When I arrived on the Vineyard in mid-March, I could still see my breath billowing out in front of me as I ran out along South Road and down Blue Barque Road in Chilmark. I wore a sweatshirt and a wool hat to guard against the cold. I’m not in great shape, so by the time I reached the end of the wooded, residential road, I was wheezing and my white breath poured out of me like smoke. I always collapsed at the same spot; the wooden-gate entrance to Hancock Beach.
Beyond this gate are two fenced-in pastures lying opposite from each other. These are followed by a half-mile stretch of dirt that takes you out past the tree line and into a dry, low brush that gives way to the ocean.
There are a few brave green pines standing alone out there, obscuring the view of Hancock Beach, but mostly the flora is short and brown. Reaching the water, I could see for miles in each direction. I would sit on the beach and shiver, happily, before walking back home.
The first time I stopped at the gate, I jumped back at the sight of a beautiful, black horse grazing in the middle of the large pasture to my left. I grew up in New York city and to my city slicker eyes, nothing could have been more surreal. The horse seemed contentedly alone, able to push open and close the doors of his own personal barn. That day I named him Shadowmere, a reference only true video geeks can appreciate.
The next day, the horse again stood alone in his field, only this time he was closer to the gate, and closer to me. I noticed that, in fact, the horse was brown, and far from being majestic, looked haggard and old. His neck was thin, and his hair ran long over his joints and around his hooves, like nose and ear hair creeping out of men of a certain age. What I took for unchaperoned freedom was most likely just a horse on his last legs.
For the next several weeks, I stopped during each run and talked to Shadowmere.
On the first truly warm day in April, I enjoyed my run without a sweatshirt or wool hat. Coming up South Road I saw a weary-looking man walking a horse in the opposite direction. I recognized Shadowmere immediately as he somberly followed his master up the road. The scene looked like something from The Seventh Seal.
That was the last time I saw Shadowmere. I don’t know if that was his final day, if he’s gone, if he’s glue, or been moved up the road to another pasture. I only know he isn’t in the Hancock Beach field, and we don’t speak anymore.
Since Shadowmere went away, my run has become busier. There are more cars now as the season progresses. I put up a hand and smile when I see a Subaru Forester, the Vineyard car, waiting to get around me. The sleeping houses have woken up too and the outdoor showers are cloaked in pastel towels. I am also regularly chased down by curious dogs, mostly sniffers and friendly slobberers. One dog did jump on me, barking, and fake biting before his master reigned him in.
“Sorry,” she said. “We’re not used to seeing anyone out here.”
It is May now, and the Island is waking up and preparing for the busy summer ahead. The people are back, and though they’re smiling and handsome, I miss the eerie solitude. I miss the sleeping houses and the haunting cold fog that echoed my breath. I miss Shadowmere.
Gazette contributor Timothy Stanley lives in New York city and Chilmark.