Summer Conversation

There are different ways to mark the beginning of summer. By the calendar it begins on the solstice Sunday. Then there are all the other small ways that signal the start of the season. At the Gazette office in Edgartown loyal subscribers to the newspaper have begun to drop in, to change their addresses so the paper can be delivered here, to say hello, perhaps comment on the latest news, ask about how our winter was on the Island.

Long and cold, deliciously quiet, sometimes a little too quiet, we reply.

So it’s nice to have you back. We looked forward to it.

These small exchanges are a reminder that the Island is not just another summer resort and vacation destination, but a place where thousands of people come to live part of their lives, whether for a few weeks or a few months a year. To many of them the Island is their real home.

And so what about an agenda for the new conversation that begins in earnest every year around this time, when for ten short weeks we are all thrown together on one small Island with six towns. When the population increases from fifteen thousand to fifty, sixty, seventy thousand, when there are traffic jams and homes are full and beaches and ponds are suddenly no longer places of solitude but places to see other people.

There is plenty to talk about.

The central conversation of course is around the economic downturn and its impact here. Many businesses are struggling, and ten weeks is an impossibly short time in which to make a living for the entire year. How to keep the Island a viable place to live, clean and safe with a stable economy that still respects the rhythms of the place — that’s a conversation to have.

How to get solidly behind the revival of the fishery, how to reverse the environmental problems that have dogged Sengekontacket Pond, how to support farmers and small artisans by buying their produce and goods — that’s another one.

And what of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, established more than thirty years ago to protect our unique ecological, historical and cultural values? Some suggest that it has become irrelevant. Instead of turning our backs on the commission, why not find constructive ways to make it relevant again. What are the values that we still hold dear?

The conversation must involve Islanders of all stripes — the working class, year-round people who teach the children, man the public safety barricades, clean the houses and run the banks and restaurants, and the seasonal people, the African American summer colony in Oak Bluffs, the leaders in industry, business, higher education, government and the arts. All add to the depth and diversity that is the Island’s hallmark. But demographics are changing, as the obituaries published in this newspaper attest. As a newer generation settles in, institutional memory is lost.

This summer let’s restore some of that memory, and talk about solutions to problems that are real and achievable, person to person. It’s a conversation about how to keep the Island a place where we still want to live and return to ten, even twenty years from now.