We all have a pond we favor on Martha’s Vineyard — so many ponds, separated or not from the salty sea water that surrounds this place, seven miles out from the mainland. The map of the Island, displayed on a board outside the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority building, looks like a moth-eaten triangle whose lacy holes tell the story of many ponds, large and small.

Not surprisingly, the bigger ponds are off of or fingers from the sea. All have many possibilities, from recreation to food gathering for personal consumption or for sale. All have different levels of salinity or are completely fresh water. My favorite is the Chilmark Pond, bordering the south shore, and within walking distance of our family home on South Road. Since childhood (over the past 70 years) I have known and experienced this calm, brackish body of water, a changing mix of salt water and fresh, altered by natural or manmade breaches of the barrier beach. My most recent walk to the pond was with my husband on a Sunday in early November — a short outing before catching the ferry to leave for an off-Island trip. That fall day, sunny and slightly breezy, the pond water was chill to the touch and dark. I was not enticed to take a dip.

Reflecting on a different day, a visit there in summer of this year — I’m sitting on the stern end of a sunfish, my weight pressing the rudder into a stubble of parched grass. This boat has been on land for awhile it seems — I’m noting a skim of greenish slime on the foot of the cockpit. It must belong to a family member who has been working hard all summer and has no time for a sail. But there are many other recreational boats ready to go nearby for those vacationers who are still around at the end of August. I can count 12 other boats, mostly canoes and kayaks plus a couple more sail boats, sunfish and one small motor boat nearby. Here all is still — only a single bird flits by, a slight disturbance entering the bush behind me, then silence. Back at the house, voices rising, telephone rings, doors slamming and dishes clank. It is a weekend. The ultimate escape from family chaos is a short walk along a grassy lane from South Road to Chilmark Pond. In times past, many a family member fled the house or heat to rinse off and get refreshed in the pond. My father, Henry, never hesitated to drop his bathing trunks on the shore, and, even in his eighties, strode with vigor, tight buttocks, lightly protected middle draped loosely with a towel, before the shock of cold immersion. This had been for many years a mostly solitary experience on an isolated shore, save for his white Lab Marco and his son hoisting a sail. This was not a performance. Only in recent years has the once-bare pond shore sprouted houses. It’s the perfect day for a pre-breakfast dip, to strip and slip into the water, but I don’t. It’s not for modesty that I’m reluctant, but due to the yellow tinge of the water at summer’s end.

In the 1950s and 1960s, my brothers and sister used to play in and on the pond all summer, unconcerned about human population and pollution. Indeed, we and just two other families were the only human imposition on the natural world where dry land meets water on the west side of Wade’s Cove. Just three houses sat close to the cove end of the pond then, and only one that I know of was a year-round residence, the Kraetzer home. This is 2014, and I can count eight houses within my cove view, including the original three —the Kraetzer house, winterized, is still there at the foot of the cove; what was formerly a one-room shack across the pond on the east side has been added to and altered, now a two-story house with an artist’s studio; and the third, the remnant cottage, once the Barton summer home, on the west side at the head of the cove. The Barton’s summer home had been run over and through in Hurricane Carol’s storm surge (August 1954) which brought ocean waves across the barrier beach, breaking across Chilmark Pond with enough force to travel halfway across the meadow that runs to South Road. The storm surge of 1954 has not yet repeated itself, so people have thrown caution, literally, to the winds. The results: a building surge over the past three decades and a filling-in of salt meadows with new growth, especially cedar trees. The remnant of the Barton’s house that still stands on the edge of the pond is now their granddaughter’s summer cottage named the Gadget, repaired for use by summer renters. Its big picture window looks out on a scenic expanse extending to beach, dunes and the Atlantic beyond.

Now there are three more houses on the east bank — one, for me the largest an insult, a modern two-floor, glassed-in design looms over the pond and stands directly across from where my father always skinny dipped. Our boat landing where I am now perched on the sunfish was once a tranquil shore; it now resounds in summer with voices and barks of its leisure time inhabitants. Dad didn’t care about the newcomers. He dropped his trunks as usual, no matter who or what might be there across the cove. Another house or two are set back from the shore and now hidden by brush and saplings that have grown up near the pond. In my youth, anyone could look straight across the pond to a flat open meadow that extended some distance, as far as a low wood whose curled down trees sheltered on their far side a sandy, shady road, once known as the Hancock Beach Road, now the Blue Barque Road. On the near side of the woods there used to be a grassy track where my sister and I in our youth would go on bird walks with Guy Emerson, a banker-ornithologist friend of our family and of famous birder and author Roger Tory Petersen. No fear — there were only the larger ticks (dog ticks we called them) in the grasses in that time, and these were easily seen and removed and so were less of a threat than the present-day Lyme ticks. Also, the birds were easy to see and hear as we moved along quietly — no vehicular traffic across the meadow, sheep but no driven vehicles.

On the west bank, there is a really new house, built quite not too big and set back a bit from the water’s edge, down pond from our landing. It belongs to our late neighbor’s son. Further up the pond, Wade’s Cove opens up to the widest expanse of water that finally reaches the barrier beach to the south. Around the corner to the west of the Gadget are more houses hugging the shore — three or so I remember as snug and weathered and there from the start, but now there are more than I care to count, greater in size than could have been imagined when I was young. Back then, in the mid-20th century, we canoed or sailed to South Beach, and we were able to enjoy from our boats the natural shape and surface of the uncluttered Chilmark hills that rose from salt meadows and defined the horizon to the north. Then, house owners were content living simply, even humbly, in the summer or year-round. New homes in the 1930s were built to fit into the landscape, not to dominate, and there were only a few. I looked around our landing, located for many years up the cove a bit from where I was sitting and reached by a grassy walk across an open field. Now that field is no longer open but blocked with cedar trees, scrub oaks, poison ivy, thickets, bittersweet vines, rosa rugosa. There may have been one old sailboat at the landing of the past, the Lucy Bottom, restored by my late brother Hank. The old landing was used by just one family, the Scotts of South Road — my childhood family. Today, we are three families sharing this one landing with two other families, all expanding — many more people, many more boats than in the old days.

Why am I looking askance at the numbers across and along the shores of the pond and the style and size of newer houses? My mother always said people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. But am I living in a glass house? Not in the sense of that one across from our landing, but I am in a way throwing a stone at everything that contributes to that yellow tinge in the Chilmark Pond water at the end of summer when I sense it is not healthy to swim. Mark London’s commentary in the Gazette last month is a valuable read — Lessons on Water Quality from our Neighbors on Cape Cod. Indeed, we all need to learn the lessons and bite the bullet of “pretty momentous decisions,” as Mr. London puts it. I’ll be frank — I did not take that dip in the pond because that water, though calm, is scary.

Sally Cook is a long-time seasonal resident of Chilmark.