During this past summer, a small group of lifelong friends began to ride bikes together in an effort to get exercise and enjoy one another’s company. We happened to all be women, over 50 years old and Black. Our group was small and fluctuated in size depending on who was around to join us. In the midst of a pandemic, racial discord, political tensions and so much more strife in the world, our bike excursions on this very special Island provided some solace.

In early October, a small blurb appeared in the Gazette calendar titled Saturday Morning Hikes sponsored by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and the Vineyard Conservation Society. One of the women in our biking group mentioned this and we thought it would be a nice alternative.

The first hike listed was for Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary and a group of about 10 of us participated. For those who have hiked Cedar Tree Neck, you know how breathtakingly beautiful this trail is. All of us who walked that day were both wowed and hooked.

After our walk, while congregating in the parking lot and reflecting on the magnificence of our day, we decided to do a walk a week. Since our first outing, we have done just that.

With suggestions from William Flender’s wonderful guidebook Walking Trails of Martha’s Vineyard we chose Menemsha Hills Reservation for our second hike. During that walk, we were discussing our sneakers and someone commented that she had really good soles. We dubbed our group The Good Soles. Since that time, the size of our group has ebbed and flowed. We have had as few as three hikers, and as many as 18 — all socially distanced. Our explorations have included: Caroline Tuthill, Blackwater Pond, Mytoi Japanese Gardens, Waskosim’s Rock, Manaquayak Preserve, West Chop Woods, Quansoo Preserve, Fulling Mill Brook Preserve, and, most recently, Great Rock Bight Preserve.

At Great Rock Bight Preserve, amidst the dreariness of a gray day with brown leaves strewn along the path, we came across what appeared to be an altar with deliberately placed stones, a walking stick, feathers and brightly colored beads. What initially looked like a gravesite marking proved to be a plaque from the African-American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard which read: “Rebecca, Woman of Africa . . . Born in Africa and enslaved in Chilmark, she married Elisha Amos, a Wampanoag Man, was the mother of Nancy Michael, and died a free woman in this place in 1800.”

It was impactful to have happened upon this spot, particularly as a group of Black women whose good soles and good souls were walking freely on the shoulders of Rebecca and countless others.

We have enjoyed the gift of freedom, friendship, sisterhood (with an occasional male joining us) and the joys of socialization all while being cautious to comply with guidelines to be safe during these terribly, stressful times. Without a doubt, 2020 has been laden with challenges, worries, uncertainties, fears and, at times, gloom. But amidst the chaos and turmoil, there have been joyful moments. Martha’s Vineyard has many incredible vistas and we are fortunate to have organizations like Sheriff’s Meadow, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, Vineyard Conservation Society, the African-American Heritage Trail and others offering us the opportunity to explore and learn about the vast terrain and history of this amazing Island.

With the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases and the urge to not gather indoors, we have been able to continue our weekend walks, which have provided much-needed spiritual nourishment and fellowship. As we approach the season celebrated for giving gratitude, we are mindful of our abundance of gifts. We are so blessed to be on this magical and beautiful Island of Martha’s Vineyard with old and new friends and are grateful for all of the Island’s keepers.

Naina Lassiter Williams lives in Oak Bluffs.