Skunks are Serious

From Gazette Editions of October, 1984:

It is a problem to be sure. Some might call it a real stinker. The jokes will go on forever. But the skunks this year on Martha’s Vineyard are no joke and the problem they pose is very real. They are digging up lawns in Edgartown. They ate most of the gull eggs at Cape Pogue last spring. They scuttle under porches in Vineyard Haven, on Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs. Baby ones huddle in the bushes. Animal control officers in all the towns are inundated with complaint calls. The essence of skunk is everywhere.

“There’s no doubt about it, the skunks are on a cyclic high,” said Gus Ben David. Some people would like to eradicate them, but Mr. Ben David is more moderate in his attitudes toward these furry black mammals. He said that skunks were introduced here in the early 1960s. The first official sighting of a skunk was reported from Deep Bottom in West Tisbury on July 12, 1966. According to Mr. Ben David’s natural history records, skunks were present among the Indians when the first settlers landed here. But they were exterminated in 1910. Then the animal was re-introduced on the Island. No one is sure who brought the skunks back, but there are plenty of stories.

With unprecedented unanimity, selectmen from all six Vineyard towns threw their support this week to Tom Lynch, the Democratic representative from Sandwich who is challenging Republican state Sen. Paul V. Doane. “This is not just a political endorsement,” said John Early, a West Tisbury selectman who worked among the selectmen for the endorsement. “Whether they were to the right or to the left didn’t mean a damn thing. The main thing is that this indicates there’s a great consciousness among these individuals for representation. We all know what we’re up against, and the reason Tom got this endorsement is that everybody knows he’s been working for us even though he’s not our legislator.”

Elizabeth Bryant, a Chilmark selectman, said the endorsement is a strong statement from officials who traditionally do not agree so unanimously on anything. “It seemed to just come in a grass roots kind of way. We’ve got problems. We don’t have any representation and we know it. It really is an issue of survival.”

Gold coins with a value placed at more than $100 million are now known to be among the cargo of the S.S. Republic, a passenger liner that sank 60 miles south of Nantucket, says Martin Bayerle of Oak Bluffs, the ship’s salvager. He claims the coins may, in fact, be worth as much as $1.6 billion. “We made a breakthrough on identifying the original cargo owners,” Mr. Bayerle said. “One of the original difficulties with the Republic is that nobody has been able to identify the gold cargo, or admit that the cargo exists.”

The S.S. Republic, a sister ship of the Titanic, was rammed by the S.S. Florida on January 23, 1909. The collision, which killed four crew members, was considered one of the biggest maritime disasters of its day. The Republic sank and the crippled Florida limped into safe harbor at New York city.

Mr. Bayerle has been searching for the Republic for 10 years. His group has even used a psychic to help in the study of the wreck. “She said there was a lot of greed involved with the gold. She said when we find the gold we will find skeletons. When the Republic sank, the four missing crew members maybe were trying to retrieve the gold.”

Considering the rate of erosion Martha’s Vineyard undergoes from year to year, how does it happen that there is any Island left? The best authority on the subject is Clifford A. Kaye of the U.S. Geological Survey, whose study of changes in the Island’s shoreline during the past 200 years was published in 1973.

Mr. Kaye’s map showing the changes documented by maps from that of des Barre in 1776, and by later maps, photographs and field studies, shows also that the shape of the Island has remained much the same.

One remembers the late Edward T. Vincent on a moonlit night, pointing seaward a good bit beyond the breakers, and recalling how he had cut hay in fields out there when he was a young man.

“Through the years the South Beach has changed the most of the Island’s shores,” Mr. Kaye writes. The south shore was once, historically, “a long barrier beach tied to the Island only at Wequobsque and Wasque. In early colonial times it was possible to go by boat from Chilmark to Edgartown behind the protection of South Beach. Instead of a series of salt or brackish ponds lying north of the beach, there was one long bay. The bay was erased by the northerly migration of South Beach. That movement will continue, reducing the area of the brackish ponds.”

So those stories are all true, relating how Vineyard ancestors skated virtually the whole length of South Beach with little or no interruption.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner