Last Sunday, after a quick pit stop at Chilmark Chocolates, I went on a long walk at Quenames, organized by the Vineyard Conservation Society and led by Soo Whiting. Quenames is a low-lying, flat sweep of fields shaped by centuries of sheep farming and patches of woods shaped by winds from the Atlantic, dotted by coastal ponds just behind the dunes. That evening I chatted on the telephone with my father, Albert Scott, now 100 and living in California. I knew he would be interested to hear about the walk because of his time working with Johnny Mayhew in Quansoo in the 1950s and his continuing interest in all things Vineyard. My mention of the remarkable twists and turns of the trees in the woods we traversed prompted his reminiscence of family excursions to South Beach in the 1920s — including some interesting sidelights on the Living at Sea Level theme of VCS’s winter walks. His recollection follows.
We used to pass by the Quenames Woods when we went to South Beach. We drove out there in Dad’s Packard, the 1918 model. He had that until 1927 when he bought the 1928-model Buick. We had to pass through two gates and close them behind us. There were sheep in the different pastures, fenced off. That was a responsibility that Dad took seriously.
We didn’t have to be members of anything to go to that beach. As far as I know, anyone could go there then — as long as you didn’t dirty your reputation by failing to close the gates behind you. I guess you just had to be a good citizen and close those gates so the sheep didn’t wander out.
On our way home we would stop by and purchase a box of Priscilla Hancock’s chocolates — her special Italian cremes. I guess maybe that sweetened the deal for her father — I think it was Willis Hancock — having people come up to use his beach. That box of chocolates would be eaten up long before we got home to Bayside.
We continued to go there into the mid-1940s, when I first brought Iten [my mother] to the Island. There was an old wreck at the particular beach we always went to. We would drive down along the edge of Black Point Pond. I think maybe earlier there had been a connection to the pond to the west. The pond was retreating. What had been coves of the pond became separate ponds. Not so far in the past, the ocean had been lower. It was said that at the time white people first arrived, you could paddle in a canoe all the way from Katama Bay to Chilmark Pond. Because the beach was farther out to sea. Behind it was lowland and there were creeks between the ponds. I can’t recall a specific person telling me this. This was an understanding that I absorbed from many sources. And some of the ponds have been disconnected from each other quite recently.
I can’t be sure that the Quenames Woods my father recalls passing on the way to the beach is the exact same woods whose starkly sinuous trees enthralled me today, nor whether a Hancock or a Whiting, or someone else entirely was the owner of the beach, or the sheep, or the gates. But the pleasure of popping a homemade chocolate into one’s mouth after a long day out-of-doors surely has not changed!
Katherine Scott lives in Vineyard Haven.