The ferries can sometimes can be the best indicator of life on the Vineyard, and certainly this was true last Friday when outgoing boats were jammed to the gunwales with children and adults of every description. Standby lines resembled an August day minus the tourists. A visitor from another country might well have concluded that some strange plague had descended and Islanders were fleeing for their lives.
In fact it was the start of winter school vacation week. This is the week when hundreds of hardworking Islanders, especially those with school-age children, leave the Vineyard. Some head south for warm sunshine and tropical seas, while others make the snowy trek north for skiing. Still others take the week to visit grandparents in Cincinnati or a hop on a cheap flight to California to visit a child in college. Anywhere but here: that could easily be the Island slogan for the last week in February.
And the Island becomes a place of deep quiet. No school busses rumble over icy, winter-pocked roadways in the early mornings. Government meetings are scarce as hen’s teeth (hey, selectmen like to go on vacation too). Familiar year-round haunts for coffee and sandwiches are shuttered for cleaning and floor refinishing. The aisles of the grocery store suddenly seem too wide. Incoming ferries are unusually empty of cars and passengers, even for the dead of winter.
For those who stay behind, it’s a time to savor the deep quiet, to have the Vineyard all to ourselves with few interruptions. On an early morning the Island is dusted with an inch or two of light snowfall from the night before that later melts like powdered sugar in the late February sun. One day later on the north shore, the freshwater streams that mark the topography in that part of the Island are swollen from winter snows and rain, their rushing sound carrying the distinct overtones of spring.
Someone called the Gazette this week with the first reports of crocuses and snowdrops ready to bloom.
The late nature essayist Hal Borland wrote:
“Winter has been a time of essential silence, with the wind and the ice the loudest of the silence breakers. But as the time of new life stirring approaches, we think of that time in terms of our own living and endow it with voice. Waiting for the new bird song and the cry of the spring peepers, we hear voices in all the small events of the season. We give voice to the wind and we give voice to flowing water because we would hear voices and listen to music.
“Mankind is a talkative race and we somehow evolved song out of our emotional heartbeat. Spring is a time of singing, and if growing leaves and opening buds made even the least of audible sounds we would hear words and music in them. Meanwhile, we hear songs of promise in trickling water.”