Aesop, two dozen centuries ago, allegedly wrote that you couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. (Or perhaps it was more recent and it was Bill Shakespeare and it was a velvet purse.) Modern science, either by evolution, revolution, or glorious accident, has proven that now it can be done. That transformation is exactly what our Island needs. Both Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury can be considered to be in the phase known as the sow’s ear.
West Tisbury’s once picturesque Mill Pond is being choked by weeds and other less-than-scenic greens growing out of its bottom. Those who want a higher water level and are not satisfied with letting nature take its course and are intent on spending money, have proposed bringing in heavy dredging equipment to keep this pond looking “natural.” An option, given Oak Bluffs’s excess of wastewater, is obvious, but requires something rarely seen among the towns: cooperation.
The wind power folks want the local Nimby groups to get used to regarding wind turbines as not being a blight on the landscape. The Green Thumb group needs a building which is further back from the road and does not create a traffic hazard. The undersized and outmoded West Tisbury police station belongs in its planned home in the public safety building. NStar electric should not spend the cold winter nights replacing their ubiquitous overhead cables. Oak Bluffs has long had a problem with excess sewage, which worsens as the years pass. Their present method of dealing with this unpleasant effluent seems to be just “kick it around until it disappears.” Unfortunately the severity of the problem is such that a simpleminded solution simply doesn’t work.
If we equate these myriad problems to sow’s ears and their solutions to silk purses, an exceedingly large number of sow’s ears are required, which, using the catchword of the day, must come from a sustainable source, preferably an Island source. The Vineyard is fortunate to be the home of Circe’s Piglets, a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise, which traces its roots back to ancient Greece. She can easily supply the requisite number of sow’s ears, a resource that she considers completely sustainable. Swine have recently received some bad press in the wake of the potential H1N1 flu pandemic, which threatened our Island. Circe admits freely that the upgrading of our towns will be a boon to her business and reputation.
Working independently, what can be accomplished by a town is limited, but starting with Oak Bluffs’s excess of liquids and West Tisbury’s lack, an Islandwide view would efficiently fulfill our needs. Since the time of Archimedes it has been known that water seeks it own level. A simple buried pipe connecting the two towns would make this transfusion feasible. While the excavation is underway for the pipe, overhead electric and telephone cables could be buried in the same trench. Those aging overhead cables are highly susceptible to being ripped apart by tree branches, blown down by windstorms, broken by the weight of winter ice, and creating a crow’s haven. There is also the cables’ questionable aesthetic impact. The pipe will follow the terrain but the fluids need an occasional push along its route. Hollywood’s vast output of black and white films of the growth of our nation show you the solution: mounted on top of rickety wooden towers, flat wood-bladed windmills spinning away, move the lifeblood of our frontier while the gunfights between the cowboys and the sodbusters take place on the plains. (Grapes of Wrath might be a more suitable film for the Vineyard).
Surely MGM has hundreds of authentic looking windmills left over from these epics. The few windmills required will at least cause the Nimbys to realize that maybe they aren’t so bad looking after all. Opposition to windmills will be as un-American as being opposed to apple pie.
Raw sewage, of course, cannot just be dumped into the Mill Pond and some rudimentary treatment is necessary, a phase of which requires aerating fountains to promote the growth of sewage-gobbling bacteria. These aerating fountains, although probably not rivaling the Fontana di Trevi in Rome, will nevertheless serve as a focal point for the town of West Tisbury. The coins thrown into the fountain can be harvested periodically and can finance town government’s foibles. The minor change in the olfactory environment around the pond may finally convince the police department to move into the public safety building with the firefighters. The garden club building can be moved back from the edge of the road and fitted with a moss-covered, undershot water-wheel. Care must be taken to keep it from looking like the miniature golf course on State Road. Years ago the designers of the MVY airport terminal wanted it to echo the form of a typical Vineyard barn. Unfortunately the result bears a strong resemblance to a suburban Chinese restaurant. Reconstruction of the old gristmill into a gristmill can easily avoid that pitfall.
No longer will the hapless tourist arrive at the Chilmark Store, discovering that he has passed through West Tisbury without realizing it. The rustic windmills will remind day-trippers and seasonal residents alike of the origins of their country. Gone will be the proliferation of ranting Nimbys who oppose wind energy and right now are depleting our dwindling supply of fossil fuels. They will be able to breathe air free of the C02 and residue left by the burning of our forests.
Nuclear weapons can only function when a critical mass of radioactive material is assembled. The critical mass of humanity on the Vineyard can only be achieved if the towns, committees and people work together toward a common goal. Intertown and intratown cooperation is essential if our Island is to survive in these troubled times. The spirit of neighborly teamwork must prevail.
Lee Mogel is an architect who lives in New York city and West Tisbury and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.