorm and been gone two weeks before neighbor Neb Culin called to say that he had seen a cat outside his bathroom window when he was shaving. I had hurried down the beach to the Culins and climbed up through their raspberry patch calling for Groucho. And sure enough, she was there, sheltering under the raspberry branches. I remembered how ecstatically happy I was carrying her, purring, back home.
Like so much of the Island, the Lagoon is rich in memories for me. Some are of friends and family and of pets long gone. But others are of trees and rocks, beaches and bluffs, paths, dirt roads, thudding waves and piney woods.
As I climbed into my car and looked out at the Lagoon glistening in the sun, I was glad that the clear day on Monday, the blue sky and wintry air had lured me back to one of my beloved Vineyard places.