Once the last cedar shingle had finally been nailed in place I removed the staging planks, the roof brackets and then the flimsy improvised staging. I climbed down the ladder to the ground, but I kept my back to the building and didn’t look up at the completed job until I had walked into the middle of the yard. A freshly shingled cedar roof is a damn beautiful sight. If done well, you have a feeling that you’ve achieved perfection. It’s a magnificent thing, and mine glowed golden in the gentle evening light while I stood there exhausted, dazzled by it.

I had spent the entire day, maybe 12 hours, toting bundles of wood shingles up the ladder, hand nailing each one, course by course until I reached the peak, nearly three squares in all. I was determined to get that side of the barn roof done in one day by myself even though it was an impossible goal. After I finished it took me two days before I could stand up straight again, but it was done. Besides the sheer beauty of a new wood roof, there’s the comfort of knowing that it’s tight to the weather. The job’s finished and you walk away a bit smug. Let it rain all it wants.

Twenty-eight years later I climbed down from the same side of the building a second time. I wasn’t nearly as interested in admiring the job. I was preoccupied with other thoughts. The original roof had aged well but probably should have been replaced a few years before. This time I was just a helper, a mere schlepper. I hired a friend who roofed for a living. Hand nailing had become a thing of the past and the dull ka-thunk! ka-thunk! percussions of a nail gun were still reverberating in my head at the end of the day as I considered something rather discomforting. It was simple — I was too old to be up on staging planks that bounced up and down when you walked on them with a bundle of shingles on your shoulder.

Ladders, especially tall ones, now posed a significant threat to life and limb. What was once fun for a younger, more nimble man now frightened the daylights out of the nearly 60-year-old version of me. I didn’t let on as we worked though. My balance, eyesight and flexibility were all challenged by the job and instead of walking to the middle of the yard to bask in the glory of a completed wood shingle roof once we finished and were back on the ground, I leaned on the pump jack with relief and said, “That was really stupid of me. Being up there, I mean.”

What had once been a welcome, meditative task basted with a zen-like calm — hand nailing wonderfully scented cedar shingles one after another — had become a chore fraught with peril. I never got used to being up on the roof that second time.

Instead of admiring the new work each time I drove up to the house, I’d try to avert my eyes from a different section of roof badly in need of replacement. It wasn’t until a few years had passed that I realized the roof was just a metaphor for the day when I would leave my cherished Island home for good.

Over the 32 years I called Martha’s Vineyard home, I lost a few Island friends along the way who had decided to move on. It always shocked me when they announced their plans to leave. It felt like a betrayal — to me personally but also to the Island. How could you give up on a place that was so beautiful, so special, so . . . perfect? Why would they even consider it?

I never considered moving, not once, at least until the day I was finally able to admit that something unknown and unexpected was already close at hand. It sneaked up on me, stealthily, like the day I climbed down from the roof for the second time and discovered my limitations. I can’t put it into words exactly but for the first time the idea of leaving simply felt right. I won’t list all the ways the Island has changed because those changes were not part of the decision. It wasn’t the burden of home maintenance or any sort of financial pressure either. It was closer to accepting the diminishment of possibilities that age brings, and it makes you wonder if something else might still be out there waiting to be discovered. It started with a lesson from a rooftop.

The internal flame inspired by the Island that carried me along and supported me for over three decades still burned inside me, but it had somehow grown dimmer with the passing years and I knew that I needed to leave lest it go out completely. Leaving is a form letting go, accepting a different path, but it also offers the possibility of rekindling that invisible flame, at least one more time. And so I decided to heed the call. I joined the ranks of those who had said goodbye to the Island and moved on.

Robert Skydell lives in Granada, Nicaragua, and contributes to the Gazette.