Noman’s Maneuvers

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of October, 1983:

The weather wasn’t ideal for war games this weekend but nothing ever stops the United States Marines. From their command center high on the Gay Head cliffs they at least had a good Vineyard view of bad Island weather. The military mission was to assist with radar precision bombing runs on Noman’s Land. A radar center and command post was laid out near the Gay Head lighthouse.

Two swift A-4 Sky Hawk jets screamed across the sky. The radar at Gay Head followed them all the way from the South Weymouth Naval Station to Noman’s, and with the help of the Gay Head command center, the pilots dropped their payloads right on target.

The view for tourists was of quiet beach and long curling waves rolling in from Vineyard Sound. And there was another view at the top of the cliffs, of full-scale military maneuvers. Soldiers rushed about the command post. Radios flashed messages. Jets soared at 400 miles an hour through heavy leaden skies.

In the current fuss about the animal shelter, it may be helpful to remember Miss Katharine Foote, who came to the Island in the 1930s to devote the rest of her life to the succor of animals. “Kitty” Foote she was always called, and although she appeared to be slight and demure, she came of rugged stock. She believed in work. She had driven a horse cart through snow and sleet in the streets of Boston. Her heaven was large enough to secure eternal life for dogs, cats and birds, as well as for humans.

When ordinary men and women were arising comfortably for breakfast, Miss Foote, as likely as not, would be coming back from winter beaches, ice fringing the hem of her coat, with a gull or other seabird rescued from distress. The medley of dogs barking in town became a nuisance, and she used her own money to build the first part of the MSPCA structure. Her friends worried about her health, especially when she was seen eating hot biscuits and roast pork at Hallowell’s restaurant in defiance of her doctor’s orders. Thinking she ought not to be alone, friends went to stay with her. But when they rose at seven, Miss Foote had left on the early boat to take a sick dog for care not available on the Island. Miss Foote’s dedication and labor were long ago, but they should not be betrayed or forgotten.

The Migration

A broken flight of wings

barking, honking their way

across unblemished sky

Wind currents and inexperience

pull awry their next formation

the V is torn striated

spread — a lengthy filament of birds

flung into blue

their flight so high

they lose identity

Only their honking remains

their distant cries stamped

on the blue dome

roofing the October sun.

We went looking for Craig Kingsbury this week because not only is he a legendary character, but he also served for more than a decade as Tisbury shellfish constable as well as selectman. He knows Tisbury, he knows the Vineyard and he knows Lake Tashmoo, which has become the subject of heated debate ever since an investment company announced last spring that it hoped to build 99 condominiums on a 107-acre property near the lake.

Mr. Kingsbury was working in a garden near a house close to the shores of Lake Tashmoo Monday afternoon. No shoes, both sleeves rolled up, two large tattoos on each arm. He’s still very much the salty, blaspheming curmudgeon. But the warning about him is always there: “Don’t be fooled by the good old boy. He’s as wise as he is wiley.”

The discussion began with Tashmoo. “Condominiums,” he said. “They just mean more traffic, more cops, more garbage. These damn fool development people think they’re going to get rich. A lot of other people think they are going to get rich too, but they’re not. Mr. Kingsbury was a selectman when Joseph Chira first proposed building 200 units on the same property. “You compromise. You do the best you can on a mess like this,” he said. But he agrees with those who say the Vineyard is headed toward ruination. “But how do you stop it?” he asks. “I figure it was really ruined about five years ago.”

Edgartown is another topic. “Edgartown is being destroyed. The people in charge don’t give a damn. Edgartown was once watched over by the old guard. They made sure that the place had class. They kept everything just right, even through the depression. But all those guys are dead. The last survivor is poor old Henry Hough, and he can’t do it alone. Yes, those fellows in charge of things in Edgartown now are the good old boys. Their philosophy is get in, get it, and get out.”

And with that, Craig Kingsbury went back to the garden near the shores of Lake Tashmoo.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner