My husband Bill and I were vacationing on the Cape in the summer of 1965 when some friends sailed over to visit us.

“Why don’t you come to the Vineyard?”our friends asked. “It’s cheaper.”

We had first visited the Island in 1962, only for the day, but for the summer of 1966 we packed up the kids and their gear, our work, some summer clothes and drove to the ferry terminal from Ann Arbor, Mich. We rented a place that sounded perfect, an unheated cottage in Chilmark big enough for our two young children, Jenny and Josh, to have friends over. On rainy days we found the cottage cozy and warm with a fire roaring in the stone fireplace.

When we were settled in, we asked around at Squibnocket Beach to find baby sitters and where to buy paints and paper for the children’s art projects. We were sent to DaRosa’s in Oak Bluffs where the clerk suggested that I also get thick crayons and rice paper to do grave rubbings, a unique idea that got us into the long history of Martha’s Vineyard. We went to the graveyard several times that first summer and brought the ancestors back to Ann Arbor to grace the walls of our home.

On one of our first days that summer, I drove to Squibnocket with Jenny and Josh. While the kids splashed about in the water, I started talking to a woman collecting seaweed on the shoreline. She told me she was collecting seaweed to make art. I remembered seaweed as a nuisance at the New Jersey shore, where my family vacationed when I was a child. Thinking back on that encounter with Rose Treat, I realize that I needed someone to interpret nature for me in order to see its varied expressions.

I knew about sand in the crotch, tumbling in waves, sunburns coming off in peels. I knew about tides and saltwater taffy. But I didn’t really know the sea. I don’t think I ever ate a lobster growing up and I had never seen a hermit crab before.

Now, for the first time in my life, I found people who could teach me about nature. I went on bird walks sponsored by the Chilmark Community Center with Edward Chalif, who would later contribute several volumes to the Peterson bird guides, and joined several guided geological walks. As a sociologist, I found the cultures of the Island, including the Wampanoag, fascinating, and I dug into the history of Chilmark.

The next summer, we drove back to the Vineyard as soon as classes ended at the university and school was over for the kids. As we crossed the Cape Cod Canal toward Falmouth and Woods Hole, we breathed in the air and shouted out “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”

The following summers we rented different houses within a mile or two of where we first landed, and in 1975 we decided to buy some land. We found an old sheep pasture across the road from the cottage we had rented in 1966. The land had been on the market for a long time, partly because of a height restriction to protect the seller’s view. We waited until 1979 until we could afford to build and interviewed several contractors. We chose John Early, with Len Butler as the lead carpenter working with two or three young men, including Marc Widdiss and Gordon (Gordo) Otis. Both Marc and Gordo died much too young. I have pictures of them — good-looking skinny young men, sitting shirtless on a long board in the middle of the framing.

The house was finished in 1981, complete with solar hot water panels on the roof. I knew that we had to move fast to get them since subsidies from the Carter administration for solar technology were about to disappear with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

I hadn’t seen the completed house when I decided to live in it alone during the winter of 1982 to write a book. I arrived at the house in the early evening after finding a taxi idling by the old ferry station. Jimmy, the driver, delivered me to the house for ten bucks and helped me carry my things inside over the uneven ground that awaited landscaping. I was floored when I saw the finished house, running from room to room, marveling at the elegance of the design that our friend, Sergio Modigliani, came up with. Instead of building the house atop the highest spot, our house was built into the hill above the pasture. We had views of the pond and woods but no one window delivered a panorama. In contrast to one big view, my idea was that the mind could create images of the outdoors from several windows, like houses built in Italian or Greek hill towns.

I learned that winter that the Island in the off-season was nothing like it was in the summertime. While the Vineyard first wooed me in summer, I came to love the Island in winter. I had an old family camera and took it with me everywhere, shooting pictures of the ocean, the beaches, the woods, the gingerbread houses. I have a photo of a favorite house in the Camp Ground, several of the sea at Squibnocket in calm and tempestuous moods, geese and swans in formation, and close-ups of tall grass posing in the wind. Island cheesecake photos, I came to think of them.

For the first time, I was free to do exactly what I wanted, the way I wanted, with no interruptions. One of the carpenters helped me move my study from the bedroom to the loft. Every morning I would climb the ladder, my attention drawn to the window looking out on Menemsha Pond and the few houses across the pond. I looked for the pair of red-tailed hawks that patrolled the area.

One night over a glass of wine, I called an old friend and colleague to tell her how much I was loving the solitude on the Island.

Her answer: “What took you so long?”

Zelda Gamson is a former longtime resident of Chilmark. She lives in Brookline.